Rated R for content. (That seems a bit redundant.) There's a lot of talk about sexuality in the movie, but there is some actual graphic sexuality in the movie. I don't remember any nudity, but it does seem kind of sexual throughout. There's also some graphic language, drinking, and drug use. It's people who make choices and some of those might not gel with "nice". R.
DIRECTOR: Mike Mills
Okay, it's a bummer that my favorite viewing of 2020 might have been a movie from 2016. It's New Years Eve and my kids are screaming to play family Mario Kart. I don't really want to play because my joy con has a pretty bad drift to it. But they're distracted by candy right now, so I write against time and pressure to get a blog out for today. I can't promise it is going to happen. If it happens, it happens.
My big question about art involves morals. Is every piece of art its own morality play? If so, I would probably want to distance my love for this movie. I know that I tend to devolve each blog into a commentary about the morality of the film. But 20th Century Women got me from the perspective of people not necessarily having the right answers. There are a handful of women in one house and two dudes and they all think that they are right about things. They all have different perspectives, despite the fact that they are copasetic. But they are all flawed human beings who are trying the best that they can with what they have. And as much as I plan to distance myself from the morality of the piece, the film is about making Jamie a good person. Yeah, it's this abstract idea that each of them is really fighting for, but it is something that is a noble goal.
It's smart to stick this in the gender politics of 1979. I'm sure that whoever is writing the film is making the story semi-autobiographical. It would be hard to stick this story in the 2010s because the movie does focus on the generation conflicts between the children of the depression and Gen Xers. But there also is the fact that this is a world that is focused on the idea that a male needs a positive male role model. Part of me absolutely adores that the women of the house don't view William as a positive male role model. His character is imbued with elements of traditional masculinity. The guy works with his hands and builds cars for a hobby. That's pretty masculine. (I maintain a blog and write about art. Yeah, I'm impressed.) But William is so far away from being ready to be archetypal male role model that he's not really involved in the raising of Jamie. Actually, I don't quite know what William's role is in terms of the family dynamic. He's the closest thing to an outsider in the story, despite the fact that he is in every scene.
Instead, we have Dorothea's flawed attempt to have three strong women raise him. Within the title of the movie stresses the word Women. There are times when Dorothea's idea seems brilliant. Jamie, through the intervention of Abbie, becomes this self-actualized kid. He becomes a teenage feminist. Yeah, he might focus a bit too much on sexuality (and there's me proselytizing again), but he seems to view the women in his house through the lens of the oppressed. Rather than simply fall into the traps of masculinity, Jamie is educated and tries improving himself. It's because of Abbie's active role in Jamie's relationship that creates sympathy between the audience and the triangle of Jamie, Dorothea, and Abbie herself. Jamie is actively learning about things that people go their entire lives without knowing, but he's also treating it in an abstract and theoretical way. Abbie is pushy with her own politics because she knows that she has to be. And Dorothea is seeing her kid talk about sex all the time at 16.
Dorothea understands that Jamie is growing and that he should be growing. But she also misses being the central figure in Jamie's life. From a personal perspective, I get this. I get this movie too much. My dad died when I was young and my mom raised me for a little bit. I often wonder if my personality traits align with women because of this time with my mom. But I also saw the same thing that Jamie went through in my life. I found myself hold my mother in contempt for things that weren't really her fault because there was no right answer to the problem. I am worried about raising teenagers of my own, but I can't even fathom having to do that as a single parent. To think that gender doesn't play a role in that relationship is potentially pretty dangerous.
But it doesn't make Dorothea a bad parent. Because she is having a group of women raise her kid, it probably shows her absolute love for him. She's this soul who doesn't have the answers. There's something about aging that creates a disparity between who you are and who you are supposed to be. Dorothea is this person who wants happiness and normality, but also wants to put up this front of parenthood. She sees what the good out there is and she also wants to maintain that bond that she has with her son. It's actually because they are so close that the tension between the two escalates and escalates. It's such a sympathetic characteristic.
I, too, get mad at Julie. (But again, I love all of the characters so much. Getting mad at her is something that brings her into focus for me.) Jamie almost represents the paradoxical confidence and complete ignorance of adolescence. She keeps seeming like she has all of the answers in front of Jamie. She sees that he is absolutely infatuated with her, but she keeps doing what she does. She loves Jamie, but never wants that dynamic to change. She holds all this power and yet is completely helpless in every other element of her life. When Abbie accuses her, drunkenly, about being unfair, I don't think I ever thought that a messed up character hit the nail on the head with a character choice. Yeah, Julie has a terrible life. I don't blame her for hating her mother. But she has all this misplaced sexuality and Jamie is hurting because of it.
GAH! I love these characters!
Anyway, this movie rocked my socks. There were moments where I just sat back and wondered why I loved this movie so much. Again, the attitudes for parenting were rough. There's a lot of stuff that I would never do in my worst reality. But Talking Heads and punk won out. This was a movie about people. People aren't perfect. They try their best and they work with what they know. That's what this movie was about. I adored it. Absolutely adored it. I may not know what the best movie of 2020 was, but I do know that 20th Century Women might have been the best thing I saw this year.
PG, mainly for complex ideas about the afterlife. The movie centers around death. While death doesn't exactly come across as traumatic, it does bring up a lot of questions, especially for kids. As a Catholic, there was a lot of prefacing and pausing involved, explaining that this is just a movie and someone's idea of what the afterlife would be like. There's a villain, but that villain is pretty tame. PG.
DIRECTORS: Pete Docter and Kemp Powers
I have a feeling I'm going to step in it with this one. One of my big goals this year is to work towards being anti-racist. (But the very nature of doing so is white knighting and stressing that "I'm one of the good ones".) I went into Soul with no expectations outside of being grateful that Disney+ was releasing a major studio release free on Disney+. (Well, not free, but you get what I'm going for.) So when I absolutely loved it, I was shocked to find out that there's some problematic portrayals going on in this movie. It's what happens when you read The Root far too often.
The first element I heard about was the de-Blacking of the main character. The protagonist, a Black male named Joe, may be fitting inside the comfort zone of a lot of white audiences. He's a jazz guy. That's apparently one of the acceptable versions of Black men that white America will accept. Okay, but he's also a really good dude. He's passionate about music and he encourages students to learn, despite worrying about being cool. From moment one, he's likable. But the first thing that happens to him is that he becomes a little blue guy. When Joe dies, he spends the afterlife as a mostly blue soul. He maintains some of his physical characteristics, but he otherwise is stripped of his cultural identity. In fact, I think he's mistaken for a white man on Earth when he slips through the cracks of the afterlife. (I'm genuinely shocked more people in this version of the afterlife haven't tried what Joe tried.)
So I get that element. I'm glad that Disney and Pixar kept a lot of the plot secret within the trailers because Joe's physical form comes back into play for a lot of the film. But then I read on io9, The Root's sister site, that perhaps Soul is the first Black movie made for white audiences. Well, I can't agree on that. I'm the unfortunate owner of Green Book, mainly because it wasn't available for rent before the Academy Awards. I'm not sure exactly what that means, but I do feel like I should be looking at myself harder because I absolutely dug Soul. The takeaway of all this is that I'm probably wrong, but I still have to do some more introspection to figure out why I'm wrong.
