A perfectly targeted PG-13. The content is a little inappropriate, but the movie as a whole isn't really considered inappropriate. Actually, for a thriller, it's kind of touching. Could you make this PG? If it was the '90s, 100%. But it deals with potential molestation and rape. I guess I should mention that it is a homicide investigation for the majority of the movie. I'm sure that if I looked in the background on some of the computer screens, I might find even more inappropriate. There's language, but it's fairly tame. PG-13.
DIRECTORS: Aneesh Chaganty and Sev Ohanian
Okay, big thing! Everyone told me that it's worth it for the end. The end was going to change my life. We were never going to figure it out. Simultaneously, around the ten minute mark, my wife and figured it out. We actually kind of shouted it at each other. And we were right. So our lives weren't really changed by the end, but is it still worth watching a murder mystery if you have figured out the end from the beginning? Add to that, is it worth watching a murder mystery that you've already solved when the entire concept is just a little bit gimmicky? If it's anything like Searching (or searching), then I'll say "yes."
I want my wife to like the movies we watch together. Call me crazy, but it makes it all the more fun when she's really involved. I'm afraid to offer her gimmicky movies like Searching because that means I have to make myself all the more vulnerable. But my wife is the kind of lady who asks me to pause the film so she can read letters in their entirety. This movie is just constant excess information that builds the world of the film, so I think she was in heaven. She got so much extra information that she actually looked at her phone for a chunk of it. (Yeah, I'm pretending that's a win because I know that she liked it a lot.) For those unaware of the premise of Searching, the movie is told almost entirely from the perspective of the computers and devices of a father looking for his daughter. There isn't really much traditional footage, shy of news reports playing in a streaming video player (which is slight a cop out, but kind of scans with the premise of the movie). I may be putting this all on my wife to sell the gimmick, but I was worried about the gimmick as well. I pretend to hate found footage movies, but I kind of like them as well. Some make me really nauseous, but this is completely stagnant. The computer isn't being shaken. Rather, your TV / screen turns into the monitor for these computers. I have to put some worries to rest as well. I was really concerned that this movie was going to be one giant advertisement for Microsoft and Norton Antivirus from the beginning of the film on. It has this nostalgic quality right as the movie starts with the Windows 98 logo and music. I loved it, but I also didn't need this in my life. When I saw that the majority of the film was Apple, I gave it way more credit. It promoted everyone and the OS was just there to give it a sense of realism. The perfect version of this film would have made its own OS, but then it might have pulled me out of the film. There's no winning on that front.
But Searching wins because it is engaging. I bought J.J. Abrams's S because I like stories that inundate the reader / viewer with a world of puzzles to unravel. That's Searching. Every moment of the film has a clear focus point. Usually, this is a Facetime call or a search bar being filled in. But the film isn't just the search bar. The film is the entire screen for a majority of the film. Every detail adds to the world of Searching and that's what makes it so fascinating. The more you pay attention to it, the more interesting the movie gets. I threw my phone across the room because I didn't want to miss a moment. I guess this creates a unique situation for film. The movie isn't really all that cinematic. It was less of a film experience for me as it was an escape room in my home that was on rails. The movie feeds me all of these puzzle pieces that keep me enthralled. Like a good mystery, it gives you everything you need to solve the mystery before the big reveal happens. While watching the movie again would give me more insight into the mystery, I don't know if there's any value in watching again. It's an experience. It's going on a ride at Universal studios. That's great and I absolutely love it. But there's a disconnect to anything really meaningful. That's a bit much. There is meaning in it. What the directors do is create characters who have a lot depth, despite being shown exclusively through the lens of a webcam. The father / daughter struggle is impressive. But when it comes to the mystery, it is cool in the moment. I feel just a little removed from it. I don't know if that's just novelty wearing off. Searching, despite the fact that it works phenomenally, is ultimately a novelty. It's a novelty that I want everyone to watch because it is a fun time, but it is not a DVD own.
In terms of the mystery, it is pretty good. The movie keeps teasing this dark world behind the camera. Since we don't get to explore the world shy of the computer, we are left to glean everything from the computer screen itself. But time passes in a very unique way. Because we're only interacting with this computer, we don't really have an understanding of how much time is passing. To compensate for this, we have to glean things from David's behavior. I love John Cho. I've been watching out for him since Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle and I am pretty much on board for most things that he does. Cho really sells the desperation. If I had to go back and time and do this blog all over again, I would want to write a blog about how I watched certain movies before kids and certain movies without kids. This movie constantly reminds me that my kids are going to get kidnapped and it will be completely out of my control. Cho needs his daughter back. The odd combination between guilt and fear is the central mood throughout. I wonder if it was the format of the movie or what, but anything that David is feeling is what we are feeling. I know that other characters have a sense of empathy in other movies. But there's a divide. The coolest thing about the format of the film is that we are involved in the investigation. There's something almost stalker-y about the whole movie. (I'm typing this while audio is blasting in my ear. The word I want is elusive right now.) But David is almost just an avatar for fatherhood. We know the issues he's dealing with. (My wife noticed that someone asked him out for a drink from one of the text messages on his phone. Scandalous!) When he gets bad news, we get bad news. I don't know if we're as torn up as he is, but it is really easy to relate to him considering that we see all of the steps in the narrative. He's smarter than I am when it comes to the investigation, but they are logical steps. He runs into computer problems and things that we should be able to fix. The world feels grounded and the investigation, while slightly larger than life, does feel like it exists in our world.
I really liked Searching. It's a fun movie. It's a great mystery, even though it might just be a tad too solvable. There are moments that really add to the investigation. We kept on finding little clues that validated our theories. There are moments that make you question if choices are made on purpose. It's a great experience and I want other people to watch it. But like many found footage films, it is ultimately a novelty. But just because something is a novelty doesn't mean it isn't worth enjoying. It's a good yarn told well. That's sometimes all that I can ask for.
TV-PG. Santa makes a butt joke. A kid steals cars. That's about the extent of how bad the movie gets. There's some peril for kids, but nothing that's bad. My kids completely were riveted by it and they hate live action. Yeah, I'll stand by the PG thing, but it's pretty darned innocent. The extend of the scariness? My kids cuddled up with me during the move. That's the exact level of scariness I was hoping for in a movie. TV-PG.
DIRECTOR: Clay Kaytis
I'm slightly grumpy, which is probably the ideal way to write about an adorable Christmas movie. Contextually, I should give you a heads up that I just recorded our podcast episode about this movie. That's right, nothing says "edgy" like a real analysis of The Christmas Chronicles. Bob really thought when Netflix announced this movie, that it was going to be Snake Plissken: Santa Claus. (I have neither the time nor the disposition to look up the spelling of the protagonist from Escape from New York. Christmas humbug.) I knew exactly what this movie was going to be and that's not the worst thing in the world. I just knew that it might not make riveting podcasting. Regardless, we recorded it and I hope you keep an eye out for that.
