Not rated, but I know a lot of people consider this top tier offensive, brutal content. I mean, I don't necessarily agree with that. It's a lot. It's a horror movie. It's a home invasion horror movie and that's very upsetting. There's nudity. There's sexual content. There's death. I think the "who dies" is more upsetting than the notion of death itself. These characters are tortured. But almost all of the violence happens off camera. There's language and the whole thing is upsetting, but is it the most offensive thing ever? I'll say no. Still, caution advised!
DIRECTOR: Michael Haneke
I've been afraid to watch this movie. It's not that it was scary. It's just that so many people said that it was so upsetting. I don't think I like upsetting. I don't like Eli Roth films. They're less about being scary and more about how upsetting the imagery can get. But very little about Funny Games is about the imagery. It's about how bad your imagination can get. I'm working through some anaylsis right now, so let's see if I can get to my point.
The two killers in this movie are monsters. If anything, they mirror some of the monsters that we've been dealing with in the news media. They are attacking someone to make them miserable. In this case, they don't know who they are directly, kind of mirroring the notion of a school shooter. They don't have this great motive necessarily. It's almost just this attempt to foster chaos. Now, maybe because the violence isn't shown, these two come across as the worst kinds of villains. After all, if it's not about the gore, then it has to be about the character. But I realize, especially during this spooky season, that every horror movie villain is Peter or Paul. It's just that we're so afraid of seeing what they'll do to someone or see what kind of surprise we can get, that we ignore that the bad guy is actually a horrible monster. It's actually weird that we would put Freddy Krueger or Michael Myers on a tee-shirt because we would never put Peter or Paul on a shirt. It would be borderline offensive to go that route. The fact that Peter and Paul are so grounded compared to the supervillains that we've glorified in horror movies might make them more upsetting.
I kind of want you to go into this movie blind. I'm not sure how much of this you should be reading. This blog has rarely been about trying to sell people one watching a movie. I've always kind of treated it as something that I would share with friends after watching a movie together. Guys, don't grow up. You never get to have late night movie gab sessions and you need to have a blog to vomit out your thoughts. But if you aren't going to watch this movie -or! better yet! --you've seen this movie and have thoughts, I'm going to talk about the meta element to the story. I'm not saying that it is the only thing that separates itself from the genre. It's just the one that might polarize audiences. I knew ahead of time that there was something complicit in the audience watching the movie. Because Paul continues to look at the camera and breaking that fourth wall, there's something a little off about the entire tried and true formula. I mean, it's not like the home invasion horror is the most common of the subgenres, but it isn't like this is the only movie that is about torturing a family. But because Paul gets us involved, we have to look at our complicity in this movie.
I'm a guy who violently (see what I did there?) advocates for pacificism. I'm almost irresponsible about being a pacifist. There's no way that society would function if I had my way about violence. Yet, I watch movies like Funny Games that pride themselves on making the violence as real world as possible. And, this might make it worse!, I really liked it. Like, this might be one of my favorite horror movies now. A part of that comes from the fact that I'm a bit of a snob and a subtitled German horror movie that comments on the involvement of the viewer exactly screams a guy who has a film blog. But this movie sells its premise without take a sledgehammer to the ol' noodle. There's a real devisive moment that I can imagine that a lot of people probably didn't care for. Right at the beginning of the third act, Anna turns the tables on Peter and Paul, grabbing a shotgun and taking Peter out. In that moment, Paul freaks out and looks for the remote. Originally, the remote was used to play Formula One racing way too loudly as people recovered from the death of the son. But when Paul finds the remote, the rewinds the film and stops Anna from taking control. Now, that seemingly comes out of nowhere. After all, there's a big difference between the Fleabag style fourth wall break and the ability to turn back time and affect the events of the story.
But that moment, for the sake of the story, reminded us that this is not a Hollywood horror movie. I know. The introduction of a seemingly impossible science fiction convention in a movie that is supposed to be grounded makes no sense. It might be the opposite of my argument. But Funny Games almost prides itself on the reality of a situation. What makes the movie haunting is that there is almost a Faces of Death quality to the whole thing. (I'm wholly against Faces of Death or even a celebration of that nonsense.) Funny Games reminds us that horror, as fun as it can be in the fantasy reminagining of what scary looks like, is meant to be upsetting. Victims practically never get the upper hand over killers. Many horror movies offer a happy ending, even if that happy ending is superceded by a tease for a greater horror. Anna grabbing the shotgun isn't reality. It's what happens in the third act of a horror movie becuase we need to have the good guys win. But that's a betrayal of the movie that we were watching up to that point. We're reading The Kite Runner right now with my seniors. Chapter 22, one of the more memorable chapters of the book, always kind of bugs me. For the sake of storytelling, Amir needs to fight Assef. But also, it doesn't read as realistic. It's almost a betrayal. I think that Funny Games is aware. It wants to remind you that this is the point where other stories take you left while reality takes you right.
