Rated R for language and violence. It's pretty brutal when a movie has such intense death scenes, but knowing that this is a true story makes it all the more horrifying. The movie concentrates a lot on police violence, which I know is going to bother some people. But it should bother some people. Judas and the Black Messiah asks people to step out of their comfort zones because the message has been hidden for too long. R.
DIRECTOR: Shaka King
White culture hasn't really gotten to know the story of the Black Panthers. The story that has been told over and over was that the Black Panthers were exclusively terrorists. I can't say that I've done my fair share of research into the Black Panthers. That's on me. But the narrative I have been fed is the one that I've been brought up on. It's only after the events of this summer have I worked to educate myself on anything beyond what is experienced in high school textbooks. But can I say that Judas and the Black Messiah is meant to be a teaching tool? I can safely say that I do not know.
The universal takeaway from Judas and the Black Messiah is that institutionalized racism is real. I've been having a lot of conversations regarding the complete person of Martin Luther King. It is very comforting to cherry pick MLK's message into exclusive cooperation. But King was a guy who went through so much misery while speaking out against the establishment. King's message has been perverted and domesticated and that's when we need to look at the complete context of the era. To do so, we need to look at Malcolm X while also looking at the Black Panthers.
I can't deny that Judas and the Black Messiah offers a rosier take on the Black Panthers. But one thing I can contest is that it doesn't paint them as perfect. I'll never advocate for violence. I realize that I'm so aggressively a pacifist that I come across as grossly naïve. Part of that is coming from a place of privilege. I know I don't have to fight for survival, so it is easy to sit back and say that everyone should be a pacifist. But the world of the Black Panther isn't the same as mine. I suppose that, as direct as I'm being, I'm still beating around the bush. Black men and women have been targeted by law enforcement and killed because it was culturally acceptable. There was evidence in the 1960s and there's more evidence today that this is something that has been systemic. Judas and the Black Messiah starts the film with that fact firmly in place. The movie doesn't build up to a place to show that racism exists, like other movies. It starts with the assumption that you have understood this and understand that fighting back is sometimes necessary. With this in mind, the movie paints the Black Panther Party as people who are concerned with community while being revolutionaries as opposed to simply violence-for-violence-sake extremists.
And that's where we have to focus on Fred Hampton. The film portrays him as this dual personality. He is both a great man, but he's also an everyman. Hampton has the passion and conviction to lead this movement in Chicago. He's young and zealous. However, Hampton also is this guy who makes a lot of small mistakes. While he is a promising speaker, many of his speeches lack experience, hampering them from the masses. He sees the world as malleable. But what makes Hampton absolutely fascinating is that he understands nuance better than most people do. There's a scene in the movie where Hampton extends an offer of alliance to a Southern Pride / Confederate Pride group. What Hampton realizes is that, while it may be easy to talk about the divide between black and white, it really is about the system versus the oppressed. He sees these poor white people as both part of the oppression and also as the victims of their own ignorance and economic status.
That's possibly what makes Judas and the Black Messiah something special. The movie provides two viewpoints. I can't deny that we're meant to sympathize with Fred Hampton and his followers with the film. It does take a hard line on that front. But we also have the view of Jesse Plemon's Roy Mitchell, an FBI agent tasked with dismantling the Chicago branch of the Black Panthers. Mitchell doesn't come across as an extremist. He's definitely gross at times, but he really views himself as the representative of law and order. It's not that he hates these people. He sees this troubling element of society that arms itself and resorts to violence. And from that perspective, he really is right. He is definitely representative of the demographic of "I'm not racist because X, Y, and Z." He says that he sees the Black Panthers on the same level as the KKK in the sense that both use violence to intimidate society into making change to their way of thinking. And, again, if you took that one data point in isolation, he has a point.
But to highlight Mitchell's problematic way of thinking is J. Edgar Hoover. I know that I used to look up to Hoover when I was a kid. Being in the FBI was the coolest thing I could imagine. I think a lot of that came from my obsession with The X-Files. But Hoover, in many docudramas, is a fanatic and a fascist. He's obsessed with not allowing any kind of disruption of the status quo to occur. After all, look at how the FBI is portrayed in Selma and you'll know what I'm talking about. (I know I have watched this in the past few years, but apparently I've never written about it.) Hoover sees the big picture and that's when Mitchell doesn't really grow a backbone. There's a moment in the film where Mitchell seems wholeheartedly aware of the evil of Hoover's actions. In fact, he even questions "We have Hampton. Why do we have to kill him?" And it is in that moment, when realizes that it is no longer his responsibility what happens to Fred Hampton that reflects the greater burden on white America.
It is when someone of authority tells us that evil is justified that the story becomes troubling. I don't think that Roy Mitchell is bad guy from moment one. But his manipulation of Bill O'Neal becomes more and more troubling as the story progresses. The movie does this amazing tightrope act of making O'Neal both sympathetic and utterly despicable. The title, Judas and the Black Messiah, as much as I want to avoid Christian allegory for someone who was so violent, really is appropriate. We see Bill O'Neal genuinely bond with Fred Hampton. We see that he understands the need for Hampton's message to be out there. And yet, he still betrays Hampton, leading to his death. There's something very sinister in the fact that O'Neal doesn't actively poison Hampton. Instead, he simply assists the FBI in the murder. By putting him to sleep, he becomes Judas, washing his hands of Hampton's murder. Knowing that O'Neal committed suicide because of his involvement in Hampton's death reads as history repeating itself as well.
This is not one of my favorite movies. I don't necessarily know why. While I adore the central universal message of duality and betrayal, there seems to be a bit too much explanation of history in the movie. Maybe I'm just tired. That's unfair of me, you know. I'm not allowed to be tired. I lead a very comfortable life. It's just that the movie presents the world and law enforcement as particularly bleak and hopeless. I want to live in a world where nonviolence is the best answer. My soul thirsts for that. But because violence is a response that can't be judged sometimes, I grow weary. Fred Hampton didn't need to die. He was a dude who questioned the norm and that seems to be the ultimate crime nowadays. It's really depressing, but it seems to be the way of the world.
Passed. It's a very light musical that has a weird bit of racist stereotyping in it for one scene. But the movie would probably be rated G if the MPAA decided to come back to it. I mean, it has a really terrible sense of morality to it. I'm going to be talking ad nauseum about that. But there's really not too much to fight against. Oh, there's a song about drinking beer. Regardless, it's pretty innocent.
DIRECTOR: Vincente Minnelli
I almost didn't write about this movie because I couldn't find a photo in the correct aspect ratio with the black bars on the side. That's right. I'm very petty. I don't know if you knew this, but you probably suspected. It's just so nice to have the image the way it is supposed to be. But I suppose this blog isn't supposed to be about the availability of properly formatted images. Who knows? Maybe I'll find one down the line and have to delete this whole paragraph.
I'm 90% sure I've seen this movie before. It was in my 501 Must-See Movies Before You Die book so I could just check to see if it is highlighted. I don't really understand the appeal of The Band Wagon. It's on a whole bunch of really impressive lists and I just don't get it. I mean, I get Fred Astaire. Fred Astaire is kind of amazing always. If the reason that this movie gets any attention is because of Fred Astaire and that the movie is in color, I can kind of see it. But I know that the world normally isn't as petty as I am. So what about this movie garners so much attention? I'll tell you, it can't be because of the plot.