If Elf is the bar for great contemporary Christmas movies, I would say that The Christmas Chronicles probably hovers somewhere around The Santa Clause franchise for quality. I enjoy The Santa Clause. I enjoyed The Christmas Chronicles. I suppose both of those movies are really vying for the same seasonal real estate in the long run. Tonally, they are almost identical. I mean, they're both movies about contemporary, street-wise Santa Clauses. There's a market there and it is being saturated. I get it. I like A Miracle on 34th Street just fine. I watched it for the first time a few years ago. Maybe it was last year. These days all blend together nowadays. But the charming element of Santa Claus is that he's a dude just like us. Well, he's never going to be like us, right? That's what makes a well written Santa Claus kind of compelling and watchable. I mean, we all see Kurt Russell. There's no denying that. But we also have a Santa Claus that can do anything that he wants. Kurt Russell's Santa Claus might be the most powerful of the Santa Clauses because he uses his powers freely. When he's not using his powers, it's a choice. He's borderline omnipotent but he seems to have regular problems. That's a nifty combo. Add to the fact that he's just Kurt Russell responding to the name Santa Claus and that makes a pretty interesting Santa Claus. It might be the most important thing about the film. The kids are fine, I guess. I'm doing that old thing where I actively state that the kids in a movie aren't amazing, even though I also acknowledge that it is really hard to be amazing, especially when you are a kid. I'm a terrible person because I'm consciously aware that I'm a terrible person who holds kids to impossible standards of performance for a movie that really isn't asking for it. But considering that the protagonist of the movie isn't Santa Claus (break it down and find character goals, especially considering the revelation at the end), but the kids, and Santa Claus really has to sell the movie.
A protagonist should be our primary focus in this story. It should be the boy, but he's not even the central protagonist. (Holy crap, I just realized that this movie is a mess.) Teddy, the boy, (I just looked it up on IMDB) has the greatest character arc. He has the thing to lose and gain. He is without faith and despondent about the loss of his father. But really, Teddy is more reactionary than anything else. He isn't actively pursuing anything until well into the plot. Instead, Kate is the protagonist. She makes all of the major choices of the film. She brings it upon herself to discover Santa Claus. Her major problems are kind of solved by themselves, or rather, by Santa Claus. However, Kate doesn't really want to heal Teddy. She is tired of him treating her like dirty and being mopey all of the time. But her intentions aren't to turn him around. That's a matter of happenstance. The movie is The Christmas Chronicles with Kurt Russell as Santa on every marketing platform. The kids, who might be joint protagonists, aren't really all that noticable in anything, aren't the most interesting characters. But going down that road even further, Teddy has the opportunity to be the protagonist, but takes a back seat to his sister. Really, there's a lot going on here that gets solved without the characters having a ton of agency in their own fates. But again, this is a Christmas movie that's just meant to be a good time. (It is.) I'm just a little grumpy and thinking about how sometimes storytelling can take a flying leap off of a bridge.
I'll say it: I don't like the magic element at the end. Most of the movie is magical. It's not surprising; it's a story about Santa Claus trying to save Christmas (or is it?). Now I'm going to get all selfish because I think I might be a fundamentally selfish person at heart. SPOILER: Teddy has written Santa Claus in a last ditch effort to get a hold of his dead father. It's very bleak, but it's appropriate for a Christmas movie. Santa can't bring back the dead, but he can make a magic ornament that lets Teddy see his dad looking over him any time he looks at it. It's a very feel good moment...unless you've actually lost your dad. I never got into the grand theft auto element of losing my dad, but I did have that desperation to see him once more. The movie needed a happy ending and it knew that it couldn't bring back his dad, but it does give it an unfair answer that the rest of us couldn't get. When I first watched The Christmas Chronicles, it didn't bother me. But the joy of the kids cuddling with me for a family film has started to fade and I'm left with a sense of unfairness. I don't like it. Nope, I don't care for it one bit. But this is such a small moment. This movie has so much going for it and me griping about real deep cuts doesn't really sell it properly. Instead, I get a performance by Lamorne Morris and Vella Lovell. It's not my favorite roles for them. They're TV famous and, for some reason, they tend to get minor supporting roles. Regardless, I like these actors a lot and its fun to see them in movies. I also really love the Lisa subplot. Knowing Santa's revelation, it's weird to see that this is a really intense movie about multitasking. We were discussing on the podcast if the revelation at the end is a bit of a cop out. Part of me thinks so, but the majority of the movie makes a lot more sense. I really like that element of the movie. It's pretty darned great and I really appreciate the fact that Santa's not as out of control as he appears to be at first glance.
The Christmas Chronicles is a better movie than you'd expect it to be, but it isn't going to be one of the Christmas greats. It's a nice alternative to The Santa Clause or Elf, but it will never really replace them. I loved that my kids seemed to really get on board. The special effects are better than they have a right to be, but the living creatures have an uncanny valley element to them. Still, none of this really throws a problem on the film. It's fun. Kurt Russell is fun. That's what you are signing up for and that's what you are getting. Enjoy. It's on Netflix.
R, and a pretty well deserved R. Let's start with something that makes it automatically R: nudity. We're in America and nudity means R. There's sex, there's drugs, and the loosest definition of rock n' roll. There's a ton of drinking, some pretty foul language. There's some accidental public urination. That's a first for me, writing that phrase. It will never be a family film, so keep that in mind. It's a natural update of the older films, so keep that mind. R.
DIRECTOR: Bradley Cooper
It's weird. I didn't like the Judy Garland version of A Star is Born. I didn't see the other ones. People be loving that movie. Heck, people be loving the new movie too. When I saw the trailer, I could only see Oscar bait all over this one. I had an opening to see this one at one of the last showings before it goes to the void that is pre-home video. I'm going to be honest, I didn't love it. I know, I'm already ready for all of the vitriol. It might actually be somewhat deserved. I have a pretty strong theory why I didn't love it and it's mostly my fault.
A movie like A Star is Born really rests on whether you love the soundtrack or not. It's a musical. It's a musical where all the music is diegetic. It's like Once. They are all actually singing. The singing is actually central to the entire film. I mean, they are both singers who make their money from singing. But the music in this movie didn't really do much for me. I know that I made people kind of angry when I didn't love The Greatest Showman, but I didn't love the music in that one either. From my perspective, if the music is not central to the film, the rest of the film has to rest on its own merits. The problem I always had with A Star is Born is that the story is pretty trope-y. It always felt like an Afterschool Special about the dangers of drugs and alcohol. Now, I'm not saying that the narrative couldn't work. I think it could. I remember being absolutely enthralled by Half Nelson, a thematically similar movie. But this is where things start to fall apart. It's a 2 hr 15 minute movie. When the entire story is watching someone self-destruct without much of a plot otherwise, it climaxes pretty early. The music, which I again don't really love, just acts as a stall in the long run. Character building is smart, but a story like A Star is Born telegraphs everything you need to know in the first minute of the movie. Jack is drunk and popping pills from the first shot in the movie. He's drunk and high through the majority of the relationship. This means that when he escalates, he goes from problematic to unlikable. That's not the dramatic change that I'm really looking for in a character. The best thing you can say about Jack is that sometimes he's a nice drunk and sometimes he's a mean drunk. It's not to say that his character is without sympathy. He's an extremely sympathetic alcoholic. I like the addition of the tinnitus, especially for a musician, is brilliant. It makes sense that he's not simply overwhelmed by the glitz of Los Angeles.
