PG-13 for violence, potential mass extinction, moral conundrums, and on-screen sexuality without nudity. I learned my lesson from Don't Look Up and put the sex thing last. Honestly, that was pretty shocking. I know that Disney + warned me that there was sex, but it was very awkward distracting my kids from what was going on-screen. It's also weird that I'm going to have shield my kids from Moon Knight. Hopefully nothing canon-breaking will happen in that show because it looks violent as the day is long.
DIRECTOR: Chloe Zhao
It's the first Marvel movie that I didn't watch in theaters and it's the first Marvel movie that I watched out of order. Listen, I take Covid restrictions pretty seriously. I went to go see Spider-Man: No Way Home, thinking that maybe the world got better and it only got worse. Luckily for me, as much as there are major moments in this movie that would affect the MCU as a whole, Eternals is one that can go in any order...at least in the fourth phase of the MCU. Like, it affected No Way Home in no way (home). You'd think that a Celestial visiting Earth would garner at least a comment in either Hawkeye or No Way Home, but...naw.
Now, before you MCU nerds start attacking me saying that No Way Home takes place immediately after Far From Home, I'm going to fight you on that one. No Way Home takes place over the course of months, so there's plenty of time to see a Celestial. But you know what? That's my only argument. So if you know something that I don't know, more power to you.
Anyway, I know that Eternals is probably one of the less successful Marvel movies. I only know one other person who really liked it. Most people I know claim that they were bored. I kind of get it. It's Marvel's riskiest film. I'm not saying it's a completely inaccessible film. Part of it can be chalked up to the source material. But then again, Guardians of the Galaxy wouldn't work if that was the only criteria. Eternals just doesn't necessarily feel exclusively like a Marvel film. There are Marvel elements. Sure, the characters talk about Thanos and the Avengers. Okay, that's something. They also name drop Batman and Superman, which is more off-putting than any Marvel name drop. There's a post-credits sequence. There's connections to the larger Marvel U. But if Eternals wasn't necessarily a Marvel movie, I could honestly see it as more of a sci-fi epic than a superhero movie. There's almost intentionally nothing accessible in the film. Sure, there is some humor in there. I loved Kumail Nanjiani and Harish Patel's back-and-forth. Brian Tyree Henry brought amazing banter. But this is some heavy sci-fi stuff.
I've tried getting into Eternals comics before. My comics collection is insane. I have me some Eternals stuff. But the Eternals are the creation of Jack Kirby. Jack Kirby was a mad genius. He got into some crazy cosmic stuff. While Stan Lee was making relatable allegories for the common man, Kirby was imagining bizarre other worlds, flooded with color and insanity. These stories were the stuff of Frank Herbert and Ray Bradbury. He wanted an excuse to draw absolutely bananas things, so he would create stuff like Eternals or New Gods to justify mind-breaking artwork. I have a deep appreciation for Kirby. In some ways, I love Kirby. But my relationship with Kirby's work has always been one of intimidation. I'm vocally advocating for art to be challenging, but my lizard brain sometimes wants what is easy. Comic books, especially stuff from the superhero genre, tends to be easily digestible. It's not to say that these stories don't go to deep places. I'll argue that some of the greatest moments of melodrama come from the pages of comic books. But the plots of Kirby works are far more challenging. I never really got the Eternals, until now.
That's where Chloe Zhao has done something amazing. Maybe it is because I'm such a visual learner that I appreciate what she's done here. And if some people leave Zhao's version of Eternals completely lost, I don't blame them. But she made something that is relatable, despite the fact that Eternals is composed of alien robot people that formed our cultural history. There's so much going on in this movie that it seems like Zhao combined a wealth of books into one plot. But there's a really strong thread going through the story as a whole. As complicated as it gets, there's a clean thread about truth and identity that overrides the most insane sci-fi premises that the film presents. That's what good science fiction is supposed to do. It's supposed to have us question what it means to be human by seeing these larger than life genre concepts put to the test. For a two-and-a-half hour movie, the movie decides to dole out major character moments every twenty minutes. There's a lot to accept and it has to do with our relationship with God.
That's what a Celestial is, right? I know that Stan Lee was pretty intensely atheist, despite writing a poem about his relationship with God. But the MCU has a very complex theology behind it. Asgard is now the world of other planets, but Thor and Odin are revered as gods throughout history. The Eternals themselves represent multiple religions' beliefs, with Thena standing in for Athena next to Gilgamesh and others. But the notions of Celestials being the gods of science is kind of interesting. There's something remarkably cold and isolating about the notions of Celestials. The Celestials populate the universe through entropy and rebirth. When the Eternals fight back against these Celestials, they are fighting back against God. Sure, it's easy to make the Celestials the bad guys because they are so unfeeling, especially towards the people of Earth. But they are gods in this world. They are responsible for creation and death. There's no afterlife that's mentioned, but that doesn't change the allegory of creation going after the notion of God.
I love Eternals' complex morality. It's really rough. Ikaris is definitely the bad guy for a lot of the film. Zhao gives him his evil moment to justify which side we're supposed to fall on, with the murder of Ajak in the most visceral way possible. I'm on board with that. But it does take some of the nuance of the story out of it. With a lot of the Marvel movies, the villain often has some degree of sympathy. The "Thanos was Right" memes is kind of an example, but it works even better with Black Panther and Erik Killmonger. With Ikaris's choice to support the Celestials, he's--on the most base level --finishing the mission that they all agreed to, despite lack of knowledge of such a concept. But even more so, Ikaris is a numbers guy. He's completely logical in his decision to allow the Emergence to happen. Although Earth has X-number of people on it, he contrasts that to the trillions of lives that will never have been created for this one planet. Yeah, I live on that planet and my morality is definitely in line with the heroic Eternals and their attempt to stop Ikaris. But it isn't necessarily an easy answer.
So when the movie isn't fun (and for much of it, it isn't fun), there's a reason for that. Eternals doesn't coast in the comedy of the Marvel movies because it is dealing with something very complex: what is the value of life? And it is aggressive in the understanding of that argument. The eponymous protagonists find out that they aren't even really organic. They are flesh robots with powers and feeling. But there's this deep and passionate understanding of the value of sentience and a soul. Those words aren't thrown around too much, but Zhao and the storytellers are debating the role of an individual life. This is biblical stuff. The idea that a city wouldn't be considered damned for the value of one good life is something that we've grappled with for a long time. So there isn't a traditional supervillain in the story. Who cares? This is an exploration of what it means to be human. Trust me, my love of humanity has grown really thin over the past six years. I went from thinking that humanity was overall good with a few bad eggs to flipping that dynamic completely. But Eternals screams that humanity is worth saving. I don't want humanity destroyed and maybe fighting for it is what makes it beautiful. Seeing the need for art and culture to expand makes the story interesting.
