Unrated, but this movie might be considered full on icky by today's considerations. Let's talk about the fact that this movie tip-toes between adorable witchcraft and full on demonic witchcraft. In the TCM introduction, they talked about how this kind of was the test-run for Bewitched. Bewitched is adorable and cute. This movie is a sneeze away from having a Hollywood version of a black mass. But there are some moral implications to consider before watching it. TV had this as TV-PG. I would never let my kids watch this sometimes adorable movie and sometimes really disturbing movie.
DIRECTOR: Richard Quine
The comic book store that I've been supporting is called "Bell, Book, and Comic." That's almost exclusively what put this movie on my radar. BTW, that comic store is awesome. It's in Dayton. You should check it out. When I found out that this was a Jimmy Stewart and Kim Novak movie that was made the same year as Vertigo, I lost my mind even more. Besides the fact that their age difference is full on gross, I wanted to see a tonal sequel to Vertigo. I knew that Bell, Book, and Candle was a comedy and I know that I wasn't going to get an exact follow-up, but I wanted a tie between the two. It's like when I used to watch everything that Simon Pegg was in desperate hopes to find a successor to Shaun of the Dead. Bell, Book, and Candle isn't any of the things that I thought it was. In fact, I have a really hard time defining what genre this movie falls in outside of "supernatural."
I thought this movie was a romantic comedy. In the broadest of strokes, it is. There are jokes in it and many of the characters could be shaped more in a comedy context. Jack Lemmon, who was a national treasure --especially in this era, plays his typical early Jack Lemmon persona. He nicely fits within the box that I put this movie in. As does Elsa Lanchester's Aunt Queenie. She's a solid comic trope. But the leads, who dominate the movie, don't really flex their comic chops. Jimmy Stewart does comedy quite a bit, but it always is reserved, especially compared to Lemmon. Kim Novak, it seems, doesn't get any jokes for a reason. Lauren kind of scoffed when she started watching Novak's performance. I think that comes from a bit of experience with Novak, but she was proven right. Novak is always at about the same level, which is ironic when the movie is about a character who can't cry and then SPOILER does indeed cry. The crying scenes are no more or less intense than the other sequences. I can't help but compare Gil to Sabrina in the comic book series The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina. Everything is just scaled to about an eight in intensity. I think that's what Richard Quine was looking for. I get the vibe that Richard Quine was a mod, kind of into the counter-culture beatnik scene. (I'm sorry...Detroit Native Richard Quine. Aw, geez. The guy committed suicide. What a bummer.) Everything about Novak's performance and the general aesthetic about the movie seemed like they wanted to blow minds. I'm sure that this movie got passed through the system as what would become Bewitched, but instead was this movie that your grandparents couldn't see. Hysterically, the movie is fairly tame by today's standards, but I just get the vibe that this movie wanted to be bigger than the script that was passed through the system. I have to wonder what Jimmy Stewart thought about all of this witchcraft and demonology on screen, because I get the vibe that the start of It's a Wonderful Life and the American Tail sequel would have something to say about that. (Now say the last part of the last sentence in Jimmy Stewart's voice and it is mildly funnier.)
In my MPAA rant section, I talked about how this movie was kind of icky. It really is icky. You know how we all, like two years ago, banded against "Baby, It's Cold Outside" because it's all about consent. Yeah, this movie is all about how consent is not really a thing. I know, it makes me seem like a real punk standing against this movie from 1958 when the gender roles are reversed. But this movie is a really clear slippery slope. For those unaware, the movie has Gil (Kim Novak) using a love spell to have Shep (Jimmy Stewart...again, way older than Novak), dump his fiancee and fall madly in love with Gil. Gil does this as a form of mischief because we find out that Shep's fiancee was a terrible person who slighted Gil in college. Gil is not in love with Shep because it is impossible for a witch to fall in love. Rather, she finds him attractive and enjoys messing with mortals. The two kiss a whole lot and she eventually falls in love with him, causing her to confess her true feelings. He is hurt and the two end up together. We can see the ickiness of the whole premise. Making Merle, Shep's fiancee, flawed is absolutely shameless in this movie. It is a way that we can forgive what is, at its core, a fundamentally corrupt act. The odd thing is that the movie never really pulls the trigger for how evil they want to make Merle. Considering, at the end of the day that this movie is supposed to be a romantic comedy. This might be one of those movies that is really hurt by how dated it is. There are a few movies that are criminally out of date politically that I can still kind of enjoy. Like, I don't hate Gone With the Wind, but it is sullied by the uncomfortable racial moments. Bell, Book, and Candle was really hard to watch because the rapey elements of the movie are the premise of the movie. I know that other movies have taken on that very same narrative, so I can't throw this movie under the satanic bus by itself, but the political climate going right now is very effective. This movie is almost a museum piece rather than something that can be watched for sheer entertainment by itself. (Don't worry, my next review is all about being woke. Stay tuned.) The movie, because of how uncomfortable it is and how much I didn't root for the romantic leads to end up together, felt way longer than it actually was. The runtime is only about an hour-forty-five, but it felt interminably wrong. I guess that's why chemistry in rom-coms is so vital. I don't think I have ever been so vehemently against the protagonists ending up together. It leans heavily on a foundation that doesn't really work.
This movie is remarkably simple. Trying to talk about this movie ad nauseum is a challenge. Perhaps the only thing I can think of is giving the context for this movie. The movie is made in 1958. This is on the verge of the Sexual Revolution and the grossness inherent to this film may be very telling about how people viewed relationships. Merle's casting off is done with a comedic effect, but she has this absolutely bizarre reaction in a later sequence. When Shep discovers that Gil is a witch who cast a spell on him, Merle finds the entire scenario absolutely hilarious. She is light hearted and lacks any degree of spite. They talk like old friends. I can't help but make another Vertigo comparison. In Vertigo, I'm pretty sure Midge is the same role. Midge has this unrequited love for Stewart's Scottie. Scottie dumps all of his relationship troubles on Midge, once again with the focus being on the not-quite-truthful Kim Novak. (Geez, it's all coming together!) The idea that relationships seem fairly fluid in this era, a precursor to the sexual revolution, where people treat each other only for the pleasure that they can get out of each other, might make an interesting examination of the purpose of art. Bell, Book, and Candle might be an interesting examination of how reflective art becomes of a political consciousness. The fact that Midge calls no-harm / no-foul over Gil's transgressions and weird, somewhat implicit approval of Shep's pursuit of Gil strikes me as odd. I've seen this character in lots of rom-coms, mainly because no one likes a rom-com that ends with a cloud of bitterness. But those characters are often just poorly written because the script needs a resolution. Bell, Book, and Candle instead doesn't really shape Merle into anything realistic. She is treated as almost something less than human. She has no decision making choices for herself. When she is meant to be unpleasant for the purpose of the story, she comes across as annoying. I'm thinking of her weird storm-phobia as the band plays to her. But when she is meant to be a pleasant character, she becomes a sounding board for Shep. I think that this might be because there is a large lack of everyman characters. The only other human characters is the author of the book, who is characterized as an eccentric, hardly a sounding board for this regular guy. Now I'm definitely overthinking this whole movie, but that's because the content of this movie is kind of lacking. But the reason that these characters don't get a lot of depth aren't only because sometimes a story needs flat characters. It rather seems that there would be no reason to sympathize with Merle. The world was treating people like Merles and that's very bleak to me. But again, I might be completely wrong.
I'm sorry to my comic book shop for not liking this movie. I was really jazzed to watch this movie, but the icky premise just pervades the whole movie. I know that it's a shame that I'm a dude who only got incensed when the victim is a dude, but that might just be wrong-time/wrong-place. Considering that I really dig the cast, I can't see myself enjoying this one.
I swear that this movie was R! I know it was R! There's some light nudity and some drug use in it. At one point in my life, I remember seeing that the movie was rated R. Maybe my DVD even still says "R". Now, everything says it is PG-13. I am always tempted to show this movie at Christmas to my film class, but that would be wildly irresponsible. It's not a classic for almost anyone but me. I only want to show it because it is one of the two movies that makes me tear up. Yup, Scrooged and It's a Wonderful Life. Something about traumatic Christmases or something.