This means that I have to look to Ally exclusively for the story. That makes sense. The story is Ally's story. But we have to lie to ourselves to make that narrative work. Ally meets Jack when he's drunk. The film does a stellar job of establishing that Ally looks at Jack not as a celebrity, but as a man. Honestly, Ally is a little broken too, but I'm going to gloss over that like the film kind of glosses over it too. Ally knows that he's an alcoholic and a drug addict from moment one. I know that this is a realistic situation. I know it happens everyday. But if I'm asked to see if Ally's life is unfair or not, I don't know if I can just accept that. Ally embraces Jack's addiction and seems hurt when that addiction is destructive. Ally, on top of that, kind of has a drinking problem as well. She's not as deep as Jack is, but she causally takes drugs and drinks. I actually am surprised that the film takes the stance that drugs in moderation is kind of okay. I don't know if I'm over-reading into that, but Ally seems to have an unhealthy attitude to alcohol. I mean, they argue with drinks in their hands. Luckily, there is more to Ally that I actually really like. I mean, I'm not huge into this movie, but it isn't abysmal either. Ally's healthy trait is a respect for marriage. It's not a perfect respect for marriage. I don't love how casually the two get married. That's a mistake to begin with, but Ally's devotion to Jack is actually pretty great. She places her work in the right spotlight throughout the film. I'm never going to recommend A Star is Born as a story to show what marriage should be about, but it was nice to see that one element right. But this also leads to questions about the nature of love. Heck, with all this analysis, I guess A Star is Born has more content in it than I thought.
There is a weird power dynamic in terms of the relationship. The initial power dynamic is held by Jack. He changes Ally's life in a moment. It's romantic and jerkish at the same time. But he isn't at all in control. He can control the small bubble around him and that small bubble is on fire. (The metaphor works. Just ignore it.) When Ally comes in, whose life is relatively together, (I said, "relatively".) Ally then holds all the cards. The marriage wasn't between two people who really knew each other. They knew elements of each other. Ally had seen snippets of Jack as the real person he was, but mostly it's a ploy. It's actually confirmed in the film. I didn't know that Sam Elliott was in the film when I first started watching it. I thought it was really weird that Bradley Cooper was doing a Sam Elliott impression. Then Sam Elliot walked in and it's revealed that Cooper has been putting on a mask his entire life. He's not even a real person. Yeah, this movie is a drama. But it's meant to be kind of a romantic drama. A straight up romance. I don't know how romantic this film really is, outside of Ally sticking with Jack through thick and thin. It's kind of unromantic. It seems like a selfish guy who thinks he's being unselfish. There's something really broken about the entire relationship and it's weird that I'm supposed to be rooting for it. Maybe that's A Star is Born's value: it's complex. It's not a relationship that we necessarily want to see. It's ugly and broken and if we knew these people in real life, we might be rooting against them because it is so toxic. They keep remaking this movie for each generation. I don't know why this message needs to be communicated so often, but someone has found a lot of value in this.
It's really weird that I don't love this movie. In terms of Bradley Cooper's involvement, he does the job I want him to do. He and Lady Gaga are amazing. Oh my goodness, Lady Gaga is phenomenal in this. She's so good. Cooper is great too. The performances are absolutely perfect. As a film and just talking about crafting, everything is flawless. There wasn't a moment where something just read false. If I could make a movie as well as this movie is made, I could die happy. As part of that, it is cinematically very impressive. The cinematography services the film as well as can be expected. I could go on with this, but it would just divert from the point. The point is that there's nothing wrong with this film except for the fact that I didn't really like it. The drug / alcohol preachiness doesn't seem enough to prop up the film for me. Again, I didn't love the music. Music movies can really move me. I tend to absolutely adore music movies, especially if its my genre. Country pop doesn't do it for me at all. I'm not saying that this movie shouldn't exist. Please, I'm the last person in the world who should be a music snob. But I've never gotten into it and a lot of this movie is about country pop. I am not even sure if that's the right genre, because I'm not even a music expert. I'm into movies, comics, and television. That's enough of my time and money that takes up my time. So the movie depends on me to love the music because there are extended music moments in the film that I just found myself falling asleep during. For me, this film is music I don't care about and anti-drug preachiness that I got in the first minute performed and presented in the best way possible.
There's other stuff I kind of think about. The "jeans" song seemed like she was selling her soul and that Jack is weirdly right. It's one of those logical fallacies where just because Jack is drunk, doesn't mean he's wrong. He's being a jerk, which makes him the bad guy. But it is weird that she's selling her soul and he can't verbally explain that. But whatever. This is the rare movie that I didn't enjoy that I would totally advocating seeing. It's not my cup of tea, but there's technically not much to complain about here.
PG, which is 1990s for R. PG meant nothing in the day. Yeah, it's a family film, but what we considered a family film then versus a family film now is night and day. There's a lot of swearing in this movie. I am not going to show this movie to my kids for a really long time. Henry gets scared at any kind of violence, even violence towards bad guys. I guess I should be pretty happy about that. It probably means that he has empathy. Either that, or he's a monster who only wants to see the hero suffer. Regardless, there's some violence and bad language. Also, Kevin looks at a Playboy.
DIRECTOR: Chris Columbus
People getting hit with stuff is funny. It's funny today as it was then. I watched this movie for the billionth time this Christmas. When I used to teach junior high, we used to show this movie the day we left for Christmas break. I don't care how many times I've seen this movie, it's probably one of the few comedies that makes me laugh every time. I know that comedy should be about surprise, but this movie works so well with me. I still groan at every single hit. I don't care how well MythBusters debunks the hits. I know that the Wet Bandits should be dead from the paint can alone, but it's funny to see people get hit with things.
I don't think that I'll ever watch the sequel again if I don't have to. That being said, check every so often on this page for the inevitable review for Home Alone 2: Lost in New York. It's starring our current Commander-in-Chief, so that's something. But I kind of want to focus this analysis with the knowledge that Lost in New York exists. The thing about the original Home Alone is that it is a really tight film. Yeah, it's a Christmas movie, but it is a Christmas movie that intentionally subverts everything that a Christmas movie should be about. It is about bad behavior, a wrathful God, and violence galore. People argue whether or not Die Hard is actually a Christmas movie or not and I have to say it has to be if Home Alone is acceptable as a Christmas movie, Die Hard might have to be as well. Home Alone is totally a Christmas movie (which few people argue against) because Kevin learns the value of the human spirit through his adventures alone in his home town. He grows as a human being and devalues presents. Okay, that's fine. But if I want to teach my kids about the true meaning of Christmas, am I going to start at Home Alone? Nah, I'm going to show them Home Alone (eventually!) because people get hit hard with stuff by a kid who is pretty hilarious. But I digress.