But the thing that really sold Soul to me was the obsession with passion. There's a really complex relationship between purpose and passion in this movie and I kinda feel like I should watch it again so I can pick it apart. But Joe is such a compelling individual because he is absolutely absolutely ABSOLUTELY attached to his music. There's an early Twilight Zone episode where the main guy tricks Death into giving him more time on Earth under the guise that there's a passion project of his that needs completing. But that was all a ruse. While Joe likes his life, despite its failures and disappointments, there's this place he gets to --the Zone --that calls him time and again. He's about to land the great white whale when he dies. It's not a validity about the nature of life as a whole. He simply wanted to have that great moment for the rest of his life and he was denied that. It's pitiable and relatable.
And it is that moment that allows him to connect to 22. 22 completely lacks passion. She prides herself on thinking that everything is lame. This is where I jump on board the story as a high school teacher. Joe's a high school teacher who teaches his passion. I'm a high school teacher who nerds out on books and writing. I get the character. So when Joe shows 22 what his life is like, warts and all, and she gets what passion is all about, that's where I'm just agog. I know that it might be uncool to love Soul and now I kind of get that it might be problematic, but the message is so beautiful. There's something great there and anything problematic, while it should have been avoided, was unintentional. Joe is such a great protagonist. He's SUCH a great protagonist. He's not the best guy in the world, but he's inspirational in his own way. And it is from someone else's eyes that he discovers the greatness that Earth has to offer.
Music becomes something bigger than just noise in this movie. There's a scene that is mostly played for a laugh, but I completely relate to. There is nothing more vulnerable than sharing the great things in life with someone else. There's a scene where 22 experiences pizza for the first time through Joe and it is so heartwarming and hilarious at the same time. I love that 22 wants to hate the pizza. That's a moment that I think happens far too often. But the fact that 22 starts pocketing the little things in life that Joe completely ignores is almost a better story about our passions in life. Yeah, Joe sees the passion of playing the piano and playing the piano well, but there's this stain on that whole passion because it is something that he always has to work towards. Yeah, 22 is kind of a butt, but 22 is necessary to notice the little things in life.
I adored this movie. I'm somewhat apologetic for it because I'm starting to get why it can really bother people. There's always this push to be better as people and I'm going to celebrate when we get it right. But Soul, when it is focusing on the important elements of storytelling, really soars. I don't think I've had such a happy surprise for a while and I loved-loved-loved it.
R for language, violence, and sexuality. It's all pretty darned intense. The language is throughout the film and often attached to comments about race. The sexuality, while devoid of nudity, is pretty graphic and visceral. The violence really comes out of left field and is pretty cold blooded. A lot of the movie is based on Levee's hot temper, which causes him to act irrationally on a moment's notice. It's R for a good reason.
DIRECTOR: George C. Wolfe
It's kind of a bummer that this is going to be the movie that's probably associated with Chadwick Boseman's last role. I have this thought that an actor's posthumous role tends to be kind of rough, but I suppose that isn't true here. Ma Rainey's Black Bottom might be the film that earns Boseman an Oscar. I had been meaning to read this play for years. I kind of dig August Wilson. I have never been completely overwhelmed by him, but I like Fences enough to sit down and read a collected works or something like that.
When writing about adapted plays, I can't help but think that I'm just writing about the play itself. Each interpretation of the same work kind of has its own vibe, but the script seems absolutely central. Yeah, I want to preach about the performances in Ma Rainey's Black Bottom and I probably will, but that's only going to get me so far. Instead, I kind of want to look at some of the themes and motifs in the film. You can really get the vibe that this was a play. Like Casablanca, so much of the story takes place in the same locations. It's that long-form of storytelling where we don't jump from place to place in terms of setting. Rather, the story is a dance. The same dancers take turns in the spotlight, poking Levee the Tiger until he attacks. It's something that really emphasizes the power of the stage. Yeah, it totally works in this film, but I can imagine how much of a treat a stage director would get out of an experience like this.
It's interesting that the two largest characters in this movie are both deeply flawed individuals. Yeah, I get it. Storytelling should have flawed protagonists. Levee and Ma are both horrible human beings. But both of them, in their own ways, are right. I mean, there are a half dozen other characters who are more moral and more grounded than these two and don't deserve the crummy fate that has befallen them. But we don't really get attached to these characters. Sure, Cutler and Toledo are compelling, but they have very little in terms of goals for these ninety minutes. But Levee and Ma actively are trying to change the world around them. Really, the film comes down to an unstoppable force moving an immovable object. Levee, for all of his bravado and anger, is Ma. He is a musician through and through. This is a job for him, yes. He needs the money that this gig will offer. But he's about ensuring the importance of his music. He thinks that he will be able to change the world and he hates that Ma is repressing him for that action. The irony is that Ma is in the same boat. She's annoying and caustic. Her drama seems to be put on to annoy others. But she's fundamentally about her own music.
But the important thing is that both of their choices come down to race and how Black people have been treated in America. From Levee's perspective, it is about seizing any moment that the white man has to offer. He knows that Black men don't have many opportunities handed to them. They have to have this combination of luck and skill. When Levee finds out that Sturdyvant wants some of his music, music that he truly believes in, he's right to strike while the iron is hot. He finds that flaw in Ma to cling to the old ways of isolationism with her people. He knows to reach the most amount of people, he needs to use the white man for his own good. The tragedy of the situation is that the white man, for all his charity, is really out for himself. I have to say, I was caught off-guard when the all white audience was singing "Jelly Roll" at the end. It makes me think of the success of Elvis Presley and why people get annoyed for his success.
Ma, however, is also right, despite being on the opposite side of the debate. It's easy to dislike Ma. She's such a punk through the film. She is everything that is involved with being a diva. She makes people miserable. She only cares about herself. She has these unreasonable demands. But from her perspective, she sees that she is being used to make the white man a buck. She is making a record reluctantly. I know that the rest of the world would be leaping at the chance for the success that Ma sees in this film, but that's not the success she wants. She has her audience and she loves her audience. The new audience is simply a dilution of her brand and her music. Working with these white misers, for all their smiles and kowtowing, is an insult to who she is. Yeah, she's mean. But she's mean because she knows what it means to go in with a smile.
I am still breaking down the death of Toledo. Toledo is the most likable character in the story. He's this nice old man who has regrets about his youth. He teases Levee, but no more so than any of the other characters in the film. Instead, he's the victim of Levee's breakdown. It is the culmination of Toledo stepping on his shoes. I love how that shot shows the shoes perfectly fine. We keep getting shown these yellow shoes as if they have been marred and obliterated, but they look great. I know that there is shoe culture and I don't think that this is that. Instead, Toledo is executed for nothing. The story builds and builds to it being a showdown between Levee and Cutler, but the turn happens to Toledo.
I'm really trying to pick this apart. Perhaps there's something there going on when it comes to Levee's courage. Levee is the first person to start a fight. After all, he did go after Cutler with a knife earlier in the story. But Levee's key personality trait is his braggadocia. It's how he seduces Ma's girlfriend. It's why he's so loud in the room. It's why he absolutely believes that he will be more successful than Ma. It's why he tries changing around Ma's arrangement. But I think that Levee is always afraid of failing because he has always actually failed. In a fight with Cutler, he might actually lose. Culter is large and confident. Toledo is old and withdrawn. And it's in that moment where Levee snaps that Toledo is cut down. There's this gorgeous moment of regret and awareness that passes through Levee and that's the moment where we see that he's just this kid who has no idea how make the world work for him.