DIRECTOR: Richard Donner
Yup. The guy who directed Superman: The Movie directed Scrooged. These are two of the films that I personally hold dear to my heart. These are the movies where I know that they aren't perfect films, but I absolutely, without-a-doubt love these films. No one can tell me that either of these movies suck because I won't believe them. I try to watch Scrooged every Christmas. I don't know how I didn't get it last year. Part of me feels bad trying to get my wife to sit through it again. I don't think that this movie affects her at all. I get all weepy at the end with Calvin and she just wonders why I'm all choked up. I never cry at movies, guys. I want to. But 100% of the views of this movie, Calvin's resolution makes me weep and get all misty eyed. Tears never fall, but my eyes are full of water and I get all choked up. This might be one of the more forgettable Christmas movies, but I will watch it every year.
The story structure for Dickens's "A Christmas Carol" is perfect. I use it in my English class when we study the plot mountain. It is odd that the longer I teach, the fewer amount of people know "A Christmas Carol", but that is more telling of the culture than it is of the story. Apparently, the two most adapted stories of all time are Sherlock Holmes and "A Christmas Carol". The story resonates, guys. It is so good. But part of me likes the adaptations "A Christmas Carol" more than the actual story itself. I don't often get excited when a straight adaptation comes out for the story. Sure, I get a little moved by the story time and again, but it is the interesting slants on the story that really get me going. Scrooged was the first meta version that I could get behind. I often get distracted thinking about worlds that aren't affected by the pop culture they created. I watched the original Man of Steel trailer back when I was full of hope. While I loved that trailer (and hated that movie), there was one moment in the trailer that rubbed me the wrong way. It showed young Clark Kent running around the backyard pretending to be a superhero while wearing a red towel. That moment never made sense to me because Superman created that trend. I don't need anyone bootstrapping my paradox, thank you very much. That's why Scrooged is such a clever premise to me. Scrooged exists in a world where Charles Dickens's story already is a timeless classic. Sure, in Scrooged, the story wasn't called "A Christmas Carol." Instead, it's "Dickens's immortal classic: Scrooge." I can get past that. (Okay, no I can't, but that's beside the point.) I like the idea that Bill Murray's Frank Cross knows the narrative that he's experiencing and that it still affects him as much as it does. I know that Frank Cross is a bit of a caricature, but he does somehow seem more grounded than Ebenezer Scrooge. Scrooge always seemed like the miserly thing was a put on because he had to seem somehow evil. Frank Cross is just a bonafide jerk. Yeah, there are moments. Watching him enjoy Bobcat Goldthwait get fired on Christmas Eve is a bit much, but Donner knows that he has to paint this moment clearly to come back at the end. But Frank Cross is a jerk who is encouraged to be a jerk. I love that he's the commentary on the '80s businessman. It's Wall Street all over again.
The most interesting element of Scrooged is that it kind of is a horror movie. I love a good horror comedy and it seems insane to surgically attach it to Christmas. But I was listening to Christmas carols on the radio the other day and I was listening to the lyrics. "And telling ghost stories" was a lyric that always just snuck in there. There is a weird precedent to associating Christmas with scary. The thing about most of the "Christmas Carol" adaptations is that they tend to shy away from the supernatural elements of the tale. The only time that the story normally gets scary is the Ghost of Christmas Future, which is the shortest of the three visits. The story isn't even all that scary. I always found it odd that Scrooge converts only after seeing his own grave. (I know, it's a mix of the fact that he is despised after his death and is alone, but he seems pretty dumb leading into that moment.) But Donner embraces the scariest parts of the stories all through the story. The introduction of Lew Hayward / the ghost of Marley establishes this really cool tone. It breaks away from the weakest element moment of the movie, the IBC promos. I really consider the movie to start here. A mouse crawling out of Lew Hayward's skull as he cracks wise just establishes that this movie is not afraid to go places where the other stories kind of feared to dread. There's that moment where Frank Cross is held high above the street below and the tendons and bones just start crumbling away. This is where the eighties ruled. That practical effect is just so darned cool. I know how it worked and I know that it is an effect, but I also totally believe in the tension of that moment. Also, making the ghosts jerks makes the story work so well. The Dickens ghost mollycoddle Scrooge. Scrooge isn't deserving of pity. I know. We see both Scrooge's and Cross's pasts and they are both very sad. But I like that the ghosts get that Cross had opportunities to make the right choices despite his past and don't let him off the hook. Sure, it plays for laughs, but it is also super insightful to the relationships that these ghosts have with their subjects. ("But when Attila the Hun saw his mother? Niagara Falls.") Also, Donner invites a new element to the story that I really like, Frank's brother. Frank's brother went through a similar childhood that Frank did, but turned out to be a good guy. This adds so much. Frank made these choices, so his torture becomes all that much more satisfying. He deserves to get hit by a toaster.
This is where I'm a hypocrite. I'm never all that for the relationships in these movies. Scrooge never ran off after the girl from the past. He is an old man and he can just live out his remaining years as a servant to humanity. But Frank Cross has Karen Allen! Karen Allen, man alive. You have an interesting IMDB page. I never got Indiana Jones's love for Marion Ravenwood, but I did get Frank Allen's love for Claire Phillips. She makes the perfect foil for Frank. I love the fact that the narrative that Frank never had a lightswitch moment. He became a bad dude through a series of bad, but understandable choices. Claire and he never had the big blowout moment that destroyed the relationship. Rather, he ignored those real moments that needed fostering. He ended up as a royal jerk in the present, but that's because he was encouraged to do the wrong thing time and again until he thought that doing the right thing was a stupid thing. That moment where he is in the shelter with Herman, he sees that the volunteers there are idiots. It's not because he was always that way. He was groomed into becoming that way. I love me some character development. Scrooge does that pretty well. Frank Cross also does that pretty well. Having Claire woven throughout this story really does it for me. She is the one that is focused on in all three timelines and it is effective. I don't necessarily agree that she would naturally turn into "Scrape 'em off" Claire, but that future timeline is bizarre. (Question for other fans of this movie: Donner makes the future very stylized to be scarier and darker than the other portions of the film. But does that mean that the future is somewhat symbolic of what will become or is it meant to be treated as canon? Discuss.) But as much as the film builds up Frank Cross to be this uber-jerk, he also has these moments of sympathy. The first, and least impressive, indication of this change is his reaction to the man being on fire. (That Richard Pryor joke is uncomfortable...) But Donner has these moments where he is fighting to find himself and maintain his comfortable lifestyle. Seeing frozen Herman under the streets is this pivotal moment that Murray just delivers on. He isn't scared or sad. He's angry. He yells at this corpse. I can't help but think of that scene in Groundhog Day where Murray is desperate to save the homeless man. These moments are such dark contrasts to the rest of the films that surround them. I love how vulnerable the movies allow themselves to be considering that they are comedies, through and through.
I did point out that the IBC promos don't really hold their own for me anymore. I used to think that they were funny, but they definitely feel more like warmup gags for me now. If I recommend these movies to anyone, I sit and fidget during the IBC gags. I think that people will think that the tone of the movie is like those moments. Really, those feel like some UHF styled skits that might not be as strong as they used to be. The other thing that is weirdly awkward now is the end involving a hostage situation. I like the premise that Bobcat Goldthwait is holding a gun to people on Christmas, but the political landscape of the past two decades may have made this scene unwatchable. Like, it's Christmas. The end implies that things get better, but a lot of people in that booth are crying and they should be crying. It is dark. But besides those two points, I love the movie as a whole. I love it because of one the most intense and vulnerable speeches I've seen in film. It's not a perfect speech. Heck, it borderlines on completely cheesy. But Bill Murray just spelling out the meaning of Christmas is absolutely everything for me. I love this so much. And then Calvin walks up and says his line and it is perfection. I'm not that moved, but I can definitely feel my heart beating a little harder right now. I love this movie so much.
Like, so much, guys. I don't know how I'll be able to convince my wife to watch it next year. This is my second favorite Christmas movie and I am not ashamed to say it. If you haven't seen it, go in with mild expectations and prepare to have a fun time. The jokes at the beginning are warm ups. Consider the movie something watchable from Lew Hayward on. Also, Robert Mitchum is in this and that's amazing.