Home Alone works because it is tightly written. John Hughes, who isn't in the director's chair for this one, wrote this really tight script. It's deceptively tight. It takes a couple of viewings to catch some little things that he threw in there to make the story nearly airtight. (The only thing that completely bothers me about the movie, and I'd love correction on this, is how lackadaisical the Chicago PD are about a call from a mother saying a kid is stuck at home.) But starting from the beginning of the movie, Kevin is given completely unlikable traits. He's a complete brat, but still manages to maintain some sympathy. To do this, Kevin has to have a handful of characters, his family, that completely push every one of his buttons and character flaws. There are a billion characters in this movie. He has this sympathetic beginning because he is actually alone from the start of the narrative. (This is a metaphor on my part, but it is leading an interesting direction, so I'm going to keep following this.) Kevin acts out because he is constantly overlooked. This is most personified by his Uncle Frank and Buzz. These are two characters who notice him, but in the most toxic ways possible. Uncle Frank, a grown man, blames Kevin for everything and calls him "a little jerk." This is all the attention that Kevin gets without advocating for attention. He can annoy his other siblings and cousins by directly asking them questions, but their intentions are to limit the conversation to the bare minimum it would take to get rid of Kevin. They are actually talking around him. It doesn't minimize Kevin's terribleness. After all, we need Scrooge for "A Christmas Carol", but it doesn't make him the bad guy. This is not what I was planning on talking about, but I like thinking about it.
The details lie in how it got to Kevin getting left behind and all of the moments being set up. It's a kids' movie. There's a lot of excuses to be lazy. This is the era of Ernest P. Worrell. Comedies were allowed to be super dumb. But everything in that movie is set up and paid off. I love this kind of stuff. It's not on Edgar Wright levels, but it is close. How Kevin gets left behind is brilliant. It seems like this should be simple, but lots of little events happen that are all explored. (The garage is open! Guys, the garage is open.) But the character stuff is all great. Kevin's big phobia of the neighbor is absurd, but it ends in a really touching way. As a movie that stands alone and wasn't supposed to be the mega Christmas explosion that it was, it is nearly perfect. There are so many small lessons that Kevin learns, making it ultimately a Christmas movie. The only big question I have in terms of set up is why Kevin decides to make an ornate meal of macaroni and cheese immediately before the Wet Bandits hit. The clock even shows that it is 8:57 when he pulls his microwave dinner out. What is he thinking? I started this whole thing keeping Lost in New York in mind. I talked to Doug Benson on Twitter once (name drop, I know) and he said that Ghostbusters 2 is ultimately a repeat of the first Ghostbusters movie. I kind of disagreed with him, but I saw where he is coming from. Lost in New York is a crime when it comes to that. Everything was so intricately planned for the first movie and all of those beats are simply repeated in the second movie. I shouldn't be talking about the second film, but it actually kind of stains the first movie. By having the second movie cover the same beats as the first film, it means that Kevin learned nothing from this first experience. The big message of the film is that Kevin needed to learn to accept people instead of instantly fearing them. That's a major moment for Kevin. But he then treats the homeless bird lady exactly like he treated his neighbor. Why would this beat be repeated? It is so important that Kevin learned something about humanity. Like, if they made "A Christmas Carol 2" (I'm writing it in my head right now), how disappointing would it be if Scrooge went back to being a jerk? No, it should be about Kevin teaching someone else the value of humanity so they can avoid the problems of the first one. How great would Lost in New York have been if Kevin and Fuller were stuck together? He would then teach Fuller about the lessons of the first movie? Then, Kevin would be frustrated with Fuller, only to realize that he was treating his brother like his neighbor? Genius. I just wrote a perfect Home Alone sequel.
You know who, with years of retrospect under my belt, doesn't suck? Macaulay Culkin. I can totally see why that kid got way too famous way too fast. He's perfect in this movie. There's a bunch of kids movies where the kids kind of suck. There's a handful of actors out there who are actually good as kids and Macaulay Culkin was one of them. I want him to be okay. I don't know why I want that now. I imagine it is pretty easy to laugh at someone who burned so bright and how he plummeted to Earth. (I'm being sympathetic.) He's so good.
Also, I don't know what's with me and good Christmas movies. I only get weepy at Christmas movies. It used to just be Scrooged. The end, with Calvin. I'm not going to go into it because I don't want to cry. Then, I emotionally added It's a Wonderful Life. Okay, that one makes sense. This watch? I almost cried twice. The first time was when John Candy offered Catherine O'Hara a ride on Christmas Eve. That's an odd choice. I wasn't expecting that. (Catherine O'Hara looks so grateful that she is going to be able to see her child. What have kids done to me?) The second is when Kevin forgives his mom and I just lose it. What am I doing at work? I should be home with kids and hugging them forever. But Home Alone does what it shouldn't be able to do: it makes me really excited for Christmas and family. That's what it was made to do. But if I showed you the disparate parts of that film and told you that you would be emotionally welled up, it wouldn't make any sense. Heck, I'm sure it still doesn't make a lot of sense for a lot of you. I don't know how both Christmas and family has broken me, but they have. Regardless, I want to know when to show my kids these movies. I'm so desperate that they see every fun movie that I'm getting them off the plates when they are too young. But I just can't wait sometimes. Maybe my oldest would like it...
Web-swing your way through Manhattan while listening to the guys talk about what would have been everybody’s Game of the Year if not for Cowboy Land 2. It’s a freewheelin’ discussion on Spidey and 2018’s video game offerings, so find a building ledge to perch on and give us a listen.
PG, but honestly, probably should be G. It's really innocent. Like, REALLY innocent. I'm not going to praise The Grinch or anything, but there's only one moment that could even be considered slightly inappropriate, and that's obscured nudity that's played for a joke. I wonder if G is saved exclusively for "classy". Because content wise, this thing is almost a baby's movie. PG.
DIRECTORS: Yarrow Cheney and Scott Mosier
Scott Mosier? Really? Like, View Askew Scott Mosier? That might be a metaphor for everything I'm seeing here. I have to keep repeating the same mantra over and over. "This movie wasn't made for me. This movie wasn't made for me. This movie wasn't made for me." It really wasn't. It was made for my kids and I've been rallying around that cause for a while. The push to make kids' movies more suggestive to let parents enjoy them has been a slippery slope. Some movies really know how to do it right. The Lego Movie and the Pixar stuff (for the most part) can kind of keep balance. But stuff like The Emoji Movie, which tends to be the norm, gets really rough. So seeing a movie that really raised (almost) no red flags in terms of inappropriate content at least let me relax and consider taking a nap. (I napped during The Christmas Prince sequel. I wasn't excited to write about it.)
But The Grinch is straight up boring. I know that the kids laughed at parts. I didn't find it interesting at all. And I really tried. Illumination Studios is an interesting beast. They came out strong with the first two Despicable Me movies and then rode that high for a long time. But then, they came out with movie after movie that people told me were just blah. I mostly avoided those because I don't need to see every kids movie that comes out. I enjoy taking my kids to the movies. I actually weirdly look forward to it, despite the stresses that accompanied by it. But I think we get a lot of the jokes that the Illumination guys have. It's a little bit tired. The first two Despicable Me movies have more jokes than the minions, but the minions are carrying a lot of the weight. Without the minions as a backup, a movie like The Grinch can just get really dull. Part of it comes from my wife's philosophy. I fought against this idea for a while, but my wife believes that it is a bad idea to make a feature length film out of a very short source like a children's picture book. This all started when I was adamant about seeing Where the Wild Things Are. That was the movie that proved her point. You can make a movie super pretty and artsy-fartsy. But if there's no content, what's the point? It's an uphill battle. It's not impossible. Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs is a charming movie that strays from the source material to make a fun piece of entertainment. (I watched it years ago and walked in on the family halfway through it the other day. It still seems pretty charming.) The Illumination guys fell into the old trap that a lot of other adaptations do. It takes the bare bones of the book and then try to pad out the other scenes. In the original book, The Grinch hates Christmas. He wants to steal Christmas from the town of Whoville by dressing as Santa. When he meets Cindy Lou Who, he discovers the true meaning of Christmas and his heart grows three sizes. That's really the extent of it. How can you get an hour-and-a-half from that? You stall and you stall a lot.