The Band Wagon takes Astaire's favorite character type, the performer, and has him take on a subject that I find absolutely abhorrent. At the end of the day, and I want to spell this out as clearly as I can, this movie is about high art versus low art. I'm a guy who is an advocate for both. I love me some fancy pants movies. But I also like watching completely entertaining trash. These different styles of tone allow for a level of complexity and personality that views art for what it is. But The Band Wagon says that all snobby movies are a waste of time and the only way to tell a compelling story is to be a song-and-dance act. I kind of understand that this is something that seems to be prevalent in the musicals of this era.
Give me some credit. I really am trying to contextualize this for this era. I know that cinema, especially in the United States, was almost exclusively commercial. (This can easily be debated considering that Citizen Kane exists.) But The Band Wagon almost seems to be a vapid war on the artistry of film. My theatre major is coming through, but we were always told that art was supposed to say something. I mean, I write this blog, for goodness sake. The reason that I write is that I want to peel away the layers of artifice to find a deeper meaning behind everything. I want to find that universal truth that exposes who we are as a people. But The Band Wagon almost spits in the face of that, in the nicest way possible. When Jerry Cordova finds a Faustian allegory within The Band Wagon (Why it is called that is beyond me), it is something that could be explored. But Jerry Cordova, despite the movie's insistence that he's one of Broadway's brightest and most brilliant stars, seems clueless to what makes high art actually work. Instead of placing Faust in the subtext, he has literal explosions all over stage.
So when Tony has this huge emotional vomit all over the stage, he's supposed to come across as the hero of the story. But in all reality, that behavior is completely toxic to what is going on with the rest of the cast. Why is it okay to stay in one's comfort zone as the primary moral of the story? Tony had a washed up career because he refused to change. He kept doing the thing that made him famous. I will watch a Fred Astaire film any day. His movies are charming and make me feel good about the world. But I also like to see someone try something new and step outside the bubble. For me, right now, typing this out, I have a hard time differentiating Fred Astaire and Tony Hunter. But Fred Astaire has kind of built that attitude into me. He keeps playing these parts of the aging dance man. There's only so many times I can be told that this is a character before I believe that it actually reflects Fred Astaire.
So, to fix the story, they put their faith into Tony Hunter who turns it around on a dime. This is where my plausible deniability completely skips town. It is with these moments that I really question why this musical is so highly regarded. Don't get me wrong. The songs presented, especially the baby one, are great. But they also have no place in this movie. The story that the two playwrights present are this tale of a writer of crime novels who gets lost in his own imagination. Okay, cool. That last song really reflects this. But those other songs, in no way, match the plot of the story. How do we get from sunrise, to baby, to Louisiana, to crime dream ballet? I know. It's a musical. It's a big flashy musical. But this is what always put me off to musicals before. It's the laziness in these moments. I'm not saying that we shouldn't have fun with that sequence involving fixing the play. After all, Singin' in the Rain does it as well. But not even pretending that the story has to matter is just frustrating to me.
And that's what The Band Wagon is to me. It's a frustrating mess. It's a perfectly well performed movie that looks absolutely stunning on Blu-ray. But the movie itself isn't that good. It fundamentally tries attacking a core belief of mine, that theater can be silly and inspiring. It takes a lot of shortcuts when it shouldn't. Even its argument is pretty weak. It tells me that great art isn't worth anyone's time, but doesn't explain why vaudeville is a better substitute. I don't get the love for this movie.
PG and that has to be for witchcraft, right? I mean, there's a scary character in there named The Mandrake, but he didn't really scare my kids. Henry is weird. I don't know what scares him anymore. There's a scene where the Mandrake melts a wall, climbs through it as a giant and nothing happened with him. There's another scene where they are all playing rock 'n roll and he starts screaming like a madman. Kids are goofy. PG.
DIRECTOR: Goro Miyazaki
Let's put this out there. I wrote most of this. I didn't even lose the website and it all disappeared. That's some malarky. I put a lot of work into that draft, so if I come across as a little snippy, it's because of my hatred for Weebly's weird saving features.
Um...I'd like to talk to the manager, please. This isn't a movie. Oh, I know that it looks like a movie and it has the length of a movie. But a movie doesn't just end there. There's got to be more movie, right? (I'm trying to recapture the magic of my original draft and I'm failing. I don't care. I can't afford to write another draft at this point.) I'm going to be going into the most specific spoiler territory of my life because it doesn't actually spoil anything. The movie drops this major bombshell and just ends. Now, some movies can get away with that. After all, there are teases for sequels and the like. This...wasn't that.
The movie's central conceit is that the titular Earwig needs to fix her new family. Like most Ghibli movies, the movie starts with a bit of mystery. There is a mystery woman. Is she a witch? Probably. I mean, the word "witch" is in the title of the movie. Why is she dropping off this baby at an orphanage? The movie sets up these questions and hints that we will be solving these mysteries over the course of the film. We are then given Bella Yaga and the Mandrake and they seem to have all of these mysteries too. And we're given little snippets into the mystery. After all, that is the point of our investment. We know that these odd characters have something to do with the disappearance of Earwig's mother. But we only get these photos.
Now, look, this format has potential. If the lack of answers was a central theme in the movie, I would be all over this. After all, the mystery of her mother could be the tie that stops Earwig from accepting her new family. Okay, that's actually kind of a cool idea. Or maybe it could be something about how children never really understand the complexities of adulthood and vice versa. That could be really fascinating, to see this complex story playing out in the background of a film, but from Earwig's perspective, it only comes across as jumbled chaos. That's really cool. But the movie doesn't really take either approach. What kind of comes out is more of a pilot for a TV show (that realistically I wouldn't really watch).
What ends up happening is that we're dumped with Mom at the end. That doesn't seem that bad, but it slaps the rest of the movie in the face. In my OG draft, this is where I had a major epiphany, so I'm going to pretend to have that same epiphany now. "Oh my goodness, I just figured out why this movie is so frustrating." (See? Flawless.) The movie completely lacks catharsis. I hate myself for writing this once, let alone twice, but there's some really screwed up storytelling going on here. Part of it is me. I'm obsessed with traditional Western storytelling and that makes me a bad person. I'm aware of it. But I'm still going to barrel through my explanation for why traditional storytelling would really help this movie.
Earwig is at odds with her new family. Afraid of change, Earwig enters this household instantly sparring with Bella Yaga. That's okay because Bella Yaga sucks. While The Mandrake has taken a shine to her, he still has horrible temper issues (and it isn't really explained what the Mandrake's actual deal is). But the movie is about them hitting a low point before working to come together as a family. The lion's share of the runtime is devoted to making a conflict come to a head. Earwig manages to trick Bella Yaga into upsetting the Mandrake and it is really uncomfortable for everyone. But then, we get this weird montage sequence explaining that they all became friends after that. Okay, a low point is supposed to be a turning point for characterization. I wish it wasn't done in a montage, but fine. But we never really get to experience how close these people have grown together. When a family comes out of the forge stronger than they were before, we're supposed to see that bond tested. That's the catharsis we need. We watched Earwig and her new family suffer all of the trials, but we never really get to experience how far they have come.
