Crazy Rich Asians (2018)
PG-13 for fish guts and blood. There's some mild language. It's a generally hostile environment. Pre-marital sex seems to be fairly commonplace among this crowd. I'm not sure if there was drug use, but one of the character definitely seemed to be very into drug use. The big takeaway is that Crazy Rich Asians is about mean people being mean to less mean people. PG-13.
DIRECTOR: Jon M. Chu
I feel wildly inadequate to critique Crazy Rich Asians from a cultural perspective. I know that there is some kind of controversy surrounding this film, but I don't really know about it. While I pride myself on staying woke, there's only so many controversies I can keep in my head before I cuddle up in my couch and surround myself with the old standbys. I can't say that I'm an expert on Asian cultures. Within the title, it stresses that this is going to be a film about culture. While I have yet to see a movie that has "Ukrainian" in the title, I have had a fair share of cultural films where I can relate. Probably the most famous is Everything is Illuminated. I kind of co-opted My Big Fat Greek Wedding because there was way more cultural crossover than I was ready for. But when looking at Crazy Rich Asians, I was definitely watching it from an outsider's perspective.
My wife is always skeptical when it comes to me watching rom-coms. I apparently have a history of hating everything. I hate that I have been lumped in with hating an entire genre. When a rom-com is great, I will fight for it until my dying day. My big problem in the past is that rom-coms tend to be a bit lazy. (In my sleepy haze, I accidentally wrote "Crazy Rich Asians" tend to be lazy. I'm sure that's not at all offensive. Geez...) They rarely believe in themselves and are made on the cheap. Their ultimate goal is to be entertaining and schmaltzy, which are such low stakes. But films like Crazy Rich Asians actually sees itself as important. You know how people find confidence attractive? I like that quality in a film too. Crazy Rich Asians is a film that believes in itself. When that confidence is attached to a rom-com, there is more to the film as well. Oddly enough, the romance kind of becomes the back up story. No one would argue with you if you said that Crazy Rich Asians was a rom-com, but I really think that the rom-com element takes a backseat to a look at the importance of family and finance. This might only be bolstering my wife's insistence that I don't like rom-coms, but the romantic part of the film is actually the weakest part of the film. I'm not saying it's bad. (It's not great.) But the rest of the film actually has strong legs. I kind of want to look at that relationship. Apparently, Henry Golding, who plays the romantic male lead Nick Young, wasn't really an actor before this point. He's fine. He's a little one note, but the character is a little one note as well. I know people who are one note, so that's also a thing. (Don't be too handsome. That's your note.) But Nick kind of sucks as a character. The movie touches on how much he kind of sucks, but quickly glosses over it. A lot of this movie comes down to people not talking to each other. There was an era where stories could be told because cell phones didn't exist. When a major plot point needed to be communicated to someone else and it wouldn't be, you could write it off like that was a normal thing. Nick in Crazy Rich Asians is like in a pre-cell phone world. He has all this absolutely vital information for the lead, Rachel, but decides not to share any of that info. Come on. I know that there's a whole conversation about it, but you couldn't tell Rachel that you are insanely rich before you got on the plane. His reasoning is fine. For those people who can't wait to comment, I agree that his secret makes sense. But literally any moment before the plane would have been more appropriate. Then he tries downplaying his wealth? He's comfortable? Come on. The family is the 1% of the 1%. You thought that she wouldn't find out when she got there. Let's also establish that she only finds out from her roommate how rich they are. What did he want to happen? Did he want her to walk into that party wildly underdressed? Thank goodness her roommate was also rich and able to clothe her on the fly. So Nick kind of sucks. He doesn't suck on the grand scheme of sucky boyfriends. But he is mostly presented as a catch and with that, I cannot abide.
But the movie is only really partially about romantic relationships. Rather, this is a study of culture. Now, this is where I get a little bit confused. Is the movie a commentary on Asian ex-pats? Is the movie a commentary about the super rich? My wife stresses that the title of the movie's title is really the most accurate. There is a specific subculture that apparently makes quite a few waves. If Asian ex-pats have a ton of money, they then hold a specific set of values. I'm still waffling on whether this is a rich thing or an Asian thing, but it is interesting. But I suppose that a lot of this can be coupled into the subgenres that is currently occupied by films like Guess Who's Coming to Dinner and Meet the Parents. Crazy Rich Asians is a less funny Meet the Parents and a more funny Guess Who's Coming to Dinner. But what the rich element adds --and is totally necessary --is the aesthetics of the piece. Crazy Rich Asians looks gorgeous. The movie exists in a weird place that both affirms and degrades the crazy rich. I'm very used to the rich being portrayed as terrible people. The film definitely secures this legacy. Most of the cast totally sucks really hard. People are cruel and catty. Part of this comes from spoiled rich twenty-somethings. The other comes from an obsession with legacy. I have to believe that this comes from a culture simultaneously obsessed with cultural heritage and success. What is really interesting about the moral of the story is that cultural heritage is normally treated as something that is morally good and precious. But Crazy Rich Asians talks about how there is something really wrong with having too much of a good thing. Michelle Yeoh's Elenor seems completely unsympathetic. She's the clear villain of the story. I know I don't get how women talk to each other. I don't want to be all "women be like this", but I have learned that my wife hears conversations very differently than I do. I think everyone likes each other. She thinks that everyone hates each other. Crazy Rich Asians kind of proves my wife right. Do you know how frustrating that is? Michelle Yeoh's character is just the right level of evil. The logical part of my brain is sympathetic with her. I love her entire backstory because it makes her a naturally compelling character. The way she changes is a bit of a cop out. The movie doesn't take any cheap ways out and I applaud that. But the ending is a bit too cake-and-eat-it-too for me. Regardless, they get the ending they deserve, so I can't be too bitter.
In terms of funny, C-. Yup. I write these long diatribes and I beat around the bush (to secretly feel better about saying that I wrote a lot). But I rarely come out and say in a quantifiable way what I feel about certain elements. I hem and I haw and I stall, as proven by the current sentence. But with this case, I want to say that the movie isn't that funny. That's okay. Honestly, it is. I'm completely fine with the movie not being a side-splitting laugh riot. The movie tries to be funny. There's a handful of really comic characters. Awkwafina is good, but she isn't great. I'm sorry. I wanted to be on board that train, but it just wasn't really happening for me. Even Ken Jeong doesn't really crack me up. Comedy is super subjective. There's nothing flawed with the comedy, but it definitely isn't aimed at me. I know what my sense of humor is and it isn't really this. Sometimes I get mad at comedy, but I guess I really shouldn't. I'm sure I scoffed at times, but I never really had a solid guffaw in the movie. But even with the mediocre comedy (considering that it is a comedy!) I never found myself bored or annoyed. Really, the movie is really pretty to look at with fairly compelling characters. I never knew I wanted to go to Singapore, but the movie makes it look awesome. I'm not just talking about the extravagant parties or anything. That actually was the least appealing elements of the the movie. Really, I'm talking about seeing fantastic street vendors and the spectacular locale. I know. I'm seeing the tourism bureau's version of Singapore. Well, applause all around to a well-conceived tourism bureau because it was awesome. Part of that comes from the absolutely baller soundtrack that Crazy Rich Asians adds to the mise en scene. Honestly, I hope the soundtrack plays in Singapore 24/7 because it adds so much to the film. What helps me experience the setting of Crazy Rich Asians is the fact that Rachel, deftly played by Constance Wu, is a compelling character. Again, Nick can jump off a tower covered by a boat looking structure. But Constance Wu has the emotional weight of the movie on her shoulders. She's such a good guy in this movie. She's not completely perfect, but she's close enough. I love morally complex characters, but sometimes it is nice to have a character who is always the good guy. Rachel is that perfect character. She always makes the right choice. You honestly feel bad for her when she's hurt. It's because she's surrounded by these terrible human beings that make you okay with the fact that she's perfectly fine when it comes to doing things right all the time. It might actually be hard to play such a great character. All of the other actors are allowed to indulge in dark stuff and you have to be perfect the entire time. Regardless, good for Constance Wu. She's great in this.
I enjoyed the movie quite a bit. It's never going to go on a favorite list. But considering that I'm far from the target audience for this movie, I watched a movie that had ambition and managed to pull off most of the things it was going for. Not every movie was made for me, but that doesn't mean that I don't notice quality and talent. The movie is pretty fun. I enjoyed it. Yeah, it's a bit tropey. But it uses those tropes as a starting point and then goes in lots of fun directions. I'm impressed.
2018 is almost over! But what did the boys think of the pop culture moments of 2018? Find out in a special extra-long, guest star-studded episode of Literally Anything!