Also, it is a commentary on its central theme / title of Funny Games. Paul brings up the central conceit. He bets that the family won't survive twelve hours. There's a gutsy long sequence where the killers flee the house and the parents, reeling from the death of their child, have the opportunity to escape and survive. I want to talk about this scene later, so remind me. (Again, I pretend that this is a conversation between me and my friends. How Funny Games of me to break that fourth wall.) The entire thing is a commentary on how this family has no chance to actually survive this. It's something that we've ignored in the genre, so we kind of take that notion for granted. But there's this scenario, planted in the back of all of our minds of "Maybe they'll survive." Paul even states, "How is it a game if we don't give them a chance to win." But that's the story. All games are rigged. If we really want to get philosophical, the boys represent death. Death comes for us all. As much as we struggle, it's still a stacked deck. When Paul rewinds the story, we realize that there's no hope for Anna. Anna becomes this survivor for no reason. It's why her death is unceremonious. The reason that she lasted until 8:00 am is not because of any choice on her part, but because that's the way things played out.
And now, this is the part I'm ashamed about. I had to prep for this part. I had to read his Facebook page and see how much he spiraled. The answer is "as much as I thought he would." I used to teach with a guy named John. John was as brash and stubborn as you can imagine. I think it was about the time of the Virginia Tech shooting that John came into the teachers' lounge and started spouting about how, if he was on campus, that guy would have been taken out by him immediately. He didn't know how people didn't react properly in moments of crisis. I responded and told him the reality of the situation and that it's all security theater and that everyone thinks that they would be the force that saved everyone when really, one in a million are the people who would do something. He didn't listen. So keep this in mind: I think I would do better than the parents in Funny Games. I know. They put the calm scene --the really long calm scene --to make us all play the game. I'm sure that I wasn't the only one screaming at the scene. But those two spend a lot of time on that cell phone. I mean, it was beyond the pale that the phone got as functional as it did. But they had this plan, run and get help. Why did it take them so long to run and get help? Heck, Anna even got ahead of me and realized that the gate would have been locked. Yet, she spent a lot of time on that gate. Even more so, I thought that the killers would have taken the boat. They totally didn't. Why not take the boat? You can escape in a boat. It's hard to play catchup in a boat. She could have gotten anywhere. Or, just go off the main road. Take a little longer; go to a place of guaranteed safety. Nope, she runs in the road. Come on.
But can I tell you the most haunting thing about the movie? I am shook by the way that they didn't call for help or give warnings when they saw other people. Now, the movie opens up with Paul with a friend of the family. The friend of the family doesn't let on at all that he's being taken hostage. I get the logic. He doesn't want Peter to harm his family. But there's the couple on the boat who sail up to see Anna. Then they reveal which house is theirs. Why not just wave them away before they get to land? Why insist on going in for hugs if you aren't going to share information? There's this irresponsibility on the part of Anna for not doing anything. You know that you aren't in trouble, but we lie to ourselves and say "This soon will pass." The same thing happened in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. They knew each other's backstory and still, because of social convention, felt the need to put themselves in danger because that's what normal people do. It's upsetting.
Funny Games is top tier. It's really good. I knew of it from reputation, but I never heard anyone really preach it. But I like when a movie at least attempts to make me think, especially when it is a genre film.
Rated R for implied sexuality off-screen, a fair amount of language, and drug use. I'm sure that there's a version of this movie that would be suitable for TV with some changes. I can see some people finding this movie offensive, but there's really not all that much that really ruffles feathers unless one choose to have feathers ruffled. It's controversial in a dated way.