On a completely superficial level, there are things that bother me about the film. I will probably watch this one this least, which seems pretty damning. It is a long film. It's really odd that Kingo is not in the final fight, considering that Nanjiani is one of the more recognizable people in the movie. I also think that the Deviants are a bit undercooked as a concept, despite having some real potential. But it's a solid film overall. I know that people have been screaming about its beauty and I think that's in there. But I care more about the odd gray area that the Eternals exist in. There's this major Earth crisis and we have to realize how dubious the major players in the story were. But these are people to care about. I was heartbroken at the death of Gilgamesh because Thena cared about him so much. For being ancient alien robot gods, they are oddly sympathetic. And while I can't say I love the notion that gods need to be killed, it does make for an interesting tale.
Rated R for a lot of language and sex. While I don't remember any nudity, there is quite a bit of innuendo and on-screen sex (ish). On top of that, it has to do with an affair. Oh, also, practically everybody dies. I suppose that might say a lot about me as an American that I'm more concerned with people having sex in the precursor to the apocalypse than I am about the mass extinction that this movie is all about. Go me and my myopic perspective. R.
DIRECTOR: Adam McKay
When I saw the preview to this one, I knew it was going to be a big deal. I mean, I was lost on how this was going to go directly to Netflix. I mean, I'm thrilled that it did. It kind of keeps in line with the message that the film gives. But I do love that Don't Look Up as a movie became a parallel tale of how everyone is looking out for themselves and that social media is only making things worse.
I have so many ways that I want to start, so I'm just going to pick one. First of all, it is okay to have your own opinion of this movie, regardless of political message. While the message in this movie hits me in a sweet spot, especially if I prioritize my anger over how America handled it's Covid response over global warming, it's not a perfect movie. I think it's actually about an hour too long and the allegory wears a bit thin in the middle. See? Politics aside, I can be critical of something. But there's this whole thing going on where Facebook is accusing the press of being bias against the film. I don't know if that's necessarily true. Okay, it's partially true. No one likes being the butt of the joke and Adam McKay is pretty rough on all parties involved. But there's an almost conspiratorial vibe about opinions on this movie. We apparently need a good conspiracy to keep us running, don't we? I mean, I'm getting straight up angry anytime I even catch a whiff of someone hinting at a conspiracy, so my dander gets all up in a tizzy. I think that the movie is better than a lot of outlets are claiming, but I also see their points. For Adam McKay, a guy that I'm starting to really respect for his political cinema, he might be doing a little coasting.
Not that it is bad. If we're talking about auteur theory, he's nailing a style. Post Anchorman, McKay has this quick and poppy way to make movies about politics. While The Big Short and Vice were both films that were political as well, Don't Look Up is the first one to write a fictional satire, but it has the same vibes as the "Based on a True Story" works. I refuse to call them nonfiction because he has to fictionalize a lot of elements to make his style work. This also places the onus of expectations on the audience's shoulders. Because McKay has been so successful with previous entries, especially in terms of awards, I can see how we have forced him into a corner of expectation. We want to be able to recognize an Adam McKay satire pretty darned quickly. But sometimes that means that he can't really stretch himself as much as he wants to. But this also feels like I'm calling him less than ambitious. Don't Look Up is definitely ambitious. But it is also preachy as get out.
I love McKay. I love that McKay makes these kinds of movies. They are brutal and accusatory. Not much is left to interpretation. It's great. Some people really need to be called out. But one thing that McKay probably needs to learn from someone like Arthur Miller is to find the intended audience of a film. The intended audience of this film is liberals. We're right, you're wrong. It's a problem that progressives have. We love our high horses and that's apparently enough. But there's nothing in the film that is even remotely welcoming to the people who can make honest change. It is such an accusatory film that it comes across as boorish. And the fact that people are claiming that the media is angry at this movie isn't helping when honest change needs to be made. I'm gonna get really soapboxy, which is ironic because I'm railing against soap boxes right now. Donald Trump is going to be a real thread in 2024. It's going to be a problem. I don't know if progressives can turn around and stop him twice. We keep relying on other people. We also have a horrible short term memory and Joe Biden isn't exactly knocking it out of the park for history right now. Alienating the media right now might not be the best thing in the world for climate change actually getting addressed. Some elements of journalism need to be taken down a peg. I completely agree. But McKay is going to the throats of everyone who can make honest change and doesn't challenge them. He berates them and dares them to continue what they're doing. If it was me, I would do what I was doing, only harder. I would encourage people to dismiss this very important movie for the sake of comfort.
But I will say, McKay did get me to talk about it. I mean, I have to wonder if the people I recommended it to will give the movie a chance. The fact that it is imperfect might make it really problematic. Yeah, it's climate change. But the whole eponymous metaphor of not looking up works really well for coronavirus. There's so much evidence in our faces about how bad things are going in the United States and in the world and it baffles me that people can't just accept all of the data being thrown at them. The fact that hospitals are overrun and that the world is on fire, but we're having people fighting for medical freedom in the face of mass death is so disheartening. And that's what McKay is screaming. As much as this is is a criticism of global warming, it's an attack on the comfort of willful ignorance. The more obvious the message is, the less people are willing to believe it. I remember that I used to find conspiracy theories fun. I'm listening to You Made It Weird with Pete Holmes right now and he's talking about all these fun conspiracy theories. Mind you, I'm in the 2012 episodes right now and I get that he was probably me back then. (That sentence got away from me.) But it's this thing where conspiracy theories have ruined society. We kind of are living in the apocalypse, but refuse to call it the apocalypse. The metaphor of the meteor headed to Earth and it can be seen, yet people still deny it is insane.
I have to applaud some of the performances. I thought it was really weird for Meryl Streep to play the president because I don't think that we have a society that was progressive enough to elect a woman president. But Streep's portrayal of a Trump / Marjorie Taylor Greene hybrid works. Couple that with a Jonah Hill borderline just being Donald Trump, Jr. is dead on amazing. It's all these small moments that really put together this great story. There's also this story of corruption that goes pretty well with the narrative. Randall Mindy never loses his goal, but it is seductive to see how he stops paying attention to that goal. Having him juxtaposed to Dibiasky is something perfect. Dibiasky is such a great avatar for the audience, considering that she's a genius scientist. Having this character who sticks to her guns when Mindy loses the plot is such a condemnation of this anti-science movement. Because it doesn't take much for Mindy to lose the thread. It's a little extra TV time and the fact that people like him. Heck, the only reason that Dibiasky might keep her intentions is that she is so unliked. There's nothing really tempting her to deviate from her path. But there also is that chauvinism that is part of society. Of course people deviate to the male perspective about this. Of course, she's overlooked because she's a woman. There was no scenario where she would be the voice of reason to America because she looks the way she does.
But circling back to the beginning: it is too long. It's so so long. It doesn't need to be that long. The message is clear at every moment. Corporations would do anything to make a buck. People hate facts and love confirmation bias. Science is wildly oppressed. It doesn't need to be everything that it is. Honestly --and I can't believe I'm saying this --maybe we should cool it on the character development. We get that every character represents a concept, so why do they need arcs? Honestly, Mindy's entire affair sequence is a great narrative, but almost gets in the way of the actual story being told. This is a movie about message and that's what needs to be told. It's just that too much is happening in an already bloated film.