The movie, instead, takes a hard right turn. We see Mom come back with Custard? What is Mom's relationship to Custard? There's a bit of an implication that Mom would come back after dealing with 12 witches, but that isn't exactly made clear. And that's the abrupt ending to the movie. There aren't any lines. We don't get to see what Earwig thinks of this whole situation? This should all sound like this is a tease for a big sequel or something, but it isn't really like that either. It just ends. That's the ending to this movie. So the format of the movie is: Girl gets adopted by bad guys. The bad guys and the girl fight. When the girl is about to bond with the family, Mom shows up. What? That's not a movie.
My wife was most bothered by the animation style. I know that she's not alone. I didn't hate it as much as everyone else did because it still looked pretty Ghibli to me. (By the way, this is where I got to in my original draft AND the paragraphs were longer.) I applaud Ghibli for not being tied to one format of storytelling. I don't know if this could necessarily be considered successful as an outing for computer animation. There were times where the movie just looked cheap and I couldn't really deny that element of the movie. But I do miss the gorgeous hand-drawn animation that Ghibli is so famous for. The opening credits probably do the movie a great disservice because we see what this movie would look like if it was hand-drawn. Golly, I love the opening style so much more than the rest of the movie. Yeah, it's smart to try new things, especially if you are an animation studio as well-respected as Studio Ghibli. But this isn't a win. This is an experiment.
I'm sorry that I didn't write as much as I usually do. I write these while my students are writing as well. I had a few minutes, but I wrote what I could. I really wanted to love this movie, but it really feels completely undercooked.
Unrated in the United States. Yeah, I'm baffled too. I mean, it would be rated R for being a pretty raunchy comedy at times. There's an entire strip tease joke that goes on a bit. There's a lot of sexual humor. There's language. It's got a lot of stuff that would give it an R. The international ratings all seem to aim the movie at mature audiences. There isn't any nudity that I can remember, but I did get a bit sleepy about midway through (Not the movie's fault). But the movie really plays up the drug elements. That's pretty hilarious, if not a little weird. It's an adult-friendly unrated film.
DIRECTORS: Madeline Sami and Jackie Van Beek
Oh man, I thought I was going to get a long period of time off. I had finished my list and I was watching a lot of TV. As much as I enjoy doing this blog, I do look forward to time off. But then my wife and I were looking for a light and funny night and that led us to this movie that we hadn't heard of before. But it was touted "From Producer Taika Waititi" and we were sold. I know that the producer credit shouldn't mean much. After all, Martin Scorsese has producer credit on a billion dumb things. But this was a New Zealand release so of course Taika had to have his name on it somewhere.
I have a really short way to put this movie and it doesn't exactly make for compelling reading: The Breaker Upperers is a very funny movie, but it isn't exactly a great movie. What I'm starting to realize about Kiwi cinema (if that's considered appropriate) is that it really thrives with absurd concepts. But I think what separates great absurd concepts is the notion of a really great movie behind it. I'm naturally going to make comparisons to the other works of Taika Waititi. Waititi is an absolute master of cinema. He's one of the most impressive directors of this generation. (I'm afraid to use the phrase "auteur" after some of the articles I just glanced over regarding Kubrick.) But looking at some of his movies, he tends to have a really great story coupled with absurdist jokes. When I think of Hunt for the Wilderpeople and Jojo Rabbit, I think first and foremost of the emotional resonance that those movies really arouse. Yeah, those movies really cracked me up and I often quote some of the better parts, but I left those movies kind of wrecked. They were these powerful tales about emotional connection. Even What We Do in the Shadows, Waitit's most arguably absurd films, had this emotional throughline that seemed kind of grounded, despite the fact that it was a mockumentary about vampires who have been abandoned by history.
But The Breaker Upperers almost feels like an extended sketch. We're kind of hitting some of the same level of farce that The Naked Gun movies kind of hit. Admittedly, The Breaker Upperers exists in a more silly version of reality as opposed to something like The Naked Gun, but it does tend ot really lean heavily into jokes. Now, this is where I have to make a choice as someone who writes a blog about movies: Is this a bad thing? I get the idea that the writers / directors / stars of the movie were very cool with the tone that they were aiming for. I don't know a lot about the duo in charge of this film outside that one of them really reminds me of Kristin Wiig. But this kind of feels like a passion project for these two. The movie really just aims for being funny. It's not like there isn't any vulnerability in this movie, but it is very limited and often the film uses the silliness of the tone as a whole to explain away how people would react in similar situations.
But then let's talk about what the movie is trying to get at. This is a movie, for all of its obsession with rollicking comedy, that comments on morality and friendship. The movie hinges on the concept that these two protagonists are doing something immoral. Yeah, I will say that the choice to dump people professionally seems pretty sketch. But there is something that kind of hangs in the background of the movie with the notion that some relationships can be considered toxic. Sure, Mel and Jen do some pretty sketchy things to help people break up. I'm sure that pretending that people are dead is pretty gross. But there is the notion that maybe these relationships should be disrupted. In a perfect world, people would be breaking up by themselves. But then the movie presents the situation of Jordan. The big joke is that Jordan is kind of a moron, but he's an adorable moron. He's an archetype, that's for sure. Jordan is this nice kid (that ends up being a running gag) who is in this relationship where he's bullied into staying into it. Jordan, by the way, seems morally questionable through his own stupidity. But Sepa is this absolutely toxic element in his life. I know that the movie gets them back together under the pretense that they were made for each other, a notion I probably contest pretty hard. I really think that Sepa is more of a way to close up the film without too many strings attached.
But the bigger question is how people take advantage of each other. Mel is this character who seemingly has it all together. That's adorable for me to say considering she gets pregnant with an 18 year old and ends the movie single and pregnant. But Mel has this healthy attitude towards life. She sees the best in people and she wants to be this instrument for goodness in the world. She views this service of helping people breaking up as something potentially normal. Now, I'm really straying into the world of moral relativism, but this is an absurd movie so I have to shift my perspective a little bit. But Jen seems to be this self-destructive element. She seems to be the primary protagonist in this movie because she has the greatest changes in her story. She goes from being a coke addled drunk to becoming vulnerable for a friend. Yeah, it isn't a great change, but it is enough to be considered something of a character arc. But she realizes that everything isn't about the self or romance. Yeah, from an outside perspective, this is a pretty mild lesson to learn. But again, I told you that there wasn't too much to write about.
I'm going to quit while I'm ahead. I guess I'm allowed to have little to say. It's a cute movie that lacks almost any substance. But in terms of laughs, it kind of crushes. It's hilarious if nothing else.
Not rated, but at this point, do I really need to point out what happens in a Zatoichi movie? There's just a ton of death, but most of it is bloodless. In this specific entry, Zatoichi gets beaten up and bloodied, but it is actually kind of mild considering. Also, there's a prostitute who gets really really drunk at one point. But if that's all I have to say about a movie needing an informal MPAA rating, it's mostly fine. Not rated.
DIRECTOR: Tokuzo Tanaka
People who produce a lot of content need to go into each entry with the concept that "this entry may be someone's first entry". While the whole purpose of this blog is to express my love of film and to view film critically, it is really hard to write about each and every Zatoichi film like I did that first entry (which I technically haven't written about because I started watching these movies more than four years ago). There are a lot of movies in that box set and a lot of them get a little repetitive. But I'm going to try my best and discuss Zatoichi's Vengeance (which sounds remarkably similar to Zatoichi's Revenge) with a cool head (and a keen eye).
