It: Chapter Two (2019)
Rated R for all kinds of supernatural violence and mayhem. It's a pretty gory movie. You know how there was a first one and that one was pretty gory? This one is like that. That's usually how sequels work. The goal of what I'm writing is to establish a standoffish tone for some reason, but I'm also trying to communicate that if you could handle the first one, you should be able to watch the second one. If you haven't seen the first one, you really shouldn't watch the second one because the second one HANGS on the first one. It's got some spousal abuse thrown in here. Bev's life will be terrible, regardless of her age. There's some hate speech in here coupled with hate crimes. It's a lot to take in, but the movie knows it is R and rides that pretty hard.
DIRECTOR: Andy Muschietti
MAN! I got his name from memory. I'm pretty proud of myself for that one. Again, I'd like to apologize for not writing earlier. I watched this a week-and-a-half ago, but I just got back from an impromptu vacation to Disney World. Yeah, I know. I really have no excuse. My life is charmed, I guess. I get to go to the House of Mouse and then get to resume a blog. That's a pretty sweet setup. I don't know how long that feeling of being blessed is going to last because I am going to be getting a large stack of papers to grade. Regardless, I do I want to talk about It: Chapter Two.
Sequels are, by and large, dependent on their predecessors. This isn't the rule, by any means. I can think of a handful of movies that completely stand apart from their foundational film. Sometimes, sequels are just sequels in name only. Halloween III: Season of the Witch, I guess. But the big reveal at the end of the first one was that It was actually informally named It: Chapter One. There was going to be a sequel, which made sense. After all, the first film was only part of the story of the original novel. Stephen King's book told the story of the Losers as children for the first half of the book and then had them return 27 years later to finish the menace of Pennywise. The book did it a little differently, bookending the novel with the Losers as adults and occasionally peppering in some of the adult stuff into the kids' portion of the book. But like how Tarantino wanted Kill Bill to be the the Whole Bloody Affair from the word go, It: Chapter Two desperately wanted to be tied together to the first movie.
I sympathize with Muschietti when making Chapter Two. It's a fine movie that can never actually hit the same stride that the first one did. The first movie had such an advantage to the movie. 2017 was the year where Stranger Things was taking over the world. It's still extremely topical, but we wanted more and more Stranger Things and this movie provided it. Finn Wolfhard in a movie that took place in the '80s? He got to be snarky and fight monsters? That's a little bit on the nose, right? Similarly --and this I never understood --the miniseries had terrified people for decades. It was this low-budget (comparatively) made-for-TV adaptation that had to pray that you were afraid of clowns before you watched it. Taking that nostalgia coupled with the fact that you could make Pennywise actually scary was brilliant.
But like The Lost World: Jurassic Park, we kind of got it out of our systems. We now know who Pennywise is. We know what he's capable of. He scared us before. Thus, we know what we're getting into. Horror sequels are tough. We want to go through that same fear again, but there has to be a change from what we saw before. I'll still swear to the grave that Friday the 13th is one of the greatest horror movies ever made. But the sequels were smart. Mrs. Voorhies wasn't the killer anymore. They teased Jason and gave us Jason for a sequel. And look what happened after that? I'll enjoy a good Jason movie, but I also acknowledge that none of them are real masterpieces. Pennywise was teased to come back. He came back exactly as before. The surprise was gone.
Suspense for a conclusion can sometimes hurt. Right now, "Crisis on Infinite Earths" is playing on the CW. They broke up the series into two parts, separated by Christmas break. I remember that people were buzzing over this series. We were left on a cliffhanger that was actually pretty good. But then...people stopped thinking about it. Other things happened. Marvel keeps the buzz going by never really stopping. Actually, it's weird that there hasn't been a Marvel movie in theaters for a while because I actually went from being really excited about Black Widow to barely remembering that the movie is on its way.
Sequels can generate buzz and get people excited. But It: Chapter Two really wants to be tagged along to It that it suffers for it. Much of the film, unfortunately, is reminding the characters that they need to fear Pennywise. It's a long movie. It's too long of a movie. When the first half is dedicated to getting the Losers back on board to fight Pennywise, that only hurts the film more. I praised the first film for setting up these ornate scares for the kids. The kids didn't know who Pennywise was, so when he orchestrated all these elaborate scenarios for them, it is really effective. Chapter Two takes the playbook of the first film and just applies it to the contemporary era. That means while we're ready for the Losers to take the fight to Pennywise, the film finds shoddy excuses to separate them just so they can be harassed by a demon.
And the movie wants us to remember how much fun the Stranger Things attitude of the first one was. There was all this talk about de-aging the kids, mainly because we are now using de-aging technology for cosmetic things as opposed to story changing things. But there was so much almost retconning of the first movie that the film kind of feels like the events of the first film weren't tight at all. Rather than play off of threads already established in the first film, the movie introduced important moments for the characters that would have been important to bring up in the first film. Knowing that Pennywise disguised himself as Bev for Ben is a huge deal for him. Also, Richie was laissez-faire towards the whole Pennywise hauntings until the end because he was never attacked...until Chapter Two retconned some things.
This all seems whiny because I actually enjoyed the film overall. But the big problem is that it comes across like the second helping at a buffet. I'm back on the diet post-Disney World, so I apologize for the analogy, but that first plate at a buffet is amazing. I tend to load up and take a little bit of everything. I want to know what's great so I can get it again. But I also fill up mostly on the first plate. The second plate is a little skimpy. I get the things I really like and then kinda sorta enjoy it.
When the movie focuses on the adult dynamic, it has a little bit more legs. But the movie really depends on the character development as children to sell the adult choices in the film. I know that people praised Bill Hader for his performance as Richie, which I will also do. But I really was most impressed with James Ransone for his delivery as Eddie. Oh my goodness, that guy nailed the concept of adult Eddie with keeping young Eddie in mind. (That's a confusing sentence, but I stand by it.) There's some cool stuff there. The problem with a lot of the story is that, because most of the Losers left Derry, they have no memory of it. I didn't really know that was a thing. There is some major character development in the first film. The Losers kind of strip their name because they get over their hangups in the first film. But by having them lose all of their memories of Derry, that means that they really haven't grown up at all. At times, that's funny, like Eddie's hypochondria. But with Bev, it's tragic. She goes from being a victim to being self-actualized to being a victim all over again.
We never get to see the kids really grow up in that way, I guess. Like most sequels, they tend to turn back the clock to a convenient internal conflict. That's why we watch movies, though. Imagine an ill-inspired sequel to A Christmas Carol. What if Scrooge was a grump all over again? It undoes so much of what makes the story great to begin with. If the movies were together, this problem probably wouldn't exist. But Chapter Two is ultimately a sequel and doesn't really have the gumption to do anything really new with the content. There's some building of mythos, but even that takes the fun mystery out of it. So what we are left with is a well-made horror movie that doesn't have any guts.
PG-13 for the scariest version of Emperor Palpantine imaginable. There's violence and probably Star Wars swearing if I thought about it. But the big pull is that I can't imagine being my brother-in-law. He took his entire family to go see this movie opening night and I just remember being terrified by how scary looking Emperor Palpatine was in this movie. I actually leaned over to my wife and said, "Teddy took his family to this?" PG-13.
DIRECTOR: J.J. Abrams
I wrote an article about the value of the entire Skywalker Saga for Catholic News Agency. I don't know if it will see the light of day or what. I liked what I wrote, but I also don't really feel like fighting tooth and nail for articles anymore. I don't know if I have it in me. I saw The Rise of Skywalker opening night. Okay, Friday night. Thursday night apparently is the new opening night somehow. I won't complain about that one iota because I love Thursday night opening nights...assuming I wasn't employed.
If this entire thing has a thesis, it's that it really doesn't really earn the title of the film. It wants to so badly, but The Rise of Skywalker is potentially the least earned name in the franchise. Okay, The Phantom Menace doesn't really gel either, but I knew that Lucas was probably aiming to call back to the glory days of the serial with that bombastic name. I suppose that The Rise of Skywalker was an ambitious name.
When I was a kid, I remember hearing rumors pre-commonplace Internet that George Lucas was always going to do a prequel trilogy and a sequel trilogy, which is why the films were redubbed Episodes IV-VI. I'm sitting in a time where that has finally come to fruition. I know that Lucas had little to nothing to do with The Rise of Skywalker. There's an article saying that he was consulted before the script was written. I'm sure that was a gesture, more than anything. But it has happened. The thing I wanted to so desperately as a kid has happened. There are three trilogies, all tied to the destiny of Luke Skywalker and how he impacted the galaxy. No wonder that the film is named The Rise of Skywalker.