I adored Ma Rainey's Black Bottom. Yeah, it's never going to be one of my favorite plays. But this is a story that allows actors to be actors. It's deep and resonant. It hurts to watch for a lot of it and that's totally worth the hour-and-a-half runtime that Netflix rolled out. I weep for the family and friends of Chadwick Boseman. But keeping that in mind, it is a heck of a piece to go out on.
PG-13 for violence (weird violence) and abuse. I'm sure that there's some language, but it really takes a backseat to some of the weird brutality that happens in this movie. There's a description of a brutal death that never actually happens, but the description of this potential death is pretty horrific. I don't want to get lazy with this section, but this does seem to be in the Christopher Nolan wheelhouse. It's that level of intensity. PG-13.
DIRECTOR: Christopher Nolan
There was a time in my life when I lost it when I saw Christopher Nolan's name attached to something. The man is phenomenally talented. He was this edgy director who saw the world and storytelling from a very unique perspective. I'm a little worried that he's becoming a bit of an M. Night Shyamalan though, depending on gimmicks and brain-breaky storytelling that he might be getting in his own way.
Now, I'm going to be preachy before I actually start talking about the movie itself. I almost feel like Tenet has earned a bit of a stigma based on the statements that Christopher Nolan has made lately. Now, I get that an artist wants his film to be seen by as many people as humanly possible in the most prestigious way possible. Nolan had a vision of how people should absorb this movie. He crafted it in a very specific way to maximize the amount of spectacle that this movie could have provided. I also know that he probably believes that he's on the right side of history, advocating for the unemployed. But everything I've read from him screams, "I'm an auteur! See the movie the way I want it to be seen." Nolan was possibly the most vocal director who wanted to open movie theaters. He went both ways for a while, but now he's firmly established as one of the voices who wanted people to go to movie theaters during a pandemic. I'm all about fighting for the survival of the movie theater. The movie theater is a very special place to me. I get so much joy seeing a movie opening night in a crowded theater. But everyone is making sacrifices right now. I would have loved to have seen Tenet in a 4K theater with people oohing-and-ahhing. But that's such a dangerous message to send out right now. Nolan could have been one of the leading voices for people staying home. Instead, he played down the pandemic all because he wanted people see his movie his way. This definitely tainted my viewing of Tenet...from the comfort of my home.
I really wanted to like Tenet. I know that maybe this film might be getting lukewarm reviews from people, while some people are defending it as a work of genius. I will concede: this movie is 100% a work of genius. It takes a very impressive mind to visualize something that should be impossible to comprehend. There were so many times where I had to explain to my brain what I was watching because it was that visually complex. But there's one thing that happens in both writing and in art that should supersede any kind of visual complexity: clarity.
Now, I don't like to be spoon-fed. I'm not saying Nolan has any responsibility to spoon feed us what is happening in the film. After all, I'm a big fan of Steven Moffat's Doctor Who. Those are shows that make you think things out. Nolan is asking the audience something pretty intense. He wants people to leave the movie theater and discuss what they have seen. Then he wants them to go back to the movies and watch the same movie again, with the newfound discussion points that they had the first time. It's ambitious. But to achieve this goal, Nolan leaves out key information to make things as obtuse as possible. He wants you to be so confused that you have to watch it again. I'm going to be talking very clearly about the final act, so please be aware THAT I AM GOING TO BE MORE SPOILERY THAN NORMAL.
The first two acts might be striking the proper balance of confusing. There is a lot of information to take in, but Nolan does his best to at least point the camera in the right direction. There's a modicum of exposition, explaining the weirdness that we are seeing. But there's nothing having to repeat or re-explain each scene. If you are paying attention, the first two acts are actually really good examples of storytelling. But the final act is an invasion on a compound done by a team that is going forward in time and a team that's going backwards in time. (Nolan, by the way, at one point insisted that this wasn't a time travel story.) There's ten minutes on both sides (Hence, Tenet being a palindrome composed of two words "ten" meeting in the middle). But what is beat-by-beat happening is a complete mess. It's a lot of information and some visual trickery that makes it nearly impossible to figure out what is going on. It is almost asking the audience to sit there with a pen and pencil and play the movie in 2-second increments so they can figure out every beat. It's fine that Nolan understands what is going on, but it's not cool that his audience doesn't know what's going on.
Similarly, there's a moment where Neil switches directions in time. He starts going backwards and then moves forwards. Now, that's fine. But you only really understand that once the scene is completely over and they reprimand him for what he has done. That's being intentionally withholding. I'm now asking for Nolan to telegraph what is happening. But do you know how that scene could have been fixed. SQUAD LEADER: "Everyone, it is imperative you stay on your time track. Neil, I'm looking at you." NEIL gives a boy scout salute. SQUAD LEADER continues with briefing. That's it. That's what you needed. Giving us a little foreshadowing that something might happen in that vein at least lets us know what direction to look in. Instead, we're so bombarded with information that there is no way to know what bit of information is going to pay off.
Which brings me down the most disappointing element of the whole experience. Christopher Nolan has always made things seem so effortless. He took these grandiose ideas and has made these stories seem like that's the only way to tell the story. Dunkirk played with chronology in a way that I've never seen told before, but I also realize that is what made the movie special. Memento took the inverted storytelling and made us all feel like we had short-term memory loss. He made Batman realistic, like he lived in our United States. But this feels...gimmicky. This feels like he's trying way too hard to be Christopher Nolan. Yeah, it's visually very cool and there's a story to be told here. But there's nothing in act three that needs to be told the way it is. It's showing off in the worst possible way.
And then I started picking the whole thing apart. Why is the movie so complicated? Yeah, it's Nolan showing off. But then I realized...the plot is kind of dumb. The conceit is rad. There are people moving forward in time and there are people moving backwards in time. But ultimately (and I realized it came down to the casting of Kenneth Branagh), that this is just another Bond knock-off supervillain plot. The main villain likes to see people sad and miserable while having grandiose ideas about the environment, so he's going to bomb the world. That's the stuff of Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit. There's nothing all that special about the story. So instead of actually writing a compelling story, the movie lives-and-dies on its conceit of forward and backwards movement. That's not fun to me. As much as Nolan wants me to go out and watch the movie again, the story doesn't compel me to do so. It's why I like the escape room more than the Rubik's Cube. I need the narrative to keep me going.
So it's a work of genius, but almost to the point of being a detriment. There are some amazing visuals and insane fight scenes. But in terms of something that I could relate to, this came across as so alien and distant that there wasn't much emotion besides "wow" going on.
Not rated, but we've been down this rabbit hole before. Zatoichi kills a lot of folks as people take advantage of his blindness. While there is a lot of death, there is very little actual blood. If you have seen another Zatoichi movie, you know what you are in for. It's the same movie over-and-over again. But at least you don't have to be shocked about content. It's par for the course.
DIRECTOR: Kenji Misumi
It feels like I watched this months and months ago. It was last week. Advent time. It seems like a very different world. The last Zatoichi movie gave me hope that I had entered a new phase of Zatoichi film. There was an actual plot and I really enjoyed just having something new. With a title like Zatoichi and the Chess Expert, I thought, for sure, that this was going to have an original story. But I now know that it will always be a swirling spiral of the same film, making it nearly impossible to write about.