Not all the stalling is terrible. We get to find out why the Grinch doesn't like Christmas. It's probably the strongest choice in the movie and probably should be in the movie, regardless of how much padding the movie needs. It's a children's book. The story is meant to be as superficial as possible, so adding a little character development is actually helpful. It adds this other level, making us aware that everyone isn't always gifted with privilege. That kind of stuff is awesome. I can go with all kinds of character development. What I can't really stand is the prepping. There's a simple concept: the Grinch is pretending to be Santa and robbing people. But the majority of the movie is the Grinch finding all of the elements to make it work. In the classic animated short, we don't have any of that nonsense (okay, some of it). But the step by step element? It's the cinematic equivalent of filling out forms. Why do I want to watch any of this? The actual stuff from the book is pretty watchable, but that's such a short part of the film. Also, giving Cindy Lou Who a backstory seems really tacked on. I'm not saying that the Grinch has a really tight backstory. But it seems like these character moments seem to be pulled from the trope bank of Christmas films. Yeah, Cindy Lou Who has a personality and that makes her more interesting instead of just being an avatar for a theme. But it's a little underbaked. It actually kind of splits focus. The film is about the Grinch. It is his character arc. He is the one who makes the major change throughout the film. By introducing Cindy Lou Who as someone who has a goal, it really pulls focus. There are times in the movie where I don't know who the protagonist is. Imagine digesting, either through film or text, "A Christmas Carol." What if half the book was devoted to Bob Cratchit? You knew that he wasn't going to change at the end? It was more along the lines of watching him doing nice things for another person? Yeah, Bob Cratchit would be a more fleshed out character, but it would drive focus away from Scrooge. Also, no change in character means that everything that was digested really went nowhere except for cementing that Bob Cratchit is a good person, which we understood anyway. That's the problem with Cindy Lou Who. I don't think the filmmakers really care about Cindy Lou Who. She is there to stall the film.
I don't think I like popular animation outside of Disney. The need to tie pop songs and remixes into the film make me roll my eyes pretty hard. There's a lot of classics, but the movie deems it necessary to show that contemporary is cool. This movie owes so much to the other animated version of "How the Grinch Stole Christmas." But instead of just allowing it to be vulnerable with the crooning melodies of yesteryear, every classic in this has to have a contemporary cover. I'm talking about the absolutely bizarre version of "You're a Mean One". But it doesn't rest there. There are Christmas carols throughout the film and that's cool. But it feels the need to Pitch Perfect the lot of them. It's part of that frenetic feel that comes with children's movies that aren't Disney. Are filmmakers also responsible for selling soundtracks and ensuring that contributing artists are selling records? It feels like every kids movie now has to have some kind of poppy song attached to it. This matches the aesthetics and it kind of makes me want to drill a hole through my skull. The movie itself isn't all that horrible, but it is stuff like this makes me want to quit everyone but Disney. When it works, it's fine. "Happy" was a perfectly fine song. "Everything is Awesome" is satire, and actually kind of great. But most of the songs I hear don't really match the film. They are thrown in there to make Kidz Bop albums. I would have loved just a Frank Sinatra Christmas scoring this stuff. This all makes me sound very old, but it is true. As part of this obsession with salesmanship, I also have to question why the big names. Benedict Cumberbatch is great. I love him in practically everything. But why cast Benedict Cumberbatch as a voice if he's going to do his darndest not to sound like Benedict Cumberbatch. Everyone was shocked to read that he was the voice of the Grinch. I mean, he does a fine job. But the voice he's doing is a dime a dozen, so is it just to attract parents into the theater? The only voice who really sells it appropriately is Kenan Thompson. He's great. Sure, he's a bit of stereotype, but it works because it isn't overt. He's really the best part of the movie. He's actually funny, which always draws me back.
But again, this movie isn't for me. I have to repeat that again because I've lost the forest through the trees. Do you know the important thing? My kids kinda liked it. I got to see a Christmas movie that was appropriate for them with them in the theater. That's one the of the best Christmas gift of all. Do I wish that I enjoyed the movie more? Sure. But did my kids like it? Yeah, and that's what really matters in the long run.
PG-13, but mostly for monster gore and monster fighting. I mean, what else could there be? Yeah, we have PG-13 language, but I'm sure we all expect that at this point. The violence tends to involve swords and body parts blowing up, but they are monsters. Monsters probably deserve to get their heads all 'sploded. That's why they are so huge, so gore just gets everywhere. The protagonist likes to drink in excess, but that's just for a scene at the beginning as part of a montage. He's not the most noble character at the beginning, but that's basic character arc things. PG-13.
DIRECTOR: Steven S. DeKnight
I'm about to collect a huge stack of papers from my students, so I know that I won't have time to write these later in the week. If I seem tired, please forgive me. It took me an oddly long time to getting around to see it. When it first came out on Blu-ray, I got my copy from Netflix DVD.com (whatever it's called). It then sat there on the backburner because I gave myself a million projects for the podcast. I also knew that my wife would have no interest in seeing this one. She didn't see the first one and I knew which way the wind was blowing. So I kept putting it off and off. But now I work out before anyone wakes up, so it was finally time. There's something remarkably punk rock about loving Guillermo del Toro. The first movie got such a pass in my heart because I knew he made it. That's completely wrong of me, but I also know that I love that movie because he made it. I mean, the movie by itself is pretty darned great. But I know that snobby me who loves Criterions and movies in French would be ignoring this. But Pacific Rim made me like the idea of kaiju movies. Sure, that hasn't translated as one-to-one as one would have thought. But Steven S. DeKnight is also a pretty impressive name to be attached to a project.
The problem is...I didn't know that. There's a thought process that ran through my head as I watched this movie that is really interesting. I kept enjoying it. But I also know that Guillermo del Toro didn't direct this one. (I was pretty annoyed by that, but I shouldn't be surprised when del Toro doesn't show up for stuff. He's burned me there before.) So I kept liking this movie and felt like I was some kind of saint for liking it. But I also acknowledge that I don't like it as much as the first one. I think, as a culture, that we shouldn't use the first movie as a litmus test for future entries. Only a few movies get better in the second film. But we tend to lose our minds when a sequel isn't as good as the original. Uprising takes a long time to get on its feet. The actual plot doesn't really start until about halfway through the movie. Rather, DeKnight has to stall a little bit, so instead we worry about worldbuilding. Del Toro tells the story of a world that is constantly decimated by giant monsters. (I think I might have a plot point that needs to be argued that I just thought about while writing about this.) Yeah, it's the smart move to not remake Pacific Rim exactly. Instead, DeKnight gives us a world post victory. I don't know what the economic landscape of Pacific Rim is, but it doesn't make a ton of sense. Those Jaegers have to be insanely expensive, but we don't have money for corpse disposal a decade after the final battle? But living in this world is interesting...but not as interesting as a world that is used to monster attack. The tension is way down in Uprising, but I suppose it kind of has to be.