But is the movie really about Rey embracing the title of Skywalker. From a J.J. Abrams having the characters say the words, yes, that's what it is about. But much of the film is about quite the opposite than the rise of a real resistance. The Last Jedi ended with a call being put forth to the galaxy to rise up and oppose the evil First Order. That seed was planted, among others, to lead to the birth of a new Resistance. I get the vibe that J.J. Abrams said that he really liked The Last Jedi, but really loathed it like many other Star Wars fans. He kind of hides that light under a bushel basket because the movie starts off with business-as-usual for the Resistance. The decimation of their ranks at the end of The Last Jedi isn't as dire as the movie made it out to be. There's a line that I think that Poe says revealing that no one stepped up when they were needed. This is where The Rise of Skywalker seems like a terrible title.
The Rise of Skywalker, as a title, evokes a sense of hope. Ironically, with Episode IV being labelled A New Hope, The Rise of Skywalker almost should have paralleled that feeling. If the movie stepped off on the wrong foot, it was the fact that it tried to lightly undo the events of The Last Jedi. Yeah, Rian Johnson gave Abrams quite a hole to dig his way out of. I had no idea that Johnson was so free to do whatever he wanted with the franchise. It's very confusing. In my mind, the trilogy was laid out very clearly. There were certain beats that every film had to hit and that would ultimately lead to a very well-planned resolution. But if Abrams is actively backtracking the events of the previous movie, maybe things were about triage and repair rather than sticking to a tightly woven plan. Johnson actually opens the door to this being a world of hope. If the First Order was a second rise of the Empire, why couldn't we see the seeds of a new Rebellion?
Having The Rise of Skywalker referring to primarily Rey and slightly to Ben Solo is a really weird choice. It makes the whole thing smaller. Rey, when asked point blank what her last name is, thinks about it, and says "Skywalker." Part of that comes from the fact that she had a sit down with her old mentor's ghost, Luke, and makes peace with him. Great. But the two of them were never really close. I love that Leia is Rey's mentor for the beginning of the film, but Leia too never embraced the name Skywalker. When I hear that Rey is continuing on the legacy of Luke Skywalker, I like the idea on paper, but it feels wildly unearned. Similarly, where is that feeling with Leia? It's just said, not actually believed. Rey is kind of a jerk throughout the film.
I understand that she's going through stuff. I like that Rey doesn't necessarily come across as a traditional hero and that's something that's cool. But just to say that everything now works because Force Ghosts talked to you doesn't really sit well with me. Ben Solo, as a continuation of the Skywalker legacy, kind of works. It's just that Ben is very much a lightswitch like Anakin was a lightswitch. At least the new trilogy teases Ben's redemption a little better than the prequels did with Anakin's turn to the dark side. But Ben never feels real remorse for what he's done. He's just ready to be a good guy and fight for the home team. Rey's attraction to Ben is similarly kind of creepy. She knows the crimes he has committed. While she can sympathize with his torment, she also has to hold him accountable for the actions he did. There's a wide gap between forgiving someone and madly loving them for saying sorry...kinda.
But the Rise of Skywalker should have been about everyone. There's all this stuff out there about Rose Tico not getting her time in the sun. I was one of the people shouting for more of her character. People be terrible and Rose has all the elements of being this great Star Wars character. How cool would it have been if Rose recruited a new resistance in the name of Luke and Leia Skywalker? By having people hear the story of a farm boy who smashed a Death Star and an orphaned princess who built an army, that Rise of Skywalker could give the title some validity. Instead, we have to just kind of believe what J.J. Abrams is telling us about what it means to be a Skywalker. He promised that the word "Skywalker" was going to mean something different and new, but really it was just more of the same.
In terms of quality movie, the biggest bummer in the world is that it is just "fine". I think I honestly would have been happy if The Rise of Skywalker was a hot mess. When I first saw The Last Jedi, I thought it was a hot mess. It forced me to come back to it with different eyes. But most people who are leaving the movie said that they had a good time. I don't want to think of it as something as "just a good time." Star Wars, somehow, deserves to be better than that. I love Trek, but I also know that I don't go into Trek movies knowing that they are going to change the cultural zeitgeist.
An okay movie means that Star Wars has kind of just become forgettable. That's a real bummer. Star Wars used to mean something in this town! Part of me wishes, despite the fact that my 8-10 year old self would slap me silly right now, that Star Wars was always Parts IV-VI. Most of me is glad that these movies exist. It's fun seeing Star Wars done by people who really seem to care about the franchise. But it used to be perfect. I know that some Return of the Jedi haters are probably up in arms about that, but it just seemed so untouchable. Now, I have these movies, one of the trilogies is an abomination. (Please, if you like these movies, continue liking them. I have tried to watch them so many times and I can find very little joy in them.) One of the trilogies just seems like a good time with a lot of mistakes. But Star Wars probably deserves better than what we got. It tried really hard to be good and I enjoyed what I got, but a lot of the shine is now gone.
The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)
Rated R for language, mild violence, and out-of-left-field sporadic nudity. Royal Tenenbaum is also a racist who enjoys dog fighting. While neither racism nor dogfighting is glorified, it also is occasionally used for laughs. I lean with Wes Anderson with the choices made here because it is done to make Royal look like a scoundrel and I have to believe that Anderson made those choices to slightly vilify him. But again, I'm not the party being harmed, so I wouldn't stake my life on that bet either. It should also be clear that there is a very graphic suicide attempt in the movie. Rated R.
DIRECTOR: Wes Anderson
Christmas and Christmas break make it very hard to keep to one's schedule. It makes me look like a real jerk to put a pause on Christmas related events to say that I NEED to write. No, we had guests over. I know that it is a good habit to have, writing every day. But family takes precedence. Also, we're apparently going to Disney World next week, so be ready for another dry spell, which is a bummer because I was hoping to start the New Year with a bunch of reviews and exercise under my belt. Regardless.
I think I'm calling it: The Royal Tenenbaums is my favorite Wes Anderson movie. I'm terrified to look at what I've written for the other films he's made. I know that I allude to the fact that The Royal Tenenbaums used to be my favorite Wes Anderson movie. But I can say with absolute confidence that it actually is my favorite. I used to claim Bottle Rocket as well, but that was really for street cred. I acknowledge and embrace my own hypocrisy.
While Rushmore fans will probably fight me to the death, I honestly believe that The Royal Tenenbaums is both a culmination of Wes finding his voice and his formula while presenting an earnest and heartwarming film. My argument presupposes that Bottle Rocket is a student film. It has very little budget and feels far more experimental. There's a lot of birthing pains with that movie. The Rushmore-ites probably would say that it took his sophomore effort to really nail what he was trying to do. I can't deny that he learns a lot on Rushmore. But Rushmore really feels like a small film compared to The Royal Tenenbaums. Rushmore's comparatively small cast feels like the warm up to what would ultimately be The Royal Tenenbaums. There's so much going on with Tenenbaums that he kind of uses Tenenbaums as a pace car and a template for his other films.
I imagine that watching Tenenbaums after his other movies probably would hide some of the glory that the movie really has. It's because the other movies kind of copy what is going on here. I'm going to tell the good word of Wes Anderson to anyone who will listen. He's Indie Hipster Film Nerdery 101. But I also know that Martin Scorsese's anti-Marvel diatribe about directors doing new things all of the time is garbage because he cites Wes Anderson in the list of auteurs who push the envelope with every movie that they make. Yeah, they're a little different from each other. I completely adored Isle of Dogs. But that one was one of the few examples where he changed up the formula a little bit. Tenenbaums wrote the rules on how to make a Wes Anderson movie.
Please understand, there are exceptions that prove the rule here. I know that this is not exactly a paint-by-numbers guide to making a Wes Anderson vehicle. Rushmore technically gets the prize for inverting the adult / child dynamic, so I can't give all the glory to Tenenbaums. But Tenenbaums really uses that as a foundation. Ari and Uzi contrasted with Chaz is a lot of the story. Also, Royal's immaturity throughout the film, despite the fact that he was a lawyer. But we see the large cast maintaining the low energy affect through most of his films. The movie has Gene Hackman, for goodness sakes! I don't even know how they convinced him to show up, let alone act like this. There's no performance for Hackman like this. He's being Hackman, in a weird way. But also, completely in a weird Anderson-esque cadence. It's great. Anjelica Huston would go on to reprise this role again in The Life Aquatic, which feels like a cop out that I don't care about. The Wilson brothers made their names on Anderson vehicles, so that doesn't really count. Bill Murray acts as support for the film, but is doing something very different than even what he did in Rushmore. But one actor who really nails the whole bit and probably doesn't get credit for it is Danny Glover as Henry Sherman.