Die Hard 2: Die Harder (1990)
Rated R. We still have a while until Live Free or Die Hard, so just get comfortable with John McClane using the f-word every other word. There's smoking, violence. You know what? There's a lot of smoking and a lot of violence. That violence spirals into gore. A guy gets an icicle to the eyeball. That grosses me out. There's some really awkward butt nudity. If you don't like guns, strap in because there are so many guns. So so many guns. It's Die Hard 2! R.
DIRECTOR: Renny Harlin
SPOILER HEAVY BECAUSE IT IS SO MUCH EASIER TO WRITE: Why does no one fight if this one is a Christmas movie? I'm willing to go above and beyond that this might be more of a Christmas movie than the first Die Hard. The first movie has Christmas as an arbitrary holiday. It is an excuse to get John to Nakatomi Tower, but really, everything else is just window dressing. It being LA and all, it doesn't look like a Christmas film. But Die Hard 2 almost has to be at Christmas. It's a major blizzard at Dulles airport. It's overcrowded because it is Christmas. People intentionally cover things up to not avoid a panic on Christmas. Maybe no one really has a problem with Die Hard 2 being a Christmas movie. I wish I lived in a world like that. The real reason no one fights against this movie is that most people don't like this movie. And they would be wrong because I really genuinely enjoy Die Hard 2: Die Harder...despite its faults.
I always knew that people weren't big on Die Hard 2, but I never really understood it before. But watching it critically, I know where some of the complaints come from. Again, disliking the whole movie for these reasons is a little bit silly, but I'm going to address them early. The big one that's kind of unforgivable is the fact that Die Hard 2 really is Die Hard 1. It's one of those sequels that really rides the coattails of the first film. It's the same problem that people have with Ghostbusters 2, which I also enjoy. I admit, a movie shouldn't depend on the first film for the formula. It's so weird that John McTiernan directed parts 1 and 3 because 1 and 2 look exactly alike. I mean, just the way these movies are shot, you'd think that they brought back the entire production team to make the movie. I'm going to step out from the criticism for a second and say that the second one is different enough to be enjoyable, but it has a lot of the same beats. The movie twice addresses how implausible the entire situation is. That's a bad sign. I don't think we can get any worse than Captain Lorenzo. The first movie had the implausibly skeptical character who ignores all of the evidence to maintain power. Lorenzo has just stacks and stacks of evidence that things are going poorly. He's the exact same character as before. Also, William Atherton is on Holly's plane? That's absurd. Getting Al back into the film is also insane. This is all stuff that goes out the window with the future installments, so I'm going to forgive this stuff. But why be this lazy? (Because they went with what they knew worked. As forgettable as this movie for a lot of people, the movie was financially successful and fairly enjoyable.) The second reason that the movie is kind of a sin is that the bad guys are hilariously over the top. 1990, you are a silly year for action movies. Hans Gruber was a great villain. He's pretty cut and dry. He's comfortable and that's great. Colonel Stuart so over the top, he can't be taken seriously. His introduction is naked tai chi or krav maga or something. He's watching the TV and then he uses the remote for the TV as a gun to show how hard edge he is. Hans Gruber was a guy pretending to be Col. Stuart and that worked so much better. Stuart is just silly. The military stuff just doesn't really fit in the world of John McClane.
But Die Hard 2 is different enough to still be enjoyable. Fundamentally, there's one thing that a lot of people ignore. John's dynamic in the second film is just very different. McClane still gets a lot of alone time, but he's not alone. Die Hard had Al being a friendly voice from a distance. There are a lot of people that John interacts with that end up being on his side. Yeah, he gets the Lorenzos of the world on his case, but mostly, he's the guy working ahead of the problem with people giving him advice. We still have the moonbase bottle element to the film (for the most part), but John doesn't have to be covering the same areas over and over again. The airport offers a lot of different elements that Nakatomi intentionally closed off from him. This means that John ends up taking out scores of bad guys at a time as opposed to sneaking up and Assassin's Creeding them. I know. That's what people want and that's what Live Free or Die Hard will get wrong. But it is a new threat to me. The intellectual, logical part of me says that John McClane shouldn't be able to hold his own against Army Rangers. The part of me that eats too much candy and wonders why his mouth feels gross really enjoys that element of the movie. It's so satisfying watching John McClane take out Navy Seals. It's fantastic. Also, I know that there are probably a ton of plotholes in the mercenaries' plans, but it seems like a pretty good plan. Col. Stuard seems to have it all together. The only plotholes that kind of confuse me is that John seems to go into taking down the terrorists unaided. Like, when General Esperanza lands the plane and John takes him out, it seems like he's being counterproductive to his cause. There's a moment in the film where I'm not sure if John is doing what's best for Holly or if he's trying to have his cake and eat it too. In my head, there's a reason why John is risking the plane that Holly is on. I believe that JOHN believes that the mercenaries are going to crash the planes anyway. That's how I wrap my head around everything. But who knows? Maybe the movie just needs John to constantly be the underdog hero. But their plan seems super effective. It's weird how much Die Hard 2 also ups the ante about the stakes. Gruber took out Mr. Takagi and Ellis, but mostly leaves everyone alone. Sure, he was going to blow them up on the roof, but John stopped that. Stuart honestly blows up a plane willy-nilly. BTW, Renny Harlin, interesting choice to show us the inside of the plane before everyone died. What a decision.
I don't know how much I have to say about this, but I love that there's a sequel where the lesson from the first film is carried over in the second. I talked about this again in my Home Alone review, but Home Alone 2: Lost in New York undoes all of the goodwill from the first film. Kevin becomes a little turd all over again and then learns the same lessons. But John actually became a better cop, a better husband, and a better human being since the events of the first Die Hard. John and Holly are madly in love. He abandoned his New York job and it looks like Holly is still working for Nakatomi (what a decision! I know she was high up, but geez...). I know that this disappears in the future entries and I'm pretty sure we never see her again for the rest of the franchise. But by having John's life together, it gives him more incentive to make sure that Holly is safe. I know. He would have protected Holly at all costs, regardless of the status of their marriage. But things are working out for him in this one. The worst thing that happened in his life compared to the first one is that his in-laws' car got towed by Vito. He has his wife and kids. Heck, not only that, but Holly wants to have a romantic evening with him instead of doing the completely rational thing of going to see her parents and the kids. Good for you, Die Hard 2. Despite the fact that a lot is a copycat of the first one, you were smart enough to make the two of them get along. Also, they kept Holly as a complete boss. The first one, she didn't put up with any guff when it came to Hans Gruber. She kind of put up with guff when it came to Ellis and the toxic nature of the Nakatomi corporation, but that could be argued that she's a corporate shark who knows how to pick her battles. She straight up electrocutes William Atherton. (Oh pre-9/11 airlines, what a throwback!)
I also like the twist. I mean, it's silly in retrospect. But the first dozen times I watched this movie, I didn't see it coming. This has been the longest break I had since watching Part II. It has been so long, that a lot of this movie seemed new. But I remembered the twist with the bullets. I don't know why Colonel Grant didn't just kill McClane a billion times before the end, but that can be argued with the Hollywood logic of "I didn't want to get caught and I didn't think he'd be that much of a pain in the butt." Taking McClane out of the airport for five seconds really works for me. What is odd is that the last act of the movie is very differently paced than the rest of the film. I got to the church sequence and honestly thought the movie was almost over. It wasn't. The pacing on the last sequence isn't slow, but I honestly can't understand how Harlin bent space and time to make the last forty to fifty minutes of the movie just be a takedown on the General's plane. There had to be a lot of talking and prepping and stuff like that. But it is really weird. I don't know if the movie was really working to get a two-hour runtime, but it definitely had that. But I would like to say that I really wasn't bored. Even when everything is revealed, this is prime John McClane. I mean, I still have one of the best entries in the franchise to go with Die Hard with a Vengeance, but I kind of think that the John McClane in the first two films is pure John McClane. He seems really broken by the third movie, so take that from what you will. McClane is a fun character in these movies. He has way too many jokes. That's not a bad thing because it's 1990, but I'm pretty sure that he needed a joke for everything. I'm borderline sure that they ADR'd a joke in there because it was one second when he didn't have a joke written for him. It's when he's stuck in the parachute and he asks where the door is. (A related question: the most famous shot of the film is the ejector seat. Where did he eject from? That was a military cargo jet, not a fighter plane.)