This movie has nothing to do with vengeance. There. I said it. I was in this sweet spot in the Zatoichi movies where the title of the movie actually kind of reflected the story that took place. These were titles like Zatoichi and the Chess Expert and Zatoichi and the Doomed Man. They were about the titular character meeting a chess expert and the titular character meeting a doomed man, respectively. How great is that? But I don't know why they would go back to generic naming. Marvel kind of did this for a while. They realized during their Ultimate line that generic covers of the hero in cool poses tended to sell more comics than covers that gave an indication of the content within. Maybe the Zatoichi movies kind of did the same thing. All I know is that Zatoichi gets zero vengeance in this one. If anything, he's trying to minimize the amount of damage he is doing. If anything, it's anti-vengeance. It's un-vengeance. Just don't call the movie Zatoichi's Vengeance.
One of the things I keep talking about with the Zatoichi movies is the concept that the filmmakers are really afraid to shake up the formula. They keep introducing ideas that should be absolutely amazing, but keep backing down before that idea comes into play. In this one, Zatoichi meets a guy who out-Zatoichis him. Like many stories, Zatoichi revolves around a hero who lacks a fundamental sense, making differently abled. Like many movies, Zatoichi gains such strength in his other senses that he almost becomes superheroic, you know, like Daredevil. He's an amazing swordsman who has a sixth sense about traps and cheats. In this case, Zatoichi meets another blind man. This blind man doesn't have sword superpowers like Zatoichi. But he somehow can see even more than Zatoichi can. While Zatoichi's hearing acts kind of like Matt Murdock's radar sense, this blind man can see into the soul of people and know things that cannot be known. Again, both of these blind men don't TECHNICALLY have powers, but we get that they are more in tune with the universe, or however you want to explain how they can do these amazing acts.
But this blind monk is everything that Zatoichi is not. While Zatoichi has used his blindness to cheat people who would cheat him, he's mostly been considerd extremely noble up to this point. He's the hero of the story, after all. He's the guy who shows up in this small town that's been overwhelmed by a corrupt boss and takes down the army of cocky assassins to save the poor people of this town. But this blind monk puts Zatoichi in his place. This is the kind of stuff I like. I mean, I rail against it sometimes, but I like it in the case of Zatoichi, who has gotten a free pass for a long time. (I'm referring to how everyone criticizes the Doctor's practices from Doctor Who. Why is everyone so up in arms with his behavior?) Zatoichi tends to think with his sword. It makes sense. He, after all, is Zatoichi the blind swordsman. He has killed scores of people, all of whom, in his mind, deserved it. But the monk brings up the idea that maybe death shouldn't be the answer.
And the way he really drives this point home? Taichi. I know, his name is spelled Tai Chi and that's why I remember it without looking it up. The 36th Chamber of Shaolin has the main character named San Ta, so Taichi is completely acceptable. When I was writing the MPAA section of this blog, I was wondering if I should bring in Taichi into that section. He's this kid who looks up to Zatoichi. Now, there's something really meta about it all. Zatoichi has always been the far more tame samurai film than stuff like, say, Lone Wolf and Cub. While both franchises involve a samurai who travels the countryside and murders just ungodly amounts of people, I can get complacent that Zatoichi is fine because there's so little blood. But Taichi is the audience. He's someone who sees Zatoichi as heroic because he murders the bad guy and the monk at least gives pause to Zatoichi. I adore this. I mean, I'd really adore this if they followed through on this.
The monk isn't an antagonist to Zatoichi. If anything, he's a friend that I would like to see in future entries. (That's probably not going to happen.) But I like the idea that Zatoichi needs to be called out on implementing the same things over and over again. I mean, he does it in a friendly and helpful way. The way that he presents this advice involves knowing that, one day, he'll meet someone who will out swordsman him. (I don't know the term. Just know that he'll die by the sword.) It's good advice. So if Zatoichi wants to be the best protagonist, he needs to find nonviolent ways to solve conflicts. And it really affects Zatoichi...
...I mean, not enough to do anything about it.
Sure, there's the moment where he gets himself beaten up. But he didn't even really understand the monk's advice. The point is that the movie really hinges on Zatoichi learning his lesson the hard way. It seems like he conceptually gets that the sword will be his undoing, but it never really plays out that way. I can almost guarantee you that the rest of the movie involve heavy amounts of swordplay as he cuts down people who try to cheat him and others. I mean, I don't think that the folks making the Zatoichi movies are willing to abandon their formula at this point or at any other point. It's the central conceit of the movies and just because the movie addresses this problem doesn't mean that they are going to do anything about it. It's all smoke and mirrors.
I would also like to discuss a really weird thing in the movie. Let's write off that the series wasn't going to listen to its central theme for a second. We can always delude ourselves to know that the monk's way influenced him in small ways that we'll never understand. Fine. But the movie goes out of its way to establish that Zatoichi has a weakness like kryptonite. Like Daredevil, Zatoichi can be disoriented by loud noise. It's a very cool weapon against him and we see that it really bothers him early in the film when he's at the festival with Taichi. The movie sets up that he can't stand to be around noise. So when the bad guys decide to use this against him, it should work. Heck, it's a great addition to the mythos. The bad guys bring these giant drums and start the process of throwing him off his game...
...and nothing happens. We have invested in a rule that the movie went out of its way to establish for us and then nothing happens. That's not fair. Don't tell me that there's a weakness. Find a way around it, but don't just ignore your own rules. That's a big thing for me and movies. When a movie sets up a set of rules early on, we're allowed to find loopholes, but we're not allowed to just ignore those rules. It's such a cool shot too. The bad guys just come in and we get everything in profile that creates this great visual. But ultimately, that image means nothing because nothing in this movie really matters.
That's what makes me constantly disappointed in the Zatoichi movies. I love the character. I really like the action. But nothing in these movies matters. Zatoichi has no chance of real danger because the movies keep retreating to their safe place any time real stakes come into the storyline. It's a bummer, but I also get it.
PG-13 for mostly bloodless murder constantly happening. I know that the Assassin's Creed video games tend to get remarkably violent, but it is that dangerous kind of violence that we tend to ignore because it becomes commonplace. There's also a very dodgey morality in the Assassin's Creed series that implies that religion may be the downfall of all humanity. I mean, as PG-13 as this movie actually is, the higher level complexity of the franchise might really be pulling towards an older demographic. At the end of the day, Assassin's Creed might be a really dark attempt to justify relativism. PG-13.
DIRECTOR: Justin Kurzel
I think I know where this one went off the rails. It's hard to vocalize it, but it definitely did go off the rails pretty fast. The thing is, I might be the perfect demographic for this movie. If it wasn't a snow day, there would be a chance that I would be spending my few minutes knocking out one of three Assassin's Creed games I'm currently playing. (If you were wondering, those games were Assassin's Creed: Origins, Assassin's Creed India, and Assassin's Creed III: Liberation). Like, I know this franchise pretty well. Sure, I'm behind because these games are massive and I refuse to only play one franchise until I die, but I think I get it at this point.
When I say that I'm the demographic for the Assassin's Creed movie, I really want to put that not as an age thing, but as a guy who knows his series. This movie was made specifically for me and people like me. We really love this series (despite its very questionable morality) and want to explore the mythology deeper. But...video games already have an uphill battle. With the exception of Sonic the Hedgehog and Pokemon: Detective Pikachu, both movies which happen to have a really light tone and little attachment to deepcut mythology, video game movies tend to...suck? Like, it's kind of a thing at this point. The reason that I can point out Sonic and Pokemon because they are the by-far exception to the rule. So when a movie that comes out that tries to hit every market, from the die hard Assassin's Creed fan to the person who has no idea what's up, it's going to fail pretty darn hard. There are so many moments where I just watched the movie fall flat on its face.