Okay, SPOILER HEAVY QUESTION: The big thing in this one that Scott Eastwood (from Fast and Furious fame) brings up is that we don't really achieve victory until we know the motive behind our enemy's attack. It's very cool sounding and, being a Chekhov's gun for the film, gets explained. The problem that the folks in Uprising have to deal with is why the precursors (watch the film) used Kaiju to attack humans. It seems wildly inefficient to use giant monsters to wipe out humanity. I read it in Pacific Rim that it was just what they had at their disposal, so that was the end of it. Okay, now, it has been a while since I watched part one. I've seen it three times or something. But this movie posits that the kaiju were trying to get to Mount Fuji because there are rare minerals that would wipe out all life on Earth? My big question is, why didn't the kaiju wipe out the people in the first movie. The first kaiju shows up, right? We don't have Jaegers, so why wouldn't it just decimate the planet before we had the technology to fight back? This plot is killing me right now. When I was watching it, I didn't think about these things. I was just like, "oh, that's cool." But now it seems like a bit of a plothole. Maybe there is a problem with writing analyses about what you see. I can't do anything passively anymore. I mean, this doesn't kill the movie for me, whatsoever. Okay, maybe a little, but I'm sure it's fine. That's kind of the problems with sequels in general though. The first one really closes up the story quite nicely. Don't get me wrong. I would love to live in a world where Pacific Rim sequels are popular and we get one every few years. But the narrative is done. We can compare this to the first and second Matrix movies. In the first Matrix film, the whole story is told. It is clear that Neo is going to save humanity from that last shot. No questions are really asked. After all, he can fly. But then we have to dial back what actually happened in the first film to make the second one work. Uprising is mostly a film without kaiju. Humanity has to become its own enemy, and then there has to be a grasp at a loose thread from the first one. I like where the loose thread is pulled from. I'm going to talk about that in a second. But it does seem like a bit of a stretch to think that we could have a kaiju problem again after the finality of the first film. Like I said with my Castlevania podcast, the more powerful a character is, the more incompetent they have to be to lose. By that logic, humanity has to be pretty incompetent to let all of this happen.
Now, the twist was pretty great. I am going to give Pacific Rim: Uprising for pulling the most unique twist I've seen. BIG SPOILER STUFF: Uprising might be the first movie where I figured out the basic twist, but there was a far better twist underneath. I got that the drones were intentionally meant to stage the disaster. It's telegraphed and I was actually disappointed with the movie for telegraphing it so hard. But then Charlie Day ended up being the big bad guy. Didn't see it. I thought that he might have been helping the bad guy either willingly or unwillingly, but that he was the big bad got me. I kind of like when the heroes of the first film end up being the villains of the sequels. I don't know what button is being pressed to make that happen, but I appreciate it. I also love that Charlie Day doesn't really change his personality. He acts the exact same way that he did in the first movie, but now he's evil. I love Charlie Day. I know that he only really has one character, but with different levels of intellect. I don't care. That character is great and I could watch him in all kinds of stuff. He's great. He's great as a villain. Part of my heart breaks that he has to go against Burn Gorman, but that's fine in the long run. I didn't need that part of my heart anyway. But that element makes it fun. And that's what Pacific Rim: Uprising is, fun. It is a lot of fun. Yeah, DeKnight has to delay to get to the big monster fight. The entire movie can't be monster fights. So there is character stuff. Those characters are compelling enough to keep me invested before the monsters start fighting. I don't know if I love John Boyega's back story with Idris Elba, mainly because I feel like that narrative has been told before. But I love John Boyega. Yeah, Cailee Spaney is a bit of an archetype. But it is an archetype I like. I like her tiny little Jaeger. I don't get why Viktoria is so over the top with her, outside of the fact that the movie needed tension. But this is a movie of tropes that doesn't really care that they are tropes. I knew Scrapper was going to get in on the final fight. Who cares? The movie is fun and baller and I can watch that kind of stuff all the time.
I guess that's what Pacific Rim really is. It's a fun action movies for people who think too hard. Sometimes it is fun to really just let loose and acknowledge that awesome things are indeed awesome. Sometimes, a giant robot punching a giant monster is all I need to have a good time. There's quality to how the movie is made, so that's what makes the difference in the long run. I want to pretend that there are layers here, but instead, it's just fun.
PG, because it really is as family friendly as the superhero movies get. The odd thing is that it is fundamentally about a creature who wants to eat the world and kill all living creatures on Earth, so that's an odd thing that I have to wrap my head around. But when chaos is on that level, it becomes way less scary. Making it about one person is way scarier. But I digress! There's some obscured nudity of Jessica Alba...again. I don't remember any bad language. It's got some very cartoon-y violence. Reed hits on girls at his bachelor party. Um...that's about it? A well justified PG.
DIRECTOR: Tim Story
It's official! My kids like these movies. Don't weep for me. I'm going to put it out there and say that there are way worse movies to watch. I remember, when this movie came out, I was the only one who thought it was actually better than the first movie. Yeah, it has its problems. And some of those problems are fairly major and can't be ignored. I know that because every image that was hi-res enough to put for the picture above reminded me of a terrible part of the movie. But Silver Surfer is rad and I'm glad to see a Fantastic Four movie that is not an origin story. Also, it's got Andre Braugher who gets something weird done to him that I'm not sure I can explain.
I don't know whether to go positive or negative first. The negative stuff has been done, but I also want to be honest with this movie with the mistakes that it made. Yeah, I'll go negative first and then try to dig myself out, trying to once again remind you that I actually enjoyed this movie overall. I know. I'm first defending The Amazing Spider-Man 2 and now I have to do Fantastic Four 2. A lot of my complaints about the fundamentals of the first movie still stay. The casting is great in the main team except for Jessica Alba. I don't get it. I know that Jessica Alba was a marketable name and that's why she is in the movie, but she contributes nothing but her looks. That's not Sue Storm. While Sue has always been depicted as gorgeous and occasionally sexual (I'm looking at you, the '90s.), that is her least interesting characteristic. The books, at least modern age and on, have depicted Sue Storm as the most important and vital member of the team. Occasionally she gets overlooked by Reed Richards, who builds ridiculous machines and things that adjust the complete fabric of the Marvel Universe, but Sue should have the strongest powers and the most control over the direction that the team is taking. Jessica Alba doesn't get that. Jessica Alba looks artificial and her performance is distractingly weak. She actually gets the most uncomfortable character arc as well. I'm going to step back and put on my progressive pants for a second. Sue in this movie is focused on a really weak goal. She wants the the world to be okay so she can have the prettiest, most perfect wedding. Literally, the world is about to be consumed by Galactus (we'll get there) and she just wants to have the idea wedding. That's her character arc. She realizes that she can be the perfect bride AND save the world. That's a real bummer. She tolerates the menfolk and their superhero shannanigans. That's about as generous as you could be. The rest of the cast is fine. Ioan Gruffudd really nails what I want to see out of a Mr. Fantastic. He's locked in his own little world and has the right degree of social ineptitude. We have seen a lot of Chris Evans as Captain America, but it's nice seeing the perfectly cocky Johnny Storm. His relationship with Michael Chiklis's Thing is even better. Those guys rock. It's just Jessica Alba who is absolutely terrible. (I always feel bad about writing these things. I don't like attacking individuals because i never want to be confused for a troll. But she really bugs me in this movie.)
