Rated R for violence and some sci-fi body horror. I never really thought about it before, but it is pretty body horrific. We always think of The Matrix as bullet-time Kung-Fu, but that is only the one element we focus on. There's that whole "real world" machine human harvest farm that we kind of forget about. I can't ignore that there's just constant language. But in a world where people are punching each other through walls, language seems like the silliest things to have qualms about.
DIRECTOR: Lana Wachowski
Thank goodness for HBO Max. I've always stated that The Matrix didn't need sequels. If any franchise has been damaged more by sequels, it's been The Matrix. The end of the first movie ends with Neo giving the machines an ultimatum. He was going to go after them and destroy them all. I suppose that's more of a threat than an ultimatum, but I rarely get to throw around "ultimatum" anymore. He flies towards the camera and the assumption is, "Yeah, he's got this." But the sequel immediately had to nerf him. He had to learn how to fly all over again. Then, the sequels got to this convoluted place where I couldn't tell you what the heck happened outside of lots of fighting and flying and goofiness. I remember that there were twins at one point and a freeway chase. I also remember a really CG Neo fight with a billion Agents Smith.
But Lana Wachowski remembers the sequels quite fondly. If anything, she views The Matrix trilogy as one of those hallowed trilogies that few, if any, franchise has actually accomplished. The majority of us view the first movie as something pretty great and the sequels as "meh" at best. I'm going to go even further and say that the sequels were so bad that it made me dislike the first movie. That's pretty damning and it feels like I'm being pretty hard on those movies. But I kept returning to them, hoping to find nuggets of genius in the sequels. Instead, I discovered as sense of boredom at something that is based in absolute coolness.
Because, for all of its Freshman Year Philosophy, most of us can use The Matrix as a reminder of how cyberpunk we all wanted to be in the early 2000s. The Matrix, and to some extent all of the Wachowskis oeuvre, want to be somehow more grandiose than they actually are. It's prettiness and violence and all of the things that Michael Bay screams about day and night. There is very little substance. Okay, I'm being really hurtful now and I think it is because it is personal. I discovered The Matrix by accident in high school. My buddy Derek wanted to see this movie that I hadn't even heard of and we saw it opening night. It blew our minds. It was nothing like the action blockbusters we had seen before. When it caught on like wildfire, it made sense because that movie was boss. So when I say that the sequels are beyond a disappointment, it is because it tarnished something that I thought was absolutely rad and turned it into something else.
I'm talking with a wide scope right now about the Matrix franchise in general. But I should probably start talking about Resurrections. The Matrix Resurrections is the second best movie in the franchise. That's not a compliment. That's more of a commentary on how rough the other Matrix sequels are. Before I go on this long rant about how this movie probably shouldn't exist, I do have to give it some props. The completely superficial thing is that I have a different relationship with Keanu Reeves than I did in 2000. He isn't the guy from Bill and Ted, although he kind of is. He's bearded and John Wick now, despite the fact that I don't even like John Wick all that much. But instead of feeling like Keanu Reeves is this young upstart trying to make a name for him, it feels like The Matrix is working for him now. That's pretty superficial, but it goes a long way. Also, it's nice seeing Keanu Reeves and Carrie-Anne Moss together.
But I also appreciate that it is slightly different from the rest of the movies. This is where it gets a little trippy because it highlights its uniqueness through its sameness. The film, opening with a recreation of the original film's Trinity fight sequence, has this meta narrative running through it. That meta narrative allows the film to be something besides a natural continuation of an already convoluted plot. Frankly, I don't really care about Neo versus the machines anymore. While that's definitely in the film, it somehow feels less attached to canon than the previous two entries and I can get behind that. Sure, Wachowski will drop references to her previous incarnations left and right, but that is almost fan service. Perhaps it comes across like a bit of a clip show at times, but it helped be get just enough context to get through sequences without being completely lost and borderline angry.
But the movie is...not good? I know. There are people out there who love it. I almost lashed out at them, but I always want to encourage people to like what they like. I get that Lana Wachowski uses a portion of the movie to vent her frustrations about having to make another Matrix movie. There's been this code running in the background of the Wachowskis careers (pun intended) that have felt like they've been trying to market on the fact that they have made one modern classic but haven't seemed to find that lightning in a bottle again. They've made a lot of movie and those movies are convoluted and kind of bad. I don't hate all of them, but I can't say that the banner "A Wachowskis Film" does anything for me. So the fact that Lana Wachowski came back to the Matrix without her sibling is saying something about her frustrations as a filmmaker. This movie is salty as heck about it. The opening is just a slam against Warner Brothers (in a non-allegorical way) stating that this movie was going to be made with or without her participation, so she chose with. If you think I'm overreading that, it is straight up a line in the film. That's a thing.
And I don't hate Meta Narratives. Okay, sure, I'm a little cold on the whole Wes Craven's New Nightmare thing. But that movie kind of did it better. Instead, Wachowski decides to both lament that her hand has been forced into making this, yet try to make this a labor of love and somehow attempt to make it the best of the franchise. I mean, I don't think that necessarily works. There's a lot of "who cares" moments in the movie and elements that feel like a retread. We see this kind of stuff with the recasting of both Morpheus and Smith. It's not like either actor does a bad job, but the movie spends a lot of time trying to convince us that this is the natural way to progress in the film.
It also tries dealing with one of the bigger criticisms of "The One" archetype. It always tends to be a white male. I know that I've heard enough saying that Trinity is far more compelling as a One character, so the movie decides to give it to her. Listen, I think that Trinity should be way more important in the franchise and making her The One in this one is pretty neat trick. It's just that I'm very confused about who Trinity is in this movie. There are people talking about Trinity throughout the film, especially the Analyst. (Note: I have no idea how the Analyst just got depowered at one point. I'm just putting that out there.) But Trinity is barely a character. She's both a Macguffin and an archetype without actually being a character.