DIRECTOR: Tim Burton
Okay, it's Tim Burton's best movie. I think the man has a sweet spot and Ed Wood and the original "Frankenweenie" short are in that sweet spot. I feel like a hypocrite telling Tim Burton, an objectively successful director, what he should or shouldn't embrace. After all, I claim that people should do what they love. Tim Burton is a guy who loves a specific version of macabre storytelling. But as a guy who doesn't necessarily deep dive into spooky season 24/7, it's hard to stay on that train with Tim Burton all of the time. But this! This is about an era of filmmaking that Burton is clearly fascinated by and with a human element to ground the whole thing. Sure, it's a skewed version of humanity and the entire thing is portrayed as a little off-kilter, but that doesn't mean that he's not telling a fundamentally human story and that's what makes this movie work.
I think Tim Burton forgets that we're not all a little weird. He has this way of portraying "normal" people --his idea of "normal" are people who don't subscribe to the gothic influences of our culture --as the bad guys. There's a lot of that in this movie, but I like that there's a bit of a pivot about what makes someone honorable. Maybe this is something that I've seen in his Addams Family or Edward Scissorhands, but he's more about celebrating the misfit in this movie. Now, I'm going to talk about the elephant in the room a lot with this blog about Ed Wood. The elephant in the room is the treatment of cross-dressing in the movie. Now, Ed is fundamentally a misfit. He's this really passionate guy and comes across as heroic throughout the film. Yeah, he does some dumb stuff, but we ultimately root for this little guy trying to make it in Hollywood, despite lacking almost any talent beyond oddball charm and stick-to-it-iveness. He has weird hobbies. His tastes are completely undeveloped. But Ed is still a part of the Hollywood studio system. (I'm sorry that I'm calling him "Ed", considering that he was a real person. I'm talking about Ed, the character of the film who is a fictionalized version of a real person.)
Now, I was to put Ed Wood in the cultural context of 1994. When we think about Wood's creation Glen or Glenda?, part of it is the association that it is worthy of derision. We're laughing at the work that Ed Wood created and assocaiting the content of that movie with the lack of quality involved. I talked a little bit about this in yesterday's Plan 9 from Outer Space blog. I'm going to state unequivically that I don't know the reality of Ed Wood's story. I don't know his politics or his sexual identity. But Wood's story, from this movie, is sympathetic. He's a guy who loves what he does. He is considered a deviant by society, so he has to keep things close to the chest. In 2023, we root for poor Ed. Ed has to stay closeted and finds just this sense of liberation when he's able to direct Glen or Glenda. What was something that he considered a deplorable secret becomes a thing of pride for him. But I also know that 2023 is much more progressive than 1994. Even I'll admit that I always viewed Glen or Glenda, as the video store nerd, as one of those movies to laugh at. But from Wood's perspective in this movie, it's a celebration of what should have been considered a taboo. It should have been this groundbreaking film for queer cinema and it's just something that we laugh at.
The biggest narrative / question running through my head was the question of if we're laughing with or laughing at Ed Wood. Undoubtedly, Ed Wood is a comedy. The delivery and the absurdity of a lot of the movie is, even if only fewing a small fragment of the movie, comedic. It's meant to be that. When I think 1994, I think Howard Stern, shockjock, political incorrectness. It's a time when the word "gay" was thrown around casually as a word of derision, even from those benighted to the plight of others. Ed Wood won awards. It was a movie that was embraced by the community. But it wasn't used in the same sentence as Boys Don't Cry. I just googled "Queer cinema Ed Wood Tim Burton". I get a lot more attention from Reddit threads than I do scholarly or even published works. In 1994, I would have thought that Wood's cross-dressing was something we were meant to laugh at. But that being said, I think that Burton was being a bit subversive with his charcterization of Ed. And the way I can tell is Dolores.
Dolores is the unsympathetic love interest in the movie, at least for the first 60%. While she's part of Ed's group of misfits at the beginning of the story, she's the character who seems like a bit of an outlier. While she seems enamored by Ed, she is part of Burton's fear of normies. She wants a vanilla relationship. From her perspective, she tolerates Ed's group of mediocre misfits because she's just starting off in Hollywood. To make it big, after all, might mean starting at the bottom and crawling up. But she seems moderately happy with her life of trying until Ed reveals his love of cross-dressing. She lightly tries to be supportive of this man who trusted her with his abhorrent secret. But as others simply embrace Ed as a cross-dressing man, it's Dolores who spirals out of control when things get rough. She finds it not only the straw that breaks the camel's back, but also something that brings her a deep sense of shame. Dolores shares these opinions with characters that come across as caricatures of moral crusaders. If you don't like them in this movie, it's probably because they're homophobic.