I did enjoy it. I actually really enjoyed it. But it is a flawed film. Just saying that something is flawed is not a crime. Most movies are flawed, but they're still beautiful. Appreciating something while being critical of it is fine. Perhaps the media is making a bigger stink about it. But I have the vibe that this is being used as a political tool beyond the original intention.
Not rated, but it probably should be pretty hard R for 1964. While there isn't nudity, the movie is about prostitution and pedophilia. It's a pretty brutal film at times. Because it is 1964, the movie has this heavy tone without showing a ton of stuff. If you just walked in on a scene, there wouldn't be anything necessarily explicit. But the central conceit is pretty gross and it is an uncomfortable watch at times. Not rated.
DIRECTOR: Samuel Fuller
I almost forgot that I had watched this movie over break. It was one of my Christmas gifts, which is horribly awkward when you think about it. When you have a bunch of Criterion Blu-Rays on your Amazon wishlist, sometimes Christmas gets really awkward after the facts. After all, my mother-in-law bought me In the Realm of the Senses without either of us really knowing what it was about. But I can always say that I have received some of the more uncomfortable films from absolutely innocent sources.
I want to jump on the Sam Fuller exploitation train. Part of me wants to like movies like The Naked Kiss and Shock Corridor more than I actually do. Heck, despite the fact that I just wrote about Shock Corridor, I don't remember what I actually wrote about it. I suppose that I could just look it up and find out, but that seems like a lot of work on my part and who has time for that? (You, reader. You are the reason that I write all of this nonsense.) Like many films in the exploitation-noir subgenre, there's a lack of subtlety that comes with these movies. I mean, they are considered exploitation films, so I shouldn't be shocked that the movie sacrifices nuance for grit. But in the attempt to make these hard-boiled cheap films, there's something almost inhuman about all of the characters. It feels a bit like someone who imagines what criminals are like versus what people are like.
Kelly, as the protagonist, is so much. When she's angry, she's a force of nature. The film starts off with bald Kelly vengefully tearing apart her pimp for her rightful cut of her profits. Fuller establishes her as someone who cannot be messed with because she absolutely would destroy you. He's going to use this moment again later with the character, so it is good that it is in there. But Kelly with her own hair is someone very different. She's a saint. There's no nuance. There's no frustration or learning curve for Kelly. She's either going to be a hard-boiled sex worker or she's going to be a nurse who has a way with handicapped children. There's no in-between for her. From an audience's perspective, this makes the movie about plot over character. Kelly is unrelatable from both ends of the spectrum for the common audience. She can't possibly serve as an avatar for the viewer because she's either all good or all bad. Yes, we root for her to find her place in society because we're viewing her from a moral high horse, but that doesn't really allow much room for her to become like us. We're fighting for the good ending because we know that she wants to be good.
Yet, Fuller telegraphs the need for Kelly's downfall. Considering that the movie is named The Naked Kiss, it's ages before we discover what the eponymous terms refers to. Everything about Grant screams messed up and toxic. He's just too perfect and he's surrounded by absolute scum. The fact that he asks Griff to be his best man informs us that this altruistic benefactor for the town is kind of an act. That's not even a read by me. I can guarantee that Fuller is screaming this from the top of his lungs. Because we can't have Kelly having it all, we know that whatever Grant has up his sleeve, it is going to be bad. Now, I never heard the term "The Naked Kiss" to refer to molestation. I am glad that I never knew that term. But it is interesting that is what the movie is titled. As much as "The Naked Kiss" is shocking, it almost isn't what the movie's about. I mean, it is and it isn't. The film is a condemnation of sex work and that's on the movie. But considering how much focus is put on Kelly as opposed to the horrible misdeeds that Grant performs kind of is a distraction from the meat of the film.
Ultimately, Fuller just needed to give Grant some abhorrent vice. He needed to go from philanthropist to monsters insanely fast. It needed to hit Kelly like a ton of bricks. Sure, we all saw it coming, but Kelly doesn't view herself as a character in the movie. She sees this nice guy who turns away the sin and corruption that surrounds him and naturally loves him. It's just that it doesn't really matter what the crime is. It just needed to be gross. So, as much as the story is about Kelly, Kelly doesn't really change. Her change doesn't come from the revelation of Grant's past. If anything, it solidifies her personality where it. is. Her real change comes from the beginning of the film, when she escapes the life of prostitution and goes to this small town.
But that change happening so early also confuses me. The opening scene, again, shows her at her roughest. We know what she is capable of, fine. She then goes to this small town and begins being a sex worker in this small town, this time with a smile. She happens to attract Griff, a slightly corrupt cop who sleeps her her only to reveal his true employment. Kelly has this new personality and Griff reveals how on the take he is in this town while revealing his skewed moral code. But the movie ignores Griff's crimes in the final act and presents him as this upright police detective trying to do the right thing. Kelly, even moreso, takes a hard-left into nursing. I don't know what inspires her to make this choice. I would love to think that getting caught by Griff might have been her inspiration. But the movie never really makes that clear. We just know that her plans shifted aggressively hard and there really is no reason.
And that's what kind of bugs me about exploitation cinema: the strict adherence to archetype. No one in this film is actually a full character. Instead, we get aggressive two-dimensional characters playing types. Those types are sometimes interesting to watch, but they aren't fully fleshed out by any stretch of the imagination. Trust me, as a film snob I want to scream that I love these kinds of movies. But honestly, they're only okay.
PG because kids' movies have to have scary parts. I suppose that Barney actually sees real danger. Also, if you consider Ron to be alive, he goes through a lot as well, including a version of death in the movie. I know that my son, who gets nervous at really weird things, got stressed out at times in this PG film. But it is overall pretty innocent. Because it comments on the dangers of social media, kids are cyberbullied and genuinely depressed. The word "poop" is thrown around (no pun intended) a lot as well. PG.
DIRECTORS: Sarah Smith, Jean-Phillipe Vine, and Octavio E. Rodriguez
I have strong opinions. I don't want to write them out. If you have ever seen a case of burnout, this is what it looks like: a 38-year-old man sitting at his laptop wanting to do anything except write about the movie that he saw for quasi-free on Disney+ with his kids on New Year's Eve. On top of that, the movie wasn't that good. It wasn't bad. I won't say that people shouldn't see this movie. But I will say that the movie is nothing special. There are amazing animated movies and then there is this, a 20-Century Studios film that Disney was just dumping to get rid of it. It lacks real quality and it has a really sloppy message, despite being kind of funny and having some smaller ideas that are communicated.
It's weird that Zach Galifianakis made this movie. I always get the vibe that Galifianakis hates the notion of Hollywood or success and he's just all about art. Maybe he has to do one for the bank account / SEO and then do whatever he wants that will not be as financially solvent, but artistically holistic. But he's in Ron's Gone Wrong, a movie that will be forgotten by the end of the year. I'm so bitter about this movie for no reason, be aware. I'm more in the camp of not-wanting-to-write-about-a-forgettable-film than actually upset about the movie. I know what's going on and I'm not going to hide it. It just seems like this movie is wildly underbaked. I've been listening to a lot of podcasts, primarily "You Made It Weird with Pete Holmes" where all these creators are talking about how important it is to write a funny script. I think that Ron's Gone Wrong has a really funny script with a lot of bad storytelling. Maybe Galifianakis was attracted to decent jokes, but there's so much work that needs to be done.