I'm one of those guys who really can't get behind The Awakening by Kate Chopin. As an English teacher and a guy working to become a better feminist, it's a bummer that I don't wholly embrace that book. But Trinity is relegated to the role of mother. Because the movie is from Neo's point of view, we can only view Trinity from his perspective. She is a mother and a biker. Why a biker? Because it makes her a strong woman. But one of the major problems that I have with The Awakening is the notion that women shouldn't be defined by parenthood. It's not that all women have to be defined by parenthood. But you know who should be defined by parenthood? Parents. Parents absolutely need to be defined by parenthood. Trinity is put in this situation where she has to choose between an absurd notion that she's a character in a video game or a mother who loves her kids. And she chooses this video game persona. That's a really odd decision. It could be because people keep calling her Tiffany. But if she's wrong, she's just accepting mental illness.
That's the choice that I wish that Wachowski left up in the air. I really wish that she kept playing up the Matrix as a euphemism for mental illness. But no, we get a definitive answer: The Matrix is real and everything we're doing fake. It's a bummer because the Red Pill / Blue Pill thing has been co-opted by conservative social media and it seems like this movie is still playing up the lack of acceptance to facts presented to you. I don't see The Matrix as something that we should have at a time like this. It all kind of feels gross. Saying that we need to stand strong against facts and evidence is not the story we need right now. Wachowski really rides that Blue Pill imagery throughout and that's gotta muddy the waters. If Wachowski wants to be taken seriously as a filmmaker, she has to realize the political implications that her films take. Even when the message is stolen by the audience, the sequel has to address that. It's all very gross.
Also, the Catrix was the dumbest way to end this movie. An after-credits sequence can be funny if the film was tonally ready for it. But this was a dumb joke that shouldn't have been thought of for more than a second.
PG because of unnecessary parent death and some random cruelty towards children. There's something about the Christmas movie (outside of the hot misery that are Hallmark Christmas films) that abuses the protagonist because there needs that juxtaposition of misery to Christmas joy. Regardless, this means that the movie can get kind of scary for younger audiences. PG.
DIRECTOR: Gil Kenan
I don't know how much I could possibly write about this movie. I have all of the children to myself. That's the small problem, so there's going to be no sense of momentum to this writing. But even more so...A Boy Called Christmas might be one of the most forgettable movies that I have ever seen. I feel bad saying that. Like, Gil Kenan made a movie. It's got a big budget and decent performances. It's just that we keep seeing movies like this, especially coming from the Netflix camp. There's this almost desperation to make Christmas movies at this point. I don't see the numbers. I don't know how financially solvent these movies are. But since Hallmark started the War for Christmas, there has just been an attempt to make as many Christmas movies as humanly possible. The flippant part of me wants to say that there's been a decrease in quality. But I think something else is kind of happening.
It was either last year or the year before. (Confession: I'm criminally bad about how long ago things happened. Everything either "just happened" or "happened a really long time ago.") I was applauding the animated Netflix film Klaus. Part of me was rallying behind a company making animated features that wasn't Disney. (Again, I will always love Disney, given the fact that I'm about to write about Encanto.) But I thought Klaus was it. It was a fresh perspective on the Santa Claus origin myth that felt fresh and with a lesson behind it. It was oddly bleak for an animated Christmas movie, but that was something that appealed to me. But given some distance from this movie, I now realize that's all we're getting. There's only so many hardcore Christmas movies that we can tell. The more that we keep mining the same well, the less important these stories become.
It's kind of like that wave of found footage movies. The first one, The Blair Witch Project, was haunting despite nothing really happening in the movie. The element of verisimilitude was what made that movie really work. But when found footage decided to become the it thing, well, we all knew it was fake after that. Genres are tried and true, but sub-genres have an element of gimmickry to the whole thing, don't they? It's a bit dismissive and I think that there is room for multiple Santa origins stories. But there should be something important to say. Maybe I'm just way too up my own butt about this, but shouldn't a movie subgenre attempt to reflect the attitudes of a generation? With Klaus and A Boy Called Christmas so close together, the message gets all muddled. Even Netflix films that don't directly address the origins of Santa tend to muddy the waters. You know how every Hallmark rom-com is the same? The same is now happening to anything Christmas related.
Is there a solution to this? I'm thinking of my two favorite Christmas movies: It's a Wonderful Life and Scrooged. I really like Scrooged, but really I just love "A Christmas Carol". While both of these films are Christmas staples, these are stories about the goodness of humanity. They are deeply moral tales about exceptional people (not always in a positive way) and the environment of Christmas is what escalates an already dramatic attitude. With George Bailey, most of the film is actually in no way related to Christmas. It just so happens that he wants to take his life on Christmas, which is really a minority of the film. Frank Cross...I mean, Ebenezer Scrooge, is a man who is awful all year. The Christmas setting simply highlights how far Scrooge has fallen from the rest of humanity. Similarly, using the Christmas framework allows Scrooge's journeys with the ghosts to be watershed moments for the character. But the idea of Christmas is about the best of humanity.
When we focus so much on the various Christmas origins, especially considering that as a Catholic, we have one that is canon, it becomes so old timey. While Nikolas could be considered an avatar for the viewer, he is imbued with magic that makes him not quite a role model. George Bailey is a role model. Ebenezer Scrooge is a cautionary tale. How Nikolas becomes Santa becomes almost a story of "who cares?" because Nikolas is on the journey with us. Very few of the moments are actually the choice of Nikolas. Part of Christmas is that people are meant to be good...for goodness' sake. But Nikolas uses the creation and distribution of toys to solve a problem that he's dealt with in that very moment. It doesn't really make the story universal so much as a fantasy retelling of a universal narrative. That's fine once in a while, but not all the time.