It doesn't feel like Anderson is copying himself yet. He's unafraid to take chances and embrace the silliness of this world. The interior of the Tenenbaum residence is like anything that reality could really offer. This heightened reality doesn't exist for the whole of the film. It's kind of refreshing seeing Anderson seeing the cracks of his own aesthetics. There is one scene in the movie that really demonstrates Anderson's understanding of the limitations of his setting. When Margot goes to find her real family, there is no sense of irony there. That actually makes the punchline work. Anderson almost laughs at himself when he has this fur-bedecked 12-year-old smoking a cigarette while she is meant to be focusing on keeping her finger out of the way of her family's axe. There's no twee element to the secondary family. While we are laughing at the ironic aesthetic of Anderson's world, he too is laughing with us. That doesn't really show up with things like Life Aquatic or The Darjeeling Limited.
I asked why Hackman would agree to make this movie, especially considering that it came right before his retirement. The reason has to be the subject matter. I've heard how Bill Murray kind of just stumbled into the world of Wes Anderson. But The Royal Tenenbaums reads kind of like an R-rated children's story. Royal Tenenbaum makes the story special. His change is so striking that the movie doesn't need the curtains that make it great. Someone could take the script by Wes Anderson and probably a Coppola and make it into a decent movie with the same cast. Sure, it wouldn't be as fun. This movie is so fun that I can't stress that enough. But the real heart comes from Gene Hackman's Royal. There's a line in the movie, immediately after Royal reveals that he isn't actually dying, where Alec Baldwin's narrator stresses that Royal believed that he had the best week of his life by accident. That moment is so telling. Because I'm a sucker for A Christmas Carol, Tenenbaums really hits me in the feels.
Perhaps it is my obsession with father stories. I'm all screwed up on that front, so please bear with me. I know that Scrooge isn't a father. But he is this guy who doesn't really see the wonderful things in front of him. By being emotionally invested in this story, by the way, kind of ruins it. I wouldn't recommend getting this vulnerable with the piece until the Richie scene. Royal has it all at the beginning of the story. I want to say that he isn't a bad guy because the movie really stresses that he's a rascal more than a monster. But Royal does cheat on Ethel. He is a bad guy. But that moment when he realizes that his family is what always mattered, it doesn't change Royal superficially. He's still kind of a punk and kind of a rascal. It's just that what matters does change.
Anderson also crushes it with his soundtrack on this one. I'm not sure which soundtrack I like better: Tenenbaums or Life Aquatic. Life Aquatic has the advantage of being a gimmicky soundtrack. But almost every single song in this movie tells a tale. It is not in the movie because it's a good song, but because it is a good song that makes the movie better. The music seems tailored for the footage. It's spectacular. Honestly, I can't think of a better montage sequence than "Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard" and most of it is because of how good the song matches the fun of that sequence. It nails it.
Before I close this up, I want to talk about Richie for a second. As I should, I get uncomfortable with Richie's suicide attempt. It is very intense. The movie is twee and removed from reality for a lot of it. Royal, oddly enough, might be the most grounded character of the film because he exhibits elements of normality. But it is Richie's suicide attempt that makes the stakes of the film real. Raleigh is this guy carrying this emotional burden through the movie, but it is funny to laugh at how Margot treats him. It's meant to be a joke. Richie's obsession with his sister is used for laughs at times, paralleling George Michael's obsession with Maebe on Arrested Development. But when we see him almost kill himself, it changes the tone of all of the previous scenes. I feel guilty for laughing when he punches out a plate glass window. Royal's cruelty to the children also gains some resonance. Richie, after all, is the one who was loved more than the others and he still breaks down due to his father's behavior. I mentioned that Anderson likes to invert the personalities of children and adults. But the suicide shows the burden of children having to grow up too quickly.
I adore this movie. There's a lot to unpack. I've been trying to keep these things way more focused, but Tenenbaums has too much to break down to keep it completely cohesive. Regardless, I'm stoked that I can confirm that my favorite Anderson movie is still my favorite.
The Irishman (2019)
Rated R for the realistic kind of violence. If violence had a certain sexiness to it, the violence in The Irishman has the kind of violence that is blatantly unsexy...which ultimately makes it kinda sexy? Okay, this violence is really intense. I'm just saying that there's nothing really Hollywood about it. It kind of hearkens back to the Scorsese violence of yesteryear. There's also language and people are generally terrible to each other. It's a world without heroes and, gosh darn it, they're going to act that way.
DIRECTOR: Martin Scorsese
I'm going to be one of the people who is anti-Scorsese! I know! Out of all the people on this planet who should be "rah-rah! Take down the system!", I actually think that the man was out of line. It definitely had an "OK, Boomer" vibe to the whole argument. This is the movie that kind of started the whole, "Marvel movies aren't cinema" bit. Before I talk about this 3.5 hour movie, I guess I want to give my two cents on Scorsese. The only way I can get behind Scorsese is if he tweaks his argument a little bit. I totally agree. People should not live on Marvel movies alone. There is high art and low art and people should experience both. As an English teacher, I teach the literary canon. But when someone comes in reading a Stephen King novel, I get really excited to hear what they think of it. Do I understand that there's a difference between Wuthering Heights and Cujo? Sure. But I also think that they both have value. Also, it's kind of a bummer that Scorsese is dumping on Marvel movies because they borderline saved cinema. People are going to the movies again because of the Marvel movies. There was a time where I honestly thought that movie theaters were going to be a thing of the past. How about giving credit where credit is due, Marty? Yeah, watch smart films. But also watch what you like.
Okay, onto the actual movie.
Before all of the hullaballoo, I was jazzed to hear that Scorsese was going to be making an epic for Netflix. Then the nonsense happened and I knew that I would eventually give The Irishman a whirl. I've often made arguments that much of Netflix's original content tends to be a bit disposable and disappointing. Perhaps the investment that comes from choosing a movie in line helps the palate a little bit more than finally submitting to watching something that I know I should watch. But The Meyerowitz Stories: New and Selected kind of changed my mind about all of that. I simply adored that movie and I realized that Netflix is simply a venue that forces me to slightly shift my attention span into something else.
The only problem is that The Irishman is way too padded and indulgent to be considered something great. From the opening shot, a snaking exploration of a nursing home, it is apparent that Scorsese wants to make something special with this movie. From what I understand as I creep across Internet articles about Scorsese, he likes that Netflix is willing to give him money and allows him to make whatever he wants. I'm sure that Scorsese, for a while now, probably isn't a guy who needs to talk to his money people about making sure some cash flows his way to get the shots he wants. But The Irishman doesn't really feel like a tight movie at all. There is so much waste in the movie. As such, The Irishman actually reads like a really good HBO limited series than a traditional film. My friends were complaining that the movie feels really boring and that they couldn't get into it. I don't really think that boring was my problem...at first.
My wife and I watched through it in hour+ shifts. I'm sure that somewhere, Marty's blood pressure was spiking knowing that I was really respecting the unity of cinema. Even though David Lynch had nothing to do with this movie, I'm sure that he was also taken aback by our casual consumption of this movie. In one hour shifts, I think that the movie is very watchable. The movie acts as a character analysis of a morally stilted man. I don't think that he's morally ambiguous. The film actually gives him a code, albeit a very loose and messed up code. But as a character study, much of the movie acts like an arc of Mad Men.
Mad Men is hard to enjoy in episodic form. Sure, I'll have these moments where the show really shines. That time that someone got his foot run over by a John Deere? Yeah, I remember that. Betty Draper shooting animals? I remember that. But to explain why I like Mad Men is good is because the picture as a whole. While watching The Irishman, there were a few moments that really were great cinematic moves. But I didn't really get to appreciate the movie until I saw it as a whole. I mean, it isn't the same level of satisfaction as a season of Mad Men, but the approach is very much the same.