Now, does this mean that I don't enjoy watching these films? Not necessarily. I have a moderately good time while watching them. But I can tell you that I have a real struggle writing about them. I keep kind of returning to the same well. Really, I suppose that these blogs become a subtextual exercise in my mental state. After all, imagine you were asked to watch a movie over and over again, and then approach that film from a different perspective each time. It might be more of a critique about the writer than it is the subject matter. So I'm actively choosing my conceit this time. Normally, I let the theme kind of define itself while writing. Sometimes it works; sometimes it doesn't. But today, I'm going to re-examine the rules of Zatoichi, the Blind Swordsman.
One of the favorite bits that these movies loves doing is having people cheat Zatoichi out of his fortune because he's blind. Because of this, Zatoichi has become a bit of a con man. He goes around, intentionally bumbling into gambling situations, forcing people to reveal their duplicitous natures. I thought we were past that by this entry in this series, but I have to kinda / sorta applaud this entry for actually have these moments have meaning. Zatoichi's bit is to play a game of dice and "accidentally" expose the dice to have people cheat him out of his money. When he reveals that they are looking at the wrong dice, they are forced to pay him for their lies. Or they try fighting them and Zatoichi rips them apart. But in this movie, the weird thing that happens is that Zatoichi's con backfires. He pulls his same old shannanigans, but the dice still read against what he wanted them to.
Now, I don't know what the movie is trying to do with this. There really isn't an explanation to why Zatoichi's con didn't work this time. And this is where my questions keep on returning. I feel like a friend from high school who kept questioning whether Peter-from-Family-Guy's references were all canon. How blind is Zatoichi? That's really poorly worded, but it is the phrase that keeps on running through my head. There are times where Zatoichi seems like he's just a dude who has compensated for his blindness with sheer skill. But then there are other times where he's Daredevil. Like, the issue with the cheating is that he actively wills the dice to turn out the way he wants them to. The other alternative is that he's cheating even harder than everyone else there with loaded dice.
But if Zatoichi has loaded dice, doesn't that kind of make him the villain? He always knows exactly what direction the dice are going to take...until today. Is it just because the con man even has to drop that ball sometime? Are the odds just so impossibly in his favor most of the time that he would eventually have to get the wrong answer? But the movie kind of teases a Spider-Man 2 kind of loss of power going on. Throughout the film, Zatoichi kind of just seems more flawed. He almost falls off a boat and needs to be dragged on. He keeps tripping over things. What happened to the Zatoichi who kept on taking on wave-after-wave of bad guys?
It makes it really hard to root for Zatoichi when his skill set is all over the place. He's a Mary Sue character for most of the series. But he never really takes a hit unless it is the last ten minutes of the movie and someone gets a lucky hit in with a rope or something. But the movie is almost aware of how impossibly lucky Zatoichi is. There's this group that reminds me of the Wet Bandits, wanting to exact their revenge on that kid who keeps beating them up. The movie knows about Zatoichi's reputation and the fact that he absolutely humiliates anyone who steps up to him. But then, he can just almost fall off a boat. Or he can just start losing at dice. It almost feels like the movie doesn't know what to do about Zatoichi dealing with loss. I kept waiting for an explanation to his newfound fallibility, but there's nothing to be offered.
This movie almost wanted to be about a billion things. On one hand, is it a movie about Zatoichi coming to grips with his own imperfection? I don't think so. It almost seems to be a plot device to make the movie more than half-an-hour long. Then, there's the typical Zatoichi becoming attached to a woman, in this case a woman with a daughter. But then, why is the movie called Zatoichi and the Chess Expert. I love the idea of the chess expert, but the execution (pun intended) of the chess expert is something to be desired.
I adore the idea that the chess expert is just a sociopath. He kills people because they are more skilled than he is. It's not that he's the best. It's just that he doesn't allow people to be better than he is so he kills him. The fact that he befriends Zatoichi just builds this amazing suspense. We get pretty early on that the chess expert is seemingly better than Zatoichi at chess. But there's also this hint that Zatoichi is holding back to either make friends with this guy or to size him up properly. But this killer has amazing samurai skills. Like many of the Zatoichi films, we see displays of his skill and prowess with a sword, teasing that the fight between the chess expert and Zatoichi will be epic. But in this case, Zatoichi simply traps the chess expert into a plan, forcing him to reveal his true murderous nature. It's very brief. For some reason, I thought this was going to be the one where we met the Moriarty version of Zatoichi. I want to have someone who haunts Zatoichi with his or her abilities. But we don't really get that.
It's a fun movie, but it's also just another Zatoichi movie. I need something new. I know, there's a Zatoichi v. Yojimbo movie in the box set. But I have a feeling that I'm just setting myself up for failure. I'll enjoy watching these movies, but I won't enjoy squeezing water from a stone.
PG for Home Alone violence. There are things that are definitely murder heavy in this one. Like, the electrocution seems to get a laugh from the ten-year-olds, but in both Home Alone 2 and 3, I keep thinking about how those guys would be dead. The language is probably less in this movie compared to the first Home Alone movies. It helps that Alex is probably better behaved than Kevin for the most part. So, PG just for attempted murder and torture.
DIRECTOR: Raja Gosnell
This is one of those "Be careful what you wish for" situations. Last night, when I was writing Silence, I thought that it would be really nice to write about a Christmas movie on Christmas Eve. When I looked at my Notes folder, sure enough there was a Christmas movie: Home Alone 3. This was a rough one. I mean, this might be the worst movie I watched this year, by a lot. It might be the worst movie I watched for the past five years, and I watch a lot of kids' movies. There were so many moments when I looked over at my wife and groaned. I mean, I knew this movie was going to be awful, despite the fact that Roger Ebert weirdly loved this movie. It's just that...this movie hurt to watch.
The craziest thing about this film isn't that it exists. The Home Alone movies were cash cows. Macaulay Culkin had started to spiral by this point. (I completely respect you, Mr. Culkin. Your youth was very difficult and maybe we should revisit child actors as a social disease.) I knew that they were going to try to make another movie. I mean, it's not like post-Home Alone, there was any attempt to generate something new and original. But the craziest thing about this movie is that John Hughes wrote this.
See, in my head, this was a product of the team behind the original movie distancing themselves as far as they could from the film. I know that Home Alone 3 was released in theaters, but it really has the direct-to-VHS vibe about it. None of the original cast is back. They decided to up the game with spies and terrorism. Everything about this screams Inspector Gadget 2. (Which is a movie I have yet to see. But the way parenthood is going, it's probably going to happen.) But knowing that John Hughes came up with this idea and then wrote a script for it is mind-blowing. I complained a lot about Home Alone 2: Lost in New York because it offered nothing new to the story. But at least it was kind of funny. The first Home Alone is still a really funny movie. I've seen it a bunch of times and it makes me laugh beyond the nostalgia that I associate with the film. See, I wanted to like Home Alone 3. After all, I agreed to it on family movie night. But there wasn't one moment that made me laugh.