Also --and believe you me, it bugged me --it has a Jonathan Kent problem. With these extraordinary characters, like Santa Claus and Superman, an origin tale is meant to be about the rejection of a call before becoming something larger than life. With the Christopher Reeve Superman, Glenn Ford's Jonathan Kent teaches Clark a really important lesson with his death: some people just die and Superman can't save them. It's perfect. It's absolutely perfect for the character because it is a god trying to wrestle with something that he may never face, his own mortality. But when Jonathan Kent dies in Man of Steel, it's this really ugly message about self-sacrifice that has a lot of weird implications. It's supposed to be about a father sacrificing himself for his son, but it is totally unnecessary. With A Boy Called Christmas, there's this redemption arc for Dad. Dad is a good man at the beginning of the story, but he was corrupted by humanity. It caused him to kidnap an Elven child. But we don't really live with that moment very long because he instantly regrets his decision. When Dad jumps on the sleigh and dies in that moment, there's nothing really being taught to Nikolas. Instead, it's just this tragedy that never really is explored as hard as it should be. He acknowledges that his father's death is the consequence for his mistakes, but then continues to be this otherworldly being delivering toys to children. It ultimately boils down to tragedy for the sake of storytelling.
But the thing that I haven't even addressed is just all of the elements that are in this movie. There's just so many. The movie tried touching on so much stuff and very little of it is vital to the movie. I love Stephen Merchant's mouse throughout the movie, but he doesn't really contribute anything except for a sounding board for Nikolas. I love Maggie Smith's narrator, but we tend to find little connection between the story that she is telling (which includes a parent's death just to find a tangential relationship between the story and the meta-narrative). It's just all jumbled together into a pretty looking, but not great film.
I wanted to like it. But maybe we need to cool with the annual Christmas movies. Slow down. Develop something new. Maybe don't be so literal with Christmas, but just allow for the story to flow out of the goodness of the season. Hallmark wants to do it, but doesn't really have the skill. Netflix has the money and the filmmakers to take it seriously, but is only concerned about the buck.
Rated R for some pretty brutal imagery. Candyman has always been one of those horror movies that bled out of Clive Barker's imagination. Barker was always known for the visceral more than the actual storytelling. While this Candyman tells the story with the best of them, the notion of hooks murdering folks is still very present. I will say that DaCosta milks the off-screen kills, which seem far more brutal than they actually are. There's also some sexual content, but that's pretty minor when people are getting killed by hook. R.
DIRECTOR: Nia DaCosta
See? I told you! I told you that the first movie was underbaked and that there was something there!
The first Candyman was a watch to prepare myself for Nia DaCosta's sequel. I am so glad I watched it. I mean, I broke one of my own unwritten rules to watch this Candyman movie right now. Normally, if a new movie is going to come out, I'll binge the entire franchise before watching the new film, regardless of how stand-alone the film is. But no one ever talks about Candyman 2 or 3. Also, I went to the library and this was on the Lucky Day shelf. (The Lucky Day shelf are books and movies that have a long wait on hold for them, but they have some copies that just happen to be in that aren't being reserved.) So I told myself to chill out and just watch the movie that I wanted to see. Maybe one day I'll knock out the two sequels that I just passed by, but it might be a little bit unlikely.
The first film was a film made by a white man starring a white woman about the plight of Black people. It felt like tourism to me. There was this vibe that only white audiences spend big bucks on movies, so they put Virginia Madsen in the leading role, despite the fact that this was a narrative about the oppression of Black people in lower income communities. Despite my reservations about the movie, there was something at the core of the film that really spoke to something beyond the horror genre, something pretty rare to find in 1992. It was Jordan Peele who decided that horror movies need to be less obtuse when it comes to finding a message in the story. Horror movies offered filmmakers opportunities to criticize and satire society in a scathing way and nothing really changed the horror genre more than Get Out.
When I found out that Jordan Peele was attached to a Candyman reboot / soft sequel, I thought it was genius. Sure, I hadn't seen the first Candyman because I'm a hypocrite who is actively trying to be anti-racist now. But I knew Candyman's reputation. It was Black horror to me, which always seemed more intense and less jokey than the horror that I had experienced in my adolescence. But once I had watched the OG Candyman, I had hoped that Peele would bring his experience to the franchise. But I keep calling this movie Peele's film. A lot of that comes from the fact that it feels like a Jordan Peele movie. But really, this is Nia DaCosta's baby. There's a visual style here that is accusatory while being unabashedly artistic at the same time.
What DaCosta did with this film is remove all of the ambiguity from the message. With the OG Candyman, which I seem to be holding in more and more disdain the more I write, it wanted to take this really broad stroke at the idea of racism. Racism was something of the past that simply existed today. The eponymous villain was a slave. What happened to him happened in the past and that affected the world of academia today. Yeah, I love that a lot. But it also lacked the nuance of what was really going on in lower income communities. It only hinted at police abuse. It didn't straight up condemn the notion of liberal tourism. But DaCosta's film, in its origin story especially, attacks the notion that slavery was a thing of the past. The Candyman in DaCosta's film is not one man. Instead, the Candyman is a history of violence from 1890 to the present. Every Black man who was abused by the system and tortured in a specific manner became the Candyman. It becomes this hive mind, making the imagery of bees all that more appropriate given the message of the movie. It's absolutely brilliant. Coupled with this haunting shadow imagery, the story genuinely gets scary.
There's a line. I've heard it in other works and in other contexts. "They love what we make. They hate us." The line is referring to white people and the consumption of Black art. I know that I'm on trial with this comment. After all, here I am, a few days before Christmas, reveling in my wonderful suburban home and writing about the plight of the Black man in cinema. Candyman, with both versions, really points a finger or a hook at academia. The notion that a blog would try to unpack a horror movie of this scope is almost forcing me to say his name five times because I'm tempting fate. (I didn't realize that the analogy would work so well before I wrote it, but now I'm just finishing writing because I've written so much up to this point!) DaCosta's version of the film really attacks law enforcement for their shoot-first, ask-questions-never attitude. But the film isn't about a police officer. I don't know that a single officer gets a name in this movie even. But it does torture an artist, a savant out of grad school. He was the child in the first movie, a haunting if unnecessary nod to the original film. But the moral crime that brings him to the Candyman's attention is the academic response that Anthony McCoy has to a brutal story as he enjoys the benefits of his gentrified neighborhood. McCoy almost gets a pass --despite the fact that he was actually baited to invoking the Candyman's name by William Burke, who interests me more than most antagonists. Because he is a Black artist, the movie isn't as damning towards him, despite the fact that the movie ends with his mutilation and eternal damnation. He does receive barbs, stating that artists are the first wave of gentrification. But Anthony seems to be in that position of both exploiting the fruits of tragedy and meaning well from an intellectual perspective.