Frank seems complex, but he really isn't all that complex. That's me really Monday Morning Quarterbacking the whole thing. The protagonist of the film is Frank. Frank both acts as protagonist and as narrator. He kind of needs to because he's such a simple character. I love De Niro and he does the right thing with Frank in terms of character building, but Frank doesn't really have a lot going on. He's a guy who is out there to make friends in high places. He's not conniving about it. People tell him how to get ahead in the criminal underworld and he just kind of does it. Frank is kind of what makes the movie seem indulgent for me. Frank is surrounded by all these really cool complex characters. I adore Joe Pesci (for the first time probably) as Russell Bufalino. He's interesting. He's smart. People are afraid of him. Frank is simply a reactionary character. For a protagonist, that's kind of blah. Frank doesn't really change. He is the same person that he is from the beginning of the movie until the end. There are moments where it seems that Frank has depth. His relationship with Hoffa appears to be deep and complicated. But Frank is put into a position by Bufalino to kill Hoffa.
And he just does. I get it. There's something cold and sterile about the fact that the mob isn't about friendships. It's about efficiency and brutality. But then, it comes down to a big case of "who cares?" I said that this movie is about slow character development. We never really get the cursed Frank, who weeps about his involvement in the death of his friend. That's kind of nifty, I guess. But it also really puts Frank in the background of his own movie. The movie is named The Irishman. My guess is much of the movie comes down to author's purpose. What was Scorsese trying to make with this movie? It feels like an old man telling a war story.
There's a great line that probably illustrates Scorsese's intentions pretty clearly. There's a part where someone narrates (I apologize that I forget who) that this generation doesn't really know who Jimmy Hoffa was. Perhaps we knew that he disappeared, but that's really about it. This motif shows up throughout. Frank's nurse in 2003 had no idea who Hoffa was. I was probably part of the crowd who knew that he disappeared. I could add that he was a union guy. But rather than talking about director's message or why this movie was being told, a lot of it came down to reminding the world that Jimmy Hoffa was a great man who was easily taken down by the mafia. That's fun, but that's also a little safe for Scorsese.
Scorsese doesn't have to wear this themes and messages on his sleeves. I'm sure that he wants me to sleep on them and then rewatch the movie to come out with a deeper meaning from the film. There are motifs and themes of aging and family. Watching old man Russell Bufalino was oddly heartbreaking, considering that he was still a mob boss in his old age, but he could barely hold his hand straight. We see some of the consequences of a life of crime. The end really tries showing the hypocrisy of the church and the mob when it came to the act of confession. As critical as it was of the Church (which I might be reading into a bit), it actually really dispel the notion that one can lead a terrible life with the assumption that you can just confess it all on a death bed. I kind of love that Frank really doesn't feel remorse for the actions he did. A life of crime desensitized him to the whole affair and now he can't actually feel bad.
But it felt like Old Man Martin Scorsese wanted me to feel bad for not knowing Jimmy Hoffa. I would love to be wrong. Maybe he's saying that Hoffa deserves to be forgotten, but I don't really get that vibe. There's so much that made the character interesting and kind of deserving of his fate. Regardless, this movie could have been cut down into a neat 2 hours and change movie and it probably would have worked on the same level. Since Frank never really grows as a character, I don't know why I needed those beats to imply that he was going to grow. He starts off the movie without remorse and he ends the movie without remorse. It's a pretty movie and Scorsese has done way worse than this. But this kind of felt like a safe and indulgent film for a lot of it. It's fine and I'm glad that it exists, but I love a lot of his other work better.
Clear and Present Danger (1994)
PG-13. It's one of those rare entries in a franchise where the movie preceding this movie is R and the next one is R. I guess Die Hard does the same thing. I'm always the guy who leans into movies being rated lower than higher. It's the most elder millennial thing I do, but I remember the '90s and when everything was PG or PG-13. It's weird that I'm all rah-rah about this staying under the R-line because it's about drugs, executions, murder, snipers, and corruption. I don't want MY kids to watch it. OTHER KIDS should watch it. That makes me a good dad and other parents bad dads...and moms. Regardless, PG-13.
DIRECTOR: Phillip Noyce
I can't help it! His name is Phillip NOYCE! He also directed the previous entry, Patriot Games, so be aware that I will always punctuate his name with an exclamation point. Poor guy. Maybe he got it before the Key & Peele sketch, but I doubt it. Anyway, this was the movie I kept renting over and over at Blockbuster. It made me feel like such an adult renting this film. I just felt like such a grown up. Really, it was because Harrison Ford movies kind of felt like they were extensions of the Indiana Jones franchise. But Clear and Present Danger, despite being one of the better technically crafted entries in the series, doesn't really work with me today like it may have then.
I have to imagine that Clear and Present Danger represents the most distilled Jack Ryan entry in the franchise. For as complex as The Hunt for the Red October was, John McTiernan infused a lot of what made Die Hard such a great movie into it. If there were no other Jack Ryan movies, I would say that The Hunt for the Red October is almost exclusively an action movie. Patriot Games, however, is an intimate thriller. The action is pretty low, with the exception of a rad final act. This is what possibly makes Clear and Present Danger the entry to understand what Jack Ryan is ultimately about. You really don't need to know much about Jack Ryan.
While Patriot Games uncovered what made Jack Ryan tick, Clear and Present Danger uses Jack Ryan as an avatar for hero. We still see his family. Phillip Noyce! brings back his entire family. There are callbacks to Patriot Games and jokes that apparently run between the two movies. But the takeaways for Jack Ryan is that A) he's incredibly good at seeing what other people don't B) he doesn't like holding a gun, but he will defend himself when he needs to and C) he's always going to make the moral choice. That's fun and allows for the film series to be a little bit less invested in the development of the character.
Jack doesn't really have an internal conflict in this one like he does in the other entries in the franchise. There's never really a moment where Jack falls into the world of grey. The movie keeps stressing that the world of politics is not one of black and white, but mired in a world of grey. Heck, the movie actually vocalizes it in the form of dialogue that keeps harkening back to the idea that Jack Ryan doesn't really belong in this world. But there's no Last Temptation of Jack Ryan. Jack, as an outsider (which is really what the character was written to be) easily comments on the evil nature of political intrigue.
This might be why Jack Ryan can't ever really stay in the same status quo (even though he kind of does). The first movie brings in Jack Ryan as a "I don't know how to be a field man" scenario. He keeps commenting that even though he has the training to do the job, he feels really uncomfortable about doing it. Patriot Games brings the violence to him. He's retired from the CIA and is brought back in to protect his family. Instantly, even though he is an expert analyst, he isn't part of his crew. He is able to see the world from an outside perspective. That outsiderness allows him this intelligence that no one else who is too mired in the muck to see. Clear and Present Danger teases the idea that we're finally going to see Jack Ryan in the trenches, doing what he does day-in-and-day-out. But really, the death of Jim Greer elevates him to a new tier where he's granted fish-out-of-water status again. I firmly believe that the reason that the future Jack Ryan vehicles have younger actors is because Jack needs to be the one that no one listens to until it is too late.
It's just that this movie is SO Tom Clancy. It really doesn't matter that it is Jack Ryan. Like a Bond film, this feels like the middle entry for one of the actors. A middle entry isn't necessarily one that is bad. It's just that, as grandiose as some of the moments are in this film, the Harrison Ford Jack Ryan, if there were other movies in this direct line, probably wouldn't be mentioning the consequences of his actions here. The odd thing is that the movie plays it both big and small simultaneously.
Having the villains be the cartel is pretty smart. The antagonist is the other. It's odd to think how different the Wild West of the '90s were politically. We all believed that the War on Drugs was a good thing. It is very bizarre to think of how there is now no good guy in the War on Drugs. It's just bad all around. But Jack Ryan is able to externalize much of the narrative. Most of the movie is Jack hunting down the other guys. The drug cartel killed the friend of the president. Jack has to go to Columbia to fight bad guys. These are bad guys with rocket launchers. It's just that there's a nice thing to make this story kind of matter and that comes in the form of the American soldiers.
Jack Ryan stories have to have a different level. Again, I couldn't care less about Tom Clancy adaptations. I don't really care for Tom Clancy's novels. But Jack Ryan stories really ride the fine line of what makes fun thrillers. It's the stuff that Jack has to bring down that acts in the background of the narrative. The easy story is Jack Ryan versus the Columbian cartel. It's a fun movie that really rides the action movie element hard. Not that there's a ton of action in the movie to really speak about, but it is there in spurts. But knowing that Jack's choices are not only going to humiliate his superiors that should have listened to him from the word go, but also that those same people are also destroying the fabric of America. [mimes puckering lips with a motion that implies that the wine pares perfectly with the meal].