Please, give Die Hard 2 another try. It's John McClane being John McClane. That's absolutely fantastic. Yeah, it's more of Die Hard 1, but that's not the worst thing in the world. Also, it's a great Christmas film. I'll die on that hipster hill in a second.
Die Hard (1988)
Rated R for lots of violence and swearing. It's also rated R for nudity and drugs. It's Die Hard. They don't really make movies like this anymore. I mean, we get violent movies, but this level of violence was perfected in the '80s. Like, it's this dynamic that we never really achieve again. It's ridiculously over-the-top violence, with kneecaps exploding and people walking on glass and, somehow, it's a blockbuster action thriller. I don't know how to explain '80s action tentpole movies. They're just violent to the next level. R.
DIRECTOR: John McTiernan
I used to be like you. In college, I was the loudest voice for Die Hard as a Christmas movie. But like the snob that I am, once everyone started jumping on board, I stopped caring. I'm a hipster, through and through. When someone screams about how Die Hard being a Christmas movie, I diffuse it with a low-energy "okay." It works wonders. But all things being equal, I tend to watch Die Hard around the Christmas season. I don't watch it every year. I used to watch it all the time, but I'm glad that I had some time away from this one. I might actually not watch Scrooged this year in hopes that I can get a little bit of a surprise from it in the future. The jury is out, but I'm leaning towards "no" because I don't even know when that would happen.
THE WHOLE THING IS A GIANT SPOILER: It's weird how we never really replicated Die Hard properly. I mean, we have Die Hard with a Vengeance, which is John McClane in an over-the-top action movie. But it really isn't the same animal, is it? Die Hard 2: Die Harder is really enjoyable, but way too much of a carbon copy. You'd think, as Americans, we would have non-stop Die Hard knock offs that are as enjoyable. But the first Die Hard movie is one-of-a-kind. There's a lot of money being thrown at this movie, so I would love to blame the world of Cannon Films for the way this movie is made. But this is almost the product of Cannon because it has every single guilty pleasure in a movie, but with a budget instead. It's like when Netflix makes Hallmark movies, but they actually have some money behind them. The movie might be the product of a combination of a great hero versus a great villain. John McClane is chaotic good. He is the rebel, rogue archetype. Yeah, he's a cop. But there's a line in there that establishes that John often gets in trouble for not following the rules. What makes John McClane work is the fact that he's constantly juxtaposed with annoying characters. We can quickly establish that William Atherton is doing his job once again. That guy plays such a perfect jerk that a guy who is mildly laid back comes off as a messiah throughout the story. William Atherton and Bruce Willis barely have any interaction in this movie, but Atherton just establishes the annoying quality of cinematic LA. It's Paul Gleason's Dwayne T. Robinson who really builds up the McClane mythos to legendary proportions. That guy is the worst. Okay, I was talking about how well set up Home Alone was a while ago. (Oddly, they have similar plots.) But there is always one moment where the writers just decided to give up on their intricate plan and highlight a weakness in the story. In Home Alone, when Catherine O'Hara decides to call the police to report her son as the titular problem, they kind of just scoff like it would be a crank call. It's an odd crank call. Die Hard has the exact same moment with Robinson. Al tells Robinson that McClane needs their help inside and Robinson is so obsessed with getting his point across that McClane is a burden rather than a boon, that he ignores the fact that a body crashed on top of Al's car. He actually writes it off as a suicide. It's a depressed businessman who is overworked during a terrorist attack. That doesn't make a lick of sense.
But a lot of the dynamic of the movie is based around this idea. I'm just realizing as I'm typing this that this movie might just be a discussion of how great New York is and how dumb LA is. I have no opinions on this, but Die Hard definitely seems to have strong feelings about it. John McClane is a New York cop. He does the right thing when no one wants him to. His instincts are mostly right about how to handle this situation, sans shoes. No one really respects him and boy, does he have feelings about that. However, LA is full of rich, stuff shirted morons. There's Ellis, who is too busy snorting cocaine and hitting on his ex-wife. That guy dies a horrible death because he's an LA moron. Dwayne T Robinson, he comes in. He takes away control from Al Powell. Now, this seems like my argument doesn't hold water. After all, Al is from LA. Al, in every shot he's in, seems to have this scorn for LA people. Look how quickly he admires John McClane. I don't blame him. John seems cool. I want to be friends with John. (Not actually true. John seems wildly toxic and I don't need anyone like that in my life.) But Al is so used to hearing nonsense from the privileged guys like Robinson that he instantly sees a kindred spirit in John McClane. Then there are the FBI guys, Johnson and Johnson. (This is a weird joke, right? It's so odd how it doesn't fit in this movie, but we all kind of ignore it.) The FBI guys are LA, right? I know they say "Washington", but they got there way too quickly. I'm not sure if Die Hard is playing fast and loose with transportation times, but that does seem to be the case. (Remember, the FBI guys say that they are bringing in the imprisoned members of all these different factions within the two hour window. There were groups from Canada, Northern Ireland, and Asian Dawn.) I'm not sure if that wasn't what they were communicating, but I don't see how that plays out differently. But if you are working class, you are spiritually New York. If you are making some bills, you are LA. Unless you are working switchboard the night of the Nakatomi attack. Then I have nothing for you.
There's a great bit from some YouTube puppet show, Glove and Boots. It's about Rick Grimes from The Walking Dead not knowing how to use a walkie talkie. I don't that John McTiernan or John McClane also know to use a walkie talkie. They interrupt each other over walkie talkie. How does that work? That shouldn't be happening. This was the first time that I realized that there are a lot of moments that I watched the film and thought, "That's probably not how that works." I'm really okay with Die Hard having plot holes. There are moments where it doesn't really make a lick of sense, but for some reason, it gets a pass. Maybe because the movie is so fun. Having John McClane interrupt people to insult them via walkie talkie is great. John also bandages up his cut foot from the broken glass with his shirt. Why didn't he make shoes out of his shirt so he wouldn't have to walk across the glass? I already mentioned the time and the fact that the police in LA have wildly insane explanations for why they are acting the way they do. Also, that guy who was hanging from the chain? He was dead. I'm sorry. There's no way. But it's cool. But the chain guy reminded me of something that I thought of when I was watching this. Hans Gruber, lovingly played by Alan Rickman, is a great villain. He does some pretty evil things throughout the movie that really kind of stymie my whole idea. But I still want to put it down here because it sounds like something I'd like to make. If Hans Gruber didn't kill Mr. Takagi at the beginning, this might actually work. If Hans didn't kill anyone, I'd love to film this movie as a film about Hans Gruber. Hear me out because I have to earnestly forgive some behavior. Imagine that this was an Ocean's Eleven styled heist. Their plan is pretty intricate, so that part works well. But there's this guy in the building obsessed with bringing them down. You never really see him, except that he's always around you, hiding in the vents like a xenomorph. You keep thinking that you kill the guy, but he comes back like Jason time and time again. He takes more punishment and he shows up again. That scene at the end where McClane has the gun taped to his back? He looks like he's Jason ready for one last fight. The world is burning behind them and Hans is so close to escaping. That's a final showdown if I've ever seen one. It's a shame that there are hostages because it makes John the clear bad guy. But McClane has some Javert qualities to him. He's obsessive. He's never going to let him go. I'd love to flip the script and have it about an Ocean's Eleven style heist horror movie. Golly, I love this idea.
There are a ton of fun little details that I never caught before. I didn't realize how important Holly's Rolex is to the whole film. Ellis goes on this whole rant about it because he's trying to show off how much better LA is to New York. But that Rolex comes into play at the end. Hans Gruber, when he's hanging off the building, I always thought he was holding onto Holly's wrist. Nope. He's hanging onto her wristband of her Rolex. It's when John and she undo the clasp that he slow motion falls to his death. (By the way, the stunt from the long shot? I'm impressed.) I love when movies put this attention to detail in the film. I love that Argyle stays in the story, just as a reminder that he's there so he can put an end to Theo. It's all these little things that are awesome. Agent Johnson's reaction to Vietnam is pretty hilarious. It's weird how dated that reference is now, but it still gets me. Die Hard is just a fun, fun movie that exists nowhere near reality, but I don't care. It's a fun movie. If you want me to stand strong on if its a Christmas movie, I have to say I don't care. I think the first act is pretty Christmas heavy, but the last two acts only touch upon the holiday. Shane Black makes all of his movies at Christmas because it creates greater tension. By that logic, I have to side against it. But if you love this as a Christmas movie...go to town. I don't blame you. Enjoy what you and enjoy and just kind of leave it be.