There are a lot of stories about personhood when it comes to artificial intelligence. While AI has to be a part of the discussion of Ron's Gone Wrong, I think this is more of a relationship with a boy and his favorite toy. It's a less nuanced Toy Story, the more I think about it. I think of the episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation entitled "A Measure of a Man." In that episode, Data, an android, must fight for his own personhood and that he is not the property of Starfleet. Because there is nothing biological about him, it gets into dicey territory about what makes autonomy and life. In the course of about 45 minutes, that episode of Star Trek made me question the heck out of what it meant to be alive. It was deep and spiritual. I agreed with things. I questioned my own biases. Ron's Gone Wrong isn't that. Ron, a toy that is meant to have a base programming, has a corrupted file due to physical damage. Because of this damage, he acts differently than the other robot toys. He doesn't mirror back everything that Barney does. He only has downloaded information the letter A (which doesn't really hold water because of Ron's speech patterns). While Ron does things that the other robots don't do, such as express opinions and calls Barney out on his hypocrisy, there's very little evidence that Ron considers himself "alive."
Ron's Gone Wrong is really on the outskirts of a Black Mirror episode. It keeps punching the same area when there really is a wealth of problematic morality to explore. The movie really wants that E.T. element to it, where Barney mirrors Elliot and Ron mirrors the eponymous alien. But there is something really missing. While Ron has a personality, a lot of that is stressed to be code. Marc keeps stressing that he screwed up in the code somewhere, making the bots way too generic and sanitary. When he views Ron's logs, he views these events as code and the movie supports that. Marc is the sympathetic character. He had these altruistic reasons for designing these toys and none of that was exactly what he wanted them to be. When he views Ron and his interaction with Barney, he advocates for that being his intention. That statement means that Ron is actually a toy. He's a toy. He's intended to be a toy. All of Ron's faults are simply more interesting than the other models of machine.
This creates an interesting element. While the plot seems to parallel E.T., it's really about a boy leaving reality to run off with his toy into the woods. He can't actually make human friends, so he runs off with his toy. When everyone questions their relationships with Barney, there's the notion that people discover that they should put their social media devices on hold for the greater good. But we're supposed to be rooting for Barney. The movie makes Barney's escape to the forest as the thing we're supposed to be supporting. While I don't want the film's villain to find him, it is a better alternative than him almost dying for the sake of a toy that he finds important. When I mentally replace Ron with a cell phone, it becomes wildly toxic thinking that Barney can't divorce his feelings for his social media device and reality. I don't care how cool the toy is, it shouldn't be asking him to risk his life for the sake of its continued co-existence. Barney is actually irresponsibly co-dependent for Ron. And Ron, if he was a friend, would stop his friend from destroying his life for the sake of their symbiosis.
But the movie does actually touch on some things that I really like. These are things that the filmmakers intended, so I'm not really reading anything too crazy. As much as the A-story is kind of gross, the B-stories actually work really well. The robots are thinly veiled symbols for kids' attachment to devices. Every kid in the movie, with the exception of Barney, starts the film as wading through social media as a form of life. While the bots look extremely fun, it is the social media elements that are this dark element behind everything. It seems like every kid is obsessed with viewers and subscribers. Even the fictional company that serves as an avatar for Google admits that everything serves to collect data and advertise to kids. The movie is incredibly cynical regarding the role of big tech with the common person. That's why the juxtaposition of Marc to the villain, Andrew, is so important. Marc serves to be the idealist who goes into tech for the greater good. But Marc is instantly bullied into being a corporate stooge. It's a weird choice to make Marc part of the solution, but it is a kids' movie and we need a quasi-happy ending.
But the role of cyberbullying is probably the movie's greatest addition. We tend to get cyberbullying in hamfisted messages in pop culture. It tends to be the stuff of episodes and it doesn't really carry through into long-form storytelling. But Savannah's entire life is ruined by one moment that seems pretty innocuous. I read the article on Vulture (I think) about the Gersberms girl. That was a joke that the point of the photo. But I don't deny that I found that meme extremely entertaining. A dark part of me was actually kind of disappointed that it was done ironically. But the way that Gabrielle goes through something that was passive for her is very real. She lives with a stigma that really isn't her fault. (You could make a case, but I would roll my eyes at you.) It's a powerful message and the movie gets my applause.
But the movie isn't great. It is just fine. There are so many kids' movies that I end up watching that there is stuff that is going to get forgotten. Down the line, this movie is going to take a lot of prodding to get me to address anything that happens in the movie. It's fine, I guess. But sometimes, fine isn't good enough.
PG-13, but mostly for scares. When you slightly improve on the 1984 special effects, it becomes way scarier. Instead of being stop motion characters, the terror dogs becomes actually pretty disturbing. There are some sex jokes that mostly go over the kids' heads and there's some mild language, but it's really the spookiness of the movie as a whole that can wreck some younger audiences. PG-13.
DIRECTOR: Jason Reitman
Okay, I'm a nostalgia nut. I'm saying that up front considering that I'm going to gush about this movie. It's not even going to be a little bit fair. Honestly, and this is even keeping in mind Spider-Man: No Way Home, Ghostbusters: Afterlife might be my favorite movie of 2021. I'm going to be even more blasphemous. I can't believe I'm committing this to writing that people can read. But I might have to say, Ghostbusters: Afterlife might be the best Ghostbusters movie?
Okay, I'm going to do a little bit of triage after that sentence. If we're all accepting that the 1984 Ghostbusters is the Ur Ghostbusters film, I have to say that it will still be one of my favorite movies of all time. For the sake of vulnerability, it is a funnier movie and way more groundbreaking than Ghostbusters: Afterlife. But my central thesis is that Ghostbusters: Afterlife might be a better structured movie in terms of storytelling. There's always a villain problem in first movies. Well, Marvel has recently started fixing that problem, but older films definitely had this issue. If you are doing a big genre film, the bulk of a film has to be devoted to the origin story of the heroes. The villain has to just settle into a role that plays either parallel or second fiddle to the hero's origin. Gozer the Gozarian, in the first film, is wildly underdeveloped. There's all this cool world-building stuff that is said in passing that I completely appreciate about the original film. But the first film is really about confronting skepticism while developing a solid business model for trapping ghosts in a cynical market. Gozer just happens to be part of that story. Okay. Enter Afterlife.
Afterlife does what a sequel is supposed to do. While there is a lot of origin stuff going on with the contemporary generation of Ghostbusters, Jason Reitman riffs off of his father's work and allows all of those foundations to do some heavy lifting. In doing so, Gozer isn't exactly relegated to a B-plot. If anything, from the first shot of the movie, there is some degree of ghostbusting action happening against Gozer. When Gozer actually appears, they get a bit more attention than the previous film afforded them. This makes Gozer scary. Gone are the days of gimmicky crossing the streams and the random survival that might ensue from it. Instead, Jason Reitman embraces the notion that there is a deep lore to the world of the supernatural that Answer the Call seemed to ignore. It's appropriate that it has always been Dan Aykroyd who has kept the Ghostbusters dream alive because this is all the stuff you felt that Aykroyd added to the canon. I always loved that Ray was the canon guy. Egon was the scientist. Peter was the goofball. Winston was the man on the street. But this is Ray's canon paying off. These ghosts just don't exist; they have a rich history.