I like this movie, but I don't think I'll ever invest in it enough to get every detail. Tom Clancy's writing often mirrors the stuff I don't really like about certain war movies. Michael Mann has the same problem, but it really gets into the nitty gritty technical stuff that I don't care about. I like a good political intrigue, but I don't need to have all the table talk that is just world building. It makes me a hypocrite because the thing that makes Jack Ryan not a dumb digestable movie is the very thing that makes me roll my eyes when it is happening. Regardless, I own this movie now so who knows what I'll think the next time I see it.
Regardless, Clear and Present Danger is the movie that the franchise needed at the time. Considering that the other entries in the franchise are a little more easy to swallow, the franchise really needed one movie that was as hardcore Tom Clancy as it could get.
Rated R because of everything. If a raunchy comedy could offer something, it probably is covered under the R rating for Neighbors. There's nudity. There's violence. There's drugs. There's language. There's sex. There's a compound fracture. Just...it's there. Okay, it doesn't have feces. I take it back. It could offer something more to earn it a more intense R-rating. Hey, I don't think there's incest either. But be secured in knowing that Neighbors has a well-deserved R-rating.
DIRECTOR: Nicholas Stoller
I'm a dummy. I'm a guy who is wildly obsessed with rules. Rules act as a way to keep me on task and working. I created this blog with a rule for myself: If I watched a movie, I had to write about it. I watch a lot of movies, but I wanted to stop watching them passively. I wanted to watch knowing that I would be writing about it. When I was writing about Neighbors 2, I tried to link my essay on the first Neighbors movie to it. I watched it fairly recently and thought it would be a good idea to connect them. Somehow, some way, I didn't write about the first Neighbors movie. I thought that I did. I didn't. So I had to go back and rewatch Neighbors. It's never those artsy fartsy movies that fall through the cracks. I never watch The Cranes are Flying and forget to write about that. It's stuff like Neighbors that somehow doesn't get written. So I rewatched it.
I don't get how Neighbors isn't one of those movies that is quoted all of the time. As snobby as I am, a good raunchy comedy is a fun treat. Most raunchy comedies are garbage. But an occasional gem finds its way to the surface and that makes me happy. I'm not surprised that Seth Rogen is one of the big voices behind this movie because he kind of gets what makes a raunchy comedy great. But there's some craft involved in the making of a movie like Neighbors. (I am probably going to gush more about this movie than something fancy-pants. Trust me. I hate me too.) While Neighbors shouldn't even be mentioned in the same thought as the film canon, there is this idea that Neighbors punches above its weight class. Nicholas Stoller and his team made a really solid comedy off a very simple premise. They got the right actors all around. They filmed it, for a raunchy comedy, with moments that are actually kind of inspired. The best part of me tries to stay away from making an essay evaluative, but it kind of is necessary to state that there's a pretty decent movie in here, despite the fact that it claims to be a throw-away.
The movie really blurs the definition of good and bad, in terms of morality. I know that what readership I tend to gets tends to be Catholic, but I often find morally gray characters far more interesting than noble heroes and traditional villains. While the Radners are the protagonists of the film, they often kind of suck. They are fairweather friends, enjoying the spoils of having a fraternity next door. They party and befriend the neighbors for their own good. They enjoy themselves when it is convenient and they gripe when it is inconvenient. Even their friendship is manipulative. While Mac genuinely befriends Teddy, the only reason he intended to do that was to trick Teddy into keeping it down. Admittedly, the Radners have a more altruistic goal for the film, but the way they pull it off is kind of gross.
Similarly, Teddy isn't the monster that such a simple plot demands. Teddy should be the bad guy of the story. He is crass. He is selfish. A lot of the choices surround his comfort. But Teddy's character is a friendly guy. He establishes a clear code for the people he meets. If you befriend Teddy and treat him with respect, you have a friend for life. Sure, his set of rules has a lot of caveats. Often, Teddy is irresponsible enough to not consider the feelings of others before acting. But the reason that he becomes the villain of the story is that he's heartbroken that the Radners betrayed his trust. The quote that Pete does as Robert DeNiro from Meet the Parents is wildly appropriate. Mirroring the relationship in Meet the Parents, Teddy isn't the bad guy because he wants to be a jerk. The Radners did the thing that they shouldn't have. They made him care and then they took it back. At least, this is how he views it. In reality, he has the difficulties of someone in his early 20s. The world has revolved around him and the social contract is a very subjective thing to him.
It's in the characters' growth that the story develops into something interesting. If the point of this blog wasn't to dig deeper, I would probably be accurate in saying, "Bros let things goes" (inside joke for people who have seen the movie, which is the equivalent of my "pun intended" tag). This movie, like many revenge comedies, thrives in escalation. The two parties are at war and the hijinks becomes more and more intense to the point of danger. It's part of the gag, asking how far things will go. But there's this desire, especially on the part of the Radners, that people "like them." From the Radners' perspective, their internal conflict is about the fear of aging. Becoming a parent stresses the importance of the other in front of the self. Not being parents is fun. The movie never condemns having children, but just stresses that it becomes a situation of "You can't have it all." Seeing Teddy and his fraternity invokes a sense of jealousy. While the battle for the Radners may be entirely about the neighbors keeping the volume level down, it becomes about wish-fulfillment. If I can't party, nobody should party.
The night of the Radners' first party probably demonstrates the duplicity of the protagonists. (I wrote that as a topic sentence on my diatribe about Neighbors. What is wrong with me?) The Radners vocally state that they want to be well liked by cooly asking the frat to turn down the volume. Their intention is to ensure that their daughter Stella stays asleep. From this evidence alone, the characters come off as noble. It is the decision to stay for the party that makes them kind of bad people. When they head over, they are worried that the noise will keep Stella awake. But they partied there all night, leaving Stella alone. Kelly holds the baby monitor, which indicates a modicum of morality. But Stella never wakes up. She's quiet for the evening. From the frat's perspective, that level of noise doesn't wake a baby. Even the Radners, because they contributed to the noise, must admit that the noise they produce didn't wake the baby.
The next party's chaos is the one that has the Radners call the cops. In a sense of clear foreshadowing, Teddy requests that the Radners avoid calling the police. Teddy is the bad guy in this one because Mac continues to call Teddy before they eventually call the police. Two possible things could happen and the movie kind of glosses over this element. 1) The Radners are hypocrites. It shows Stella crying and the Radners unable to sleep. Are the Radners keeping her awake? 2) This party is louder. The movie probably assumes the latter, but it's odd that the first party itself was insanely intense. What made this party that much more unreasonable? Again, this entire blog is about overthinking things.
But the movie, for all its insanity, comes down to being liked. The Radners are the goofier, more drug-addled version of the Loman family. Everything comes down to being liked. Mac becomes friends with Teddy. Kelly wants to seem cool with her "Keep it down" gestures. The most mortifying moment for them, probably more than being watched having sex, comes from the knowledge that the police officer narced on their phone call. They want Teddy to like them. Some of comes from the knowledge that Teddy controls the volume of the house, but the end of the movie kind of sells it another way. Teddy and Mac maintain a bond, even though Teddy and the frat have been kicked out of their housing. Similarly, much of the montage sequences of the frat torturing the Radners involve the Radners, especially Mac, living up to the social contract of being a friendly neighbor. Kelly even bemoans, in the typical split between the heroes, that she wants to be the cool girl who does dumb stuff. She doesn't want to grow up and be an adult. She wants to be liked for her silly oafishness the same way a man is allowed to be a silly oaf.
Listen, Neighbors isn't one of those great moments in cinema. It just is a great raunchy movie that doesn't necessarily take the traditional route around a stock premise. It has these beats that make the characters lovable and complicated. It has amazing cameos and moments that are really well crafted. It makes me laugh the entire time and that's because the movie sells every beat. I had a good time watching it the first time. I had a good time with the sequel. I even had a good time watching it a second time. That's a pretty solid recommendation.
Patriot Games (1992)
Rated R for violence and sexuality. It has sex and it seems really intense, and then you realize that you really don't see much. This sounds like I'm excusing what is in there. It makes me sound gross. I'm just calling it as I see it. Yeah, it's got sex. Also, the sex is totally gratuitous. But it actually is pretty tame considering that we're in the Wild West of the 1990s here. Because Patriot Games decides to ride the R-rating, they also don't mind having language. R.