And that's what I discovered about the formula to Home Alone. What we as audiences thought the movies were all about was about was a kid setting traps for bad guys. The guys go through the house and they get completely wrecked. But the reason that those jokes really worked in the first movie and completely failed in the other movies is that the movie should make you work for that ending. It's a funny movie, and THEN we add the bad guys getting wrecked by stuff. Instead, the movie was so focused on this spy drama that was fundamentally dumb that the attack on the bad guys just plays really flat. Part of it is that we get the joke. People getting destroyed by household odds and ends is old hat. Maybe it was Daniel Stern and Joe Pesci that sold it better than the relative unknowns that were in this sequel. But I can tell you, the house invasion really falls flat in this one.
Maybe it also comes down to the fact that Alex is...perfect? As a parent, it kind of scares me that Kevin is such a bad kid. Like, I don't want my kids to be like Kevin McCallister. He's rude to his parents. He has a bad rap for things that aren't his fault, but he handles everything extremely poorly. He's got anger issues. I don't want my kids emulating that. But it also gives the protagonist a journey that Home Alone 3 doesn't offer at all. Sure, he repeats that journey in Home Alone 2, but that's almost how it stresses how important it is that it is about becoming a good person through self-discovery. Alex has nothing to discover. He's so morally right in every situation that he's fundamentally the same person he was from the beginning of the movie. The people who learn lessons are the parents, who borderline aren't characters in the movie.
Think about it. The movie series is called Home Alone. I know that in all the films, we see chunks of the film from the parents' perspectives, most the moms' perspectives. But they really are relegated to secondary characters. But let's look at Catherine O'Hara's Kate McCallister v. Haviland Morris's Karen (an unfortunate name in 2020). Kate McCallister deals with her failure as a mother to take care of her child. It becomes about introspection and the devotion to her child. She has a quest to return home to her kid. Karen, however, sees that her bored kid is misbehaving more than normal. He's such a good boy often that she has to deal with the possibility that he isn't perfect. We get that one has a more noble journey than the other. So Karen becomes this absolutely boring character who is mostly concerned with going to work. That's not a compelling movie.
What this ultimately leads to is just the home invasion. So much of this movie is devoted to the concept of the home invasion. Everything points to it. A major component of the first two movies is about learning responsibility and growing up. This is entirely about getting these spies caught. That's not a lesson that anyone can relate to. Heck, as much as I was preaching that this was a Christmas movie, there's technically nothing officially Christmas in the movie. I can't even really get the perk of claiming it was a Christmas movie, like my first paragraph asserted. It's a real bummer.
This movie...sucked. I'm so sorry that I'm being so rough on it. There's nothing redeeming about this movie. It screams lazy. There's something I read that said this plot was supposed to be used on an older Kevin McCallister assuming that Culkin was mentally healthy. But this movie should not have been used, like ever. It's so bad. I think we'd be open to a quality Home Alone reboot (which I hear is in the works for Disney+) if there wasn't a history of cash grabbing. This movie should be avoided at all costs. It is rough.
Rated R primarily for torture. There's some kinda / sorta nudity in the movie, but nothing that would be considered of a sexual nature. Really, the movie is asking you to sit through some pretty intense brutality while having an intense discussion about the nature of faith. There are things that could be considered blasphemous in the movie. It's odd to think that, in the process of making a movie about condemning the soiling of holy images, the actors themselves probably had to do that. It's a pretty well-deserved R.
DIRECTOR: Martin Scorsese
There are other movies on my list of movies to write about. It's not a long list. I've been pretty good with keeping up with my blog even during my days off. But Silence is the blog I've been mentally writing in the back of my head for days now. Now I'm writing it with only minutes to spare until it is officially Christmas Eve. This might be the oddest choice for a Christmas season movie, but I haven't really watched a ton of stuff that got me excited for Christmas anyway, so mind as well watch a very intense cinematic depiction of faith.
The reason that this movie has been on my mind since I started watching it is that I'm terrified that I'm going to write something absolutely heretical in the attempt to break down some of the interesting elements of faith. I remember when this movie came out, there was a big hullaballoo about the depiction of Catholicism in my Catholic circles. Some people swore that it was phenomenal, a game changer. Some people were really concerned with Martin Scorsese's faith after seeing this movie and thought that the movie shouldn't exist. I know that I wrote for Catholic News Agency for a little bit. But one of the things that always terrified me about that gig was that I was going to display how ignorant I was about the deep dives in Catholicism. I mean, I'm good at the stuff that Matthew Kelly writes about. He's easy to read and his Australian accent is easy on the ears. But if it is an encyclical, I got nothing. Like, I try reading them, but my eyes glaze over and I hope I didn't miss anything important. That's probably something I shouldn't publish online, but it's true. I can't do them. It's tough. I'm probably going to accidentally reveal myself to be some other religion by accident and I'm absolutely terrified.
But isn't that what art is supposed to do? Isn't the point of genuine art to challenge us? I'm not saying that is about making me display my ignorance so I can't show up to a Knights of Columbus pancake breakfast with egg on my face. (After all, they serve pancakes, not eggs.) I'm talking about the idea that I really have to question what is the moral right in this situation. There's a bunch of stuff swirling around in my brain while watching this movie. It was either a few years ago or last year (time means nothing anymore) that a guy got ripped apart for trying to be a missionary on preserved land. It was an awkward one. I don't remember too many people really feeling bad for him, even among the religious community. It's either that or I hang out in a very cynical area of the Internet. The big argument was that the people were clear that they didn't want him there, so they killed him when he got there. It's a bleak story, but I can't help but have that story color my viewing of the movie.
A big element of Catholicism is going and preaching the gospel. It's almost central to our faith. There are faiths out there that really poo-poo the whole evangelization thing. I kind of get that. But not Christianity. Christianity is huge on the idea that we have to spread the Good Word. After all, Christ didn't die on the cross for those who are already believers. He died for everyone. He wants people to know his love. Silence lives in the extreme version of this philosophy. I'm thinking back to all of the missionary movies I watched when I was younger. (The only title I'm thinking about right now is The Mission, but you know what I mean.) Missionaries seemed so intense and focused. They put my head in the space of the saints. "I don't know how they do what they do." Scorsese seems to be on that page. These are men who know that they'll probably be killed for their faiths. But their faith is dwarfed compared to the examples of faith that they witness among the converted in Japan. It's this symbiotic relationship. Seeing the gratitude of these people as the missionaries come there is inspiring. My life is too comfortable. I rarely have that level of gratitude about my faith.
But this is not a story about faith and martyrdom. After all, we have those stories. (Again, all I can see is Robert DeNiro standing upright in a boat. It's eight minutes to midnight and it has been a very long day.) I mean, it is, but it's about the failure to be martyred. It's the idea that these priests are people. They have gone through so much to survive as they did. They were abused and insulted. They witnessed horrors and still maintained their faith. But what Scorsese does pretty effectively (for the most part) is show how faith slowly drains before the deluge. It's not this one moment, but rather a series of moments that have weakened the damn before it breaks. Fr. Rodrigues has these crises of faith, despite having what seems to be an extraordinary resolve. He prays and he prays intensely. But as much as he fights it, there's the creeping feeling in his head that perhaps God isn't there. I find it oddly ironic that he finally hears the voice of God, which causes him to abandon his faith. It is the opposite of Doubting Thomas. Once God presents himself to Fr. Rodrigues, that's when hope and faith is lost.