And, really, it's my fault. I know that everyone warned me that this movie was going to eat it pretty hard. When I put it on my Netflix DVD queue, I felt like the streaming service tried to warn me by really stressing how few stars it had. Now, I will say it is a better movie than people are making it out to be. There were moments where I actually found that I was enjoying it. Heck, I don't even regret watching it. But there are so many misfires, most notably the most anticlimactic ending I've ever seen in a movie without winking at the camera. It's a movie that doesn't know what it wants to be except for cool.
Cool is a dangerous goal. There are a handful of movies that went out with the goal to be cool and actually succeeded. Heck, part of me is absolutely terrified to revisit the OG Matrix because I have a feeling that it would be nails on a chalkboard in 2021. (I know the new movie is coming out in theaters and on HBO Max and I know I'm going to watch it on HBO Max...so there's a really good chance that I'm probably going to rewatch the movie in the next few months.) But cool doesn't often really feel that cool. I would compare the final result of Assassin's Creed to someone really swearing that you are going to like a band, but then throwing them into the deep end of the catalogue assuming that they are going to hear the same things that the fan of the band is hearing. It's so awkward. Because Assassin's Creed is begging the audience to like it. I can see why Michael Fassbender took the role, despite being an actor of his stature. At its core, there's a story to be told in Assassin's Creed. And maybe it is because I'm a glutton for punishment, but I think a TV show would service the mythology pretty darned well.
Stick with me here, because here's my elevator pitch for a TV show that would fix a movie that was not worth watching. WandaVision is crushing it right now. It threw viewers, experienced and no, into a world where nothing made sense. Then, in episode four, it decided to explain what was going on in the real world, which contextualized everything. Think about a movie that starts off in 1492 Andalusia. We meet young Aguilar, like a young Ezio Auditore as he learns of the assassins and the world of the Apple of Eden. Then, episode four, Cal Lynch is in prison. Guess what? I just fixed your story. Because, and this is key to my theories about why complex video game movies don't translate, is that these epic video game stories take a long time to unfold. The stories are interesting because information is rewarded for gameplay.
Now, I kind of feel like I'm doing that whole book v. movie argument and I suppose that there's a little bit of crossover there. But with video games, there are long periods where the avatar for your character is performing just an abundance of tasks. I swear that each Assassin's Creed game, the way I play, takes about 100 hours until the end of the game. If I had to summarize the story of each of them, it would take a minute. Yet, these stories feel rich and detailed. I love these stories, despite the fact that I could summarize them in a heartbeat. But when a movie jumps from plot point, there's no real reward for that information.
And then there's the big elephant in the room: Maybe some things just shouldn't be made. Video games have become remarkably impressive. For as much money as the movie industry can make, the video game industry secretly dwarfs that. Video games are cash cows. From what I understand, a company that makes consoles like Microsoft or Sony, actually lose money on these consoles, despite the fact that their price tags are remarkably high. So these games need to look amazing. Assassin's Creed: Origins (reminder: the game I'm currently invested in) is too big and too impressive. I'm actually needing to take regular breaks from it because I feel like I'm barely making a dent in this massive open world. I understand the next entry in the franchise, Assassin's Creed: Odyssey is even bigger. But we don't really need these games because it's not about the cool violence. Yeah, when I'm playing a game and I see my character do an amazing action move, it's great. But it's because I'm doing that move. But watching real people mimic those moves? It just feel cold and distant. It's watching a stunt show, not imbuing these characters with our own characteristics.
Because that's what a video game is all about. It's about control. It's about making choices. Those violent outcomes come from the decision to make those violent moves.
Two things about this specific movie though. When I read that the majority of the movie would take place in 2016 as opposed to 1492, I originally was really skeptical. The Desmond sections of the video games were interesting from a narrative perspective, but weren't why you bought the game. But for a movie about Assassin's Creed, I kind of see the logic. It's very imperfect. Part of me wanted to see more of Spain, subtitles and all. After all, I couldn't help but make a mental comparison to The Fountain, one of my favorite movies. Like, it's that, only worse. But it did kind of make the movie a story to watch. I am pretty sure that the movie exists in the world of the video game, so for me, the movie only adds to the rich (okay, it might not add) tapestry of the games, giving me more insight into the story.
But the second thing I wanted to discuss is the fact that the Templars, according to the movie, only seem to be bad guys because they look like bad guys. It's really hard to sell assassins as heroes. They are guarding the Apple of Eden, which is cool. But what makes them heroes? The Templars are bad guys because they want to hack free will. Yeah, that's bad and I totally agree with that being bad. But it seems that they are doing it simply to curb violent impulses. Okay, I'm still on the Assassin's team if it just came down to that. But it doesn't. Because the Assassins really come across as extremists in the movie. They are okay with any kind of collateral damage for the sake of this mission. (See, now I'm traipsing into Assassin's Creed: Rogue territory.) What really makes them heroes? They seem extremely self-involved. And the Creed constantly stressing the complete lack of a code seems kind of hypocritical.
Also, why is the female bad guy always the weak link? I mean, it ultimately doesn't matter because the only thing you need to the big bad guy is stab him secretly. Why not take down all of the Templars?
Yeah, the movie sucks. I wish it didn't. Again, a TV show might have serviced it better, but I don't need more TV, especially an Assassin's Creed TV show. But this is a bad idea all around. At least don't make it cool. Just focus on characters and storytelling. If there was any more slo-mo, I would lose my mind.
Rated R for just being absolutely gruesome. I mean, it's one of those movies where you need to know what is going to happen before you come into it. Also, the protagonist contemplates pleasuring himself. To do this, he watches some home movies. He also drinks urine and vomits. It's all pretty heavy and uncomfortable content, coupled with the fact that a dude's hand is rotting off and he has to self-mutilate. It's a well-deserved R-rating.
DIRECTOR: Danny Boyle
The 20th Anniversary box set of Fox Searchlight should just be renamed "The Danny Boyle Collection with Guest Directors as a Bonus Feature." I don't mind. I really dig Danny Boyle. And I acknowledge that there are a lot of not Boyle entries in this box. But it seems like the biggies in the box are all things that Danny Boyle made. Okay, it's three out of twenty. Still, I'm going to be a stick in the mud and stand behind my initial comment.
I really thought that I would never revisit this movie. There are a handful of movies that are absolutely brilliant while being absolutely brutal. I'm glad that I've seen them, but it's behind me. Like, after my next Covid shot, I'm not going to be jonesing for another Covid shot, but I'll be glad that I had it. I suppose it's that fine line of torture porn that these kind of movies offer. The very conceit behind the film is the same reason I don't want to watch it again. It brings up a really interesting idea that I've never thought about before. There have been many occasions where I have binged horror franchises. During October, I'll tend to knock out horrible slasher movies where people are ripped apart in new and unique ways. Heck, the reason that there are so many Halloween or Friday the 13th sequels are simply for excuses to find new ways to mutilate teenagers. Yet, 127 Hours makes me squeamish.