Yeah, this is a PG movie that definitely deserves to be PG-13. But Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom doesn't exist yet, so we have to take PG for what it is: not R. There's some language and Shirley MacLaine has a really awkward moment that is of sexual nature. I actually like the TV's rating for this movie: TV-14. I like that. That's exactly where I would put it too.
DIRECTOR: Hal Ashby
I swear I have a Christmas movie to review. Again, we're on the great quest to clear out the DVR. I also got a whole bunch of bummer Criterions for Christmas, so you'll notice a trend to my generally bleak December / January reviews. Stay tuned. I've always known this movie primarily through the poster. Like many movies I get really excited about, I knew very little about this movie going into it. I knew that Peter Sellers was in it, but that's even as far as I could go with that. I was actually pretty amazed to see that Shirley MacLaine was in this movie. My wife is weirded out about my obsession with Shirley MacLaine. I think it is my love of The Apartment that gets me all excited to see her in movies, so Lauren was giving me the side-eye the entire time. Regardless, this movie kind of proved to be a good time, but it also falls into a category of movie that I have to keep somewhat distanced from.
First and foremost, notice that Hal Ashby directed this. If you are wondering what the tone of this movie is, think Hal Ashby. I'm going to have to spell that out for a lot of my audience (This is the most snooty sentence I've written today). Hal Ashby directed Harold and Maude. If you haven't seen Harold and Maude, you should stop reading a review for Being There and watch Harold and Maude right now. I don't care that it is Christmas. Some things take priority. Harold and Maude is so quirky and twee and Being There has a slightly lesser twee element to it. In Harold and Maude, Ashby is making a movie for young hipsters before they were called hipsters. Ashby has the same sensibility with Being There, but his audience is slightly older for this one. The audience is definitely more mature, but the movie still contains a bit of disdain for the mass public. The paradox about the whole thing is that Being There definitely has a fun, public appeal to the whole thing. Sure, the whole movie is satire on politics, to a certain extent. But there isn't a really deep delve into to the world of the politician. This is more of a commentary about how people tend to follow politicians that make them feel good and sound good, rather than give them anything of substance. I suppose it has a bit more political depth than Forrest Gump, but the two movies really share the same heart. In fact, those two movies would make an amazing double feature, which would have the Being There fans up in arms that they are sharing a theater with Forrest Gump fans. Regardless, the motifs between the two of them would be unquestionable. The big takeaway is that the movies both involve people misconstruing a man of simple intelligence (is there a polite, PC way to say this?) for a genius. I mean, the formula works. I'm glad that there aren't a glut of these movies because I can see this formula definitely wearing thin. But I remember in the halcyon days of Forrest Gump that people were questioning if Forrest really was a genius. Yeah, that might be telling about the state of our society. Being There thrives on the notion that we, as a country, are more willing to believe that an absence of content actually means depth. (The reason why there is such a tonal shift from the beginning of this review to the end is that I've reviewed about eighty-some midterm essays and I'm really aware that people know how to make nothing try to sound like something. I'm also now three reviews behind and I have to pack up a house. Tell me to relax.)
I've never really been a Peter Sellers fan. I know that I should be. He's everything that I like about classic comedy. I really didn't like Casino Royale (not that one), which really stains my entire opinion about Sellers. The Pink Panther movies are fine, I guess, but I discovered them too late. My sense of humor definitely moved on from those movies. Then there is Dr. Strangelove. I have no excuse. As a film teacher, I'm almost committed to liking Dr. Strangelove. But I have no...love (?) for the movie, so I had to try to stay open to Being There. Peter Sellers is great in this movie. I always have to keep in mind that Being There is a classic movie for the most part. Knowing that the movie is great is an odd experience because Ashby requires his viewer to have a certain suspension of disbelief about Sellers's performance. Sellers does the best job he can with such a character. Sellers has to come across as both simple and wise simultaneously. The film hinges on the dramatic irony of us knowing that Chance is a simpleton (that's not the word I want, is it?) but the fact that he just sounds fancy is what keeps him afloat. But there are so many lines where I just wanted to scream, "How is no one picking up on that?" Sellers nails his delivery each time, but I don't think some of the lines necessarily work with the narrative. I think part of that comes with the reactions that some of the other cast members give Sellers. I'm thinking about the scenes with Jack Warden. I wonder if Warden had no idea what his reaction is supposed to be. His "President Bobby" character is meant to love Gardiner, but his reaction with Sellers on screen implies that he doesn't trust him and is put off by him. That has to be an overwhelming task as an actor. Warden's Bobby should be distrustful of this character based on the consistently cryptic interactions with Gardiner, but the script calls that he has a different response. This is where the suspension of disbelief comes in and I guess that's okay. It's really only Shirley MacLaine that delivers on the believability of the whole thing. This is where my analysis goes to pot because my theory is that MacLaine just doubles down on an improbable situation. She falls in love with Chance. There's no reason for it. There's nothing that Chance does that is remotely seductive. On top of that, there doesn't seem to be much conflict between her aged husband and herself. Yeah, there's an age gap, but that age gap also exists with Sellers. On top of that, her character doesn't seem like she's in it for the money or the power, so that relationship doesn't make a lick of sense unless she is attracted to cryptic wisdom. But the scenes work because I don't think that MacLaine puts too much thought into these moments. I think Jack Warden is really thinking of the perfect reaction. I get the vibe that MacLaine is just saying, "The script says I'm madly in love with him, so that's how I'm going to play it." Really, we're talking about Stanislavsky v. Meisner. I'm normally a Stanislavsky guy, but Meisner might work in an absurdist piece like this.
Like Harold and Maude, the story plays up on how far the movie can take the premise. The movie goes to such lengths to push the envelope. I can't help but think that this is the comedic Ace in the Hole. With Ace in the Hole, the story gets bigger and bigger until it can't be contained anymore. The story really just keeps ballooning up, promising to pop. That's the odd thing about dramatic irony. It is supposed to be cathartic in the revelation of that secret being let out. Instead, the secret is only discovered by one person, who makes the choice to avoid telling others about his discovery. I think I like that B plot a lot better than the A plot. Everyone thinking that Chauncery Gardener is this great genius is funny, but utterly vapid to a certain degree. Rather, the quest for the doctor and his nerves to confront someone who might be in line for the presidency is far more interesting. I like how Ashby makes these moments muted. He doesn't vocalize his suspicions, but Ashby allows actor Richard Dysart to tell the story with his eyes. He is in constant suspicion and disappointment with the world around him and that's far more interesting to me. The confrontation towards the end is the smallest amount of catharsis and I really like that. There's never the big "breathe out", but rather, we just get the smallest sense of satisfaction that someone knows the truth. It's very odd and I'm sure that original drafts were tempted to play with the idea that someone knew that Chauncery Gardener was really just Chance the Gardener.
SPOILERS: We have to talk about the last shot: the walking on water. I Googled interpretations. I had to. I'm glad I did because I like the variety of answers. The first answer was that it was like Christ. Chance walking on water was me assuming that I was looking at a simple man when I was actually looking at a great man. While a cool idea, that ending didn't sit right with me. It was a kick in the pants, but it really didn't scan with the entire film for me. I had the insight for the beginning of the movie. Instead, I like Roger Ebert's interpretation of the end of the movie. There was a dock below the water and that it is a metaphor for the movie. People see what they want to see and justify their decisions because they don't have the whole picture. People wanted to see this great man, so they don't look at the possibility that he was just a simpleton the entire time. I really like that interpretation. There's also the ending that it is simply a really cool shot and it is hilarious to see this character believe that he can walk on water. Through Chance's belief that he could walk on water, he could actually do it. He believed that he was friends with all of these power folks, so he became a powerful person. People's belief in him is what actually drives the narrative forward. That's a pretty cool answer too. I like Ebert's interpretation the best, but all of these endings are awesome to me. Ebert's assumes a bit much, but it adds so much to the story as a whole.
I'm sorry that I fell so far behind on my reviews, but life just got in the way. I'll try to knock some out with whatever free time I have, but that's looking pretty thin for me. I really wanted to write my Scrooged review on Christmas Day, but sometimes I just have responsibilities. Regardless, Being There was an interesting watch and I like that this movie exists. I still think that Harold and Maude is Ashby's magnum opus, but this one has some meat on it as well.
It's almost 2018! Surely, something good has to have come out of 2017! We wrap up the year in a very guest-star-filled get together. Let's ring in the new year with your friends from Literally Anything: The Podcast!