But then there's the Harold Ramis thing. I know that the actors from Answer the Call were bummed that Jason Reitman was going to make a movie that basically nixed their film. I can get that. But none of this feels like a reactionary move on Jason Reitman's part. If anything, this feels like Jason Reitman paying tribute to a childhood that was shaped by Ghostbusters. As part of taking over Ivan Reitman, his father's, franchise, he really is writing a love letter to both the franchise and to Harold Ramis. Now, I think I felt what a lot of people felt while watching that big reveal at the end: torn. It is such a loving tribute to a man who made these films in terms of script and performance. The whole movie sets up for it, so it doesn't feel gimmicky. But it also feels like it is toeing a line between honor and entertainment. Is it being done for Harold Ramis or is it being done for Egon fans? Thinking of how many personal connections are tied to this movie, I have to believe that Jason Reitman is doing to pay tribute to an avuncular figure in his life. For me, it was saying goodbye. I know that Bill Murray regretted the deterioration of their friendship, so seeing him in the movie next to a representation of his friend went a long way. It feels just so personal.
I think I have a million things to say about this movie, but I also want to give props to Jason Reitman for mending some of the bridges when it came to Ernie Hudson's Winston. I read somewhere that Afterlife fixed the problems that the other movies created. (Note: I think that Leslie Jones should also be mad about how her Patty was treated.) While watching the movie, I kept getting an itch in the back of my brain wondering when someone was going to address Winston. But then came the after credits sequence. I love that Winston is the only one of the group to really become self-actualized. While Winston was always kind of on the outs of the Ghostbusters, the hired hand who does the schlep work, he's the one who has the healthiest relationship to his youth. He's become wildly successful post-Ghostbusters and owns the firehouse, preserving it for the future. It's not everything, but it's a smart move for Winston. He was able to maintain a healthy work / life balance and that's rad. I also like the idea of Ernie Hudson being excited for Ghostbusters. It's not a secret that Hudson was written in for the fact that Eddie Murphy said no, so there's a lot of reason for him to cast off the franchise. But having his character being the new heart of the series is smart.
But this movie gets a lot of grief for leaning heavily into nostalgia. I can't deny that there's a large heaping of nostalgia. I started this blog with that exact comment. But Jason Reitman kind of does nostalgia right. Sure, it's easy to say that he simply applied the Stranger Things formula to Ghostbusters. After all, Finn Wolfhard is in it as a pretty significant role. But so much of Ghostbusters is about New York. Simply taking it out of the metropolis environment does so much to distance itself from the original movie. You can make this Gozer follow-up that hits a lot of the same beats, not limited to the Gatekeeper / Keymaster stuff. But we have all of these new characters that seem real. They aren't stand-ins for the other OG Ghostbusters. They are their own characters. Sure, the kids are the grandkids of Egon Spengler and there are Egon traits to them, especially Phoebe. But they come to the series from very different perspectives. They have different senses of humor and are super relatable. While Peter was the avatar for the audience, really all of the characters come from this grounded perspective that made the movie completely accessible.
And as much as I said that the original Ghostbusters is funnier, Afterlife is pretty hilarious. Like, I laughed a lot. The chemistry of the kids is wonderful. Podcast is a wonderful addition to a world that probably didn't necessarily need him. But the best part is that the kids never once became annoying. I wasn't watching a movie that tried marketing itself to kids simply to sell toys. Nope. The movie works just as it is and I absolutely adored it. Now, I'll admit that I tend to really like things that I just discovered. But I'm honestly waiting for my pre-ordered Blu-Ray to come in the mail so I can watch it again. It's that good.
PG-13. It somehow feels more offensive than the OG Ghostbusters, but that can't possibly be true. I know that I felt more trepidation showing this one, but it might come from the fact that it is just a little bit more overt. Chris Hemsworth's ghost designs are funny, but kids can also pick up on that joke. Also, there's a lack of subtlety in general that makes it easier for kids to get the raunchy stuff. PG-13.
DIRECTOR: Paul Feig
This movie was supposed to be the great hope. For all of my obsessions with pop culture, my '80s obsession was Ghostbusters. Transformers did nothing for me. The same deal with Masters of the Universe and G.I. Joe. So when my wife and I went to the UK for a much needed romantic getaway, Ghostbusters: Answer the Call came out. (Note: For the sake of ease, I will be referring to the 2016 version as Answer the Call.) I really wanted it to be great. I knew that there was all kinds of gross controversy, placing four women into the protagonist roles that were so beloved for generations. But it was supposed to be the door that opened towards all kinds of Ghostbusters movies. Heck, that Ghost Corps logo starts this film and that is something I rarely see. So when this movie didn't live up to expectations, I took it pretty hard.
But now my kids are obsessed with Ghostbusters. I did my job and I'm proud of that. I knew that they were going to see this movie eventually, so we just watched it together. Because of my low expectations and the memory of disappointment, I watched it from a different perspective. I'll have lots of time to tear this movie apart and I probably will tear it apart. But I would like to state that my kids adored this movie. As much as they liked Ghostbusters and Ghostbusters 2, this movie kind of spoke to them. The disappointing part to me is that it was just newer to them. I know that '80s movies seem really watchable to me as new movies, but from their perspective, these are 40 year old movies. It's like me griping about movies from the '50s as a kid. That's something that is valid to them. On top of that, Ghostbusters: Answer the Call is actually kind of fun. It's got bright colors. It has slapstick. It's obsessed with telling jokes that they'll mostly get, for better or worse. I can't exactly throw stones at this. I get why they like it and it makes me like it all the more.
But it isn't a great movie. It's a better movie than I remember, but that's not something that really holds its own in the long run. There's a lot of talent behind this film. I mean, every single element of this movie seems like a home run. I adore Paul Feig. The Ghostbusters cast is absolutely brilliant. The cameos by the original Ghostbusters is phenomenal. But I'll tell you what, this movie claps on the ones and threes. Part of it is that it just doesn't feel like Ghostbusters. In terms of plot, all of the elements are there. There's the skepticism about the serious sciences. There's the jokiness. The ghosts look right. But this movie feels like one big Saturday Night Live skit. It almost feels like the movie is making fun of the notion of Ghostbusters. Part of that is the fear of the vulnerable that is happening in the movie. There are so many jokes that have nothing to do with the plot as a whole. I'm trying to think of a moment like that in the 1984 version and I don't think that I can. Let's use one of the funnier bits in the movie: the running gag of the wontons.