Spider-Man 3 (2007)
PG-13 for an abusive Peter Parker. Someone gets part of their face blown up. There's some pretty consistent stabbing and head injury in this one. Venom, if you squint, can get pretty scary. Everything else isn't significantly explicit, so much as it has some contextually questionable things. Like, Spider-Man does some not-so-nice Spider-Man things. We get to watch Uncle Ben die two-or-three more times. But it's a superhero movie. It matches the tone of the other two. Still less scary than the first Spider-Man movie. PG-13.
DIRECTOR: Sam Raimi
I'm going to be pretty consistent with my feelings about Spider-Man 3. It is not as bad as you remember it being. Yeah, it's the weakest entry in the Spider-Man franchise, but it is far better than you remember it being. I saw it on opening night. In 2007, I was 26. I just started getting my life together and I saw it at the theater that used to be the fancy theater. It had, since then, turned into the annoying rich high school hangout. I think it was prom night and everyone had gone to see the midnight show of Spider-Man 3 after the dance. Yeah, there was a lot of heckling. It was the worst experience I had in a theater. But it was like everyone who went to go see that movie that night permeated the collective consciousness and simultaneously dunked on that movie at the same time. Yeah, Spider-Man 3 has huge faults. But I kind of firmly believe that if you think that Spider-Man 3 is one of the worst movies of all time, that means you probably don't like the Sam Raimi Spider-Man trilogy.
You are allowed to not like the Sam Raimi Spider-Man trilogy. As many times as I watched the first two in theaters, I can say that they aren't the best superhero movies out there. They aren't even what I would necessarily do with Spider-Man as a character. But my big argument is that Spider-Man 3 is tonally very similar to the other two Spider-Man movies. There are a handful of things that are holding it back from being the same quality as the other movies. Frankly, Spider-Man 2 is just too good. There are people out there who hate Return of the Jedi. It's because Empire is so good. But also, Sam Raimi is feeling the full force of the stupidity that is Sony Pictures at this moment in his career. From what I understand, Sam Raimi was forced to use Venom against his wishes. Venom, to Sony Pictures and all of those grown up '90s kids, was the ultimate villain. He is the product of Todd MacFarlane and he definitely feels that way. Don't get me wrong, I like Venom. (I don't like the new film and you can read about that here.) I even like a lot of things about '90s comics. But '90s Marvel was bad for all of our health. It took a medium and made it completely made of high fructose corn syrup. There was nothing nutritional about reading that kind of stuff. I know I'm making a blanket statement, but it's more right than wrong. I think Sam Raimi kind of knew that. The symbiote saga is important to Spider-Man. But there's a story here that needed to be told slowly and over time. Venom should have been a tease at the end of this movie. Yeah, have Eddie Brock as a B-plot character. Have him spar with Peter Parker, black-suited. That makes sense. But having Venom in this film is such a rush. Look what Raimi did with Harry Osborn. It took three films for Harry to become a goblin. (Yeah, I'm not a fan of the New Goblin. That might be more of a sin than what other people consider to be flawed.) But Venom needs to be earned. Venom is perhaps the most rushed villain I've seen in cinema. It should be this slow unveiling of this character. The thing about the corn syrup Venom is that he actually can be pretty great. Yeah, MacFarlane made him. But the first appearances of Venom were teased over a long period of time. He actually grew to be quite scary back in the '90s. But there's nothing inherently scary about the character. In fact, the more Venom is on screen, the less effective he becomes. It's why "Venom: Lethal Protector" is just a dumb idea. He's the Borg. Don't overuse them or else they lose their edge. Then he's balanced against Sandman, a character that is meant to have a ton of depth in this movie and is meant to be sympathetic and Harry's New Goblin, who is just terrible. The movie is asking us to be vulnerable and distant at the same time. No wonder Raimi didn't want this movie. It has tonal problems all over the place.
I said that Harry's New Goblin was the problem in this movie. He more irks me than anything else. The thing I don't really like is Sandman's tie to Uncle Ben. I loved that the Raimi films kept looking back to Uncle Ben as the moral center of Spider-Man. When he's brought back in Spider-Man 2, it's a surprise. It is this break in reality that acts as a metaphor for Peter's conscience. It is fantastic. But Dr. Octopus has nothing to do with Uncle Ben. Rather, Uncle Ben was a "what would he say if he were here". That's far more interesting. Having Uncle Ben show up in a retcon of the origin story kind of ruins it all. I can understand the temptation. The black suit brings out the worst out of the wearer. Having Peter have a moral crisis involving his origin would only make the character show the worst parts of himself. That sounds interesting, but it involves touching something kind of sacred. I know, art shouldn't be sacred. But by having Flint Marko murder Uncle Ben, it kind of undoes the mission statement of Spider-Man. SPOILER: There's a little backpedaling at the end saying that it is still kind of Peter's fault that Uncle Ben died, but in a way that makes you kind of squint and make you turn your head. Cliff Robertson is such a welcome element to the original Spider-Man franchise that I always want to see him involved. But the more complicated you make Peter's origins, the less effective he is. It's odd that the reboot movies didn't learn this mistake because this was the most problematic part of the film for me. Peter Parker should be your average nerd from Queens. Homecoming learned that lesson because Peter was written as an avatar for his reader. If Peter can't be Joe-Schmoe before the spider bite, what's the point? The thing is that I really like Thomas Haden Church as Sandman. Good golly, he looks the part with the green striped shirt, doesn't he? I always thought that Sandman couldn't be a real dude, but Raimi pulled it off. I even love the idea that Sandman has a tragic backstory. They gave Doctor Octopus a tragic backstory and it really worked. But there's this character who has pathos added to him simply because pathos worked in the past. Honestly, if the entire movie was about Flint Marko realizing that being evil with the hope of a good result wasn't a good plan, that works. In isolation, it might have worked. I think Sandman is an excellent villain because he scales up the threat past something that Spider-Man should be able to handle. The other villains are strong dudes with weapons. They are in the power range of Spider-Man. But think of Sandman at the end of the movie, where he's the size of a skyscraper. It takes Peter's intellect to beat him...if he didn't have a pumpkin bomb to just take care of the issue. Watching Sandman fly around the city as a sandstorm makes him seem impossible to manage. That's the real crime. Give Sandman the chance to crush Spider-Man, not split the bill with two other bad guys. (Also, James Franco is still terrible in this franchise. I like his other movies, but he's so bad in these. I don't know what inspires these choices, but dear me.
Let me defend one of the decisions that people hated. I'm going to lose readers, but the dance sequence makes all the sense in the world given context. Raimi's world has always been a little cornball. His sense of humor is very specific. He doesn't love grounding Spider-Man in reality. It's never writing off the story as "comic booky", but comic books get away with stuff that other media don't. He's always done this in his movie and he's in on the joke. He's not screwing it up. He's doing this on purpose. Look at the "Raindrops Keep Fallin' on my Head" sequence in Spider-Man 2. It's very stylized. The same thing is true here. I'm going deeper, so don't think that it is my only argument. It kind of works with the character, especially Tobey Maguire's Peter Parker. Peter Parker is all about being a loser when he's not Spider-Man. Before the spider bite, he never was accepted. He was a big dork. But then he got bitten; he got all these powers. He had to fake being a dork after this happened so people wouldn't suspect that he was Spider-Man. He finally found someone who accepted both Peter Parker and Spider-Man and she dumps him. (I also have some concerns about how that relationship ended up.) He's sick of being dorky Peter Parker. He always has to live a lie. He can do all these things and he has to pretend to be incompetent. The one person who let him be himself is mad at him because her life sucked for a while. People go through fights and I'm not victim blaming MJ, but Peter had no idea that her life was terrible. Yes, it is really annoying when your partner is having the time of his or her life while you are down in the dumps, but that's not really Pete's fault. He's not trying to be dismissive, but they both suck at communicating. (Yeah, he's totally the bad guy when Spider-Man kisses Gwen Stacy. I will give you that time and again.) So he's confused why he was dumped. Then he's told that she was cheating on him with his best friend. Why would he go back to being dorky Peter Parker? His toxic masculinity is rearing its ugly head and he wants to be spiteful and get revenge for being scorned. What is the best way to do that? He's going to upstage her. He's going to do what she wants to do without any effort at her place of business. He's supposed to be a jerk. He's going to hit her in a second (which I think is too far. I get it; he needed to hit rock bottom. But still, ick.). It builds up to that moment.