The movie's end, with Anthony becoming this generation's Candyman, is a little muddy. I love it from an emotional perspective. It's very creepy, watching him being built into this new Golem for Cabrini-Green. But it also doesn't make as much sense as it should. In terms of emotional justice being served, Anthony broke some of the cinema sins that basically locked him into an awful sense of karma. He needed something terrible to happen to him. He did evoke Candyman's name, despite the warnings not to. But even worse, when people started dying around his artwork, he did elicit a sense of sympathy to those who had died. Instead, he only saw the value of press surrounding his work. But there's a missing beat in there somewhere. I was going to post this as a perfect score on Letterboxd, but that might be a bit of a flaw in the film.
Still, I don't know where the low ratings come from. Part of me believes that there are always going to be naysayers when it comes to revitalizing a franchise. But I think that this Candyman is smarter and more impactful than the original. It's a powerhouse that is scary in all of the right places. And as much as the movie is a sledgehammer, there's something really fun and haunting about the film that I can't ever complain about. I'm sure that I might have just been in the perfect headspace, but I won't apologize for really liking the movie.
PG-13 for general Spider-Man superhero MCU action. There's some death in this one, so it might not be for the feint of heart. We took our kids out to see this one --the first movie they've seen in theaters since the pandemic...which may not have been the best decision considering the general state of humanity --and my son really did not care for the death. He seemed to take it really personally. I suppose his empathy had to show up somewhere. Per usual MCU faire, there's a bit more cursing than I would care for. There's some violence because it is a superhero beat-em-up. PG-13 seems accurate.
DIRECTOR: Jon Watts
There's a really weird element to writing about every movie you see. As much as I love love love love LOVE movies, I know that, when I watch a new film, I have to write about it. I know. I could just quit. After all, browsers have now decided that my website is a phishing page, which is really weird because I don't know what could be doing that. I have a theory that when I get in touch with Weebly customer support, they will do nothing to help me with that. But we'll see how this plays out.
Before I go into the deep dive into one of the most anticipated movies in the MCU, I want to talk about the state of movie theaters. Have people gotten ruder or have I gotten older? We planned on going to the fancy, socially-distanced theater for this one because Omicron waits for no man. But we accidentally found out that the theater that had seats was in no way socially distanced. Now, I remember that there would always be kids trying to draw attention to themselves because teenagers are the absolute worst. (Okay, I'm sure that my students are great and completely well-behaved in public.) But there was a kid who straight up dropped the f-bomb during the Aunt May scene. Yeah, way to go emotional vulnerability. Also, people were just getting up during the movie over and over again. I don't know if that's me becoming an old person. But it was something that colored my viewing of the movie because I don't think I've ever sat through such an anticipated film with that much anxiety. While I thought the movie was pretty darned great, I probably would have had more fun if at least one other person in the theater decided to wear a mask.
Okay, actually about the movie. Tom Holland said something along the lines of No Way Home being the most ambitious superhero movie of all time. I can't understand how much hype was actually brought to this film. Originally, Kevin Feige wanted to keep the multiversal stuff a secret, which --speaking of the multiverse --would love to imagine what that world would have been like. The real tightrope that Feige has been pulling with the MCU is that he keeps giving audiences part of what they want. He gives way more than any other producer would do in terms of fan service. But rarely does he give everything. While I heard some mumblings that we were going to see the X-Men in this movie and get some hints about every Marvel property all coming together, it's insane to think of the gets that this movie had. I mean, look at the cast. This was just everyone coming back for the sake of making a conclusion to movies that really didn't have a close to them.
(Note: The Spider-Man Home Trilogy might be one of those few near perfect trilogies.) But the Sam Raimi trilogy really left off on an anticlimax. In Spider-Man 3, Pete and MJ end up in this holding pattern. While Harry gets his plot paid off to a certain extent, Peter's story seems completely like an open wound. We have to imagine what would have happened to him after the mess that Spider-Man 3 caused. Similarly, the Marc Webb Amazing Spider-Man franchise was really cut off far before its time. Andrew Garfield's Peter Parker had just lost the love of his life, mimicking the comic book inspirations and killing off both Captain Stacy and Gwen through his own lack of control. With Spider-Man 3, at least the Osborn threads were cleaned up. But with The Amazing Spider-Man 2, there was a plan to extend these movies into something far bigger than what we got at the end of Garfield's run.
All this takes the key theme of No Way Home and puts it on the shoulders of Kevin Feige and Jon Watts. Feige and Watts were in this position where they almost should have played it safe. Both Spider-Man: Homecoming and Spider-Man: Far From Home played with the notion of a Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man. The central idea was that there were these battles out there that Peter would be involved with when fighting alongside the Avengers. But when Peter was removed from universe-wide threats, his life would be remarkably difficult with these small threats. Yes, Far From Home escalated the story. But really, all of that was a mislead. When we thought that Peter Parker was going to take over the big leagues, we discover that it was Mysterio, a super-charged con man the entire time.
When No Way Home spirals out of control, it's in the face of what Peter has finally accepted about his life. After accepting his role as the friendly neighborhood Spider-Man, he's given a monkey wrench. J. Jonah Jameson revealed his identity to the world. While high stakes for the high school senior, on the grand scheme of it all, it's actually kind of small potatoes for the world at large. It's celebrity gossip. It's a commentary on Alex Jones and all of the abusive propagandists out there, but it isn't Thanos. But it becomes a Thanos level threat when Peter forgets all about his power and responsibility. It's Aunt May who has to present this tidbit to him. (I'm really confused about the status of Uncle Ben in the MCU. I mean, he was referenced in What If..., but that's already a multiversal Spidey.)