I have to believe that it comes from character investment. Aron Ralston is a bit much for me. I'll go into this later. But Aron Ralston 1) is a real dude that this really happened to and 2) Boyle invests a lot of celluloid (digital or no...) into making Ralston come across as a real dude. One thing that seems to be a standard in the horror movie is that these characters tend to be cannon fodder. I'm going to even give points to Sydney Prescott from the Scream films. She is the heroic protagonist who keeps coming back and keeps surviving these movies. Her story is pretty fleshed out by this point. But there seems to be a wide chasm between someone like Sydney Prescott, a genre heroine, and Aron Ralston, based on a real guy that I would hate to hang out with. And it doesn't matter that I want to avoid this guy at all costs. I invest in Aron surviving. But that's almost not what even matters. Because all of the investment in the world wouldn't matter if this movie wasn't marketed the way it was.
I find it really bizarre talking to my students about The Sixth Sense. (I apologize if I have a million hooks in today's blog. It makes me seem all over the place.) I simply assumed that everyone knew about the ending to The Sixth Sense. These kids don't. I can actually recommend that movie because it might have a new shelf life. I have a feeling that the shift in culture might have an opposite effect on 127 Hours. 127 Hours was always the movie where the guy cuts his own arm off using a brand-X Swiss Army knife. When I bought my ticket (I actually think I got this from Blockbuster Online) to 127 Hours, I knew what I was doing. I knew that Aron Ralston was going to survive by mutilating his own arm. While watching this for the second time, I realized that Danny Boyle had to work pretty closely with the marketing team for the film to make it work. The movie banks on the notion that everyone knows he's going to cut his own arm off. There are so many references to the arm coming off that it becomes this terrifying exercise in suspense. And that grossness that makes me never want to rewatch this movie is central to the movie existing. It's this knowledge that I'm going to see something horribly gross.
But then why do I like this movie? I mean, it's never going to hit my list of greatest movies. But I also acknowledge that this is a big Danny Boyle victory. I mean, I like it in spite of never wanting to meet Aron Ralston in real life. It works because, as much as it is a survival movie, everything that makes it interesting isn't the survival aspect. To be honest, I don't necessarily love survival stories. Survival stories can get pretty boring. But looking at Aron Ralston from a perspective of regret...that's something to watch. There's something about a good setting or a good conceit that brings out humanity. With The Walking Dead or the better Romero zombie films, the zombies force humanity to act in a way that they normally wouldn't. Because you can't just be comfortable in one place, the notion of civilization is stripped away and people act on their worst impulses. The same thing is true for Shane Black's action comedies at Christmas. Christmas is already a stressful situation, so any kind of conflict arising from said issue is going to exacerbate the situation. With Aron being pinned down by a rock, he's forced to stand still. This is a guy who is constantly moving. While I abhor using the cliché, he's the shark who needs to continually move or die. I kind of wish that Boyle leaned into this element of the movie a little bit harder, but I did appreciate the woulda-coulda-shoulda element of being stuck on a rock.
Because Aron is one of those criminally optimistic people. Maybe that's what I find so abhorrent about him. (I'm so sorry, Mr. Ralston. I'm sure you are a perfectly fine human being.) I thought it was the whole adrenaline junkie thing that turned me off in Free Solo, but it might be the overt chipperness that he presented. But we get a look at some real regrets from his perspective on the rock. While Aron never does anything actively wrong, there are moments where he should have appreciated the little things. Instead of being bullheaded and going off on his own, maybe he should have stayed with the girls. It's implied that he lost the love of his life for something dumb. (That being said, the movie has the nice coda of letting us know that he's happily married now.) It also all comes down to answering the phone when your mom calls. I love my mom, but there are a handful of times that my stupid life caused me not to pick up the phone. (Sorry, Ma, I just don't have that much alone time to play video games.) It's all this stuff that is fascinating. Well, it's the introspective stuff coupled with the knowledge that, at any point, he's going to saw his arm off with a crappy dull knife.
And Boyle just keeps messing with us. So much of the film is based on the sense of false hope. I mean, you know that he's going to saw his arm off. Everyone said that he saws his arm off. I have even seen this movie before and I still hoped that he didn't saw his arm off this time. But Boyle knows that you both want to see that moment and fear that moment simultaneously. The flood sequence alone is enough to make you believe that the story can somehow shift directions, like a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure novel. It's great.
It's just that I never want to see it again.
PG-13 for being generally bleak. There's a decent amount of blood in one scene, which is set in zero gravity, so it goes absolutely everywhere. There's a sense of peril to the movie and some scenes are genuinely nerve-racking. I would also couple this with the notion that most of humanity is dead. The off-screen body count is astronomical, which I suppose should be mentioned. There might be some mild language, but I'm becoming deaf to it. PG-13.
DIRECTOR: George Clooney
There are movies that I really want to like. I mean, that poster is rad. It's kind of a bummer when a movie gets a really sweet poster, but the movie is very "meh." Because if I hung that poster on my wall, it would be a talking point both for "What did you think about that movie?" and "Why do you have the poster on your wall then?" But beyond that, I really root for artistic genre fiction. I mean, we've had a few standout entries in genre fiction lately. It's not like science fiction can't be used to tell a great story. But I also know that George Clooney, as amazing of an actor as he is, is also a pretty talented director. But The Midnight Sky, despite my constant attempts to love this movie, kept boring me stupid.
I don't hate boring. I've probably written that phrase too m many times on this blog, so it is probably losing its meaning. Heck, for all I know, I do hate boring. (I don't.) I went into this thinking that Clooney was trying to either redeem or repeat his remake of Solaris. At the end of the day, he kind of is. For those who don't remember Clooney in Solaris, it was a remake of a Russian space film that ended up filling the character and the audience with existential dread. The remake was fine, but didn't capture much of the artistic merit that the Russian version offered. It was a bit too clean and a bit too studio to ever really have the impact that the original film did. But I imagine that this was the moment when Clooney discovered that he wanted to use space and isolation to talk about the heaviness of man's soul. And he's right. If there's one thing that The Midnight Sky absolutely nails is how to use setting to provide a sense of loneliness and self-loathing without being tainted by characters having to tell you that you are lonely and self-loathing.
It's the downside of the setting that really hurts the movie, though. The Midnight Sky is, and should be, about Augustine dealing with his failures while life was populated and abundant. That is what we care about. But that's a Twilight Zone episode in terms of length...unless you are extremely talented and smart. Clooney is both of those things, but not in the case of The Midnight Sky. Instead, to actively defy boredom, he provides a B-plot that really fights to be the A-plot. And it is that B-plot that really hampers the story. Because for all of the heavy themes and motifs of isolation running throughout the story, the B-plot is there so people don't get bored stiff. (It is in this moment that I effectively convince my readership that boring is good and that thrills are bad.) For all of Clooney's forays into indie film, his movies tend to be extremely polished. I loved Good Night, and Good Luck. It's probably the best talking-heads movie that I can think of. But that movie is clean and safe. This is what Clooney makes. He makes these small release films that just look like Spielberg directed them. This is where his Solaris remake fell apart. It became about the mise-en-scene and not about the message of the story. If I think of The Midnight Sky after this blog, I'm going to picture colorful galaxies and overwhelming worlds of beauty. But that's not what I should be taking away from it.