Then there's Galactus. I know. It's nearly impossible to make a giant guy floating through space with a giant purple helmet. But a cloud? Really? We've been waiting to see one of the coolest villains in the Marvel Universe and he's just a cloud? I get it. He's a sentient cloud, but that's even barely communicated. Since Rise of the Silver Surfer, there have been a handful of challenging villains to communicate and those came across absolutely rad. Now comes my real critique of Tim Story. He doesn't understand villains and I think he's afraid of real challenges. Maybe it's a budget thing. I can't stress enough how much different the cinematic landscape looks now than it did before. The MCU has carte blanche because it has proven itself. Fantastic Four 2 was such a gamble. People didn't love the first one and this one needed to work on probably a limited budget. But then don't do Galactus. I know. The Fantastic Four really only have two memorable stories: their origin story and Galactus. There have been others, but nothing that completely blows minds. But we want Galactus to be earned. Galactus, as a cloud, is completely in the background of this movie. There's a reason that it is named Rise of the Silver Surfer. Don't get me wrong: the Silver Surfer is rad. He looks rad. He sounds rad. He is Radd. (Pun. Intended.) This is the moment where I realize that people are loving to hate the movie because people attack this element of the movie when it is perfectly fine. He actually looks and acts cool. But the focus should be on Galactus and he isn't. Instead, there's an absolutely goofy Doctor Doom plot that is meant to act as distraction. I'm going to act right now like Tim Story reads my blog (he doesn't, I'm sure), but Doctor Doom is allowed to take a break once in a while. I get it. He's the main enemy of the Fantastic Four. He keeps making their lives terrible. But we're allowed to make him scary over time. I wouldn't mind for him to have an entire empire by the time we visit him again. Why do I need to see him so quickly after the last movie? I know you teased that he was alive and in Latveria. But let that slowly play out. Our protagonists don't need to be involved in that. Make him truly terrifying. Doom is one of those villains that should be rare and impressive. When he shows up, the world is afraid because he's that impressive. Instead, we get Julian McMahon still being pretty. The Surfer healed him with his blasts? What kind of weapon is that? Did he not want to sit through the makeup? We were promised gross Doom and we got charming Tony Stark again. Mr. Story, you don't get villains, at all. At all. They are all terrible. Even General Andre Braugher. He's this really superficial bully who is easily taken down in this one.
The last really terrible thing in the movie is Johnny's powers. Yeah, we want more Johnny Storm. He worked the best in the first movie. But everything in this movie feels like a distraction from something we want, but can't actually get. We want the Fantastic Four and the Silver Surfer versus Galactus. That's the narrative we want. Everything that is not that is a lie. We are told that this is the Galactus storyline and instead we have a goofy Johnny who keeps trading powers with people. Story tries to cover it up as a character defining moment, but Johnny is fundamentally the same person that he was from the beginning to the end. He doesn't grow up in any way. He was pretty heroic in the first movie, so calling him not heroic for the sake of character development is pretty dumb. There are all these dramatic moments that really come to nothing. The same thing with Doom and the surfboard. Are people really so petty that the world coming to an end would lead to the Fantastic Four being locked up hours from the end of the world? It's just really bizarre. There are all these affordable set pieces when we want to see all of New York fearing getting smooshed by Galactus's giant boot. There's none of that stuff. We do get a thunderstorm in Japan that is meant to give us that sense of dread, but it doesn't really play out. Also, the fate of Sue Storm tied to that same scene is such a cop out. Don't tease us just to undo it without an explanation. That's some rough stuff. Okay, the product placement can really bite me too. (This all ties into my the-studio-didn't-trust-this-franchise theory.) When the Fantasticar shows up with the Dodge logo front and center, I could have lived without it.
But here's where the movie works, besides just being a great kids' action movie: it has a phenomenal tone. The main thing that made reboot straight-up unwatchable was the tone. This movie is playful in just the right way. Roll your eyes all you want, but there's something remarkably fun about Marvel's first family. Yeah, I'd love to see Reed interacting with the Reeds from other universes. I would love to see H.E.R.B.I.E. walking around after throwing trash into the Negative Zone. But if this series kept going, I'd like to think that the movies would have that kind of fun in the long run. The plot is stupid. I've complained about that enough. But it does make a kind of sense if you squint hard and shut off your brain. There's a clear beginning, middle, and end. Sure, there are all these distractions along the way. I will always encourage people to watch films critically. But if this movie is a popcorn film, and it definitely is, the story isn't too bogged down by insane technobabble and an overstuffed plot. The Fantastic Four have to stop the Silver Surfer from helping Galactus rip apart the planet. We actually know very little about Galactus in this film. We get just enough narrative from Norrin Radd for the story to make a modicum of sense. When the Four don't work together, they fail. When they do work together, they grow closer. It's a PG movie, guys. Sometimes simple isn't the worst. The stuff that doesn't work seems mostly a studio thing. It's a bunch of suits throwing things in there to make the movie seem more movie like, but the bones of the movie work. Yeah, there would be stuff I could change. If I had the money, there's a version of that script that might actually be pretty good. There are also a lot of delightful moments in the movie. I know that seems like putting artificial sweetener on a turd, but I beg to differ. This might be Stan Lee's greatest cameo. TINIEST SPOILER YET: He plays himself. That's super fun. I love that nod to the audience. Brian Posehn is the priest marrying them? Sure, that seems a little blasphemous knowing his theological beliefs, but he's a huge fan of Fantastic Four. A lot of the motorcross stuff has gone away and instead we get a nearly perfect Silver Surfer. I keep coming back to this, but I love this portrayal of the Silver Surfer. He's this CG nightmare that actually looks pretty good because the Silver Surfer is supposed to look a little weird. Lawrence Fishburne gives this gravitas to this character that Dough Jones manages to look cool. Again, this is me fawning over Darth Maul's double lightsaber in the Phantom Menace trailer, but the Surfer just going throuhg his own board is a very metal moment. (Pun intended.) There are probably a dozen other fun moments that make the movie fun.
If I had to be glib and shorten down the movie to a blurb, this movie is a dessert that you know is bad for you. You shouldn't be eating stuff like this and if more stuff was like this, you would hate food forever. But once in a while, a movie this dumb but fun really works. I don't know what separates this from something like Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. But I also kind of want to watch that movie as well. So at least I'm consistent.
In the wake of Daredevil's cancellation, the boys decide to celebrate the majesty that was Daredevil Season Three. Mr. H also decides to catch you up on Luke Cage season two and Iron Fist season two, you know, just in case.