It's always when a movie hits a solid R that I can agree with the MPAA. This is an appropriate R. Like many counter-culture booze and drug movies, there's a solid amount of cussing, debauchery, and general ickiness. The movie isn't profane, I suppose, but there's some definite R-rated content in this movie that earns it the solid R-rating. Just in time for Christmas!
DIRECTOR: Bruce Robinson
Merry Christmas! Let's talk about rampant alcoholism and treating each other terribly. A few years ago, I met Paul McGann at a comic book convention in Cincinnati. Hold your applause. You can't believe I can hob knob with the Doctor Who elite for a price! He might have been the coolest Doctor that I met and I've met an irresponsible amount of them. But it was early in the convention on a weekday (I keep painting myself out to be the coolest guy ever) and he was very encouraging of chatting. Normally, I seize up around celebs and get all clunky. (That's also not completely true, but I constantly remind myself that celebrities have no desire to get to know me and that they are doing me a solid by signing my poster in fancy markers.) But McGann seemed like he wanted company and since I was the only one around, he kept asking me questions and we got to chatting. The guy was super cool and I decided that I should eventually watch the other thing that he is famous for, Withnail & I. The only problem is that it was out-of-print on Criterion and, despite the fact that I COULD afford it, I decided to wait until it crossed my path without me spending money on it. Thank you, TCM. I'm sure that my wife doesn't disagree because she quickly realized that this movie wasn't for her. Oops. That's what happens when I don't spend money, Lauren. You have to then sit through the movie. (I know that doesn't exactly play, but I like that line of thinking.)
Withnail & I is a cult classic. While watching Leonard Maltin interview Matt Walsh about why he picked this movie to show, Maltin said that very few movies are actually cult classics. Rather, they are simply liked by a small fanbase, but are rarely objectively great. He said that Withnail & I was a great movie that actually deserved the term "cult classic" because of its greatness. I'll agree with Maltin that not everything actually deserves the term "cult classic", but I don't think it has anything to do with objective value. Heck, there's even the argument that "objective value" shouldn't necessarily be stapled onto a film criticism. I kind of dug Withnail & I but I also don't consider it to be a movie that I'd be watching multiple times. It's one of those real bummer movies that you kind of like to watch where the protagonists are hot messes and sometimes it is satisfying to see people make horrible choices. I don't know if it puts my own choices in perspective. I probably think that I'm better than these people, but I have to imagine that there is a strong Withnail audience who probably admire Withnail and Marwood because their lives mirror theirs so much. It is odd to think of this movie as a comedy. There were moments where I laughed, but the jokes are dark. Like, the movie gets really uncomfortable a lot of the time. Part of the reason is that these two guys are the causes of their own miseries. We all know people like this. People who lead insane lives and wonder why they are never consistently happy. Their temporary highs just leave every other moment as a miserable void, and there's something darkly funny about the whole thing. Again, I tend to overanalyze on this blog. There weren't moments where I was just guffawing, "They are doing this to themselves" as I held my side. None of that. It was more along the lines of the absurdity of the whole situation. I guess Withnail & I is somewhat absurdist. Yeah, it follows the rules of reality in the sense that there is a linear cause-and-effect. Outside of the fact that Withnail, Marwood, and Monty -to a certain degree - are constantly inebriated and have a skewed sense of reality, the rest of the world abides by our laws. But so little of the movie is outside of the perspective of the protagonists that the rules just feel bizarre. Withnail and Marwood make their own weird sense and that's how the movie plays out.
Walsh, in the interview, described this movie as typical of the young actor. Every young actor can relate to Marwood and now I'm really glad that I went onto be a film and English teacher instead of following my theatre degree. I don't know if that is necessarily true. I think most people go through that period of arrested development where they live somewhat more frugally than later in life. When we first got married, I know that we lived on the cheap pretty hard in Dayton. But there is this odd association with this comment that I'd like to discuss. I don't know why low-income in a temporary state instantly gets associated with poor decision making. That's kind of what the movie is selling. I know that I have completely left the ranch when it comes to analyzing this movie, but there is this weird subtle assumption that those in a temporary financial jam while being in the arts will instantly resort to debasing themselves and lead a life of drunken grossness. I just want to comment on it. But the fun balance of this character can be Ralph Brown's Danny. He's doing the character that I love from Wayne's World 2 in this one and I don't care. I loved Del Preston and seeing the extreme version of Withnail totally sells the movie. The thing about Withnail is that he is a hateful individual. He's absolutely the worst. He is amazingly toxic and that can only go so far in a film. Danny is that nice balance and he kind of brings up the theme of the movie. As terrible as these guys are, there's something nostalgic that Danny brings up about those born in the late '60s and early '70s. Withnail, Marwood, and Danny are the end of an era. Danny brings up this very interesting notion that "Hippie wigs are sold at Woolworths" or something like that. Withnail and Marwood are commentaries on the counter-culture movement. No one could possibly take these two guys seriously because they are lost souls. They are the results of having little responsibility for a generation. Remember, the hippie counter-culture movement was about something. It was a response to civil rights and a war and all kinds of nonsense that needed a voice. Withnail and Marwood live the counter culture movement without having an enemy to rebel against. They simply fight the voice of the common man, which is perfectly fine. It's worst crime, from the film's perspective, is that they are boring. Keep in mind, George Harrison produced this movie. By yelling at people who are simple folks who just want to live their lives doesn't make the boring people look bad, but the drunks look like drunks. I kind of like that. Admittedly, the world is far more complex, but it is an interesting view of how a generation dies. Between this movie and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, that theme is something interesting to explore.
The stuff with Uncle Monty is super uncomfortable. The movie is bold and childish simultaneously when it comes to commenting on sexuality. Richard Griffiths is this famous character actor. For those not familiar with him, he's Uncle Vernon from the Harry Potter franchise. I loved seeing him in this movie and Bruce Robinson writes this character both as sympathetic and truly pathetic. I don't know if this character is a step forward or a step backwards, but he does come off as extremely icky. The tone of the movie up to this point is pretty icky and Robinson does a solid job of letting the unstated carry through the narrative. It is this elephant in the room, but it comes down to how aggressive Monty becomes throughout the film. While his sequences with McGann are tonally appropriate, there is just this desire to curl under the blankets and hide. It is so sad and a bit of a play for comedy where there really shouldn't be. But as I stated before, this is the film's bread and butter. The movie really plays for laughs with the darkest moments and I really couldn't get much of a laugh out of this moment. The makeup on Griffiths's face reminded me a bit too much of some of the makeup I would see in a Rob Zombie movie. This moment has been teased throughout much of the film, especially when Monty shows up in the middle of the night. There's something just so bleak about the whole thing that I got a little bummed out about it. Heck, I'm getting bummed out thinking about it now. The movie wholeheartedly establishes that Monty's advances are well within the lines of rape, but he's just the saddest character throughout. I don't know why this dynamic is created. Are we supposed to feel bad for him? Withnail engineers this whole sequence without a care. He gets to this sociopathic level of greed that it isn't fair that Monty was even put in this position. But where Monty goes from there is super dark. I guess a lot of this thought comes from what I'm supposed to take away from the film. It is the most intense section of the movie and I think that Robinson wanted me to laugh off this moment. Perhaps it is the fact that this movie was made in 1987 and that we've become a bit more woke when it comes to this stuff, but I don't think that this scene was given its proper gravitas. Instead, I kind of left the movie feeling like I needed a shower.
I have to go back to Leonard Maltin's thoughts on cult classics. A cult classic is something that a small group of people find genius and get obsessed about. But I completely disagree on the objectivity of these movies. If anything, cult classics should be special because something spoke to that viewer at that particular time. I tend to get why movies become cult classics. I have quite a few myself. Withnail & I is a cult classic, one that I even kind of enjoyed. But it also follows the rules of other cult classics. This movie, I'm absolutely positive, speaks to some people more than others. It isn't a perfect movie and I can get why some people like it. But I will never jump on board this cult and I would never force this down anyone's throats. I gave my wife a video game and let her play it, so I can stand by that statement.