DIRECTOR: Phillip Noyce
His name is "Phillip Noyce." "Noyce." I can't. I can't unhear it in my brain. The entire time I'm writing this, I'm going to be having the Key & Peelesketch running through my brain. Just constant high fives up there that I can't stop. Since I start every one of these things with a bloggy tone, I have to hearken back to why I'm watching Patriot Games. A movie like Patriot Games was actually kind of a big deal in the '90s. Harrison Ford Jack Ryan movies were kind of a big deal. But like many modern classics (I don't know if Patriot Games really falls in that list whatsoever, but it still supports my point), this movie was kind of lost to the new generation. Back when the podcast was crushing, we thought about doing a Jack Ryan episode to discuss season one of the Amazon Prime television show. As part of that, I thought it would be interesting to rewatch the Jack Ryan film entries to see if they held up. That Jack Ryan episode never happened and the blu-rays have sat there on my table, waiting to be watched.
When I was younger, I had watched Clear and Present Danger a bunch of times. I don't think that I really understood a lot of the content of Clear and Present Danger, but it was PG-13 and I was allowed to rent it from Blockbuster, which was literal walking distance from my house. By the time I was old enough to rent Patriot Games, I remember being kind of bored with the whole story. I had no idea what the IRA was. It seemed convoluted. I was only really renting Clear and Present Danger because of the shootout at the end of that one. With Patriot Games, I just got turned off. There was very little action, so I turned off the movie. I would like to remind my readers that I always tend to hate the younger version of myself. I would not want to hang out with 17 year old me.
While people preach The Hunt for the Red October as the best entry in the Jack Ryan series, going as far as classifying THAT entry as a potential modern classic, Patriot Games may be a stronger film because of its treatment of the protagonist. The Hunt for the Red October is weirdly like Die Hard. I'm very cool with that because Die Hard rules. But because it is too much in the same vein as that other movie, it doesn't really hold resonance with me. It is a copy of things that made another movie great. Similarly, Jack Ryan lacks depth in that movie. It's the first entry. In the same way that we don't know who James Bond is in Dr. No, Jack Ryan is simply "White Male Smart Protagonist" in this one.
I suppose that I'm going to be making a handful of connections between the Jack Ryan franchise and the James Bond franchise, just because I'm pretty intimate with both. (I just admitted seconds ago that this is the first time that I made it through Patriot Games, but the rest of the series is like the back of my hand...kind of.) One of the more disappointing entries in the James Bond franchise is Licence to Kill, which is Timothy Dalton's second and final entry. There aren't a majority of people who claim that Timothy Dalton was their Bond and my suspicions lie in the fact that Licence to Kill isn't very good. Patriot Games and Licence to Kill attempt to do the same thing to the protagonist by having the antagonist go after the protagonist's loved ones, but Patriot Games pulls it off.
The Jack Ryan movies are a very specific kind of fun and Patriot Games does wonders for establishing that tone. Timothy Dalton's Bond was an attempt to ground the franchise with a serious tone. There are other entries that have a semi-serious vibe, but Dalton's Bond was gritty and edgy. The Living Daylights, Dalton's first entry, is actually one of my favorite Bond movies because it creates a complex balance between the super-spy-fi world of James Bond with the hard-edged drama that Dalton attempted. But Licence to Kill deviates from that pretty hard. The jump between The Hunt for the Red October and Patriot Games, however, is more of an attempt to flesh out a character.
Because Jack Ryan's traits were so ambiguous in The Hunt for the Red October, having the story being something personal gives the story boundaries. I'm not quite sure if Patriot Games is technically a sequel to The Hunt for the Red October. James Earl Jones is in Red October, Patriot Games, and Clear and Present Danger, so I'm going to live in the world that they are direct sequels. There are elements that the film is trying to repeat between Red October and Patriot Games, mostly with Jack with his daughter while on the phone. It's oddly specific that I'm pointing this two second clip out, but it is showing that Jack is no stranger to the world of political intrigue. But making Patriot Games a personal story makes a ton of sense. Jack isn't battle worn. When disaster strikes near him, it's not action star Jack Ryan running into battle. Instead, it mostly is about a marine who was in the wrong place at the wrong time.
The film doesn't ignore the political landscape, but rather uses it to flesh out the world of Ryan. Noyce! (I can't help it) focuses the battle between Sean and Jack both as a political thriller and as something that could possibly mirror a movie like Cape Fear. All of the intrigue stuff is interesting to a certain degree, but the movie is about two powerhouses being separated and then slowly moving together for a final act. Sean Bean's appropriately named Sean doesn't come across as super sympathetic, considering that he has a backstory that should lend itself to sympathy. I would have loved to see the tortured villain played with a bit of nuance. Instead, we kind of get the next best thing with Sean acting just as a force of nature.
Sean's obsession is what makes the movie interesting. I'm just going to throw out that Harrison Ford has to be the best Jack Ryan, but I'm really interested in Sean's scariness. Characters throughout the story keep reassuring Jack that there is no way that Sean is going to get him. It's way too much of a Chekhov's gun to ignore, but that gun goes off multiple times. Sean becomes this almost force of nature. It's a little ridiculous that the splinter group of the IRA (that's what they ended up being, right?) would be so cavalier as to risk their mission to get Ryan multiple times. I know that the assassination attempts on Ryan the second time were justified as a means to get Lord Holmes, but it's all a bit convenient, right? Sean is this scary dude, mainly because he wants to kill a kid. This is where Noyce! really wins me over. It will make me sound like (more of a) monster, but I do like the fact that the kid is in genuine danger at times. She takes some pretty intense damage. Again, we're in the '90s here, so you can't kill the kid. But putting her in the hospital makes you a pretty evil bad guy.
Where Patriot Games possibly loses its footing is the problem I have with most Tom Clancy properties. I'm not the biggest Tom Clancy fan. He's fine. I can't get through his books to save my life. The movie attempts to complicate the plot in the back of the story. There's a thread throughout the movie that Sean's splinter group isn't really IRA. There is a mysterious woman who completes all these hits, implying that she might actually be something larger. Instead, a lot of that gets loose explanation. Jack, because he needs to show off his amazing analytical prowess, dispatches with a lot of these guys off camera. There's also some confusion who is actually killed off camera, which complicates a third act that otherwise owns.
I dig Patriot Games. It's got a lot going for it. I don't know why it is impossible to hold onto a cinematic Jack Ryan for more than two movies, but Patriot Games was a better film than I was ready for.
PG, but...I rarely write "PG, but." Unless the problem was that the movie showed a butt. But that joke doesn't even work written out. Yes, the movie deserves to be PG. I fight for actual PG films because everything live-action tends to get relegated to the mature content zone. A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is PG, but it does have some heavy content. To contrast the wholesome nature of Fred Rogers, the movie has the protagonist of the film deal with some pretty dark content, mostly involving the hatred of his father. He violently punches his father and he also receives some pretty intense trauma to the face, which the movie shows in a picture throughout the film. The movie also deals with issues like death in a pretty blunt way for some children. Regardless, PG.
DIRECTOR: Marielle Heller
Since the documentary, Won't You Be My Neighbor? came out, I've been writing about the joy of Fred Rogers a lot. I wrote an article for Catholic News Agency. I did a podcast on the movie. I wrote one of these analyses for it. The ensuing thing happened: I got almost annoyed when people would talk about Fred Rogers afterwards. I did that thing when it was mine and it became my thing. I hated when other people liked it. The people that I wanted to see the movie didn't watch it, but everyone else did. My little own brand of snobbery took over and I distanced myself from my love for Mister Rogers. But then, this movie came out and I thought that I wasn't going to watch it. But I did...
Mister Rogers is a transcendent soul. I will always recommend that people watch the documentary, especially before seeing A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood. But the biopic is so smart and savvy that it helped me remember what it was about Mr. Rogers that tugged on my heartstrings in the documentary. Casting Tom Hanks as Mister Rogers seems so on brand that it almost made me angry when it was announced. Tom Hanks, while not exactly Mr. Rogers, is kind of like America's dad. I keep seeing click bait that shows "Here are the 8 people who don't like Tom Hanks. Number 3 will surprise you!" That's almost a testimonial for how well regarded this man is.