I do laugh at that gag. It is just so down to Earth that I can't help but giggle. But what does that have to do with the character development. The 1984 version is an exaggerated version of our world. When we have someone like Louis Tully, he's funny because he's such an odd duck in this world that views him as an odd duck. Instead, Answer the Call is a world that is fundamentally goofy. Everyone has their little quirks, thus making the protagonists simply part of the goofy tapestry. And even looking at Louis, he comes across as a lovable loser who is an exaggerated version of real people we know. He's a nerd that we don't feel bad about laughing at. Kevin, on the other hand, couldn't function as a human being. He's really funny, but those jokes don't necessarily tie to the characters as a whole. The same thing with the Dean at the school. Heck, we actually have one dean serve as a stand-in for the other dean. When we meet the dean from the 1984 version, he's concerned with the reputation of the university. The faculty has been in trouble for so long that the moment that they are fired is the straw that broke the camel's back. Instead, Answer the Call decided to go for some really base jokes, making the college that Abby works at such a joke that the dean is more obsessed with flipping the bird and marketing his band than being a real character.
It all seems to cover up the notion that it doesn't want to be 1984 Ghostbusters (which, honestly, is admirable). But it also covers up the fact that the story is not up to scratch. There's an actual villain in this one that rides the whole movie, which is a gutsy and respectable choice. Rowan actually provides elements that the movie needs to distance itself from the classic. Instead of retreading the Gozer storyline, which is teased for a future film that will probably never happen, Rowan offers something fresh. He's grounded compared to a lot of the other characters. Ironically, it seems like he's annoyed by a lot of the foolish characters that the real world apparently provides. While Rowan is kind of rough, he's at least a character that is kind of interesting. There's something that could be done with him given enough development. But the thing is...there is no development. Rowan is meant to carry all the weight of being a villain in his evil cackle. We get that he's bullied because he's a weird dude, but that doesn't really give him a backstory enough to carry it out. I'm going to keep comparing Answer the Call to the 1984 version, so I apologize. Even though Gozer is also kind of underdeveloped, there's this cataclysmic element to the notion of Gozer's return.
Ghostbusters: Afterlife would capitalize on the pseudo-science that Ramis and Aykroyd would put down, establishing that there was a rich history in the worldbuilding that the authors did. The whole notion of an Ivo Shandor and an evil cult that tried to bring about the apocalypse made the villain something larger than life. But Rowan is just a dude who has almost no sympathetic elements to him. The only thing he's annoyed at is the unrealistic world in which he lives. He wants to tear down the world because he's a crazy person. Okay, but that's nothing something that gives the heroes something to push against. If anything, it almost feels like a coincidence that these characters are at all in the same movie. Rowan brings ghosts into this plane of existence; a group of ghost eliminators appears on the scene. And those ghostbusters are just absolutely making leaps and bounds of technological advancement. Holtzman is my favorite character in this movie, but she goes from not being able to get enough power to a proton pack to unleashing another to in each scene she's in. And those toys really feel like Sony pushing the button on being toyetic.
It's just so much. Everything is just too much in Ghostbusters: Answer the Call. Maybe if the original films didn't exist, we could use this as a summer tentpole franchise to replace the Men in Black franchise. But the movie as a whole is a tonal misfire. There's nothing that really feels all that honest or vulnerable in this movie. Instead, it's such popcorn cinema that there was never a consideration for something that could be thought to be a classic.
PG-13 for sexual innuendo and violence. It's so bad, because I thought my kid couldn't watch it because of the sexual jokes, but was totally cool with her watching something where a man and wife try actively murdering each other for the length of a feature film. Yeah, I live in America. There's also some mild language. PG-13.
DIRECTOR: Doug Liman
I actually skipped yesterday. I know. I don't know why I want to write these blogs sometimes. I know that I have a readership. I write that out because it helps me really believe it. But there are days that I don't want to write about Mr. & Mrs. Smith. There's nothing particularly wrong with the movie. I even have a read on the film that would give me something to write about. It's just that my brain gets all foggy and sometimes the tea is too hot to drink, so I can't wake up. Regardless, I should write about this movie so I continue to find value in the Internet.
There are a couple places that I want to go with writing about Mr. & Mrs. Smith, at least this version of the movie as opposed to the Alfred Hitchcock rom-com. (A thing that exists.) But the first thing that I associate with this movie is something it has in common with Mission: Impossible III: the stars of the movie overshadow the story. With Mission Impossible III, Tom Cruise had just done that "jump on the couch" thing on Oprah. It was that time that we all thought that Tom Cruise was crazy. Some of you still probably hold him in that regard, so I won't go too deep into that. But I remember when I saw the movie, I couldn't see Ethan Hunt. All I saw was that Tom Cruise, the crazy man with all of the memes of him shooting lightning at Oprah, was on the screen. I liked the story and I thought it was pretty well made. But I couldn't get past the idea that Tom Cruise was bigger than the role on screen. The same thing is true with Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie.
Their former marriage was the stuff of tabloids. It was a big deal and sometimes is still considered a big deal. Even at the time, people were choosing sides between Angelina Jolie and Jennifer Aniston. Me, I'd like to say that I don't care about such things. I pretend that I'm above it and to a certain extent, I am. But even me, who honestly doesn't care about celebrity relationships outside of the failed marriage of Amy Poehler and Will Arnett, can't watch Mr. & Mrs. Smith without that knowledge of the real world coloring it. Even when the movie was made, it was capitalizing on their tabloid status. Not only had Brad Pitt left Jennifer Aniston for Angelina Jolie, but he was making a big action tentpole movie capitalizing on the drama. Here I am, in the early days of 2022, knowing that Pitt and Jolie don't really work it out and now I'm watching a movie where they shoot at each other about how much their marriage is terrible. There's life imitating art and then there's art writing life. It is awfully distracting. But the movie still works, despite the fact that my brain can't keep performing a Pop-Up Video about their real world marriage.
But the other thing is that Mr. & Mrs. Smith might be a solid piece of evidence on the whole high-v-low art argument. There's nothing really all that artistic about Mr. and Mrs. Smith. It was one of those movies that was meant to move popcorn. I know what Marty Scorsese has to say about these kinds of movies. After all, what are the Marvel movies if just really lucrative low-art. But to criticize Mr. & Mrs. Smith as a weak film because it doesn't aim for those high levels might be a mistake. It really does feel like an apples and oranges situation. How can I compare Mrs. & Mrs. Smith to something like Umberto D? They approach cinema so differently, that it is almost like a grudge fight between them. So when I start gushing about why this movie mostly works, please be aware that I look at this movie from a very different perspective than I do the majority of my Criterion DVDs.
This movie is actually one of my father-in-law's favorite movies. I'm not actually sure if he knows I have it. My mother-in-law was cleaning out the DVDs and I rescued some before they hit the curb. I know that this was in there, but no one said anything about me taking it. (Note: If any of my in-laws need this movie back, just consider it being safe at my house, ready to be returned to its original home at any time.) When I grabbed it, it's not like I had grand expectations for the film. I had seen it in theaters originally and remembered that I had a pretty good time. But I tend to watch things differently knowing that I have to write about them later on. Keeping that in mind, there's actually something kind of important when watching the film. It's not like the film's allegory is well hidden. Heck, Simon Kinberg, the writer of the film, (I KNOW!) has the therapist office scenes in there to verbalize what is happening through the action. But he kind of does have an interesting message that is still pretty darn functional: marriage takes work.