PG-13. Minutes ago (MINUTES AGO!) I wrote about how silly the PG-13 rating is when it comes to Star Wars. Admittedly, this one has a darker tone, so I can kind of get the PG-13 thing. But it's Star Wars. You know that there were going to be little kids in this audience. I wouldn't even really get mad at parents for bringing their little kids to see a new Star Wars movie. It's Star Wars. The reason that we call these movies PG-13 is because they are live-action adventure movies. That's it. That used to be PG. Honestly, think of all the kids with BB-8 on their backpacks. Do you think their parents are thinking that they aren't thirteen yet?
DIRECTOR: Rian Johnson
I honestly feel bad about trashing this one because I feel like I've been convinced that I'm wrong about my opinion. The biggest thing about this movie is that the critics love this movie. They think it is the bee's knees and there probably is some validity to that criticism. But audiences, including myself, don't exactly agree with how awesome this movie might be. I will say this: I have been reading more articles on the backlash of this movie than I have for any other movie in recent memory. Part of it comes from my opinion of Rian Johnson. I was preaching Brick for the longest time. (Speaking of Brick, who has my copy of Brick? Also who has my Superman film franchise box set? Who keeps taking all of my stuff?) Then Johnson really impressed me with Looper. When I heard that he was going to be involved in the new trilogy, I may-or-may-not have done a karate punch thing of enthusiasm. With the recent announcement that he would be spearheading a new post-Skywalker trilogy, I knew that The Last Jedi was going to be a hit. But I kinda didn't love it.
I didn't hate it either. I'm definitely going to rewatch it. That was the repeated quote on the Literally Anything podcast. I knew I would rewatch it someday because I don't think I've fully digested it. I just know that there were a ton of icky parts that stuck to my ribs sooner than the parts than I actually enjoyed. I wonder if that's true about most things. The negative things tend to stand out stronger than the parts that were really great. In my Force Awakens review, I focused on how Star Wars has completely unfair expectations set on it. We may never get a perfect trilogy again and to simply label something Star Wars doesn't necessitate quality. The idea of a B+ Star Wars movie is the same thing as an F Star Wars movie. (It's a Star Wars Villa-fail, guys. *groan*) I think what really hit me is that I didn't really understand Luke. I knew that Luke was going to be a bit of a turd / curmudgeon in this one. The fact that he's living alone on Space Ireland was a big hint. That massive beard just sold that in one. But I really had a hard time seeing the same man that was in the original trilogy. That's part of the message of the story. It is a bit of our heroes letting us down. I read an article (I told you I did!) that talked about why it is great that The Last Jedi destroyed our childhoods. Fanboys have gotten way too precious about their nostalgia and their childhoods, so The Last Jedi subverting those expectations might not have been the worst thing in the world. But I want to examine Luke Skywalker a step further than that. I don't really get Luke's attitude in the movie. I'm going to start superficially and discuss his very odd comedy stylings. I don't like jokey Luke. Yeah, that seems picky. I like jokes in Star Wars, but Luke has always been criminally unfunny. I don't believe that isolation on Space Ireland made him hilarious. (Also, nerds, I know it's called Ahch-To. This isn't my first rodeo and it's now Space Ireland.) I don't think that I've been more removed from a character than probably Luke's best joke in the film. It's the "reach out" joke. I really think it is a great joke and guffawed. But it felt more like Mark Hamill than Luke Skywalker. I don't even blame Hamill for that because it wasn't in Luke's character. The rest comes from his dislike of the Jedi. I get it. He's really angry at himself, but he's taking it out on the Jedi. But that also doesn't scan with the character's history. From Luke's perspective, he's only known a limited number of Jedi and these Jedi were good people. (But what if Luke became friends with a million Force ghosts, Tim? To that, I respond, "Have you considered writing extended universe fiction?") One was a father and one was a beloved, if not harsh teacher. Why would he hate the Jedi? Also, the idea that there's always a bad guy who misuses that power is true of every profession, so give the Jedi a bit of a break. Possibly the only trait that makes this choice make sense is the fact that the movies just found another way to make Luke whiny again. Meh.
Also, this movie is just stupid long. I know, a film guy complaining about how long a movie is. I love me some Lord of the Rings Extended Editions and Kubrick films hold a special place in my heart. But this movie just left me so bored by the middle. The middle is the oddest padding that this movie didn't really need. I'm kind of talking about the weird adventure surgically grafted to this film. What makes The Last Jedi feel different from the other films is that there isn't much adventure to the movie. There's a sense of excitement to the other movies, but The Last Jedi is a very long discussion about the nature of war and mythology as one team waits for the other team to run out of gas. The whole diversion to the casino planet is just to give Finn something to do. Finn really has nothing to do in this movie, so they gave him a story that did not fit with the story at all. I kind of like the results of this mission and I'm going to try not to spoil how this entire plan plays out, but it really is a stalling tactic. It ties an important idea to the movie that doesn't need all that buildup to explain: What if the Resistance aren't necessarily as good as they seem? War is evil on all sides and I really like that Star Wars is looking at that narrative. But this is also a universe where Finn was kidnapped from his family as a child to becomes a soldier for the First Order. This is the same First Order that wiped out a star system in the last movie. I like the idea that the Resistance isn't as goody-two-shoes as we are led to believe, but there is a moral chasm between the two factions. This also brings up the problems I have with DJ, played by Benicio Del Toro. One, I don't love celebrity casting in Star Wars because all I could see was Benicio Del Toro and Laura Dern up there, not their respective characters. Secondly, I think that Johnson was trying to say something with DJ, implying that not everyone turns out like Han Solo or Lando. Some people actually are just selfish jerks. But that character's character choices were all over the place. I think that comes from the need to surprise the audience with the character's abrupt change. LIGHT SPOILER: But one thing had to be sacrificed and that was credibility. DJ started by being oppressed to actually being a scoundrel. When you accept that he's a scoundrel, he proves that he has a heart of gold. Only he doesn't, because ONE MORE TWIST, he's terrible. That's such odd storytelling. All the choices that went into those moments seem just throwaway. Any relationship that you establish with DJ is all kind of garbage because none of it was actually real. Or maybe it was real, but the movie asks you to invest in this character only to have him be nothing but a punk the entire time. That's a really cynical view.
FULL SPOILERS. I tried ducking spoilers for a while. I thought I could make it through, but I have to talk about Space Laura Dern (General Holdo...have you not been reading? I know my stuff, but I'm also extremely flippant!) and Luke's new superpowers. I also have to talk about Rey's parents and I'm now aware that this review might take me through Christmas to actually finish because I have so many gripes to the movie. Space Laura Dern is pretty great, except I can only see Laura Dern with a purple wig, which is probably David Lynch's caveat to letting her perform in something that isn't his at this point. But her choices don't make a lick of sense. Oh, I get it. Have faith in the Force. But even a Jedi would adapt to fluctuating circumstances. For a guy who loves messages about faith, it is a really weird one to have. It's that old parable about praying to God for rescue, but ignoring the rescue vessels that come before God does. Holdo goes out of her way not to tell Poe any part of the plan. Mid mutiny, she's completely calm and implying that she's doing something criminally dumb. It is only the very conveniently timed Leia resurrection. (Aw jeez, I just remembered that I have to talk about Carrie Fisher too. See you next Christmas, I guess.) None of that makes any sense. Also, the suicide run looks awesome and is a great emotional beat, but that opened the door to "Why wasn't that done before in Star Wars history? You know, when the circumstances were even more dire?" This is all part of the things that are meant to keep an audience in suspense while being intentionally misleading. I don't like when character choices don't make sense. That's what a lot of this movie is when it comes to trying to tell a good story. The message itself is great. But Johnson, in an attempt to tell this message, has these characters make these oddball choice that no rational person would actually do.