Hanks's performance is what really sells the concept of Mr. Rogers as something special in this film. It must be phenomenally hard to try to bottle that magic for a third time. Fred Rogers, the real Fred Rogers, brought something special into the world with his creation of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood. Won't You Be My Neighbor?, a documentary about both the show and the man, recaptured a lot of that specialness. I didn't think a biopic would be able to add anything to the pile of content that was already overfilled. But casting Hanks as Mr. Rogers does a lot of the work. When I saw Saving Mr. Banks, I kept seeing Tom Hanks playing Walt Disney. I don't know what it is about it. I don't think it was a bad performance, by any stretch of the imagination. But he didn't become Walt Disney. There's something happening on screen with Beautiful Day because there are times that I can't even see Tom Hanks. While physical qualities probably play a part in that transformation from America's Dad to Mister Rogers, much of it comes down to mannerisms and a deep understanding of what made Fred Rogers tick.
Like with Won't You Be My Neighbor?, the movie evokes a sense of warmth at the idea that Fred Rogers walked this earth and was a genuinely good dude. The documentary made me feel bad that I didn't watch more Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, mainly because I thought it was boring. The movie does the same thing. I apologize for getting repetitive because of all of the content I'm producing on Fred Rogers, but he really was a special guy. The magic of him comes from the fact that Fred Rogers isn't a character. This isn't to downplay the fact that the man probably had some very real demons. The doc examines and explores many of those demons outright. But Fred Rogers was a good man that cared for everyone he met. There are times that I want to just tear what little hair I have left out with the people I love. Mr. Rogers didn't get mad at the people he loved (with rare exception). Instead, he got mad at injustice. How did he take it out? By playing the lower notes on the piano aggressively. That's amazing. The biopic captures this goodness and innocence well.
But it does so in a really smart way. The documentary, as phenomenal as it is, doesn't really present its content and subject matter with a gimmick. As beautiful as it is, most of the story is chronological. Interviews and archival footage tell the larger tale of Fred Rogers though anecdotes. Especially with the pop culture documentary, this is the way to go. It's effective and smart. But the biopic knows that it has to be something different. I'm ashamed to be comparing A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood to It, but the movie understands that it actually stands in the shadow, albeit small shadow, of the documentary. To distance itself from a very similar content area, the movie shies away from making Fred Rogers the protagonist.
Biopics actually tend to get pretty boring because they are so formulaic. While Fred Rogers probably had a lot on his plate, the big takeaway from the people who knew him is that he handled his demons responsibly. That doesn't really gel with a traditional biopic. The story of great people also contain heartache and torture. Fred Rogers really didn't have that, so why bother tell the tale of someone who doesn't really change in the face of adversity. The story still needs to be told. Instead, the movie uses Lloyd Vogel as a protagonist.
Lloyd Vogel isn't technically real. He's a placeholder for Esquire writer Tom Junod, who ended up writing the Esquire article entitled "Can You Say...Hero?" I don't know if Junod had the same particular darkness that Lloyd Vogel did. There's an article, appropriately, on Esquire.com about the real story with a link to the article that Junod wrote. But Lloyd Vogel represents the real world. Well, he represents the world that we all think is the the real world. Adults tend to view the real world as a dark and overwhelming place. While I am mostly happy, I probably find my world view to be closer to that of Vogel than of Rogers. It is a world that we muddle through and try to do our best, despite challenges constantly popping up. But Lloyd Vogel isn't repeating a story that already happened.
Through Lloyd Vogel's pessimistic attitude towards humanity, we instead get everything we need to know about Fred Rogers. The film is very self-aware of itself. By using establishing shots of models, similar to the opening crawl of Mister Rogers Neighborhood, Rogers acts as a bit of a narrator and commentator about Vogel's life. I'm blanking right now. It might be Kubrick, but one famous director said that the act of storytelling is a bit of a reflection on the storyteller. I have to admit, I'm adding a lot of commentary to that statement. With the metatextual framework of Rogers doing an episode about Lloyd Vogel, we see Rogers' philosophy as if we are children. That juxtaposition between the two characters, too, reminds us of how close we as audience members connect to polar opposites.
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is an absolutely gorgeous movie. I kept telling my family, including my wife, to watch the documentary. It was a hard sell. But my wife watching Beautiful Day? She got knocked in all of the nostalgia feels. It might be easy to see Beautiful Day as a cash-grab. It immediately follows possibly one of the best documentaries in the past ten years, despite its Oscar snub. People love nostalgia. But Beautiful Day never feels like it is exploiting the life of Fred Rogers. Rather, like Rogers and his attitude for empathy, the film acts as a love letter to both the man and a world that needs this man. Seeing the joy that he brought people reminds us that the world is a dark place and it is not often our fault for viewing it as such. But it also reminds us that it only takes one person to bring love and happiness into the world. The biggest thing that matters is that it isn't allowed to be an act.
Fred Rogers was Mister Rogers. If the movie and the documentary has taught me anything, Fred Rogers never became a character when the cameras were on. He lived his life like he preached. He openly prayed for people by name. Now, there is a big-budget movie that every demographic seems to be getting behind that talks about the value of prayer. Rogers never looks silly or misguided because he prayed or loved people. He comes across, without exception, as looking like a hero. Even when Vogel is skeptical about this man, the joke lies on the fact that Vogel doesn't really get it. It's a gorgeous movie.
I didn't cry, but I got close.
G. It's the rare, G-rated live action film! I don't know if the MPAA actually had anything to do with this because it is on Disney+, but I'm floored that I'm able to show my kids something live action. I don't know what I could really object to. One of the stories surrounds a divorced family, which is weird to put in a parental advisory guide. There's a lot of product placement? Is that something that parents should watch out for? Yoga? I don't know. It's a well-deserved G-rating.
DIRECTOR: Marc Lawrence
The universe really wants to test my resolve to write regularly. It feels good to write. It's sparking the positive dopamines / I'm-Not-a-Doctor that align with my sense of productivity / made-up-jargon. I just got the worst grade on a paper in my class. Admittedly, that terrible grade was a 90%, but it really bummed me out. Part of writing, and this is me trying to sound inspirational, is remembering that you aren't always going to be perfect. Some things you write will be good. Some things you write will be trash. But the point is to keep writing and striving to be better. I really liked writing about both Frozen II and Knives Out. This is me getting back on that horse and refusing to let a little rough commentary sway me. That being said, today is not the day to offer suggestions about my twin spaces after a period. Not today, Satan!
While Noelle's greatest success is the fact that it is a low-stakes live action movie that I can watch with my kids, Noelle offers doses of healthy morality coupled with a seasonably-appropriate good time. From watching the trailer, Noelle seems to be a movie that shows how Santa doesn't have to be a male, which was enough to get me to watch it in the first place. However, I want to look at Noelle from the point of view of the titular character and how Noelle is actually kind of a dynamic character. From moment one, Lawrence shows how sweet Noelle is. As a child, she is in love with Christmas. She is unabashedly in love with Christmas, despite the fact that Santa is her father. In a world where the concept of Santa is a legacy situation, kinda-sorta similar to how it works in The Santa Clause, different members of the Kringle lineage view Christmas in different lights. The world of the North Pole carries a sense of pride for the notion of Christmas. But Christmas, in a world where Christmas is all there is, merits different reactions. Her brother Nick, views Christmas from the perspective of an unwanted job. The world around Noelle almost refects the attitude of Google employees.
Noelle's dedication to Christmas on a personal level is what makes her a compelling, but flawed character. Instead of presenting Noelle in a negative light, she is instantly admirable as a protagonist. She is optimistic and empathetic, relating to all around her despite the glaring shadow that haunts the hierarchy of the North Pole. But the movie quickly establishes that Noelle isn't perfect. As positive and joyful as she is, there's also something materialistic about Noelle. She loves Christmas because it is how it satisfies her. I love that Lawrence and his team don't really spell it out in those words, but shows through indirect characterization how she needs to transcend that understanding of Christmas to fulfill the needs of the town.
From moment one, it is apparent that Noelle is to be the next Santa Claus over Nick and Gabriel. There is an otherness about her with how she views the vocation that makes sense. Also, people probably know what movie they are watching when they get into it. The movie plays around with the idea that, at any minute, Noelle will just BE Santa. Toying with external conflicts, like finding her missing brother and convincing him to return, the movie actually presents a formula that we have seen in other forms. Maybe it was because I had such low expectations for a Disney+ original movie, but it is in the understanding of her flaws that allow her to transcend vapid optimism and to become truly caring. Noelle, slightly through no fault of her own, hadn't really interacted with people in need. She cares for an animal, which is good, I guess. But people with actual problems seem to be a distant concept. If the spirit of Christmas is giving, Noelle really hadn't had that opportunity prior to do that.