Not rated, but it does have some rear nudity and an instance of off camera rape. It's a pretty intense movie, but it is also a British film in 1963. While nothing is glaringly in your face, the content is still pretty intense. It isn't an easy movie to get through. There's rugby related violence in it and some non-rugby related violence...although even that violence has a tertiary relationship to rugby. Still, take from that what you will. Not rated.
DIRECTOR: Lindsay Anderson
FILMSTRUCK WAS DYING! I needed to watch everything before it disappeared. Wait? Why am I apologizing? This Sporting Life has always been on my list. But that also kicked my butt into gear and finally got me to watch it. That being said, I just accidentally found it on YouTube and that upsets me a bit. I know it is famous on its own merits, but I really discovered it through my Doctor Who love. William Hartnell, a problematic figure to be sure, made it through this film. Watch An Adventure in Time and Space and this is the movie that put him on the map and made him almost unhirable. He's not huge in this movie, but he's a moderately substantial part. It's weird though. I'm making all these excuse for why I watched this movie is that I can't stand sports. There are some decent sports movies, but I abhor sports. They are the worst. So I have to question if This Sporting Life, despite having the word "sport" embedded in the title, is in the title.
I mean, the short answer is "yeah." The long answer is "no, but..." The movie almost makes sports the antagonist. It is the corrupting factor in the story. That's an oversimplfication because Richard Harris's Frank isn't too healthy of a character to start with. But the narrative really stresses, and part of me thinks this might be unintentional, that sports exacerbate already troubling personality traits. I know that this movie isn't meant to be an anti-sports movie, but I can kind of hold it as such. Frank's life is terrible from the beginning. He's an abusive jerk, but his fame only gives him ephemeral moments of goodness. A lot of this is tied to financial issues that are linked with celebrity. It might be more fair to say that this is a criticism of celebrity, that it doesn't change people in the way that they want to change. It may mask some of the behavioral issues and make them more acceptable, but they are still fundamentally the same person. I have to think of Frank at the beginning. He looks angry as can be at the rugby players. I tried reading up on this and maybe I just misunderstood this. Is he angry at the City team because he thinks that he could do better? I mean, he just picks a fight with the biggest guy there because he can. (The wacky chronology doesn't help me understand that. I'll try to talk about that later.) He then, against all odds, gets a tryout for the team and then plays dirty to impress. He's not a nice guy. If anything, he is all about taking shortcuts. A lot of that comes, again, from his financial situation. He works hard in the coal mines and deems himself worthy of more. That's pretty noble, I guess, but his attitude of entitlement is really bizarre for his character. He has the same degree of entitlement with Rachel Roberts's Margaret. I know that we aren't the first generation to be woke. But we are way more mass woke than we were back in 1963. The message of abuse is pretty palpable in this story.
Every single description of This Sporting Life mentions the phrase "kitchen-sink drama". The abuse element is the kitchen-sink stuff. I always read "kitchen-sink drama" as small world soap opera. But Frank really does gain a bit of celebrity, doesn't he? He is a pretty big fish. At best, you could say that it is a small pond, but that's probably not even that accurate. But the narrative doesn't really lie with "Will Frank succeed in his career and find happiness?" Nah, it's about growth. The movie teases growth within Frank. He's sexually frustrated for the bulk of the movie. Like many males imbued with elements of toxic masculinity, he sees himself as the victim of his relationship with Margaret. Margaret doesn't love him, at least not romantically. Rather, she is in mourning and Frank can't handle that. He takes all of her valid emotions and makes them about him. It's so dark where it goes. I'm not going to talk about that kind of stuff because that is a bit of a surprise for the majority of the film, but be aware that Frank is the sole reason for what happens to Margaret. There's this temptation, and this might be cultural / for the time period, to blame Margaret for some of the things that happen. Margaret is initially introduced as caustic. But I have the vibe that This Sporting Life is aware of the narrative it is portraying. That temptation might ring true for many with the vulnerable male ego. If you aren't watching carefully, Margaret's attitude towards Frank can read as a woman who keeps pushing his buttons. But what she's saying is her true intentions. She wants Frank gone. She is happy that he is nice to her kids, but that doesn't change her feelings for him. She maneuvers this emotional minefield with grace and poise. There's nothing that she can do that would be right, so she does whatever she can to just keep her head above water. And he keeps thinking he gets better. It's all about him and his ego. This Sporting Life, for as much of a melodrama as it is, gets it. Frank keeps destroying and breaking the people he loves. He breaks them like he breaks his teeth. On a lesser extent, you can see this with his relationship with Dad. He's physically violent with him at one point. It's odd to see Dad, who seems genuinely nice throughout the novel, react to pain in a way that is way nicer than I would have been . But there aren't people in his life that he doesn't wreck. It may come from the fact that he needs actual, honest-to-God therapy. But again, this is 21st century blogger talking about this. It doesn't change the fact that the themes in this movie are universal.
The chronology is amazing, but confusing. If you really tried and re-edited this film into a traditional narrative, I'm sure it would be boring as all get out. Okay, that's a bit harsh. The jumping in the timeline does confuse me, especially in reaction to Frank's relationships with others. I don't know who hates him at what moment. I'm ashamed to say that I tried Wikipediaing the plot because I got lost at times. Don't do that. You will easily spoil the ending. Also, the Wikipedia plot makes everything chronological, meaning you won't know what you are spoiling. But Lindsay Anderson did this for a reason. Seeing Frank all over the map creates a real sense of juxtaposition. It shows the mood swings and the tantrums in full scope of what is causing them. Frank becomes this lens for injustice and sadness. I'm not saying that there aren't happy moments in the story. There definitely are. As much as I continue criticizing him and will continue to do so, Anderson and Harris focus on Frank's potential to be a good man. When he is playing with the kids in the stream, there's an honestly vulnerable moment that is positively gorgeous. We root for Frank. We hope that Margaret will love him, but you can't just make someone love someone else. That moment by the creek is a stop on the destination and not the destination in itself and that's an interesting moment to explore. Frank really thinks that he is a good man for a lot of the story and the jump in time really locks that in. At times, he's the most responsible one at the party. But then he's also allowing a woman to attempt to seduce him. He sees himself as deserving of attention, even as he sabotages himself from moment to moment. Really, this movie isn't about sports. This is a story of male entitlement and it isn't me grafting this interpretation onto the film. Yeah, it's a macho film and it probably needs to be macho to reach its audience. But it is also critical of toxic masculinity. I really liked it.
The reason that I wouldn't lump this in with sports films is because the games don't matter. It's about Frank and his various interpretations of success. He's not a good man, despite the fact that he thinks he does. The more successful he is, the more access he has to vice. Sure, he's not a guy who punches strangers for attention. But he is a guy who rapes the woman he loves because she won't love him back. He continually does these terrible things and probably justifies them because he is entitled. It's a really excellent exploration of what men think of themselves. I'm not a self-flagellating male. I think that there are times that I think that I'm justified to stuff because I think I'm a good guy. It's stuff like this that reminds me that I'm not really entitled to all that much. My responsibility is to my fellow men and women. Replace sports with any other successful enterprise and you could tell the same story. But this story is great. Anderson chooses the violence of rugby because of its brutality. There's a shot at the end with Frank covered in mud. If that isn't an image for corruption, I don't know what is.
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.