I don't know if I really need to wade out into deep water to state this, but we don't really know our spouses when we marry them. At least most of us don't. I knew my wife for nine years before we got married. Sure, when I proposed, we were only dating for less than a year. My wife told me that I needed to propose quickly and I'm smart enough to know to listen to her when she thinks something is important. But the extended metaphor of two spies on different sides actually really works to describe marriage. With John and Jane, they make a lot of assumptions about who the other person is. While they go into their marriage with true emotional feelings for the other person, there is an element of convenience for both parties. The other person would be gone for work often, so it makes it easy to be a spy under this household. Never is there a discussion of really getting to know the other person beyond sexuality. That becomes the root of their problem. Ironically, once the sexuality became the least important thing in their life and left the role of foundation, the two began running into actual, real-world problems. They found themselves saddled with problems and a partner that they didn't know or actively resented.
The ironic part is that most action movies tend to get pretty quiet once the action starts. The dialogue goes away, shy of quips and punchlines. But Kinberg and Liman actually make both characters quite verbose once the action begins. The drama elements are rooted in silence. Everything is small talk. Both people have walls up. Between the characters, there is no growth. Between the characters and the audience, there is almost a lack of characterization. We deal with archetypes: cold, miserable spies. But once the dramatic irony fades and the two characters are aware of the other's profession, it's odd that real dialogue actually starts. Now, if anything, this means that Mr. & Mrs. Smith is a celebration of arguments. There's that thought that marriage is all about being nice to the other person. But it is only once John and Jane start fighting that they actually discover who the other person is. I mean, it's appropriate that the movie takes place five or six years into a marriage. The person you thought was your spouse is someone very different and the person who argues is your spouse now. You just hope that the person who argues is the person you love as well. I am lucky. I know my wife and as angry as I can get at her, I love who she is at all times. That's what the movie is.
And the action is really good. It's really good and really fun. Honestly, there's something about Brad Pitt in this era of his career that made some fun movies. It has this Ocean's Eleven quality to it. It's this attention to detail while still making the movie fun. Is it life-changing? Probably not. But sometimes film is just about fun and Mr. & Mrs. Smith is definitely pretty fun.
PG, back when PG meant absolutely nothing. There's some mild swearing in here. But there are a lot of sex jokes, including Louis and Janine making out pretty hard. There's also some pretty terrifying imagery, especially when Janosz turns into a ghost nanny and grabs Oscar. But I also showed my kids this, so it can't be that bad. Either that, or I'm a bad father. PG.
DIRECTOR: Ivan Reitman
See, I wanted to write about Ghostbusters II! It's a very different experience, opening one's blog knowing that one gets to talk about Ghostbusters 2 (It's easier than the Roman numeral). I've always loved Ghostbusters 2. I know, that seems like a bit of blasphemy. But I can tell you right now, if Ghostbusters 2 is on, I'll probably watch it. Now, I had a brief Twitter discussion with Doug Benson (Ooh, name drop much?) about this movie. Benson, like most people, think that Ghostbusters 2 is an inferior sequel. He'd probably go as far as to say it's a bad movie. That's kind of fair. His argument had the weight of, "It's basically the first movie over again." Lord knows that I've hated movies for the same reason. I absolutely detest Home Alone 2: Lost in New York for the same accusation. And while I can concede that there are elements of the movie, like swapping the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man for the Statue of Liberty in the third act, that are the same...the story stands pretty well on its own two feet.
Considering that Ivan Reitman directed both movies only five years apart, Ghostbusters 2 feels like a tonally different movie. I mean, it has the same actors and some of the beats run parallel to the original Ghostbusters. And maybe it's just that it is 1989 and film is starting to look different, but Ghostbusters 2 feels less like guerilla filmmaking and feels almost cinematic. When looking for stills for the movie, I noticed that the aspect ratio is tighter. The high resolution of these stills looked clean. The color palate has less of a brown saturation and everything just feels richer. I would give Reitman a standing ovation if it had something to do with the motifs of the film, having a Romantic era painting like Vigo the Carpathian as its central villain. Can you imagine that, knowing that much of the movie was going to take place in an art museum that Reitman made sure that all of his colors would fit within a painting? I mean, it's a stretch, but I want to live in a world where that happened. Realistically, it's probably that first theory of just time passing and Columbia Pictures throwing more money at what should have been a commercial success.
But like many sci-fi action comedy sequels, much more of the movie is given to the development of the villain. We know who the Ghostbusters are now. They aren't completely successful, which does feel like a bit of a backtrack considering that the first movie did so much heavy lifting getting them to be successes. But removing the Ghostbusters as commonplace does do the job of giving the characters some conflict to rise up against. Because I'll be writing about Don't Look Up fairly soon, there is this prophetic message about people choosing to ignore evidence to confirm cultural biases. Harris Yulin's judge outright states that he doesn't believe in "the existence of spooks, specters" or anything else similar. Remember, this is five years real time after New York was almost decimated by Gozer the Gozarian. Faiths had rallied to come together against ancient evil and it only took five years to forget that everyone in New York was pestered by ghosts. Enter Vigo the Carpathian, a commentary on the cynicism of New Yorkers.
While Reitman, Ramis, and Aykroyd specifically comment on the behavior of New Yorkers, there is something fundamentally American that is being satired here. Vigo, an ancient god who has no ties to the present, can only grow strong on the ill will of humanity. This leads me to something that I've been carrying around in my pocket for a few weeks now: Ghostbusters 2 is a better Christmas / New Years movie than Die Hard. Because Ghostbusters 2 is so critical of humanity, it also offers humanity a chance to redeem itself. In the first film, most of the conflict is placed upon the eponymous Ghostbusters. It's the four of them versus Gozer and Walter Peck. If anyone else had to make a choice, it's Mayor Lenny, but that seems like a pretty tiny plot point. If Christmas and New Years is about humanity coming together and purging itself of its negative attitudes, having Vigo and his river of mood slime as the antagonists is probably the smartest move to go. With Stay Puft, the colossus pancaking police cars was the villain. But with the Statue of Liberty, there's this unifying concept that says, "Can't we all work together to believe the world can be a better place?" Look at Die Hard. It just happens to be set at Christmas to get McClane and Holly back together. That's it. But Ghostbusters 2 is all about the potential innate goodness of humanity. It is actually a little vulnerable about it as well.
But I did try watching this movie with a critical eye. After all, Doug Benson has "Doug Loves Movies". He watches a lot of movies too and he has strong opinions. There is one weak element. It's really minor for me, so please be patient as I extend this blog entry to a deeper level than it really should take. If I had to be critical of anything, it's Kurt Fuller as Hardemeyer. I have no problem with Kurt Fuller. He was perfectly cast and he did a fantastic job. Similarly, you may be asking who Hardemeyer is. When you think Ghostbusters, you probably don't think of that memorable role of Hardemeyer. Hardemeyer is the mayor's assistant. He's a minor part, but he actually causes some damage for the movie as a whole. He's the guy who actively hates the Ghostbusters. He keeps Peter Venkman away from the mayor when he's at the studio for some reason. He's the one who stops the Ghostbusters from going to the press with the headline "Slimes Square." But most importantly, he has the Ghostbusters committed to a mental institution when he has the opportunity. The reason that Hardemeyer is a bit frustrating as an audience member is that it is one of the spots where the movie desperately wants to be the first movie.