But it is a Spider-Man movie. The humor is the same as the other movies. It looks and feels like a Spider-Man movie. Despite the fact that it is weirdly meh about the whole thing, the Osborn trilogy is wrapped up. Harry, despite being poorly portrayed, gets his whole arc. There's fighting between the two of them. Oddly enough, Harry becomes a valid threat. Raimi finds a way around Harry's drug induced amnesia by providing head injury induced amnesia. The individual elements of this movie aren't terrible. It's trying to tie all of this stuff into the clown car that is this film. I hang this entirely on Sony. There were a million things that the studio wanted in this picture and none of theme really get the attention that they deserve. If it was my Spider-Man 3, it would have the symbiote infecting Peter. I wish there was a more organic way to bring it into the story shy of it just landing near one of the few superpowered people on the planet, but I'd figure that out later. But then it would just be a story of black-suited Peter making poor decisions on how to handle his friend who is crying out for help culminating with Harry saving MJ when Peter chooses to do something selfish. Eddie Brock is there, constantly bothering him at the Bugle, but the film ends with Peter removing the suit and it getting onto Eddie. Movie over. Slice out Sandman. Save him for a movie down the line. Maybe Spider-Man 4. Because there might have been a Spider-Man 4. Okay, let's not kid ourselves. Sony was already evil by this point and forcing Sam Raimi to make another movie in two years. But I'd like to dream that Spider-Man 3 was salvagable. I wonder if a Vulture / Sandman movie would work. Again, I'm a big fan of single villains. Well, I don't mind major villain / minor villain. But three major villains? Nope. Not a fan.
Yeah, I crapped on this movie, but it is very watchable. It certainly doesn't deserve the vitriol that it has earned over the years. It's a decent entry in the original franchise. These moments of change have brought decent movies to Spider-Man. It's not amazing, but I hate the knee-jerk reaction that comes with a movie that doesn't live up to its predecessors. It might be hard to watch the Michael Keaton Batman. If you put out Spider-Man 3 next to the movie we consider one of the greats, it would wreck Batman. (I'm just saying all these controversial things because I can.) Anyway, watch this with an open mind. It's far better than you remember...even the parts that suck.
It's rated R because it deals with some intensely ugly stuff. Needless to say, it has language. We all know curse words and hate speech, but this is used with the intention of being hateful speech. It's words being used with the knowledge that you should find it cringeworthy. If you don't find it cringeworthy, that's a real problem. There's also intense violence and threats of violence all over this film. Also, there is footage of real world violence. It's actual people dying and that's something you have to be prepared to absorb. An R rating because the world is an ugly place.
DIRECTOR: Spike Lee
Man, I love Spike Lee when he's doing his thing. I tend to get really engrossed with Spike Lee films, but a lot of them have dropped the ball at one point or another. The last one I really got into was Red Hook Summer, but then the end completely disappointed me. Really, I haven't seen such a good Spike Lee film since Do the Right Thing and I think a lot of that comes from producer Jordan Peele.
Sorry to Bother You and BlacKkKlansman were watched over the same weekend. I threw them on my Netflix DVD account on the same day when I saw they were featured in the Redbox kiosk at Meijer. I'm glad to have seen them before the year ended, but I also realized that these thematically similar movies were also probably my favorite movies of the year. I know that we still have a few more Oscar bait ones coming out next week, but I do want to talk about how good these movies really were, especially in tandem. Spike Lee has this voice that I absolutely adore in film. It's angry, but controlled. That's pretty unique. This film is crafted so beautifully that I can't help but marvel at the details. Structurally, there's this weird format that I'm not sure that I've seen done. Some might be quick to dismiss it as bookending the film, but it is something far different than that. The beginning starts with Alec Baldwin as Dr. Kennebrew Beauregard. This character never shows up again, but I was sure that he was based on a real dude. (He's more of an amalgamation of dudes, based on my limited research.) Beauregard glorifies Birth of a Nation and Gone with the Wind, instantly establishing setting and mood for the film. As a teacher of Birth of a Nation, I really have a hard time really conveying how damaging that film was to the national psyche. The kids get that it sucks and sucks hard, but when I talk about the second rise of the Klan, they don't get how insane that was. The beginning of BlacKkKlansman (Safely one of the more tedious titles to type) really sells it how I want to. The only problem is that I'm not allowed to say the f-word to my students, nor show them a clip that says it regularly.) But in a three to five minute sequence, Lee manages to convey how toxic art can be if used irresponsibly. It's powerful stuff.
This leads into the end of the film. When you Google BlacKkKlansman, a lot of the articles discuss the insanity of the ending. The ending is well earned. There really are two endings: Ron Stallworth's ending (which is powerful) and the ending to the film, which is insanely powerful. I want to talk about the epilogue because we should be moved by the end of the film. I tend not to talk politics in real life because I'm bad at it and it is really hard to change people's minds. But that ending sells what I've been feeling since early last year. Is it biased? Heck yeah. Should it be biased? Heck yeah. Art is meant to challenge you and try to change your mind. Yeah, I'm confirmation biased right now because Lee says what I'm thinking with his ending. But I really like how much is said when it is devoid of talking heads. I acknowledge that he's Kuleshoving the whole thing. Juxtaposition matters. But Ron Stallworth's (Hollywood) true story once again has meaning. I tend to be really hesitant to get on board biopics because they tend to be feel goodery. There might be a light message that we can apply to our lives, but it is mainly meant to be entertainment; a balm to our stress. BlacKkKlansman is an entertaining story. Lee ensures that through his love of Blaxsploitation films. But the movie instantly gains this insane gravitas because of the way that the intro and conclusion provide commentary to the events of Ron Stallworth's life. I'm sure political Henson wouldn't be shocked by the video. I'm sure he's seen it dozens of times. But I've only seen that footage edited and with a commentary attached. It is painful to watch, as well it should be.
I want to say that I see Jordan Peele on the screen up there as well. This movie doesn't always feel like A Spike Lee Joint. Rather, there's something contemporary about the way this movie is filmed. Lee's movies always kind of had an indie cred to them. I loved the way his other movies looked, but it is nice to see just a change in vision. The movie makes what should be a fairly straightforward movie fairly complex. Cinematography wise, it is a pretty looking movie. The setting of 1970s Colorado really works for the film. It is 1970s. The soundtrack, the hair, the talk, all '70s. But these characters really ride that line well of being a timeless character and being entrenched in their political climate. It's so interesting to see the connections between the student unions of the '70s and the move to improve things of today. There's this look at the past and the conversation that things have gotten better, only to be aware that things have stayed the same in their own ways. Lee doesn't really give the Klan any sympathy and I applaud that. He's making a movie where there is a clear good guy and a clear bad guy and that works well in this movie. I'm watching Supergirl, which is having racism as its focus for this season. There's a Ben Shapiro character who is the clear villain of the story, but he has sympathetic moments. Rather, the world of BlacKkKlansman is one where people choose to embrace hate because they are sick of being out of power. There is no nuance there. These are disenfranchised white people wanting the power back. There is no intellectual who is really leading the movement. Rather, this is evil for evil's sake and they are doing awful things out of pure, unadulterated hate. There is an element of Ben Shapiro in David Duke. I remember David Duke when I was a kid. It's really scary to think how close he got to the presidency. I don't want to go into a Trump tirade, but I didn't know that David Duke was still vocal today. That's really upsetting. The David Duke angle of the whole story is the most interesting of all. I just read the fact v. fiction articles of the movie versus the memoir and David Duke is actually involved in real life. Duke is the charismatic festering boil of the whole thing. Convinced of his own rightness and his own whiteness, he is the intellectual who convinces scores of people to join the Klan. It is through Duke that Lee is able to effectively communicate why the Klan is so much more prevalent than I thought it was. Constantly referring to itself as the "Invisible Empire", the Klan is far more impressive of an organization than I thought it was. My parents live near an area that apparently had some Klan activity. I always thought it was a dying organization. But Lee sells the idea that it is far more impressive than we previously thought.
I love the dynamics between all of the characters. The character relationships are far different in the movie than they are in reality, but I can only attest to what I've seen in the film. John David Washington's Ron Stallworth and Adam Driver's Flip are perfect together. The movie instantly places Stallworth in what it, in its own words, is a Jackie Robinson situation. Lee takes this interesting shortcut to make sure that the film is about the investigation and the characters rather than rehashing a story we have seen before. Stallworth's life is pretty terrible as a pioneer, but the focus isn't on that. Rather, this becomes context for the character and becomes part of the setting. Flip is still anonymous in real life. The Adam Driver version of the character is pretty fictionalized, but it is interesting that Lee decided to create the character to be Jewish. A movie named BlacKkKlansman would be a pretty tough sell if there wasn't "some skin in the game" as the movie puts it. Stallworth is a Klansman in name and voice. Flip is the one in the field and the choice to make him passing is an interesting one. It gives him another level and I think that the movie needs it. Laura Harrier's Patrice is a completely fictional character, but I like that she is able to voice a concern that I have. Considering that so much of this film is tied to Black Lives Matter, Patrice is the one who voices the concern that Stallworth is a police officer. This movie is tied to today's politics. It would be really weird if this topic was never addressed in the film. It's really interesting stuff.