The Jedi / Force-sensitive are also insane Mary Sues in this movie. Remember in the prequel trilogy how easy it was to kill a Jedi? Between Luke and Leia in this movie, I now believe that the Jedi are Neo in the last Matrix movie. They can do so much. I get Leia's abilities in this one and I have a theory about why she is so overpowered in this movie. I know that Episode IX was supposed to be Leia's big movie. (I was made aware that The Force Awakens was Han's movie. This one is Luke's movie. The next one as Leia's actually makes a lot of sense.) There has been this tease that Leia would be the great savior of the Jedi. The death of Carrie Fisher put this movie in an awkward place. Believe you me, I applaud the choice to not kill Leia in this movie. I'm sure that there was some temptation to simply kill a character because they had the opportunity. In fact, there would have been a really easy way to do it. When Luke fades into the Force, just have a silhouetted shot of Leia disappearing as well. I'm glad they didn't do this, but that was an option. In my mind, the original draft of the movie had Leia being injured in the attack on the cruiser, but not blown out into space. Probably the movie teased something minor, like using the Force to slow down a beam from falling onto her. But then, when Fisher passed, they gave her the major moment in this one. But it was so huge. The Jedi can do anything in this movie. They established a pretty solid power set and then kind of fan serviced all over this one. Force ghost Yoda can can down a lightning strike on a tree? Why isn't he using this on Star Destroyers? (The answer is, "Because that's silly and would ruin the plot." Exactly.) My co-host on Literally Anything often says that the Jedi are the worst part of Star Wars. I thought he was a grump, but he might be right. The mythology has gotten too deep. It has gotten to a point where I don't care about it anymore, and that might be the worst thing for Star Wars. That Dark Side hole just seemed stupid to me at one point and I never thought I would get there. The books and the tree and what Jedi can now do just seems like we're changing the power set with each passing moment. I don't know. I would have loved Luke to just knock over the Walkers, but not bi-locate.
You know what? I don't have the patience to get into Rey's parents. I'm going to do a speed run through this. I love the answer of who Rey's parents are...if the other movie completely didn't imply that this answer was impossible. From Rey's perspective, she always just thought her parents were folks. They didn't have this great destiny and this kind of craps on the previous movie for even thinking it. This movie gets all its points from stealing from other movies. I love the answer. I cannot establish that enough, but again, it doesn't scan with what happened before. Why would people be losing their minds over Rey's lineage if there was nothing to actually play out. But I do like the idea that the greatest among us come from the most oppressed. Again, this ties into the first image of Luke tossing the lightsaber away because he could. It just craps on all of the vulnerability we put into the last movie.
From the Rey / Snoke scene on, I mostly enjoyed the movie. The Snoke destruction, while again problematic, was a great twist. The fight sequence with Kylo Ren and Rey was fantastic. The Finn / Phasma fight was ridiculous, establishing that Phasma was just the Boba Fett of the new trilogy: a lot of hype with little payout. I loved the established look of the salt planet and much of the movie is gorgeous. But again, with the salt planet, Rose is a big disappointment. I was really thinking I was going to like her character, but denying Finn his sacrifice is a big choice. Yeah, it all worked out, but just like Leia waking up just in time, there is no way that Rose would have known that Luke was going to be there. There's just all these moments where Johnson is trying to subvert expectations. But the only way he pulls these moments make no logical sense whatosever. I want to like this movie so badly, but I don't think I really do. The more I think about it, the more stray fibers I find. As a message, I think the movie actually has a lot to say and I really applaud trying to do new things. But the movie just has so many glaring problems that I don't know if I'll ever really get behind it. Like I keep on harping on, I'm going to see this movie a few more times. It's Star Wars, after all. I have to give it more chances than I would any other film franchise. But I do need some space from it, perhaps.
Wow, this review was long.
Remember how most of the original Star Wars trilogy was PG? Then most of the prequel trilogy was PG, until Revenge of the Sith? Then they just became PG-13? This is my passive aggressive attack on the MPAA for the day. There is nothing more intense in this one than in the old ones, but it is still PG-13.
DIRECTOR: J.J. Abrams
This one is almost a little unfair. I knew that I should watch The Force Awakens before watching The Last Jedi just to keep fresh on the new trilogy. I hadn't reviewed this one previously and I have all of the other movies reviewed on this page, so I suppose that I should review this one for the website. But I wasn't watching that closely. I was making waffles for my class. Yup, I made my students watch The Force Awakens. What? We finished the unit and it was the day before midterms. I think I'm good. It's better than another forced viewing of The Polar Express. But I've seen this one a few times and it was like watching it while being on my iPhone. (I hate myself and I wish I did this right is the point of this paragraph.)
I know that this is a polarizing movie. For a guy who really defends pop culture and obsession, Star Wars gets a little dicey. This is coming from a Star Trek and Doctor Who fan, so I'm really a pot calling the kettle black. It feels like when someone doesn't do Star Wars justice, at least from the point of view of that individual viewer, it is an offense somehow. Perhaps Star Wars was such a benchmark of popular culture that anything that is somehow imperfect is less than worthy of attention. Like I mentioned, I have already seen The Last Jedi and I didn't exactly love it. But I haven't felt really slighted in any sense. Perhaps the closest I've got to feeling like those who dislike The Force Awakens is when Man of Steel came out. Man of Steel tarnished my feelings on Superman, which was very important to me at the time. All this buildup is to say that I really like The Force Awakens, despite its very glaring flaw. I'm not preaching anything new here. You've heard this argument before. The Force Awakens parrots A New Hope to an almost criminal level. I can't even deny it. I heard this review before I even saw it the first time on opening day. I even tried ignoring those elements when I was watching it, but you really can't help it. The major beats of the movie are all there and it is kind of a bummer. J.J. Abrams had to know that when he was making this movie. I heard that he wanted to atone for that when he signed up to make episode IX. But I had to wonder why that choice was made. These moments were intentional. There was no way that he wasn't aware that he kind of was remaking A New Hope with new characters. The best metaphor I could come back with was breaking a bone just to reset it. The bad taste in our mouths from the prequel trilogy was still present. While I was excited that Disney had wrestled away control from George Lucas, no one knew if this was the best movie. What if Star Wars ended up being just three good movies. The safest bet was to show that the new franchise was going to be closer to the original movies than the prequel films. The Force Awakens was almost doomed before it got off the ground. But the thing is, it is the best version of that movie that we were going to get. The Force Awakens did what the prequels didn't. The Force Awakens is actually fun. It is really fun. I love all of the new characters. The jokes really work in the film and it balances nostalgia and storytelling in an extremely compelling way.
I have to avoid accidentally reviewing The Last Jedi while I write this because I want to write this review with what I learned about the next film. This movie establishes such a nice worldbuild. It takes what worked that was dirty and scruffy about the original trilogy (not a nerfherder, despite my use of the adjective "scruffy") and then added on to the world. It's nice to imply what happened in the past thirty or so years in this universe. I remember that when I saw the first trailer for The Force Awakens, I wasn't really all that impressed. It was only when I saw the second trailer and I saw that grounded Star Destroyer that I knew that something was going to be special about the environment. Sure, it's kind of a bummer that Jakku is just Tattooine all over again, but that's okay to some extent. Rey embodies this world in a way that Luke Skywalker never really could. Luke always somehow seemed privileged, that the world around him never really broke him down. Tattooine was always this rough place that was full of criminals, slaves, and sand people. Yet, Luke always seemed unphased by the world around him. Rey, however, is the product of Jakku. she is strong and resilient because she has to be to survive this world around her. Her introduction to the world around her is absolutely perfect. Watching her scavenge Star Destroyer parts tells so much about her character without having to have this long monologue about having to survive. The way she is treated just having to trade for that disgusting / sweet looking self-rising bread establishes why Rey should head this franchise. Similarly, I like how Finn's origin is very self-explanatory too. His story is very short and sweet, yet everything we need to know about him can be contained in a short sequence. A stormtrooper who doesn't like to kill is a great background. The world of Star Wars has done all the heavy lifting on establishing stormtrooper background that twisting that narrative is actually a fairly logical step. Having him best friends with Poe Dameron continues that idea quite nicely. Of course, a stormtrooper probably doesn't have a ton of friends. That makes the chemistry of the three pretty solid. Let's thank God that Oscar Isaac is still in this universe. When I read that Poe Dameron was supposed to be a tiny part that was supposed to die pretty quickly, I got bummed. Isaac is what this franchise needs. I don't know why a trinity of characters works better than just a duo, but it does help. Considering that The Force Awakens is a copy of A New Hope, the characters introduced only have elements of their predecessors, but seem to be whole characters in an of themselves.