But this is where the theme comes in. It would be easy to finally cement the joy and beauty of a small scale superhero. In a world where Captain America can wield the power of a god, knowing that teenage Peter Parker is willing to fight a flying thief or a vengeful special effects artist is easy-peasy. But instead, Parker, through the eyes of the man on the street, imbues himself with morality that other superheroes never had the chance to. It always bothered be that the first generation of superhero movies post X-Men always killed off the villain. (I suppose the same could be said of Batman films, but Superman always saved the villain...minus Nuclear Man, whose actual life was questionable at best.) When Peter encounters his counterparts' villains, he's obsessed with saving them. Do you know how much I love this? Peter sees their humanity, despite their villainous intentions. It's through the eyes of Otto Octavius that we get how important Peter's mission statement in this movie is. Because Octavius was a good man before the accident. While Norman Osborn was problematic before the Goblin formula, Otto tried his best to solve energy crisis. The movie even stresses that he would have been parallel to Tony Stark. So when Doc Ock goes from cackling supervillain to calling Peter "My boy", that's something that's really important to the development of the story. And that's what Feige and Watts did. They gave these characters one more story. We know what happened to these characters. I mean, I don't know what happens to those characters now that the villains have been redeemed, but you know what I'm saying.
But it also fixes something that I always thought was a mistake. I always hated when the origin story shared a tale with the arch-nemesis. The Green Goblin was kind of given the shaft in the first Spider-Man movie. It's not like any part of the Green Goblin was bad (shy of the costume, which fixed it in the exact way I wanted it to be fixed). But the Green Goblin is what we worry about in the story. When Norman Osborn goes full Goblin, Peter is going to suffer. And suffer he did in the 2002 piece. But when we don't have to worry about Peter discovering his powers, the Goblin gets the screen time that he needs to be the threat of the comics. Raimi's Goblin is evil, but I'm actually a little scared of No Way Home's Green Goblin. Because there's a tie between Tobey Maguire's Spider-Man and the Green Goblin. But the fact that Norman Osborn fixates on Tom Holland's Spider-Man shows that absolute psychosis that the character has. He hates the idea of Spider-Man. We also see the villainization of the emotionally abusive father on a new level. Because we get both sides of Norman Osborn, the obsessed scientist and the violent murderer, we can see what Norman should be versus what he is. It's absolutely great.
I feel bad for the other villains a bit. Maybe not Jamie Foxx because he finally got what he wanted out of Max Dillon. (Also, I just read that Max Dillon didn't know that Peter Parker was Spider-Man, so what was he doing there?) But Thomas Hayden Church and Rhys Ifans were both in the movie as well. I mean, I, at first, thought that they had stand-ins, like Red Skull under CG. But then it was them. It was them and they barely got the attention that they probably deserved. But it was great seeing them in the movie as well. I also really dug the Matt Murdock scene played by Charlie Cox. Some people are griping, claiming that it makes no sense that Matt Murdock would represent Peter Parker. Okay, slow your roll. That's Marvel through and through. If it wasn't going to be Matt Murdock, it would have been Jennifer Walters. That's just how the Marvel Universe works.
It's a pretty great movie. While I could talk about the One More Day ending or the stuff that just makes Jon Watts Spider-Man movies work, it would definitely be considered rambling. Even without all of the fan service elements we got, it's a great movie in itself. Sure, Eddie Brock makes zero sense in the movie and that seems like it was just gratuitous. But it is a solid Spider-Man film that I would have enjoyed a lot more in a socially-distanced theater.
PG-13 despite a lot. You know that there's this real desire for this to be a hard R and the studio is just toeing that line. Sure, Deadpool can get away with an R-Rating, but this is a Spider-Man adjacent property. But the f-bomb gets dropped pretty hard. Also, Venom is known for eating people's heads, so that happens. Really, there's all kinds of not-safe-for-kids stuff going on with Venom. Keep that in mind.
DIRECTOR: Andy Serkis
Lord knows I'm being tested right now. I don't want to be writing. But I also know that every Christmas break, I tend to watch too many movies and those movies build up to the point where I spend weeks playing catch-up. So if I don't write this now, I'll have to try to remember what happened weeks prior to writing. And the thing is, I have some pretty intense feelings about Venom: Let There Be Carnage.
I hated the first Venom movie. Given time, I took the complete opposite opinion from most audiences. I saw it as cornball CG trash. But the back of my brain kept saying that I should like this kind of stuff. I mean, Venom himself looked cool. I liked the idea that the movie played up the notion that the symbiote was not only consciousness, but a fully-fleshed out personality. There was something in that horrible movie that could potentially bring about a really good movie. So when the first movie teased out the notion that Cletus Kassidy would become Carnage, I couldn't help but have my interest piqued. Carnage, in the comics, is a big deal. Honestly, I've lost my mind more over the teases of Carnage on the horizon than I did Thanos. Now look at me. I'm completely in awe of Thanos and Carnage came across as a forgettable villain.
Since I'm here already, I'm going to talk about what I didn't like about the movie. Carnage should absolutely be a bigger deal than this. Really, the movie lowered the stakes on just about everything. Sometimes a smaller sequel might not be a bad idea. I know that Joss Whedon (whose name should not have been mentioned) wanted to make Avengers: Age of Ultron a smaller movie. But Carnage is the big bad of the Venom universe. He's a guy who gives Spider-Man a real run for his money. Because he's that agent of chaos that the Joker is for Batman. Now, that's going to ruffle the feathers of the DC fanboys out there. I'm not saying that they are on par with one another. I get that the Joker is the heavy hitter of the DC Universe. But in terms of knowing how bad it gets when the villain gets out, Carnage and the Joker are on the same level. These are both villains who have event arcs built around them. Last summer's Absolute Carnage event was bananas. A lot of that comes from the fact that Carnage's name is appropriate. There is no moral code for Carnage. Cletus Kassidy, like the Joker, loves the notion of bloodshed and fear. We don't really get a lot of that here.
Sure, there's a really cool animated backstory to Cletus Kassidy in this movie. But that is such a set up for something larger and stronger than anything we see from Cletus Kassidy in the movie. If anything, Carnage is almost more about the joy of freedom and the notion that he wants to kill Venom. And how do we know that he wants to kill Venom? Well, Carnage tells us. That's really about it. There's this very artificial relationship between Eddie Brock and Cletus Kassidy. We don't really know why the Carnage symbiote wants to kill Venom outside of the fact that he's his father. But there's nothing that really is sold beyond that initial concept that we can lock onto. Really, much of the movie is telling us that these two have to fight, so they just do. The stakes are just that low.