The Blaxspoitation thing is fun. I'm going to say it. If you didn't get that Lee turned a real cop into a blaxspoitation cop, he lets you know with visual cues at one point. Patrice and Stallworth are walking on a bridge and they are actually discussing inspiration. The posters show up on screen and there's a discussion of fiction versus reality. But the whole movie feels like an updated blaxspoitation film. The soundtrack is killer. It's so good. I wish kids weren't taking a test right now or else I would be blasting it. The finale for Stallworth completely abandons reality stylistically and reminds you that Stallworth is simultaneously based on a real guy and a character in a movie. CRYPTIC SPOILERS: For a hot second, I thought this movie was going to have a happy ending. Nothing in the film made me think that they were going to pull this off with a satisfying result. However, the ending does work. It's a bummer that it didn't. I wanted to think that the world was a better place than I thought it was, but the ending really works for the film overall. We both get a satisfying resolution to the main plot, but the character still doesn't get the Hollywood ride off into the sunset. You don't leave Stallworth's story depressed, but you also know that the little moments had a silver lining. I mean, you are still going to leave this movie depressed, but it isn't because of anything in Stallworth's life.
I loved this movie. It was so good. It was my Get Out for the year and I'm so grateful that this movie was made. Challenge yourself. I'm begging you. If you aren't BLM, just try to see it from another perspective. Lee is the voice of a people begging to be heard and he vocalizes that message clearly and well. It isn't screaming at you. It is a movie that tells you how it is and how important art can be, regardless of political motivation. A few years ago, another version of Birth of a Nation was made. It didn't make the waves it was supposed to. BlacKkKlansman might actually be doing that better. Lee is a phenomenal director and his voice needs to be heard.
Spider-Man 2.1 (2004 / 2007)
PG-13. It's violent. I mean, it is significantly less scary than the first Spider-Man movie. There is one scene that is straight out of Evil Dead though. The operating sequence, my daughter desperately wanted to watch. It is very very scary. But the rest of the movie kind of lacks the jump scares that the first film loved so much. Spider-Man does get pretty abused at points, but nothing like what happened at the end of the first film. A pretty well-earned PG-13.
DIRECTOR: Sam Raimi
Yeah, we watched the extended cut. It's the same film. That Hal Sparks scene goes on way too long, but I like Hal Sparks. The best thing out of it is the J. Jonah Jameson wearing the Spider-Man costume. But I'm going to review this as if it is the theatrical cut. We went to see Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. What do you think we'd want to watch immediately afterwards? This is all personally great for me. I did a binge of all of the MCU movies before Infinity War came out. I then wanted to knock out all of the Marvel properties that weren't MCU movies. Now, Spider-Man 2 has always been my favorite Spider-Man movie, until arguably Into the Spider-Verse. I was obsessed with this film. I had seen it way too many times in the theater. It was 2004 and I was at the height of my arrested development and irresponsibility. I could go see a movie in the theaters upwards of ten times. (Real retirement is early 20s.) I was teaching at a theatre school in the summers and everywhere I went, I mimicked having Doctor Octopus's tentacles. Everywhere I went, "Ka-CHUNK, ka-CHUNK!" (You can hear it and imagine how cool I was.) But I've seen so many great superhero movies since this one. Going back, I had to wonder if this one held up.
It totally does. Now, I know that there's a lot of nostalgia clouding my judgment fo this one. It is a great movie. It is leaps and bounds better than the first Spider-Man movie and that comes from the writing of the film. See, in 2004, I was also obsessed with this little show called Smallville. I don't know how much made it into the final Alvin Sergeant script, but the Smallville guys wrote a draft and Michael Chabon, my then favorite author, wrote a draft. The script is gorgeous. It is a great movie that oddly has small stakes, besides the fact that the city would all be destroyed if Spider-Man didn't shut off Doc Ock's machine. Okay, it just feels like the stakes are intimate. This really reads like a grudge match between Peter Parker, Doctor Octopus, and Harry Osborn. I like that. When Homecoming focuses on Peter being in charge of smaller threats, I always felt like that was a commentary on how big the other movies got. I guess that's really not true. That exploding machine at the end is a big deal and I guess I shouldn't be so glib about it, but I never really think of the movie in terms of that stuff. This really feels about egos and personalities and pride issues. The center of that is Peter's existential crisis at the center of this movie. A very loose adaptation of "Spider-Man: No More!", Raimi doesn't lose the core that Spider-Man's character is a constant reminder that responsibility absolutely sucks, but is necessary. The reason I probably loved this during my arrested development times is that I had no idea what responsibility actually was. People told me what to do. If no one gave me a job to do, I would have been lazy as get out. But Peter Parker's journey through this story takes a very grounded issue and makes a superhero narrative out of that.
Peter Parker's life should suck. Maybe one of the reasons that I like Spider-Man comics and movies so much is because Pete very rarely gets his cake and eat it too. There are a lot of stories where a binary situation is presented and the protagonist either cops the system or some deus ex machina gets the character off the hook. In my review for The Jazz Singer, the protagonist has to choose between his dying father and his career. He makes the choice to support his father, but his career comes out unscathed. Spider-Man never really gets that. In Spider-Man 2, Pete uses his anxiety as an excuse to free himself from responsibility. Admittedly, Pete is an extremist when it comes to meeting responsibility. But in this case, Pete goes cold turkey. He's going to focus on his grades and his love life (which I kind of want to look at as well). But he actually walks away from a situation where Peter Parker could have helped, let alone Spider-Man. As a metaphor for that arrested development, as good as his life gets, he starts showing signs of depression. Lord knows that I was probably more depressed during these years than the years that followed. Do I wish that I could just play video games for hours on end? Sure. Do I wish that my pop culture wishlist could be whittled down because I had time to actually do the things I want? Sure. But I write to keep my mind active. I write because I tell my students that writing makes you a better writer. I will never catch up to the Assassin's Creed games and I absolutely love them. Because Peter Parker's life is built around a strong sense of responsibility. Peter Parker is no saint for his obsession. He continually hurts those around him, but that just reminds us that he is a hero that is fallible. What's odd is that most sequels try to ramp up the action and a sizable portion of Spider-Man 2 actually robs the movie of Spider-Man himself. It is a choice.
I have always loved Doctor Octopus. One of the best gifts I've ever gotten was from my friend, Tony. He also worked at the theatre school and witnessed my Doc Ock arms in action. (In reality, these were my arms acting like puppet arms and snapping at me.) He gave me a ratty old copy of The Amazing Spider-Man 3. It's pretty beaten up, but I consider it to be my favorite book out of all of them. Doctor Octopus is interesting. Everyone, including myself, wait for Green Goblin issues because they often shift the status quo. But Doctor Octopus issues were way more fun. There's something off about having a schlubby guy who is actually really good at being a villain. While I love him as the Superior Spider-man / Octopus now, the days of how unstoppable Doc Ock could get were great. Yeah, he had the "marry Aunt May" days which could have been better. But Doc Ock has often put a beating on Spider-Man. Alfred Molina as Doctor Octopus is how I want to imagine him. I know that the original Doc Ock wasn't as friendly as Molina's Otto Octavius, but it works. It makes him properly sympathetic. I actually might like Molina's Ock as the quintessential Doc Ock. One thing I never understood in comics was why Doctor Octopus wanted to destroy the world. I remember I had a DC/Marvel Crossover book where Doctor Octopus and Lex Luthor tried to destroy the world. Why would he want to do that? He had nothing to gain from that? But Molina's villain is one who thinks he is the hero of the story. His work got his wife killed. He has these arms that have taken over his thinking and all have personalities based on parts of his brain. He wants to rectify the wrong he did by fixing a device that would bring the world infinite power. That sounds awesome. He just loses his way in deciding what it would take to get to that point.