I don't know what unholy contract was given to Harrison Ford that he not only came back to do another Blade Runner movie, but to also do a Star Wars movie. The guy has spent most of his life trying to distance himself from any franchise outside of Indiana Jones and he came back to do Han Solo? SPOILER ALERT: I realize that he got his wish out of this one. Ford, at least this is what I heard, wanted to have Solo killed at the end of Return of the Jedi just so people would stop asking him to play the same part again. Yeah, he got his wish in this one, but it was such a Han Solo movie that I don't think I minded. He went out on a bang. I always loved Firefly because it was what the movies would have been had Han Solo been the main character. Han Solo has always been the heart of these movies and that has to be a weird irony because he is the gruff one of the three. Giving The Force Awakens to Han Solo makes these movies really worth watching. My father-in-law loves Harrison Ford far too much and the second that my wife and I got out of the theater, we told him that he had to see this one immediately. That didn't happen. Instead, we showed it to him on a TV during a hurricane in Florida and I'm 90% sure that he fell asleep, but he said that he liked it. So that makes me right, I guess. The movie is fun before Harrison Ford shows up, but Han Solo and Chewbacca on screen together hit my nostalgia button just right. But these characters might transcend nostalgia. (I'm not actually allowed to comment on how characters transcend nostalgia when I'm actually nostalgic for these characters, but this is my blog and I can establish my own tone.) For a guy who hates Han Solo, Harrison Ford managed to capture a lot of the same beats that he had for the character in the last movie. I often see Harrison Ford phoning it in, but there were moments where I could imagine that he enjoyed playing the part. The chemistry between him and a giant dog were great. Even better, I loved seeing Solo as a mentor figure for both Finn and Rey. He was this (very temporary) father figure for Rey and he treated Finn like he treated Luke. Adding the "Big Deal" nickname to Finn was absolutely perfect. It established the dynamic between the two characters extremely well.
This movie establishes such an aura of mystery that I wish I had got to have seen played out. (I can't help but comment on The Last Jedi!) I wanted to have the mysteries of this world unravel over the course of three movies. The Last Jedi solves many of these mysteries, but I kind of want an alternate reality that gets some of these mysteries have gravitas. I think the first scene with Luke in The Last Jedi establishes what Rian Johnson thinks of these mysteries, but I'll have to deal with that in my own way. I kind of want to rewatch this movie AGAIN in context of The Last Jedi, but I already have too much on my pop culture plate to have time for that. We're also moving, so I have to clean out my DVR. There might be some time before I can really knock out a ton of reviews, but I'll try my best. Either way, I enjoy The Force Awakens, but acknowledge it has its faults.
There's this little movie that's out in theaters right now. Star Wars? I'm pretty sure it is called "Star Wars". The Misters H have a pretty spoiler heavy discussion about Star Wars: The Last Jedi.
IF YOU HAVEN'T SEEN IT YET, please listen to the first part where they discuss the documentary "The Problem with Apu."
Visit literallyanything.net to give her a spin!
This one is R. The content is pretty intense. I went into this movie knowing nothing about it outside the fact that the buzz was that it was amazing. I don't want to spoil anything for people who don't want to read my review, but I will stress that the content is pretty heavy. There's a lot of cursing. Probably way too much cursing. Like Logan, the script throws in language because it can at times, but it works better here. I do wish that the screenwriter challenged himself to limit the language, but what can I do?
DIRECTOR: Martin McDonagh
I don't often go into movies completely blind. I heard that the pre-Oscar buzz was going to be about this film. One thing about trying to see all of the Oscar movies before the Oscars actually come out is that most of the movie are unable to be seen by the time that the list is revealed. There's a lot of guesswork that goes into these movies and I hate that. (Sorry, I ethically can't do the Oscar marathons that many of the theaters try sucking me into. That includes not abandoning my family for days at a time and the fact that I'm not really giving the individual movies a fair shake.) I also really like going to the movies, but that's a whole separate thing. I'm really glad that I didn't know too much about this movie. The only thing I knew was that the title was very similar to a very pretentious short play I wrote in college. Both titles seemed to try too hard. In this case, the billboards play a pretty vital role to the story, so I'm going to give it a pass.
I have one big question about the movie, but I think I'll get to that later. I want to address the main plot and how powerful the movie is. The premise of the billboards MINOR SPOILER is that it accuses the local police department of sitting on their hands when it comes to investigating the rape and death of the protagonist's daughter. Mildred, the protagonist, sees the corruption of the local police department and calls out the sheriff, played by Woody Harrelson, to continue his search for her daughter's rapist and killer. The sheriff also happens to be dying of cancer. The town is torn apart, deciding who is right in this very complex moral argument and that is a pretty dark movie. It is fascinating examining a movie where the good guys aren't that good and the bad guys...well, they're still pretty bad. But the real examination is that people are people and that people tend to be stuck in their own moral bias, right or wrong. The movie is extremely powerful and if you just watch it for the execution of an extremely complex emotional storyline, please catch this movie. It really works. There is so much that I had to think about. There are moments where the movie gets really really preachy, but for the most part, this movie isn't a scolding. It comments on society quite well, but not from a "one side is dumb, the other side is smart." It does condemn the clearly amoral, represented by Sam Rockwell's Dixon. But even Dixon is shown to be ultimately flexible, given the proper stimulus. It is refreshing to show that people and characters can change. The movie definitely has social commentary to it, but it is frightening to think that maybe people only change in stories versus reality. Either this movie has the most optimistic view of humanity or it has the most sombering view on humanity. I'll think about it and get back to you. (Okay, I probably won't get back to you, but I'll at least try to think about it.) Mildred, the protagonist, often spouts a more condemning-from-on-high attitude, judging and attacking all those who do not stand with her. It's so bizarre that her crusade is a moral one, but she burns bridges with everyone along her way. It is refreshing to see such a flawed protagonist fight for such a noble cause. She is persecuted and attacked, but she ultimately makes bad choices in this light. I often see stories of those people attacked for their beliefs and handling it like champs. There is something to be respected to see these saintlike people fighting the good cause in the way I know it should be fought. But those narratives tend to become saccharine. (Again, I stress. When you are persecuted, don't lower yourselves to the strategies of your enemies.) More rarely do we get the inverse. Mildred never considers abandoning her cause, but rather examines the darker parts of herself to see how far she is willing to push back against the oncoming tide. I'm not going to spoil the movie for you, but it is refreshing to hear that McDonagh had this interpretation in mind. How do I know? Peter Dinklage has a speech towards the end of the movie discussing how Mildred isn't necessarily a good person. It's pretty great.
Now to the part that confuses me. The tone of this movie is bizarre. I get the vibe that Martin McDonagh is a huge Coen brothers fan. This movie gets very dark, as is often the case in movies like Fargo. But the movie is just littered with jokes. Too many jokes. There are far too many jokes in this film. The worst part is that they all crush. I found myself guffawing and then I realized what the scene was about and I just grew ashamed. I get it and I even agree with it. The bleakest of things need to take that edge off. Darkness and misery lead to emo stories and the real world is full of funny moments that make us aware of the pain around us. I support that. But the movie packed in a few too many jokes or character moments that really stopped the movie from completely driving that emotional point home. It almost felt like, at times, that the movie was afraid to be completely emotionally vulnerable. The comedy was a safety net. I didn't have that much time to stew between each moment because someone was cracking a joke or a ridiculous character walked in. This also affects the performances in the long run. I love Sam Rockwell. Rest assured, he does his job in this one. But the job he does is a very specific and stylized choice. Rather than seeing the true face of someone who would resort to torture when it comes to white power, I saw Sam Rockwell pull out this absolutely bizarre character. It fits tonally with the movie, so I know that is what he was asked to do. But sometimes having characters avoid the obvious joke gives the story a degree of nuance. I kind of would have loved Rockwell's character to scare me a little. There was never a time when I could actually imagine him torturing someone. One scene in the movie involving Dixon is remarkably violent. But it is this dark comedic violence. It isn't impassioned. Rather, his calm demeanor during this scene kind of evokes a "what am I watching?" response. It's a disturbing scene that is almost afraid to live in this moment of discomfort. That's kind of how the whole movie plays out. Mildred cracks wise, despite the fact that she can be an absolutely horrible human being. Willoughby, played by Woody Harrelson, curses like a storm in front of his kids as a joke. He's likable, sure, but he is far from being the real person that we saw in True Detective. In True Detective, he even gets a few laughs, but he never compromises the intensity of the scene. Because of this combination of darkness and laughs, each scene fights for catharsis rather than rumination. It's just a very odd choice and I don't know if I would have cut some of those jokes. But that's the author / director's tone. I think he was shooting for that, but I just don't think I would have gone the same route.