And I think of the words that Scorsese gives to Jesus's voice. He talks about one who is insulted and injured. He came to Earth to be mocked and scorned. This is where my theology might falter. There's this big push for Rodrigues and the Japanese Christian community to either all entire villages to die or to simply stick a foot on the image of Christ. I hate that I wrote "simply." It's not simply. It is difficult and I understand the difficulty. But the movie presents what must be a dangerous temptation that I already harbor: maybe God gets it. I know we have the story about Peter denying Christ three times before his death. While that's part of Christ's story, the lesson behind it is that this is Peter's lowest moment. I always find it odd that Thomas is considered one of the weaker disciples for asking to touch the wounds, but Peter was prophesized to renounce Christ and he still did it. When Rodrigues eventually succumbs to the threats and tortures that the Japanese push him with, I can't help but think that Christ is forgiving.
But this is where it is lost on me. The two priests go looking for Fr. Ferreira. Ferreira has been completely mind-controlled. He's practically The Manchurian Candidate by the time that Rodrigues encounters him. (Maybe more Homeland, but this is a film blog and it's exactly midnight.) I get that Ferreira isn't himself when he's testifying to the futility of Christianity. Part of me thinks that Ferreira has gone insane, based on the way he looked at the beginning of the film. But Rodrigues is presented with a relatively small exit from his apostilization. Like Picard's temptation to deny that there are four lights (There's a good reference), Rodrigues simply has to say that he was wrong and to go about his way. But when he makes that concession, against his conscience, he goes into being one of the Japanese zealots? I know that he dies with a cross in his hands. It is unclear whether or not he had that himself or his wife put it in his hands, but that scene almost shouldn't matter. Rodrigues becomes this tool for dismantling the Church in Japan and that's can't be right. It's one thing to quietly skulk away. After all, Kichikuro kept doing that over-and-over. But Rodrigues actively outed other Christians. It's the whole McCarthyism thing, only with a forgiving tone.
Poor Kichikuro. I'm rushing this because I have to get up early, but I kept on reminding myself of him. He's both an absolute scumbag and one of the most sympathetic characters in the film. He's this guy that would probably end up being me in the same position. He devoutly, devoutly believes in God. He may not understand the theology, but he knows the value of reconciliation. Yet, he keeps making the same mistake based on his character flaw. He knows that society finds Christianity abhorrent, so he keeps publicly renouncing the Church. But then, he wants to make a grand gesture to find his way back to God through reconciliation and the cycle continues time-and-again. It's just something that I wanted to point out.
This movie might be brilliant. I know I'm probably shoving my foot in my mouth, but it really is an interesting examination of the way that temptation works. If anything, it does a better job at looking at temptation than Scorsese's more famous The Last Temptation of Christ. It looks at imperfect people dealing with a very challenging concept. The Bible talks about the faith the size of a mustard seed, but we see how easily that faith can be disrupted. It's a gorgeous film that is really depressing. Either way, Merry Christmas everyone. It's officially eight minutes into Christmas Eve.
Not rated, you know, because it is so offensive. There's some weird criminal activity in the movie. I suppose the movie has the 1954 attitude of men dressing in women's clothing might be a bit regressive. But White Christmas is the old timey holiday movie that's not the super racist one. You're probably mistaking it for Holiday Inn.
DIRECTOR: Michael Curtiz
Okay, I was in it for the dancing. That's only partially true. My wife really wanted to have the picturesque,, Norman Rockwell's America family evening as the fireplace roared. She wanted to share this with the kids and have them cuddle her as they all sipped hot apple cider and remembered that time we all made an amazing family memory. It didn't play out that way. It played out with threats being made, mostly by the kids. There were temper tantrums and the movie was promptly shut off before the last fifteen minutes of the movie. It wasn't the ideal way to watch this film. Now, I've seen it before. But the problem with old timey musicals is that the plots all get jumbled. What I'm saying is that I wish the kids were better behaved during this movie not just for my wife's sanity and expectations, but also so I had a better understanding about the dynamics of a complex plot.
I didn't remember this movie being so darned patriotic. I get it. It's 1954. It's Christmas. It's sentimental enough that there's all kinds of Christmas things to hold onto with this movie, but the patriotism thing? Geez. White Christmas almost dares its audience to not feel emotional in this thing. Single handedly, White Christmas is 1954's direct response to the Red Menace. (Not Santa Claus. Read a textbook.) I was always wondering why White Christmas never really hit my emotional film list. I mean, if you want to get me really choked up, it's because I'm a sucker for Christmas movies. But there's something almost artificial about the setting being at Christmas.
Because White Christmas isn't just about the setting, is it? It's definitely a Christmas movie, and not in the Die Hard sense. The final sequence in the movie is the entire cast in Christmas attire singing around a tree. There's a big Christmas number and this is all a gift to their sarge, who apparently needs this? (I'm really fuzzy on the needs v. wants element of this film.) But really, I want to strip away the Christmas from this movie and see if it actually holds up to the close scrutiny of the Christmas conceit. Could White Christmas technically be called Sarge's Holiday Bungalow or something like that? Christmas movies tend to be about a handful of things (assuming that you aren't binging the Hallmark Movie Network or anything). They tend to be about redemption, faith, and change There's something about having dynamic characters at the center of the Christmas movie that tends to be important. Ebenezer Scrooge goes from being an old miser who hates Christmas to a charitable man who experiences life for the first time in his old age. George Bailey realizes that his life is worth living. Buddy the Elf changes everyone's mind about the importance of Christmas. But White Christmas has only minor character change in Bing Crosby's Bob Wallace. While I give so much credit to Crosby's amazing crooning skills, his performances definitely need to be helped by Danny Kaye. Just saying.
Bob Wallace isn't interested in anything but his career. But Wallace is a very good man. He hasn't necessarily met the right woman, but he has the heart of a soldier and the compassion of a saint. He takes Phil under his wing because he's just a good dude (and Phil saved his life in the war). But there's nothing wrong with Bob Wallace. I would even argue that Bob Wallace is the same man that he is from the beginning of the movie as he is at the end. It's only a matter that he's now kinda / sorta in love. Is "in love" a character choice? White Christmas is really trying to sell the love angle as a redemption bit. Part of it comes from the idea that love is a bunch of hooey. I know that the movie states that, but I never really get why Bob Wallace isn't someone interested in dating. He is a professional, but Judy and Betty are both in the same club as he is. Sure, he's a big time performer, but they get the hours and commitment to the craft.
So I guess I'm kind of left with the notion that the movie doesn't ramp up any tension. Betty and Judy are nice, but this is one of those Shakespearean relationships that is almost put together on a dare. Maybe I'm accidentally dunking on Much Ado About Nothing (a play that I quite enjoy), but I don't really get why these two have to get together. Yeah, they end up together and they're perfect. But Bob Wallace isn't exactly tripping over Betty. He thinks that she's nice, but is perfectly content in just that brief meeting. Similarly, it really seems like Betty isn't that into Bob. Is Phil just that clairvoyant that he thinks that these two, with their tepid interactions, were meant for each other? I'm not going to hate on this movie too much, but I never really understood the chemistry of the two leads to make this work. I mean, Phil and Judy make sense from moment one. But Bob and Better don't really hold the movie up in the way that I thought that they were supposed to.