With her interactions with the people of Phoenix, Arizona, problems become much more concrete. Well, they become as concrete as a Disney streaming movie will allow. People's problems aren't "I want to be Santa" or "Where's all the holiday spirit?" For a character so obsessed with the Christmas spirit, a 'la Buddy the Elf, Noelle isn't really all that judgey about people's choices. With Jake, she vocalizes her concern for his kid, which may seem inappropriate, but that is also because the two have quickly bonded. It may be movie logic, but it also is meant to reflect an honest concern for the two that an outsider can provide. Again, I'm going to stress that you should not comment on your friends' parenting habits. But for Noelle, this moment is important. She starts to see real problems and is in a position to grow as a moral person. It is her fish-out-of-water quality that allows her this unique insight.
But I love that Noelle kind of sucks at her job at first. The suit doesn't fit. That's a brilliant move. Instead of that odd idealism that a lot of kids movies have where "If I want something enough, I'll be amazing at it", it takes genuine practice for her to become Santa. Again, for the sake of film logic, one night of delivering presents gets her that understanding. It's a montage and we have to understand that. Being Santa is more than just giving presents and knowing routines. It is about love and compassion. She doesn't mean to wake up the tenants of the homeless shelter, which is just adorable and depressing at the same time. That moment matters. She is doing something for people who have nothing. It's perhaps too optimistic of an idea for reality, but it is the way that the world should be. Taking care of the people who have the least is the focus of the season. It's absolutely gorgeous. A lot of my love from this movie comes from this over-analysis of small moments, but that's really okay for me.
Unlike The Santa Clause, Noelle is always a good person. Scott from Santa Clause (I think that's his name. I could easily look it up, but I'm so close to the end that I just don't want to lose momentum) is kind of a jerk who learns the meaning of Christmas through his actions. I will applaud that, but I want to contrast it to Noelle. Buddy from Elf has the same attitude that Noelle has, but the story isn't about his character change. It's about the other people in the story being dynamic characters. Noelle is a good person who actually becomes a better person. The movie stresses that flaws and mistakes don't make you a bad person, but we should still learn from those mistakes to make the world better. Also, the movie has a rad attitude about feminism that I can get behind. Sometimes, the tradition kind of sucks. Sometimes, people aren't born for jobs. Noelle was a fun movie that I'll probably not rewatch, but I dug it while it was on. It's a fun time.
Knives Out (2019)
PG-13 for language and, um...murder? It gets a little graphic at times, but not in a way that could be consider exploitative. I suppose that some political ideologies are questioned. It just so happens that a lot of it aligns with my own personal politics, which makes me feel like it isn't that bad. But for all I know, people might be fuming about the commentary in this movie. Whatever. I think there's an f-bomb in here somewhere. I remember pointing it out for a PG-13 movie, but I'm also deliriously tired so I could have dreamt the whole thing.
DIRECTOR: Rian Johnson
I'm kicking my own butt now. I loved writing every day. There's a meme hanging in my classroom of the soda fountain being poured with two buttons depressed simultaneously. Now that I've taken all of the fun out of it with that description, I have to add that, in Impact font, it says "Writers feeling stressed not having written" and "Writers feeling stressed writing". I think it might work better as a visual thing, but I've decided that I like the stress that comes with writing more than the stress that comes with not writing. Like Frozen II, I watched this one a while ago. I was actually semi-sorta pleased with how Frozen II came out, despite the fact that I had seen it so long ago. Let's hope that Knives Out does the same thing and, also, that I learn my lesson about procrastinating about writing.
I AM GOING BACK INTO STRESSING THAT THIS WHOLE THING IS ONE GIANT SPOILER. Murder mysteries suck when they are spoiled. While I stopped doing spoiler alerts because it is part of the conceit of the whole blog, this one might make people a little mad if they haven't seen the movie yet.
Rian Johnson might just be a great alternative mystery director. I've come around on The Last Jedi. It's still a very imperfect movie for me, but I'm no longer really obsessed with Star Wars. (All that being said, I just asked my wife if we could go see it on Friday.) It's hard to distance the fact that Rian Johnson has since made one of the biggest movies of the decade, but I can't stop thinking of him as the guy who made Brick. For those people who haven't seen Brick, it takes many of the elements of the film noir detective mystery and grafts those elements onto a contemporary high school setting. In terms of lighting and color, Brick looks like a contemporary film. But the language and the narrative are plucked right out of an R-rated Maltese Falcon. It's a little pretentious to be claiming that Brick changed your life, but I find myself recommending that movie more than I ever thought I would. Mind you, I also recommend it to people and they come back claiming that they absolutely hated it. But Johnson shows a passion for this genre / subgenre that I didn't really get out of his other outings. I liked Looper and I now kinda sorta dig Last Jedi, but it really feels like Rian Johnson might be a nerd for the murder mystery with a skew.
I say that his murder mystery has a little bit of a turn because that's what the genre really needs. I'm forbidden about writing publicly regarding a movie that is coming out soon, but I noticed that certain genres really need to defy conventions to draw attention to themselves anymore. Traditional murder mysteries, which I suppose are now labeled "suspense" or "thrillers", are very fun but often forgettable. But movies like Sleuth tend to be disappearing from cinemas. The gimmick from Knives Out is that, by all of its trappings, it claims to be one of these murder mysteries from yesteryear. But watching the movie, the structure of the film is very off-kilter. Murder mysteries present elements that we see in Knives Out. We have a very public murder where many suspects have the opportunity and motive to commit the crime. We have unreliable narrators and characters who all have an alibi to why they couldn't have done it. We have a detective who is far more clever than any other character in the story. I'll even go as far as to say that aesthetically, the movie looks like an old-timey murder mystery. There were times early in the film where I thought that this movie might actually be a remake of Sleuth itself, with the large house and the victim being a famous mystery writer.
Rian Johnson's change of format is what breaks the convention, only to ultimately repair the convention. It's a little unfair of me to say that Knives Out is all about subverting genre because mystery narratives somehow are supposed to subvert expectations. The reason that an audience cares about a murder mystery is because, secretly, they don't want to be able to solve it themselves. The thrill lies in whispering to a spouse about theories and motives, only to be shown up by an ending that is even better and more teased than anything you could have seen plainly. The way that Johnson achieves this misdirect is by giving the audience the answer fairly early in the film. Johnson's big red herring is that he successfully makes the audience question what genre of film the audience is watching. Everyone paid to come see a murder mystery. Explaining that Marta accidentally killed Harlan in the first quarter of the film shifts perspective. For the first few minutes after the Marta reveal, I was guarded and was ready to think that there had to be another element to the murder. There had to be some change. But the movie actively embraces the Marta fake out for so long that I honestly thought that the big twist was that this wasn't a murder mystery, but a story about fleeing from justice. Even when the movie started teasing me about clues and hints, I thought the mystery came down to cleaning up loose threads. From a meta perspective, the mystery almost becomes something meta.
Knives Out may have a leg up over Brick. Both Knives Out and Brick have a playful quality and a separate meta quality to them. Knives Out's meta quality lies in the fact that the movie, at times, makes you forget that you are watching a murder mystery. Brick's meta aspect is the fact that it is playing with the tropes of film noir. But the audience from Brick makes it a less playful film than Knives Out. While I adore the concept of Brick, what makes me happy in the movie is that I'm part of some exclusive club. The language is intensely dense and it took me a few rewatches of the movie to really understand the concepts within the film. It's been a few years since I watched it and I don't know when I will see it again because my Blu-ray has been in the mail for about six months. But I don't know if I ever understood every element of the film. The language and the way that it is shot is almost intentionally withholding. Knives Out, however, is built for a wide audience. There's nothing independent about the film in the least. It has star power. It's funny and clever. But the movie also never really dumbs itself down for the audience. It places expectations on its audience while providing entertainment for everybody. While I felt like I was chatting up the mental elite with Brick above the hoi polloi, Knives Out felt like a communal experience. These movies are definitely cousins, but one is way less stuck up than the other.
I do want to watch Knives Out again. I always think of comedies and mysteries as magic tricks. The more you watch them, the less impressed you are because the unexpected is now expected. But Knives Out, like a good mystery, also adds the value of complexity to itself. A second watch will add something for me. I want to see the detail work now that I know the solution. How much was Johnson teasing me with the answer? That's worth watching. Also, it's a fun movie. I like watching fun movies.
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.