There's one scene, and I think the Catholic Movie Group on Facebook would back me up, that just rubbed me the wrong way. There's a scene where a Catholic priest comes to visit Mildred. Admittedly, he might have pushed her the wrong way with his request. I wouldn't have minded had Mildred ripped him a new one, but her argument against the priesthood is absolute garbage. I know that people are mad at the Church, but c'mon. This was a cheap shot. I started by saying that this movie doesn't try to bully. This scene was the exception to the rule. The logical argument there was absolute crap and it actually got me pretty mad. I've watched movies like Spotlight and, while I didn't love it cinematically, I respected that it was trying to heal a wound. This felt like political preachiness and I don't think that kind of bullying should exist. If a film wants to comment on the Church's sexual abuse issues, please do. That argument was such a stretch of the imagination. I can only hope that the interpretation of this scene is one of Mildred going too far and burning bridges when she should be discussing, but I don't think it is.
The movie is absolutely fantastic. As of this point, I wouldn't mind if this swept a lot of the Oscars for this year. It has a lot of faults, but it is a fascinating movie. Again, the tone is a little off for a lot of the film, but most of that comes from "I wouldn't make that choice" rather than a cinema sin. I hope to see this movie fly because it really is very impressive.
Some movies were born to be R. There's nothing that insane in this movie that is R. But considering that the movie is a biopic about the making of a very R rated movie, the film is actually pretty tame. Sure, you get a mostly nude James Franco and a lot of cursing, but it doesn't feel like there is too much that is exploitative in this one. I'm surprised. Still, a hard R. Don't forget that.
DIRECTOR: James Franco
Oh, I just got that. Like Tommy Wiseau, James Franco directed and starred in the movie about a guy who directs and stars in his own movie. Okay, Franco didn't write the script, but that whole thing is pretty meta. When the trailer for The Disaster Artist dropped, I rented The Room almost immediately. I talked about my distancing from ironic viewings in my review for The Room and I still kind of hold true to that belief. But a viewing of The Room didn't temper my excitement to see The Disaster Artist. If anything, it actually ramped it up. This movie looked bananas and it was everything I kind of hoped it would it. It answered so many questions I had about the original film that I love that it exists. I just wished that I knew that it was based on a book so I could be even more literally and fancy.
I saw this as part of a double feature on Saturday night with the wife. My wife hadn't seen The Room outside of clips I showed her. I think she would have shut it off because of how borderline pornographic that movie is. But the movie is oddly bad. There's something about old bad movies that is kind of forgivable. They are not passion projects. There is usually a limited budget and they were meant to be disposable. The real gems of ironic viewing usually are movies that people are convinced are great. These are the Mystery Science Theater episodes I really enjoy. Stuff like Time Chasers makes me lose my mind. The Room definitely falls into that category. What Franco does is provide a background into the mystery of Tommy Wiseau. This had to be somewhat of a challenge. This movie, easily, could have just been a farce of this ridiculous human being. For those not in the know, Tommy Wiseau, the subject of this biopic, is one of the most bizarre human beings alive. The movie toes that line of overtly making fun of this man and wondering what makes him tick. A lot of that is explored in Greg Sestero's book, but the movie focuses more on the relationship between Greg and the mentally unhinged Tommy. Tommy Wiseau, through Franco's portrayal and direction, is simultaneously pitiable and despicable. There is a line in there saying that Tommy had some kind of accident. I don't know if they are implying that Tommy Wiseau got Gary Busey'ed in an accident, but Wiseau's choices throughout the film are consistently bizarre.
When looking at this movie, I can't help but think about the mystery about this guy. This is part of Franco's genius. You can tell that he's a bit of an ironic fan of Wiseau. Everything I've seen of him in press junkets says that Franco got to know the real Wiseau pretty well. He's also kind of afraid of him and that is conveyed in the movie. The movie kind of falters when the accent and performance of the character becomes a bit of a novelty, but the movie then shows its real legs because the movie isn't always about being funny. For the most part, the movie is pretty hilarious throughout, but it never sacrifices its emotional core for the sake of a joke. There are a couple of scenes in there that are actually kind of terrifying. Tommy Wiseau is the reason that we all kind of clam up when we see an eccentric individual doing his thing. From his pitch perfect introduction to the film at an acting class, it shows that Wiseau dances to his own band. This is where the relatability comes in. This is a transcendentalist idea that we all champion. We have all been raised and encouraged to be individuals. (Okay, that was a blanket statement, but I'm standing by it to a certain degree.) While I would never become friends with Tommy after seeing what he does on stage, I get the character of Greg wanting to find some alpha figure in his life. There is something appealing about a person who does not care what other people think of him. But the story of Wiseau might actually be quite the opposite. Tommy Wiseau, through the course of the film, is really desperate for people to notice him and applaud him. Those people who throw caution to the wind might actually be attention grabbers. In the case of Wiseau, and this is super interesting in the film, that also makes him a bit unhinged. The thing that makes it all the more interesting is that I don't know if he is unhinged because he is mentally ill or if he is unhinged because his dreams are being mocked. It's a fascinating character study and I can't believe I'm writing any of this.
It is kind of a treat to see the Franco boys act across from each other. Most people who have seen The Room have a pretty good Tommy Wiseau impression. He's super mockable, and Franco's impression might be the best. But Franco seems to have really honed that impression to a point where he is not just parroting Tommy Wiseau, but is really acting underneath it all. I can completely see the origins of this movie being a bunch of celebrities joke-planning a Tommy Wiseau movie. Franco does his impression. Everyone laughs. He then realizes he can take it to the next step. I get this vibe because everyone is in this movie. Almost every single part in this film about nobodies who want to be celebrities is, in fact, a celebrity. This is such a cool commentary on celebrity. I know that people probably signed on when they thought the concept for the film was hilarious, but there has to be a deeper connection to Greg's perspective. I know that many films have tackled the idea of the struggling actor in Hollywood. If anything, it might be one of the more indulgent plotlines in movies. (They've all been there!) But Greg's narrative does paint him out to be kind of a saint. I'm sure the story doesn't play out that cleanly in reality, but Greg does seem very believable. Tommy does go out of his way to not only mentor Greg, but to befriend him. From Tommy's perspective, it does may a twisted amount of sense that he sees Greg's choices as a betrayal to everything that they do. Golly, the more I analyze this movie, the deeper it seems to get. Tommy's psychotic break scene is tonally the best thing that this movie might have needed. I find it so bizarre that the entire cast in that sequence is comprised of comedians. Not only are they comedians, but they are traditionally raunchy comedians. But that moment when Paul Scheer rips into Franco is just perfect. I know that Paul Scheer has a history with The Room due to his podcast history, but that sequence just rang so true. There are jokes in those scenes, but they are the least distracting jokes in history.
The one thing that my wife really questioned was Dave Franco's performance. It is a bit off, but I'm not sure what exactly is the cause of that abnormality in such a nuanced movie. Part of me thinks that since James Franco put so much detail into his portrayal of a real dude that I have to give Dave Franco the benefit of the doubt for doing the same. In fact, that might be heavy burden for Dave Franco (I have to write his whole name out considering A) His brother is in the movie so I can't just say the last name and B) just writing "Dave" seems really disrespectful) because Greg Sestero isn't exactly the caricature that Wiseau is. There isn't really a "Greg" impression that people do. Also, Greg grounds the movie. We experience Wiseau not from Wiseau's perspective, but from Greg's. Greg has to be emotionally stable while portraying the details of this real individual. The results are mixed at times, but again, that might be a Herculean task. That is an insane balance to maintain and I hate to say that Dave Franco might not be able to pull it off. I'm not sure anyone can really pull it off. I even like Dave Franco! I found myself defending him. He just seems like such a nice kid. But I also acknowledge that there's a couple of emotional missteps when it comes to portraying this character.
The Disaster Artist won't be my Oscar pick, but I really did like it. In fact, I think I might enjoy it more as just a fun film. I don't tend to rewatch a lot of Oscar nominees and I would be floored if Disaster Artist didn't get nominated. But I just enjoy this as a movie.
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.