Which brings me to Harry Osborn. How do I end up liking James Franco later on (only to discover that he's kind of a creep)? He's rough in these movies. I think that Franco is camping up the movie when everyone else is trying to make a legitimate blockbuster film with layers. Maybe he's mad about what kind of rubs me the wrong way. Harry goes full evil in this one without the benefit of a Goblin formula driving him nuts. I know that he's obsessed with killing Spider-Man. But he gives Octavius the triddium (sp?) knowing that it would destroy the city. That's a big step. Also, yeah, it works, but Harry says not to harm Peter despite the fact that blowing up the city would also kill Peter. Harry is such a lynch pin in these movies and he is also the weakest element. The trilogy is about Harry's growth into a villain and James Franco is just not great at it. SPOILERS: While I love the end with Harry and Norman, does it make any sense? Harry has no exposure to the Goblin formula at this point. The reason that Norman was able to talk to the Goblin was because he was already exposed to it. Is the idea that the movie is about a familial psychic bond? It looks and feels very cool, but the second that any kind of scrutiny happens, it kind of all falls apart. I also am weirded out that multiple Spider-Man movies discuss the idea that one person does the dumping and then uncomfortably blames the other for not loving them. Actually, both versions of Spider-Man 2 (this film and The Amazing Spider-Man 2) involved Peter Parker dumping the girl he's obsessed with and then spending the entire film trying to figure out how to get back together. It's weird that he does this knowing that Mary Jane is engaged. Also, let's talk about the absolute end. Mary Jane leaves John Jameson, the son of J.Jonah Jameson, at the altar for Peter Parker. Yet, Peter Parker still works for JJJ and the Daily Bugle in Spider-Man 3? Shannigans.
There was one moment in the movie where I realized it was great. It was Doc Ock dropping off the incapacitated Spider-Man for Harry. I knew I was having a good time. I knew the acting, shy of Franco, was pretty great. The movie looked absolutely gorgeous. Yeah, I wish Spider-Man needed to be way funnier, but the movie was about Peter Parker anyway. Rosemary Harris had already crushed it with the best speech in the franchise. The movie is so darned good. I know why I loved it and it's absolutely phenomenal. But there are a handful of weaknesses, so with a gun to my head, I have to say that I probably enjoy Into the Spider-Verse just a little bit more. Regardless, this movie is still wonderful and totally worth another watch.
PG! Because it's animated! Don't get me wrong. I'm a bad father for taking my kids to see this without screening it first. They're fine. They loved it. That being said, my son screamed quite audibly at one moment. It's superhero stuff, but superhero stuff isn't for everybody. One of the villains kills a hero. It isn't graphic, but you definitely know what's going on in the scene. Also, there's a ton of jump scares. Anything from another universe. When it glitches, it makes a loud noise and a bright light flashes. That's what scared Henry. Superhero movies can get pretty scary and I would say the same applies for Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.
DIRECTORS: Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsay, and Rodney Rothman
How do they keep doing this to me? I know that studios tend to sneak in the best movies of the year in December, but that completely throws off my "Best of the Year" awards. It is a weird year for me. For the most part, major blockbusters were actually some of the better films this year. But then, in swoops Into the Spider-Verse and actually out superheroes amazing superhero movies like Black Panther and Infinity War. C'mon! 2018: an okay year for a lot of movies, but an amazing year for superhero movies.
I don't think you are aware of how excited I was for this movie. When I saw the first teaser, I knew that this was going to be the movie to be excited for. There is nothing on my radar right now like Into the Spider-Verse was. My kids, when they saw the trailer, lost their minds too. I knew they would. I planted those seeds long ago. My daughter, Olivia, adores Spider-Man comic books. I'm actually having the blessing of having her absorb some truly amazing comic books and she and I are growing closer over it. Henry loves Spider-Man because he's such a boy and he also wants to be like his sister. I prepped my kids, guys. I may not have screened this movie ahead of time, but they were ready for this film. (I'm listening to the score to the movie right now as I type this and it is very rad. Let me recommend it highly.) This is the movie that nerds were waiting for. Not only is it a great superhero movie or a Spider-Man movie, but it is a nerdy movie that plays up to the deep cuts of what comic books are really like. A lot of people don't really get comic books. They like the characters and they like the films, but often the fandom draws the line at actually reading the source material. Since this caters to the readers more than anyone else, isn't that toxic for a major Christmas studio release? No. Not in the least. (I refuse to mince words over this.) I kept looking over to my wife who, despite my most valiant efforts, never really got into comic books. I'm still fighting that brave fight, but I don't think I'm a good enough person to transform my wife into me that intensely. But I looked at her over and over again and she was grinning from ear-to-ear. When she caught me looking, she gave me the widely coveted, previously unseen, unironic thumbs up. Yeah. That's how good the movie is.
It looks gorgeous. I mean, it is a pretty looking movie. I read somewhere that Sony is trying to patent the look of the film. I'm one of the few people who kind of stands by the Ang Lee Hulk. (You don't have to leave! I swear, I won't push that movie on you yet. I can see why people don't like that one and I'll fall back!) But the Hulk movie tried making it seem like you were reading a comic while watching the movie. I get it. The Golden Age of the Superhero film was still in its infancy and there were growing pains. But Hulk felt like it was created by someone who didn't really get comics. They were somewhat silly and goofy looking. Into the Spider-Verse never really treated comics as if they were silly. They had a certain style that came with the medium, but they weren't a genre in themselves. Into the Spider-Verse gets that. Instead, we have some very focused art and some very blurry art. There is motion between panels. We have thought blocks and narration that a lot of the other superhero movies really haven't deemed necessary to share. That's great, because it just adds to the layers of complexity to the film. It's weird to say that this movie is rotten with Spider-Men of some sort. But by having the internal monologues, these characters feel extremely different from one another. They Inside Outted Spider-Man! They're all the same (fundamental) character, but they've all experienced different things and we can tell that from their internal narration. Let me also give a shout out to the comic book ties. When a Spider-Man introduces him / her / itself, they flash to the comic books. These covers seem to be new, but the format of them is dead on. They even shout out to the creators and writers of these comics and that makes an old nerd very happy. This is all great, but we also have to keep in mind that Spider-Man is a frenetic superhero. It's all about the way he moves and there's nothing lazy about that in this film. Spider-Man movies have had amazing sequences, but this animated version seems unstoppable. The creativity of the choreography is intense and it is everything I daydream about when it comes to being Spider-Man. (That last sentence was meant to be adorable to imply that I daydream about being Spider-Man. That's only part true. I imagine my seven-month-old baby as Spider-Man. I've always day dreamed about being Doctor Octopus with the arms from Spider-Man 2.)
But this is written by The Lego Movie guys. It feels it. I love Phil Lord and Chris Miller. I know for sure that Lord is involved. Everything this guy touches makes me happy. I loved Last Man on Earth and Son of Zorn. Having them attached to this movie is special. It's weird to think that Sony took a chance on these guys. I bet Sony was like the rest of us. I bet when they heard that an animated movie was coming out from these guys, they thought it was simply a stop gap until the "real" Spider-Man movie was coming out. Then everyone involved started making the most insane Spider-Man movie ever thought of and they changed their tune. The movie feels so anti-Sony. I really hope that corporate keeps their hands off of this specific franchise because this movie felt like what a superhero movie should be. It is funny and thought-provoking. It's got absolutely beautiful characters. Shameik Moore's Miles Morales is perfect. I wanted a Miles Morales movie for the longest time. Don't get me wrong, I don't think Spider-Man's story can get any better than the Uncle Ben narrative. But Miles is his own entity. He's this wholly different character that would never get the time of day in an era where Peter Parker is the one that is marketable. People know Peter Parker. Nerds know Miles Morales. (I mean, that's not true anymore, but you get what I'm saying.) To make a movie about Miles Morales and ensuring that the focus stays on him when you have a million other versions of Peter Parker or Gwen Stacy is just bananas. But it works. I'm not saying that the movie shouldn't have Peter Parker. No, sir or ma'am! Peter is vital to this story, but in the role of mentor. He's finally something different than what we've seen. Everyone at Marvel always talks about high school Pete is the best Pete. But Pete hasn't been that in the main universe for a long time. But the movies and shows keep focusing on high school Pete like we aren't supposed to embrace the arc created for the character since the '60s.