The B-movie's plot is almost an attempt to apologize for nothing happening in the movie. The ship in space takes elements from The Martian and Gravity and then calls it a story. Honestly, those scenes offer nothing new to the table. It just distracts from the story of Augustine and Iris on Earth. There probably isn't much of a need for the survival scenes on Earth, but at least it makes sense contextually. (I don't believe that a guy who has a hard time walking down the hall swimming for a Ski-Doo that is sinking, but it's a cool sequence.) But I wanted to bond with the group in space. They are in the movie for a reason. Perhaps that reason isn't justified. It kind of feels like I'm jumping into another movie full of scenes that are meant to bond me with these characters. I am told that characters miss their families, but I don't believe it. There's a scene that the crew all sing "Sweet Caroline" altogether to show their comradery. But that is telling me, not me understanding. Star Trek: Enterprise had the same problem. Instead of earning those relationships, we have to simply believe that the story had validity.
So then it all comes down to me reacting to half the movie and seeing if the story is effective. Honestly, as much as I'm dunking on this movie, I think the answer is "Yeah". I really like the Clooney alone in an observatory story. It's the part that my wife found boring while the opening credits were still running. But there's something real there. There is a character that I can have opinions about and relate to. The flashbacks to his younger life are interesting, but far too infrequent. All this shows that there's a movie in here that is actually pretty darned good. Listen, we can have the daughter in space. But how cool would the movie have been if the daughter faced a parallel isolation that the father did? While Dad is dealing with this sacrificial moment as the end of his life of emotional failure, the daughter deals with the same sacrificial loneliness to define her life. She is this beacon of hope while he is a remembrance of failure. There could have been this great cross-cutting of looking at the world in different ways. It's not to say that there wouldn't have been hardship in space. I think stressing that would have added to the story, but just looking at things in two different ways. Dad sees a breakfast that hits the spot with relish that he can actually enjoy the remaining food on the planet. The daughter looks at freeze-dried rations with disdain because it's the same thing, day-in, day-out. There's a story there. It's a boring story, but a far more valuable one than getting set off course against an asteroid field.
So there's something there, but the movie kind of squanders it because it feels like it needs to be entertaining. Not every space or genre film has to have action. Sometimes, the setting can just be a setting. Perhaps we've all been tainted by the successes (and well-deserved successes!) of The Walking Dead, which balances drama and action. But The Midnight Sky could be something beautiful if it was just smaller in scope. Not everything has to be a big-budget epic. This could have just been what it was instead of being ashamed of being a personal story of a man reflecting on his life squandered.
PG-13 for a bunch of little things. While there is no nudity or actual sex, the protagonist is having an affair with a married woman. There's a suicide that happens off camera. The movie both comments about fat shaming while also fat shaming. There's language, death, and abuse. It's got some heavy content, but it definitely reads like a PG-13 movie.
DIRECTOR: Lasse Hallstrom
Yeah, this is a big one. I don't have too many of these anymore. Sure, on the grand scale of the cinematic canon, I don't know if What's Eating Gilbert Grape is at the top of it. But it is somewhere on that list of movies that a lot of people have seen that I just never really got around to seeing. There was a time when I aggressively pursued all of the cinema greats. I still kind of do, but there are very few of the really popular ones left. Trust me, this isn't sadness. I suppose that I'll never really have one of the biggies to look forward to, but there are still insanely great movies out there. This is all a roundabout way of saying that there is a rich wealth of amazing film that just never got around to being popular.
Which kind of brings me around to What's Eating Gilbert Grape. There is so much good about Gilbert Grape, but at the same time, there is stuff that kind of irks me as well. To be honest, I think I skipped over Gilbert Grape because I didn't expect much out of it. My initial judgments about the tone of the movie was right: this is a bit of a sappy manipulative tearjerker. I tend to react poorly to this. I'm not saying that I shouldn't be sad at movies or that movies shouldn't be sad. But I kind of want to get there on my own. There are major moments in the story where I should have been really moved and these may have been the least effective moments for me. Arnie getting arrested didn't do anything to me. Mama dying kind of felt out of left field. Burning the house down just seemed silly. I know. I'm not being emotionally vulnerable. But I also got that these choices were meant to get me to grab for a tissue and I just wasn't really feeling that. The film as a whole, when it came to the mood it was shooting for, just kind of missed for me.
I'm going to Gilbert Gripe about one more thing before I move onto what I really dug about the movie. Because if push-came-to-shove, I have to say that I enjoyed this movie. But it is interesting to think that what we considered so progressive last generation comes across as kind of gross this generation. I think that Gilbert Grape is now starting to deal with the problems that Gone with the Wind originally dealt with. At the time, I could see the movie being seen as brave. The most memorable characters in the film are a morbidly obese woman and an autistic boy. Darlene Cates as Momma is heartbreaking and I applaud her for taking the role. She must have to had been extremely emotionally strong to take a role simply because of her sheer weight when that weight would be a talking point in the film. But for all of its talk about how Momma's a person and not a sideshow, it also fat-shames her for jokes a lot. There are jokes made about her weight. I get it. It was 1993. It was a different time. It's also absurd that the entire town would get such a kick out of seeing a morbidly obese woman. At one point, in a cluster of people looking at Momma leaving her house, a man straight up takes out a camera and emotionlessly takes a photo of her. I want to comment on how America is loaded with women like Momma and that she probably wouldn't be considered a freak, but Darlene Cates herself was actually made famous by showing up on an episode of Sally Jesse Raphael entitled "I'm Too Fat to Leave My House."
Then there's the autistic problem. We're just entering the era of representation of allowing people to play their own disability. Again, I didn't love The Peanut Butter Falcon, like everyone else on the planet did. But I did respect the choice to cast the lead actor in that role. Again, I know it was 1993 and that young Leonardo DiCaprio is a very talented actor. But I also feel like Leo is playing "Hollywood Autism" made famous by Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man. This is the kind of performance that's meant more for impressing Oscar judges than actually bringing attention to the cause. A lot comes down to 1993, but 2021 doesn't find this performance all that exciting. It's good, but it just really feels dated at this point.
But I told you I liked this movie! I didn't lie. And do you know why I liked this movie? Because it has the most accurate title of any movie that I have ever seen. The title as the theme of the movie is just perfect. There's a really fine line that this movie has to walk and I think it nails it. The story is about mental health. It's advocating for mental health. Gilbert comes across as a good guy who keeps screwing up in realistic ways. He loves his brother and love-hates his mom. Part of what the story is about is the knowledge that Gilbert should be used to his lifestyle. He's been taking care of his mother and his brother his entire life. He has no real support system. Everyone else is looking out for number one, leaving Gilbert in a role that is completely unfair to him. And we all know that, if Gilbert decided to abandon all of these responsibilities and roles thrust upon him, he would be a villain in this story. So when he runs off into the night, we as the audience become both sympathetic and critical of this choice. Gilbert has too much responsibility with little actual motivation to do it outside of goodwill. For all of his faults, there's almost something saintly about him. I mean, he shouldn't be sleeping with an older married woman, but it is one of his few releases. (I'm definitely not advocating sinning, especially when it comes to adultery. But I'm more stressing his humanity in the face of such pressure.)
So when Becky comes to town, she offers a third option that he has never thought of before. Prior to Becky, his options were "Accept a life that is devoted to others at the cost of the self" and "Be the villain who abandons everyone in hopes that you can find a modicum of happiness." Becky's offer is the ol' Kraft Mac and Cheese commercial of "Why not both?" Admittedly, it takes Momma's death to allow him to take up this offer. But he's allowed to think of himself if he has a support system. As much as the other family members have responsibilities when it comes to Arnie and Momma, these responsibilities act more like a chore chart. Instead, Becky loves Arnie like Gilbert does and that's what it takes. It takes a group of people working together to make sure that good people don't drown.