Also, Betty kind of comes across as the worst. To tie it back into Shakespeare, there's a clear misunderstanding in the film that is meant to create tension in the story. At one point, Bob decides to call up some of his showbiz friends to generate some buzz about the show that will be at Sarge's resort. He tells the whole backstory to the host of the show over the phone, but part of the message is taken out of context by an eavesdropping receptionist who really likes to gossip. The information that she takes out of context is the idea that the Sarge will be on TV because his hotel is failing that much. Everyone really gets mad at Bob, especially Betty, for putting Sarge in that situation. My wife and I were confused about this. I'm going to play Devil's Advocate (not the film with Al Pacino and Keanu Reees) and say that Sarge might be one of the most humble human beings in the world and being on TV would embarrass him. The easy thing would to be just to talk to Bob and tell him that it is a bad idea. But everyone starts accusing Bob of taking advantage of the Sarge, which is an emotional leap to say the least. Even out of context, there had to be a real rush to judgment to determine that Bob, a celebrity in his own right, was trying to strike gold on this old man's remote hotel. So when Betty runs out on Bob, it doesn't exactly sell her in the best light.
I think I've mentioned this pretty recently with my Fred Astaire movie blogs, but I don't necessarily love when musicals are about performers. There's a lot in this movie that is distracting from the central plot. There are always these scenes that are in the film as an excuse to add separate numbers and it never really does anything for me. It's especially rough with the Betty and Judy sequences because that duo apparently only has one song in their act that we have to keep seeing. I had to look up some elements of the plot, but I for sure have the tune for "Sisters" stuck in my head because they kept on playing that song. So, you know...not my favorite.
I know that White Christmas has to be on some people's lists. For me, it was simply an enjoyable musical with some over the top patriotic vibes. For a classic musical, it nails it pretty much. But for a Christmas film, it doesn't really do anything for me. At the end of the day, it could be stripped of anything saying Christmas and it would, for the most part, be the same movie. Also, that gift at the end was dumb.
PG-13 for typical James Bond-sy stuff. It's violent, sexual, and now has a thing about torture. There's something more disturbing about a woman being covered and asphyxiated in oil and a woman who has been asphyxiated with gold. I don't know exactly what does it, but it is very upsetting. I would also like to point out that this movie stresses Bond's alcoholism and his bloodlust. Regardless, PG-13.
DIRECTOR: Marc Forster
See, this is actually kind of a treat. I keep mentioning in my Bond related blogs that I used to watch the James Bond movies on repeat just regularly. In retrospect, that probably wasn't the healthiest move, but it did build a love for cinema that wasn't necessarily contemporary. But Quantum of Solace came out in 2008. I started dating my wife in early 2009. Movies stopped really hitting repeat from that point on. My wife gets movies out of her system. So these other Bond viewings have mostly been an exercise to see how much of the movie I remembered off the top of my head. The only thing I remembered about Quantum of Solace were the cool location cards and the hotel sequence at the end.
I guess this makes good exercise to prepare for No Time to Die. Quantum of Solace is its own thing. I know that this movie is kind of poo-pooed. I like it. It has the unenviable task of being the follow-up to Casino Royale. I mean, that movie crushed. It was so big. Everyone saw that movie. Bond was about to get overshadowed by its emulators, then it became bigger than life again. We all saw something special in Casino Royale and the studio thought that they wanted lightning to strike twice. So the Daniel Craig Bond films all about origin stories. Quantum starts right after the end of Casino Royale. And as such, it has to be a natural association as one giant film. After all, that's what the folks at XBox did when they made their adaptation. But what accidentally happen is that the trauma of Vesper's death is kind of minimized with this film. I mean, Casino Royale dismounted so brilliantly. We were left with the stark realization that Bond had one moment of real vulnerability. Watching him rip people apart is a foregone conclusion.
I guess that means that Quantum of Solace faces a lot of the same problems as the Matrix sequels. When Neo flies off from the phone booth, we know that he's going to take the fight to the machines. While we don't see it, the potential of a fight and our imagination are infinitely better than anything that the silver screen has to offer. James Bond has always been this guarded character. We know that he's a force of nature, unstoppable by nature. He's devoted to his job. But we also know that he's the kind of character who has probably dealt with the unpleasant realities of being a spy. But this is the phase of Bond's career where he found joy in killing. One of the biggest problems I had with Licence to Kill was the idea that Bond got too gritty. I always liked the gentleman part of the spy business and Quantum of Solace kind of ignores it. What thrill I get, instead, is something primal. Bond killing indiscriminately is almost something of a curiosity. This is where the writer's strike kind of plays havoc...
See, the way I remember it, Quantum of Solace met the same problem that a lot of different movies at the time faced. I'm pretty sure that it was developed during the writer's strike. That means that the studio didn't really have the time to get this movie right. It really seems like the writers and the director wanted to say something about bloodlust. Bond just keeps killing in this one. Casino Royale toyed around with the idea that Bond's first kills affected who he was. "Made you feel it" and the like. So when Bond goes on a killing spree, it should affect the mission. M gets really upset at Bond's rogue attitude. But Bond doesn't really change his attitude by the end. If the message of the story is that Bond has lost his way, he never really has that moment of awareness that he lost himself in Vesper's death. Again, I blame this all on the writer's strike. The movie wanted to play around with the idea that Bond was closer to Ian Fleming's Bond, lost and imperfect. But the film Bond has always been perfect. We want him to be right because a failed Bond is something that isn't something that is part of the formula.
However, I'm griping about this movie because it is easy to write about things that went wrong with a film. They got Marc Forster to direct this movie. This is Monster's Ball and The Kite Runner Marc Forster. Yeah, Forster is being heavily influenced by Paul Greengrass and The Bourne Identity. But that being said, this movie looks gorgeous. Despite the fact that the movie was hindered by a mediocre script, Forster has the unpleasant job of having to compensate. And compensate he does. I think this might be one of the ore gorgeous Bond movies out there. I love that the more contemporary Bond movies aren't married to a specific look when it comes to design. There's a scene, right at the beginning, where Bond is chasing a double-agent in the catacombs of Italy. Juxtaposed to this is a horse race and it eventually collides. There's a lot of these moments. Coupled with this comes the idea that the location cards are really stylized as heck. I love what was done with the script they had. I mean, I don't really care that Dominic Greene might be TOO Bond villain-y. The way that the acting and the directing came together made a fantastic Bond movie. Yeah, I'll say it.
Sure, I'm bummed that Quantum is really hyped up to be something along the lines of SPECTRE. If I'm not mistaken, Spectre retcons Quantum to being a branch of SPECTRE, but it seems like their big plans for being an underground society didn't really have a lot of weight. I thought the movie was supposed to be about Bond and company looking over their shoulders and questioning everyone in MI6. But I love the idea behind it. At the beginning, Mr. White talks about the paranoia inside of Quantum and the joy that comes with finding out that MI6 has no idea what Quantum even is.
But this one actually has a lot more going for it than I remember. I think I liked it at the time, but now I genuinely like this movie. I don't care that it isn't as good. It still holds up.
PG, because times were simpler then. You could have horrible language, talk about perverts, have a fundamental misreading of a person's sexuality, and torture people and still get a PG rating. Again, this is all about target audience and the target audience was 10-year-olds. So PG makes sense. I mean, I showed this to my kids, so keep that in mind. PG.