I love Jake Johnson. The other Spider-Men and Women and Hams are fine. They are more than fine. They are completely perfect. But Jake Johnson as Nick Miller as Spider-Man is inspired. We are big New Girl fans in our household. We're sad that its gone because it was a show that we both absolutely loved. Yeah, my wife has a weird crush on Jake Johnson / Nick Miller, but I'm okay with that because he's really funny. My wife kept laughing at the Peni Parker robot, which is pretty great. Since seeing this movie last Friday, my daughter has been asking me to break out my John Mulaney impression since then. If you want to hear it, listen to our year in review episode of the Literally Anything podcast. But the movie is straight up fun. It's very bananas, but it isn't as bananas as I thought it would go. Because of my obsession with this concept, I have been reading every article related to it. Apparently, Lord considered every crazy insane thing as well. There were probably drafts with the crazy version that played in my head also happening. Oh, sequels, as long as you maintain quality, you can't come fast enough. This movie is absolutely genius as a superhero film. Honestly, when it comes out on Blu-ray, I won't mind it playing fairly often. Remember, my kids loved it! My wife loved it! It is such a good time. That's what a superhero movie should be. It should be fun for everyone. It should have some depth to it, which it has in spade. It should have marvelous action pieces without being annoying. And there should be growth. There's so much growth here, you guys. I absolutely adored it and I can say that it might be my favorite Spider-Man movie. Oh...and I really like all of the other Spider-Man movies. Even Spider-Man 3. (But not as much.)
You want Merry? We've got Merry! Yeah, it might not be Escape from the North Pole with Santa Plisken, but it's a good time. The boys discuss The Christmas Chronicles at the link below!
Sorry to Bother You (2018)
Hard R! Like, the trailer is pretty R rated (as I unfortunately discovered after trying to show someone said trailer to explain what the movie was about). It's got swearing, nudity (of both the regular and science fiction related kind), violence, drugs, racism, weird art (which I'm aware isn't a thing, but it is meant to be uncomfortable), slavery, and all kinds of horrible things going on. But when I tell you all this stuff is in the movie and that the movie should still be seen, take that as a glowing pitch for this movie. It is very R and very important. R.
DIRECTOR: Boots Riley
I'm actually ashamed that I don't know who Boots Riley is. Yup. I keep up on pop culture as best as I can. But I do suck at one element of pop culture: music. I just listen to podcasts all the time, so when other people react to "Boots Riley", I just think it's a cool name. Yup. But Boots Riley made one of the movies of my year. I hate throwing a movie I just watched onto the coveted Best of 2018 list, but Sorry to Bother You is the kind of movie I wait for. It does so much on so many levels for me that I can't help but get a little snobby about it. The worst part is that I really wanted to see it for a while, but only caught it because it was on Hulu. At least I can say that I watched a movie on Hulu.
I'm not sure what direction I want to take this analysis. When I write for publication, I really think out what I should focus on. But there's a lot here and one makes me look overly-pious while the other makes me look like a film snob. I'm spoiling the ending of this review because I am the magician who reveals his secrets, but here's my logic. I'm going to talk about the aesthetics and tone of this movie first and then spiral into the central message of the film. The central message is going to be last as a way to stress that it is the most important part. Trick revealed. Let's move on. Boots Riley, unabashedly and lovingly, make the Michel Gondry movie that Michel Gondry could never really make. I paused the movie at one point and typed into Google, "sorry to bother you michel gondry" and read all about it. There's a little Michel Gondry joke in the movie and I had to be sure that I was seeing what I was seeing. Boots Riley apparently is a fan of Michel Gondry and made a movie that Michel Gondry would make. Is part of me disappointed that Riley does this? It should really bother me, but it doesn't. Riley is making a film for the first time. The movie looks and feels like Gondry's work. It has this indie, DIY feel to the whole thing that is the cinematic version of a really great garage rock band. I guess the protagonist living in a garage thing is appropriate because that is the vibe that is coming off this film and it is coming off the film hard. For this story, the Michel Gondry aesthetic really works. All this talk shouldn't be a way to depreciate what Boots Riley achieved on his own. Rather, this is a kind of storytelling that we really don't get too much of. I mean, I don't get mad at Spike Jonze and Michel Gondry at the same time for having a lot of the same tricks, do I? Then I can hold anything against Boots Riley. Riley made a really weird real world. The allegory is intense, and because the movie has a lot to say, this world needs to be a little bit intense as well. The balance that Riley is shooting for is really there. The movie manages to hook in audiences by creating this world where so much oddity is taking place that Cash's life gets so much attention. If you were looking at your phone during this movie at any point, shame on you because every shot is crafted beautifully. The visuals, the acting, and the soundtrack are great. The casting is absolutely phenomenal. Lakeith Stanfield as Cassius is inspired. He gets the balance of living between two worlds phenomenally and he really commands attention. As always, Tessa Thompson is crushing it. Yeah, she deserves to be in everything because she gets it. Detroit is amazing and such a phenomenal control to the shifting Cassius. She's great. But then just going down the line and checking all the boxes for great performances. I do have to say that I'm still very skeptical about Armie Hammer. I'm one of the five people who apparently hated Call Me by Your Name, so I can't watch him in stuff now. But the movie is otherwise pretty great.
But this is a message movie. Stop clenching up. You should be better than this. Film is art. Art should challenge us and, boy, Sorry to Bother You wants you to be uncomfortable. I want to go into SPOILERS because I know that people were a little put off by the big revelation at the end. The movie focuses on selling out. Selling out is a typical theme in film and we've seen it so many times before. But when I watch a "selling out" movie, the stakes are always so low. Honestly, mostly selling out comes at the expense of friendship. That's completely reasonable when you are a Mighty Duck or something like that, but Sorry to Bother You finds the evil of selling out. Cassius is sympathetic because almost no one has fought for him. He pays for gas with 40 cents. He lives in a garage and he can't even make the most marginal rent payments. The economic stakes have to be pretty high when Cassius feels the need to lie on his resume to get a telemarketing job. His big salvation is said telemarketing job. His life kind of sucks and then he finds out that he has an insane talent. He has the perfect white person voice. This white person voice can sell anything to anyone and that's his life now. But Cassius lives in this world where slavery is publicized. I wanted to say that Cassius lived in a world where slavery existed, but clearly Boots Riley is implying that slavery does exist without being called slavery. This is a movie where people die or are enslaved because people sell out. For people who hated this movie, I can see where you might have a concern. Life doesn't play out so intensely as it does in Sorry to Bother You. But Boots Riley created something that is as clear as it can be. He needed everyone to get the message and that means taking the subtlety out of things. Explaining institutionalized slavery in a two hour film subtlely might be a Herculean task that people wouldn't understand. Instead, Sorry to Bother You goes for the jugular. It calls a spade a spade and it works for the film.
Yeah, the horse stuff is weird and uncomfortable. The nudity I was talking about earlier? It's real gross here. This is the stuff that put people off and I can't really blame them. As weird as the movie is before that part, the horse stuff goes to a whole new level. The thing is, Riley is making this film that is about constant escalation. It's hard to cap slavery and the entire movie stresses the evils of slavery from the first moment. To add eugenics, it does smack Cassius in the face. He had a number that he was fine with. He was making as much money as he wanted. But Cassius, as our protagonist that needed to have a change of character. There needed to be something that would be considered too far. Also, and I am probably really stepping into it with this one, is the message of "how far would a dominant culture go?" A lot of the movie focuses on slavery being okay as long as it isn't called slavery. WorryFree, marketed the right way, doesn't sound so bad. The second it is called slavery, that's when it becomes taboo. Cassius became okay with that social evil because that's what people do. People really do becoming okay with social evils as long as it seems not that bad. The horse thing is the most insane thing that could have been put on that screen and that's why it is in the movie. It is abhorrent and secret. That's what makes it something that Cassius can't handle, its secret nature. He discovered something that he didn't want to see and that's what made it hard to accept. It didn't hurt that he was used for his race once again, by having him rap when he didn't know how. It's a lot to take in and I think that's Boots Riley's point. He needed to have a strong break and the horse thing was it.
The one thing that I kept getting a little turned around on is the almost intentionally weak dubbing. David Cross and Patton Oswalt are really recognizable voices. I liked that because I'm a fan of both comedians. The voices are supposed to be jarring because it is that kind of movie. I watched BlacKkKlansman as well this weekend, also involving doing the "white voice" and Sorry to Bother You is the more jarring of the two. It is very clear that everyone who is doing the white voice is being dubbed, and that's important. But I just don't know why it isn't tight. I watch Drunk History and the dubbing is spot on. I know it can be done and done well. I feel like Riley made a choice when the dubbing didn't match the voices very well. It reminded me of the scene from Wayne's World when Garth didn't know the lyrics to "Bohemian Rhapsody". Regardless, this is my one thing that I'm not quite sure about in the film. The rest of the film is a scathing satire of race culture and economics in America. It's really intense and a movie that should not be watched passively. It hit a sweet spot for me in terms of tone and message, but it might not be for everyone. But because it's not for everyone, it should be. (I'm being cryptic, I know.) This movie is important and the fact that it is well made only is more important. I absolutely loved it and, remember, it can be watched on Hulu right now.
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.