Also, I get that someone behind the scenes really wants to pay tribute to Natural Born Killers with the casting of Woody Harrelson, but the Shriek storyline just seems to water down both villains. There's something a little too human about Cletus falling in love with Frances. Like the Joker, Kassidy is about the chaos of the situation. There was the Joker / Harley thing (and later, Joker / Punchline). But the foundation behind the Joker / Harley thing was that Joker would always turn on Harley if it meant throwing the world into a deeper anarchy. If anything, giving Cletus Francis makes the whole serial killer thing seem like an act. Cletus really does feel very small in the whole thing and that's a real bummer because, even though I am not the biggest Carnage fan, I know the potential of what Carnage could be. There's this tease that Carnage is "a red one" that never really gets addressed because Venom's first confrontation with Carnage is a success. I know I'm always talking up the beauty of a short run-time, but this might be too short considering how easy everything is.
But the movie does something that does really work: it makes Venom an interesting character. I know that most people would state that the first movie does the heavy lifting on a lot of this and that this movie is more of the same. But considering that Eddie and Venom hardly interact with anyone in this movie, it actually provides some real quiet moments that are filled with comedy. The dynamic of Eddie being used to Venom is actually kind of refreshing. The first movie, Tom Hardy played Eddie as this over-the-top neurotic. There are still elements of that in the sequel, but it never really feels like a sledgehammer. Instead, Hardy seems to be having fun without fully embracing the hammy nature of what this character could do. Sure, a lot of the jokes fell flat with me, but that almost feels just like the humor wasn't for me. I get where the joke was going, but I didn't really need that for a lot of the film.
There was a lot commentary with the release of the first movie that Venom might have been the first on-screen queer Marvel character. I love reading analysis of characters and applying queer theory to Eddie and Venom kind of works. It just felt a little bit like the people behind Venom heard the criticism and decided to embrace it a bit harder. It kind of sort of works, but it also brings up something that is absolutely troubling. If Venom and Eddie are a representation of a nontraditional queer couple, that relationship is completely abusive. At one point, Eddie actually shouts the word "abuse" to Venom, so it really isn't abstract. Venom is toxic as heck. Also, the power dynamic is completely skewed by Eddie as a whole. I don't mind the notion of Eddie and Venom being more than partners in the Lethal Protector game, but that needs to be without throwing objects around the room or forcing Eddie to do things he voices against. Eddie tells Venom what he's comfortable with and Venom actively ignores him. Yet, Eddie is the one who is constantly apologizing to Venom throughout the film. It's almost taking a sick joy out of having the abused claim responsibility for the abuser's behavior. This kind of stuff comes up with cinematic criticism. If one thing is true (Eddie / Venom queer theory), then the abuse stuff also might have to be true as well.
So it's better. I read somewhere that if you liked the first movie, you'll probably like the second movie. Adversely, the opposite is also true. I really hated the first movie, but the second movie was all right. It had a lame story and a lame villain, but the character stuff was a lot better. There was a lot that didn't feel like a boring CG fight, which the first movie did in spades. Grounding the character went a long way, but the movie really has to start really workshopping the story before these movies become great.
PG, but a cautionary PG. This is the problem with no live-action movies ever having the hope of being G-rated. All PG movies are just movies aimed at kids, regardless of maturity level. There's some questionable content, such as excessive vomiting on camera and the death of an animal. My three-year-old genuinely thinks that this is a movie about a dead dog. Regardless, PG.
DIRECTOR: Michael Dowse
When you move, your movie watching time goes in the toilet. I used to watch a movie a day. I had a small, but devoted following. Now I have 35 people checking my page. But because I don't update, there's nothing to really check. Well, thank you, loyal 35. I'm sorry that I'm not posting as much content, but the house has got to get up to snuff.
I showed my kids the trailer to this movie and they weren't excited. Boy, I showed them. Before I start rambling about the role of fathers and how I'm a sucker for a dead dad movie, let's establish that 8-Bit Christmas is pretty good. It's a pretty good feeling knowing that I'm about to turn 40. Every market wants my nostalgia money and, boy-oh-boy, they're going to get it. It doesn't hurt that Stranger Things made the '80s appealing to many audiences. It's odd, knowing that the reason that this movie exists is because a studio knows that there's a clamoring for '80s nostalgia. I always think of the '80s as not that long ago, which is a common thing. But it's like that '60s nostalgia that was going around when I was growing up. It's just there and someone is going to try to make money off of it. But I'm glad that there are these projects that are actually pretty good. Now, I might be alone in my love for this film. I was the only person who liked Home Sweet Home Alone, so my free pass that comes to nostalgia and Christmas may be tainting my opinion of things.
Probably my biggest takeaway from 8-Bit Christmas is that it actively tries to undo the sins of The Wizard. For those not in the know and refuse to click the link, The Wizard was a family film from the '80s that actively tried selling Nintendo products. It wasn't just product placement. It was a collaboration with a company to make their products seem sexier. And to a certain degree, it worked. It was aimed at kids my age to want this magical technology. Video games were and will probably always be cool. But this is a time before the Internet was a home use thing. Everything was about word of mouth. Nintendo needed eyes on products and the vibe that they weren't selling something, despite the fact that they absolutely were selling the notion of a Power Glove. 8-Bit Christmas is almost a commentary on what that commercialism did to us as kids in the '80s. Now, the easy route would have been a direct condemnation on Nintendo for being so manipulative of emotions. The movie is...not that.
The movie is and tries to be a celebration of what it meant to be a kid in the '80s and how that was such a pivotal moment in nerd culture. Never is the word "nerd" thrown around. It was a time period where kids were rock stars for having a coveted video game system. In terms of genre, it's ripe for Bildungsroman, the coming-of-age story. Jake's flashback begins right at the beginning of his adolescence. He's in that liminal state between being a child and being his own man. It's confusing because he still has to wear the boots that his parents gave him. He depends on them for everything in his life. But he relates more to kids his own age. There's this disconnect that is pervasive through the character. Dowse actively tricks us with this story, presenting the parents and adults as people almost outside the world of Jake and his friends. Because Jake is so focused on getting that Nintendo to establish himself as a person who isn't marginalized in high school, he loses focus on the fact that his parents as people.