It's a great sentiment and the movie communicates the message well. Yeah, I'm an emotionally stunted guy a lot of the time, so weepy movies often come across as cliche for me. But even when you divorce the mood from the content, the movie still holds up. I dug it. Probably not as much as other people adore this movie, but it overall works for me.
Rated R for being a spooky thriller. There's some pretty brutal violence done to women in this movie. Coupled with that, there is nudity in an autopsy sequence. It's not surprising with all this kind of stuff that we'd have some pretty intense language. A lot of people have been comparing this movie to Se7en. Se7en is more intense, but they both deserve the MPAA's R rating.
DIRECTOR: John Lee Hancock
It's official! It's the first 2021 film to hit the blog! It's usually about this time of year. I mean, I don't think I'd be rushing out to theaters to see The Little Things if Covid wasn't around. And I genuinely am rooting for the survival of movie theaters post-pandemic. But God bless HBO Max for making this a low-stress decision to make because I in-no-way regret watching this movie. Is it perfect? No. Is it a pretty solid film release in January, a time of year where studios bury their garbage? Yes. This is a perfectly fine movie that's new and I had a decent time with it...when I wasn't fighting exhaustion.
Yeah, I would recommend cutting fifteen minutes from this movie. But a lot of that comes from constantly being exhausted and wanting movies to be shorter. I may or may not have fallen asleep after my alarm this morning because I'm always tired. Maybe movies weren't built around parents of four, but having a dark film with a slow pace isn't exactly the thing to keep this demographic awake. We were planning on watching it in one sitting, but instead got super exhausted. But, Day Two was great. I was wide awake. I was folding laundry while watching and that's what I needed. I don't think you are allowed to fold laundry at the movie theaters. I know that you can now order food and booze from them, but bringing a big basket of laundry is a no-no? Thanks a lot, Obama.
But I'm going to mostly applaud the film. The Little Things, while kind of being a lame title that really tries justifying itself throughout the movie, does what I want a lot of psychological thrillers to do. While the reveal isn't that impressive, it does take a left while other movies take a right. BIG SPOILER: My wife, at one point, said, "What if he isn't the guy?" I mean, I'm pretty sure everyone thought it at one point. But vocalizing it goes a long way. The thing is, we always need closure. I imagine (and again, "imagine" really stresses how unqualified I am at saying this) that being in law enforcement is a lot about getting comfortable with never having closure. The Little Things is about two smart cops. One is kind of a Sherlock Holmes level genius who can view a crime scene from this detached place. The other is an up-and-comer. Cool. But both are obsessed with getting answers. But the movie ends with us not knowing who committed these murders. There is just the implication that Sparma, the most serial killer-y guy with the most serial killer-y name, probably didn't actually do it.
And that is what makes the movie interesting. Sparma, despite the fact that he probably didn't kill anyone, makes this amazing villain. I will go out of my way and point out that I loathe Jared Leto for his personality on set. I keep reading these reports about how he crosses way too many lines to get an authentic performance. Maybe he needs to be cast as an altruistic humanitarian just to undo some of the garbage that he did with his Joker from Suicide Squad. But he makes this truly compelling villain. See, I kind of covered some of this with The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog and The Lodger remake.
But there's a big difference between those two movies and The Little Things. With The Little Things, Sparma is actually a full on villain. While it is questionable whether or not he is the killer, much like the different endings of The Lodger, it doesn't matter. A lot of Sparma's evil comes from the element of chaos that he adds to the narrative. Yeah, I mean, I also saw the connection with The Little Things and Se7en. But Sparma is an extreme version of a real person. There are all these people out there who enjoy confessing to things that they didn't do. Sparma might be the most extreme version of that. Instead of simply being someone who has psychological issues, Sparma seems to enjoy two potentially disparate things. It really reads like he is someone who enjoys derailing the pursuit of justice. Now, I'm not exactly all "justice" or anything. But I do get that evil need to be kept in check. There is no nobility to the murders and kidnappings of these people. These are objective evils and the people working to put these criminals away are there for the greater good of public safety. But Sparma acts as an act of God, intentionally trying to rewrite the story to his own sick narrative. He wants to derail something that is already very difficult.
But then, there's also the attention issue. I have a hard time justifying this one, but I also want to contextualize it in the frame of looking for attention. Sparma is this over-the-top character. He's not exactly acting like a normal human being for any part of this movie. (Again, John Doe from Se7en.) He's very clever with his jokes. He has this cold demeanor, knowing how much he's riling up all of the people working to get justice for these girls. But if he didn't do it --and the movie definitely implies that he didn't do it --there has to be an element of sick fame behind it. He has all of these people looking deeply at him when they should be looking at someone else. And that's probably the thrill of it all. He's getting the vicarious attention that a serial killer would have without actually being one himself. My guess is that, if he wasn't killed in a bout of rage with a shovel, he would probably be a serial killer himself. But let's jump to that scene where Deke is on the roof, hiding from the police after his illegal search and seizure. He's there, showing off how clever he is. But he didn't commit the murder (probably). He never really gleans that self-awareness of how childish the whole thing actually is.
There's one element that kind of sticks in my craw. The movie has one too many elements to it. I know, I shouldn't be complaining about the complexity of a film. After all, I have a blog so I can analyze every nuance of a film. But Deke's background is almost arbitrary. I'm not exactly a John Lee Hancock fan, so please understand that this is kind of in line of that train of thinking. There are elements to this movie that are undercooked. Deke has this story that has been bugging him throughout the film. We know that he screwed up and went too far. It's kind of implying that Deke decided to break the rules of law enforcement and had to retire. But then, we discover that he accidentally killed one of the girls that he was trying to save. It's this big reveal at the end...that shouldn't have been treated as a reveal. We have the barrette acting as a far greater turn. If we had known that Deke had killed that woman, we could have understood the choices he made. There could have been something really fun to explore with that decision that we never really get.
It comes from the idea that the movie can't give us too much information. It so tightly kept secret that Denzel Washington can't exactly act that as motivation. There really could be an entire movie about a guy who has to deal with this major mistake. I mean, Die Hard did it and it worked as a great motivating factor for a character. But instead, we are left with a lot to absorb. I'm very cool with the ending of the movie with the barrette being kind of buried under a bunch of different moments. Also, the boots in the apartment is a very confusing shot. My wife and I both sat looking at the screen, wondering if he was the killer with the boots the whole time. This is a John Lee Hooker mistake. Hooker is implying that he abandoned everything in his apartment, including the evidence he was meant to bring back. But it doesn't read that way at all. It reads like those boots were Deke's the entire time and the investigation into Sparma was entirely meant to derail the investigation into him. Yeah, that would have been a dumb ending. So that artsy shot actually worked against the film as a whole.
But I liked it for the most part. I know I should be talking about Rami Malek, but he doesn't really do anything for me as a character. Instead, I was way more interested in the notion of a villain who didn't do the killing. That's the best part of this movie, chasing a guy who probably didn't do it. That's what makes The Little Things worth watching. Remember, it's January. That's not a great time for movies. For a January movie, it's pretty good.
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.