Benson's argument that the movie retreads a lot of the same ground has some merit. Instead of having to prove the existence of ghosts, the Ghostbusters are in a place where they have to be the martyrs for something that people had a hard time grappling with. Dana Barrett, once again, finds herself at the epicenter of a spectral nexus, this time her involvement with a museum instead of her apartment. I know that there's a line explaining her time away from the orchestra, but I do find it hard to believe that her temporary job is probably someone's career that had to involve a lot of studying. There's Stay Puft v. the Statue of Liberty. But the one thing that made the least amount of sense is Hardemeyer. There was a beat missing in the film and they wanted to fill it with another Walter Peck. I watched a video saying that the first Ghostbusters was about nothing because no single element really gets a lot of attention in the first film. I argue that Walter Peck, representing cynicism, is the true antagonist of the film and that Gozer really is a White Walker situation. (An explanation? If the humans could just get their act together and work in harmony, this problem could be solved before it becomes a problem.)
But Hardemeyer isn't needed for the second film. We already have the judge filling that role. We've evolved past the flint-nosed cynic who can't accept what is right before him. And Walter Peck is actually kind of developed. The fact that I could just drop the name Hardemeyer and nothing really happens means that he's woefully underdeveloped.
But I have to say, I honestly don't hate Hardemeyer. I wouldn't have noticed this weak spot had I not listened to Doug Loves Movies. I absolutely adore Ghostbusters II, despite the fact that most people don't care. Maybe it's my obsession with Christmas stories or maybe its just the fact that I often find funnier quotes than the first film. (I will never dog the first film, pun intended.) Ghostbusters 2 is a much more solid movie than anyone really gives it credit for and it might be one of my favorite sequels of all time. And if you think it is weird how much I'm gushing over Ghostbusters II, wait until you read my blog on Ghostbusters: Afterlife.
PG for mostly abstract concepts. The house is dying. How do I put something in an MPAA warning section with "A house is dying." If it wasn't a sentient house, I would have to put "PG for entropy." Because the house is falling apart, the protagonist is often put in situations of peril. She also yells at her elder at one point, which can be pretty upsetting for kids. The scariest thing is how refugees are treated. PG.
DIRECTORS: Jared Bush, Byron Howard, and Charise Castro Smith
Why do I put off writing? I think I've been justifying being actually less goal oriented in 2022 due to my obsession with habits. It's just so stressful. I knew that there would only be so much time to write over break without others feeling it, so I threw this to a later time. Now, here I am a week later, trying to remember the details to a movie that kind of just fit into the middle of a family friendly break. I know that I've been reading that people have been crying over this movie. I can't say that I'm there. But I'm also in the "Rah rah, Disney" camp, impressed by the movies that they've been putting out. Encanto might be another example of how Disney is in another Golden Era of animation.
Somehow, Encanto is a paradox. It's both an extremely tiny movie and monstrously large at the same time. The world is ultimately contained to a house. If you really wanted to split hairs, it has to do with a self-contained supernatural valley that uses the house as a power-center, but the story is about the house. But considering that the house is alive and oddly the Macguffin of the movie, you really can't ignore that there's apparently this deep legend to this house. It's also got a giant cast considering that the Familia Madrigal is ginormous. It does get a little confusing what the relationship between all of the characters is. But there are some characters that matter more than others. So Disney packed all of this lore into a loosey goosey segment and I'm going to say that it does the job that it needs to.
But my wife was questioning whether or not Encanto had a message that was worthy of Disney. I'm going to give her a lot of credit because she said this before the movie was over. Often, the action sequences of Disney movies are completely superfluous to the very heavy theme. While I love the message of Up, the action seems arbitrary. Not so much with Encanto. It does occasionally put the theme on the backburner, causing us to forget that there is a message about the role of tradition. If anything, Encanto is the anti-Boomer movie. (Okay, I'm talking about the wide paintbrush Boomer movie, not individual Boomers. ) Mirabel is the new Millennial. There's this constant reminder from an older audience that she's in no way special. Some people treat her with kid gloves, but ultimately she's this blight on her family. She has a good attitude to who she is, but she feels the pain of the stigma of her family. She can't contribute like her family can and, despite her enthusiasm, she can't be seen as an equal. It is in the fact that she is entirely defined by her contribution to the society that causes a rift between Mirabel and her grandmother, the personification of disappointment. Abuela Alma seems almost vitriolic because Mirabel doesn't have a gift. We know that Alma isn't evil, but she has this very Disney-villain attitude for holding resentment against the protagonist despite Mirabel technically doing nothing wrong.
It's in this moment that I realize that Encanto being a smaller scoped movie kind of works for it. Because for all of the superpowers being thrown around in the movie, the story is about trying to live up to unreasonable expectations throughout. There are two messages about family walking this tightrope throughout the piece that makes the movie worth watching. The one is Mirabel and her cousins. There's a distance there that comes from the needs of the individual contributing to the collective. Mirabel might get along with Luisa, but the two live in different worlds. They hardly know each other until the powers start to diminish. It is once their productivity is removed that they start seeing the vulnerability in each other. Isabela almost amplifies Abuela's attitude towards Mirabel. Mirabel almost becomes this welfare like character in the family. Isabela loathes Mirabel and finds this unhealthy need for perfection in juxtaposition to Mirabel's almost worthlessness. But once Isabela starts making mistakes, the real person comes out. There is a bond found there not in the the gifts of the other, but in the failings.
But it's in the Abuela and Mirabel relationship that the story finds its real value. Instead of being completely dismissive of the Boomer generation, we get an understanding of why Abuela is so cold to the unsuccessful Mirabel. Abuela has guarded her heart for so long because she's been protecting everyone the entire time. Mirabel's lack of superhuman power represents the vulnerability that her family hasn't seen since the revolution. Abuela becomes this real person unlike many of Disney's villains. (Again, Abuela is not a villain, but she's definitely the antagonist of the piece.) It's when we see her escaping the revolutionaries in Columbia that she becomes very real. It's that age and that forgetting that happens when the heart hardens over time. They have so much in common. Abuela, for her obsession with powers, is technically as powerless as Mirabel and we forget that very quickly. These two actually have a lot in common and it's when everything that is extra is stripped away, these two find the value in each other.
But it isn't a perfect movie. I mean, I loved it. But there's something that isn't there. I don't quite know what it is. My wife was meh about the music, but I liked it. Sure, I'm not going to stream the soundtrack like we do with In the Heights, but it has a couple of really strong numbers in there. Maybe it is its lack of scope that causes it to be kind of forgettable. Regardless, it is worth a watch, even if it isn't perfect.
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.
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.