Dowse presents his parents as archetypes. Mom and Dad just don't get video games because they're so out of touch. Like Jake, we get wrapped up in the commercialism of the holiday. Much like A Christmas Story, the movie becomes about the Macguffin. But the thing that we learn is that the object itself, while absolutely a cool thing that we still kind of celebrate today, covers up the importance of the things in life that are universal. The misdirection that the treehouse provides is so fundamentally key to the central theme of the story. Dowse teases these foibles with Dad that seem like quirks. But when that treehouse is revealed, the object becomes a symbol of something far greater than a Nintendo. The Nintendo, as a gift, works as an ending. I think there's a way to stick the landing with the Nintendo. But that makes it about the parents making that emotional leap. The reveal of the treehouse instead of the Nintendo makes the character change on of Jake. Because Dad doesn't change to get to that spot. It's the acknowledgement that Jake is the one who is changing throughout the piece. Dad has always been this complex person. It just took something physical to help Jake see it.
Yeah, I got emotional. Because the movie never teases the notion of vulnerability until it's there. Seriously, there's a lot of screen time devoted to a kid vomiting Spaghetti-Os all over the street. But there's nothing that sets up a dead father story. And the fact that adult Jake decides to devote this time to a story that really becomes about Dad is important. Because it is in that story that Annie learns about her Dad. Annie starts off the film criticizing adult Jake and, by proxy, Jake's parents. In this moment, Jake teaches Annie that adults are people too. They aren't always right, but they often have the best intentions. Throughout the film, there are examples of adults who come across as absolutely absurd when it comes to protesting. But no on in the movie isn't loving. Well, except the dad of the bully. That guy was on another level. But we get that, despite having generational gaps, these are family members who absolutely love each other. Do I wish that Dad could get on board Jake's love of video games? Sure. But he's also trying and that's what made the movie so important.
But I also have to stress that the movie is just plain funny. It's a really funny movie. It's really funny and a little rebellious. It's got this fun edge to the movie that is super enjoyable. It's a good Christmas movie. They don't need to put on the bumper that it was made by the studio of Elf. No. It's just a good movie. Done.
TV-MA and this is a pretty well-deserved MA. I mean, it's the Witcher and it's anime. While the live-action version is unsettling on its own, the anime feels the need (and rightfully so!) to have bodies explode all over the place. I'm pretty sure some of these bodies are kids. Actually, I know that kids die horrible horrible deaths. There's also some completely unnecessary nudity, but that's something that comes from the Game of Thrones model of fantasy narratives.
DIRECTOR: Kwang Il Han
I'm on this whole Witcher kick right now. It's not like it's an obsession. I'm not there...yet. But I am playing the catch-up game on Witcher because my wife's family got into it and, thus, she was more interested in watching all of it. The Witcher is such a weird franchise. I don't know any series that had three separate mediums that have such wild success individually and in the ways that they were released. The books are the most lucrative literature to come out of Poland. There are die hard Witcher III: Wild Hunt fans. The Netflix show has all this attention. So playing catch up is a little bit daunting.
Before I really dive deep into Nightmare of the Wolf, I do want to ask a few questions to an audience that isn't really meant to respond. I'm almost done with the first book right now and it is a fantastically easy read. Part of that comes with the font that looks like it is stolen from Wayside School is Falling Down, but I also feel really dumb while reading the book. I'm reading these words and just flying through content. I get invested in the story and then there will be a chapter break. There seems to be missing elements of the story that seem to fall through the cracks. I would say it is me, but the TV show kind of does the same thing. All of this, ultimately, leads me to Nightmare of the Wolf. If I had to summarize Nightmare of the Wolf to you, I could totally do it...for the most parts. If you asked me any questions asking me to explain how these things happened, no idea. That's beyond me. I know the chronology of events and the character beats. But there are these elements of these stories that will forever just be puzzling to me.
It makes it hard to really fully endorse something that is enigmatic like Nightmare of the Wolf is. It also didn't help that my wife was in no way interested in the animated adventures of Vesemir, a character that I know is important from the first novel and from the video game. But this is a character that didn't show up in the first season of the show. I know that he's going to play a huge role and the best thing that Nightmare of the Wolf actually contributes to the mythology of The Witcher is the notion of how someone becomes a Witcher. I'm going to go into deep dive nerdom now, but this is a website talking about every movie I ever watch, so damage done I guess. Geralt of Rivia is his own vibe. In the world of The Witcher, there are so many Witchers, but we only really hang out with Geralt (where I am in the disparate franchises, anyway). Vesemir is not at all Geralt. Geralt is this Grumpy Gus in the TV show, so seeing the world of the Witchers through the eyes of Vesemir, he acts more of an avatar to us.
Okay, I'm all discombobulated. Let's talk about Vesemir as the protagonist. While I'm not smitten with Nightmare of the Wolf in general, I get that Vesemir must be an interesting freedom for the Witcher folks. Geralt is almost a boring protagonist. There, I've said it. From what I understand, he's way more interesting in the books, but that's not what this is about. But Vesemir? He's charismatic. He's the product of action movies for as long as we've been telling stories. He's the rogueish archetype, swinging from chandeliers. He smiles when he fights the monsters because he derives joy out of it. While someone like Vesemir might not stick with us long, especially this younger version of him, he is instantly relatable. We know who Vesemir is from moment one because of his brashness. He's the same character we get out of things like Supernatural or the (unfortunate) version of Hugh Jackman's Van Helsing. Laughing at evil is so much more fun than grumpiness, but it doesn't offer a lot of substance. Perhaps it is in the creation of someone like Vesemir that the story doesn't feel very heavy. After all, there is a Castlevania vibe to the whole movie. I wouldn't be surprised if Castlevania was made by the same production studio, because the movie really loves that over-the-top almost comical gore to sequences.