DIRECTOR: Chris Columbus
Here's a fun fact: I accidentally watch a lot of Chris Columbus movies. It's not like I plan it. It's just that a lot of family movies are directed by Chris Columbus. Thus, I watch a lot of his movies. In the last week, we watched all the Home Alone movies that had a cinematic release. I'm really trying to put the kibosh on the ones that went straight to TV or DVD. I know we can get our hands on Part 5, which is on HBO Max. But as of right now, I'm going to try to steer away from those movies as much as I can. I thought I was going to write the most scathing blog about Home Alone 2 until I watched Home Alone 3, which may be the most unwatchable movie that I've seen this year. So even though I'm going to dunk on Home Alone 2, realize that I'm soon going to be writing about the third entry in the franchise.
Part of me wants to lay into the fact that this is the Donald Trump movie. It's out there on the internet, but Donald Trump has another weird rule: If you want to film on a Trump property, Donald Trump has a right to be in the movie. Most of the time he's cut. His scene got a laugh. Whatever. He's a monster and his atrocities have made me politically active. But I can't watch his scene without thinking of the dubbed audio that is placed over this text.
Okay, I got that out of my system. Home Alone 2 is what I will from hereby referring to as a "cash grab movie". The first Home Alone destroyed. It absolutely crushed. Kids movies tend to do well because kids have low standards and everyone can go see it. As good as R-rated movies are, they tend not to do as well (unless you are Deadpool). But Home Alone hit next level. I remember seeing that first one in the theaters half a dozen times or something. I think that was something that kids did: saw movies multiple times in theaters. It was the disposable income / our parents paid for everything. When it came out on VHS, I watched that tape over and over again. It's one of those movies. I bet that the studio knew that they had something special on their hands, but I don't think they could have predicted it would have been THAT special. So, of course, there needed to be a Home Alone 2.
But because it was entirely a cash grab, Home Alone 2 borderline became the same movie. Now, I know this takes place in New York. Yup, I get the title. You need to up the stakes somehow. Okay. But Home Alone 2 is, beat-for-beat, the same movie as the first film. Like, it might be the most carbon copy sequel I've ever seen. Nothing was learned from the first movie. I'm sure no one wanted to take any risks because they knew that they had magic from the first movie and that they were going to repeat that magic. Kevin has unlearned all of his temper things. His family is heavy handed with Kevin once again. They even acknowledge that this can't happen twice and that they're going to keep extra special attention on Kevin. They certainly drop that ball. Harry and Marv, against all odds, are back and in the same city as Kevin. (New York is really big, guys.) Kevin forgets that people are just people, no matter how sad they look. Angels with Filthy Wings is back, only in sequel form. Honest-to-Pete, he even finds a house that he can booby trap. There's nothing new here. There is absolutely nothing new to glean. Kevin learns the exact same lessons as last time. He takes on the same criminals as last time through torture. There is NOTHING new to gain from Home Alone 2: Lost in New York.
Okay, there is something that is new. It's an accident and probably not the focus of the film. Kevin is an actually bad kid in the second movie. John Hughes didn't write him that way. Chris Columbus didn't direct him that way. But, in lieu of what happened in the first film, Kevin has way more culpability in this one. See, the first Home Alone was centered around the concept that Kevin thought that supernatural forces existed that were out there to teach him a lesson. Thinking that he made his parents disappear, he goes on this journey of maturity where he discovers that responsibility and rules are important and that real joy comes from the people around him. The dramatic irony is lifted at the end of the first movie and Kevin discovers that everything was a horrible mix-up. He learns is lesson that people are more important than good times. But Kevin knows this going into movie number two. In fact, Kevin gets to the airport. Because he didn't wake up to find people missing like the first time, Kevin is able to piece together what happened that separated him from his family. This is where Kevin's culpability really plays out.
Kevin wished that he could have a separate vacation away from his family. He figures out that he must have gotten on the wrong plane and makes a conscious decision to not reunite himself with his family. In the first film, he thought his family had been wiped out from existence. In the second film, he actually has the ability to be reunited with them in a reasonable fashion and chooses to not be reunited with them. Now, this is probably less evil than, say, actively choosing to sneak onto a plane to New York. But the longer he stays in New York, the more the choice to avoid confrontation with his family falls on him. With the first film, Kevin's Mom knows where he is and does everything in her power to return home as quickly as possible. But with the second film, Kevin's mom has no idea where Kevin is. He could be anywhere in the world. He literally could be dead. That's a real option for her. The fact that he didn't report himself to any ticket counter or report himself to any authority is haunting.
That means that Kevin's mom goes from "Oh geez, something could happen to him at home" to "I have no idea what the status of my child is. Worst case scenario: He's dead. Best case scenario: He doesn't want me in his life." That's a Christmas movie folks. And yet, Kevin proceeds to have the time of his life. When Kevin breaks things in the first movie, he lives in a world where Buzz and his family don't exist. When that shelf comes crashing down, it's because Kevin did the best that he could with the limited resources at his disposal. But in the second film, Kevin willfully and knowingly spends his father's money on junk food and a suite at the Plaza Hotel. That last line about Kevin spending almost a thousand dollars on room service is a genuine concern because Kevin showed such little disregard for the other people in the family that he deemed it fine to waste his father's money. In the first one, at least, he tried being financially responsible.
I don't know what it is about how Kevin treats the Wet Bandits versus the Sticky Bandits that bothers me so. The first film intentionally went out of its way to establish that the police were not going to be helping Kevin with his problems. There are all these attempts to get the police involved. I think I talked about that in the blog for the last film, but the police in Kevin's home town are negligent as can be. But Kevin encounters the Sticky Bandits against all odds, discovers their nefarious plan to rob a toy store and steal money from orphans. There's enough there for Kevin to maintain his independence and get these two guys arrested. Instead, Kevin wants to catch them in the act for some reason, which involves throwing a brick through this nice man's window. (I'm really not sure why Mr. Duncan is SO generous with his toys after this fact.) It seems like Kevin wants to torture these two guys. The first movie, it was about, in his mind, necessity. Kevin really steps out of his comfort zone to ensure that these two guys go through his torture maze.
Now, I know that MythBusters has proven that many of the death traps in the first movie would have killed Harry and Marv. But in my head, they were always these injuries that had an element of suspension of disbelief. Like, I could see guys maybe surviving the paint can thing, even though the MythBusters denied it. But the stuff in this one seem almost Jigsaw-like. The electrocution? I mean, as a joke, we see Marv's skeleton because he's electrocuted for so long. I think that Kevin even turns up the voltage because he wants Marv to suffer? Yeah, I laughed at the brick bit, but one of those bricks should have killed Marv. He takes four bricks consecutively to the head? Come on. That seems like Kevin wants to murder some dudes, not just convince them to leave his house alone. My wife doesn't like the injury stuff from the first movie. I do, but I might be on her side after part two. Part three is just a horrorshow.
But for all my complaints, I do have to give it the context of Home Alone 3. Even though every beat is the same. Even though the movie offers nothing new whatsoever, it is still super charming. Part of that comes from the cast and the fact that we like Kevin McCallister. He's a turd, but he's our turd. Similarly, a lot of the magic is captured in the second film. It's not as good, but it has a lot of things to kind of enjoy about the movie. But still, I don't want to watch the same movie twice. At the end of the day, I'll watch Home Alone 2, but I'll whine all the live-long day.
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.