But Nightmare of the Wolf, as I was trying to say before until my undercaffienated mind lost track, is about the world of the Witcher than anything else. Vesemir and his story don't actually seem all that important as opposed to be able to show what can't be seen with Geralt. There's these stories in the live-action show of the violence and immorality of Witcher training. We are told that, by the time that the children are done training, they are no longer really human. It makes it really confusing, especially considering that the Witchers are supposed to be the heroes of the series. Nightmare of the Wolf allows us to see what is being talked about throughout the series. Now, I'm going to flash to Revenge of the Sith for a second. When Anakin turns evil, we really get how far he's fallen when he slaughters the younglings. It's the biggest takeaway for a lot of people in that movie. But we don't really see the murder of the kids. Understandably so. But with animation, there's something less horrific about the child murder that happens in the story. It's still pretty bleak, but it also removes one degree of sympathy that comes from seeing a live-action adaptation.
There's the story of Vesemir's first love and the story of the corruption of the Witchers. But the only thing that Nightmare of the Wolf offers is a background into the world of the Witcher. It feels like the definition of extended universe. Sure, when Vesemir is ultimately revealed in the live action show, I'll have a leg up over my wife about the character. But all of this kind of feels like filler. Filler is fun for the die hard fans. But as not a die hard fan, I wouldn't say that my wife had to really sit down and absorb this. It's a fine episode of something. But as a movie? I don't know if it really hits a lot of the beats. It's fun watching monsters explode and cool fight sequences. However, it never really nails the emotional connections that I was really hoping to get out of the movie. It's fine, but honestly pretty forgettable.
Rated PG for the sheer amount of violence aimed at adults. There's a lot of child trafficking jokes, which I'm sure would artificially bother some people (I don't know why I'm jabbing so politically right now!), but it's a Disney movie. It's less offensive than the OG Home Alone, so keep that in mind when the adults are put through the ringer. There's also a Scarface reference that would go over the heads of too many people to even consider it offensive.
DIRECTOR: Dan Mazer
Hot take! I'm going to be serving some really hot takes today, so strap in. The bigger issue is that I'm going to be serving up hot takes really quickly because I'm really strapped for time. If this blog is shorter and more misspelled than usual, I'd like to formally apologize right now. But I'm going to say it: Home Sweet Home Alone is a far better movie than anyone really gives it credit for. I really think that the majority of reviews are hating on this movie because it is cool to hate something like this. I'll go as far as to say that Home Sweet Home Alone might be the second best movie in the series.
Not to say it's a perfect movie. Goodness, this is not a perfect movie. If anything, it drops the ball on one of the most important elements of the Home Alone franchise: the joys of discovering that there is no responsibility. Because Mazer is doing something kind of impressive --both saluting the original Home Alone movies while trying to create something different enough to stand up on its own --he has to make a sacrifice somewhere. That moment is the slow realization that the protagonist, in this case Max, is free from the oversight and burdens of childhood. He has instant free reign to cause sheer terror in a house without repercussions. While, as a kid, most of us signed up for Home Alone knowing that adults would be tortured with physical comedy in the form of brutal violence, the second best element was how Kevin was going to pretend to be an adult with goofy results. Max, however, was just waiting to be left home alone. He had his to-do list ready and he just flies through it. He doesn't really have that moment of regret, knowing that he's purged his family from his life. If anything, Max is already more world-weary than Kevin. He instantly figured out what happened and understands that he'll be safe, just given time.
But ignoring that weaker element, I like the fact that the movie doesn't have traditional bad guys. I'm going to go all spoilery for a new Christmas movie, but the movie ends with the good guys and the bad guys reuniting a year later to celebrate Christmas together. I mean, I'm an old man who likes tender moments and that ticks all of the buttons. The thing is that it's really enjoyable to see Ellie Kemper and Rob Delaney slowly spiral down this well of desperation over something that is pretty silly. But to Pam and Jeff, they see what they are doing as the way to save their family. That's...actually kind of a big deal. From their perspectives, this rich kid stole their chance to save their kids' house and they just want what he stole back. While part of me guessed that Max never stole the doll, part of me thought that Max was rotten enough to do something like that because he thought it was funny. After all, the first confrontation between Max and Jeff seemed oddly confrontational, considering that Max was sneaking into the house just to use their bathroom. From Jeff's perspective, the fact that Max was acting remarkably suspicious sold the notion that he had lost his family's future.
But then there's also the economic considerations. One of the memes on Facebook, home to Boomers everywhere, is that Kevin's dad made way too much money. Stepping aside and stressing the detail that Kevin's dad, while rich, wasn't paying for a trip to Paris for a billion kids, most of whom didn't actually live there, it does raise this question of torturing the poor. The first movie really glosses over the notion that the Wet Bandits have any depth. We assume they're criminals because they were born bad. That's what the gold tooth is all about, stressing that the Wet Bandits are modern day pirates. They're presented as scoundrels and that's as far as we should think about it. But it doesn't really look like Harry and Marv are economically well off. I don't want to let them off the hook because they are actively criminal. But Home Sweet Home Alone makes really strong use out of the fact that Pam and Jeff are the modern American. They should be able to support themselves on Pam's job while Jeff looks for new employment. But instead, the insane wealth of the 1% reminds them that Christmas is a luxury for a lot of people and the rich don't seem to care about the poor. There's the dream that Pam has about their first Christmas as a family and Max never really has to worry about that. When Jeff's brother opens the rear gate to the SUV and there's a million presents, we understand that Jeff isn't doing anything wrong. Instead, he's just trying to correct a wrong that was done to him.
I like that Home Sweet Home Alone is a little more complex than the Home Alone movies. It's not like it's the best movie, but I genuinely laughed for a lot of it. And on top of it all, it returns the nature of Christmas to the franchise that was lost in the original films. It sounds like I'm ranting about this, but I unabashedly liked it. The trailer looked good and it delivered more than I had hoped for. It has an amazing cast, a solid soundtrack, and tells a good story. My request is to just give the movie a shot. Don't hate it because others do. It's not going to change your life, but it is a better movie than people make it out to be.
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.