But then again, Ed's almost a cartoon with his love of women's clothing, in particular angora sweaters. It very much reads like Scooby Doo and Scooby Snacks, or Obelisk and magic potions (deep cut, I know!). A lot of it comes from the tone coupled with the performances. Johnny Depp, as lovable as he makes Ed, hams up the part similar to his portrayal of Jack Sparrow. It's what Burton wants. It matches the vibe of the whole movie. But if there's an angora sweater, Ed's personality just shifts. It treats what might be something that is just personal to something uncontrollable. I don't know. I think that Burton is riding that fine line. He wants people to laugh at the movie because he is making a comedy, but he also wants to maybe push open the door a little bit. I don't know.
But the heart of the movie is Martin Landau's Bela Lugosi. Honestly, you could write off Ed as just a quirky dude who wanted to make movies. The film really takes off when he bonds with this very sad elderly Bela Lugosi. Martin Landau as Lugosi (he won the Academy Award for this part, right?) is perfect. I mean, every line, every delivery is some of the best stuff in the world. Every time that Lugosi swears and goes on a rant about Boris Karloff, I die. It's so good . But the emotional stuff is the fact that Wood goes from being a Lugosi fanboy to a genuine shoulder to cry on. We've seen the biopic about the sadness of falling apart in Hollywood. We know that drugs run rampant. It's weird to think about Bela Lugosi being addicted to drugs. But there's a handful of scenes that, while I don't cry at movies, I got close. Lugosi is booted from rehab because capitalism is a terrible thing and he wants to make one more movie. Wood, in his most prescient moment, decides to film b-roll of Lugosi doing almost Kuleshov effect footage. When he's making Plan 9, it's not just for him. It's for his friend Bela.
If you get nothing else out of this, this is a beautiful story about a friendship that shouldn't exist. It's emotional without being sappy. Burton gives Lugosi just enough edge to remind you that this is not a tearjerker, but a celebration of a man's life. It also really goes into the same places that Be Kind Rewind touch on, the value of unadulterated creation. There's something very touching about the idea of not having to be good at something to pursue it. And maybe Ed Wood might be the most realistic takeaway. Instead of passion meaning talent, sometimes passion is just passion. The movie never tells Ed that he should quit. Wood never loses that delusion that he's the best director out there. Most movies would put Wood in a Dark Night of the Soul where he's begged to come back. Instead, it is just about his love for cinema and making movies with his friends. Sure, we're meant to laugh at Ed. But he's always the hero and that makes the movie lovely.
Not rated. You're asking for a lot for me to determine if something has offensive content. I mean, there's a shocking amount of dead bodies, especially in the first few minutes. I'm not quite sure why they die. One of them is an old man. Then these bodies come back to life before turning into inanimate skeletons. Tor Johnson looks kind of scary. I suppose that's the most I can offer you.
DIRECTOR: Edward D. Wood, Jr.
One of my rules, post-college, was to stop hate-watching things. Honestly, watching things ironically is now one of my buttons. There's so much good stuff out there that makes me question why we should ever watch things because of failures to make something good. Plan 9 from Outer Space was always one of those movies that I never really thought that I was going to watch. I mean, it has such a reputation for awfulness that I feel like I didn't need to subject myself to that kind of stuff. But I kept hearing that Ed Wood, the Tim Burton biopic, was the stuff of legends. And, like when I was going to see The Disaster Artist and watched The Room, I felt like I should see the source material before watching the adaptation.
Can I have a hot take on this movie? There are way worse movies out there. Let's make this clear: Plan 9 from Outer Space is not good. It's pretty bad. But I don't think people realize how bad movies get. This is from the B-movie era of film. There are so many movies made that were made on shoestring budgets with the understanding that they would be schlock that Plan 9 from Outer Space almost comes across as functional. Yeah, the scenes are often at a break-neck pace, often sacrificing basic functionality of narrative. Yeah, the performances at times are rough and the sets are hilariously threadbare. (Note: at the time of writing this, I'm only halfway through watching Ed Wood. I hear that all of this gets addressed when they get to the Plan 9 stuff later in the movie.) Also, the story keeps getting lost on itself, depending mostly on visual promises that aren't really fulfilled. But --and this goes a long way with me --it isn't long; it isn't terribly boring; it's got some okay visuals. Normally, I would be savaging a film for only having those things. But I'm almost more mad at audiences for offering this movie up to the bad cinema gods when there are way worse things out there. I'm serious, guys. There are things that are unwatchable. There are things that even Mystery Science Theater can't save. I know. I've seen a lot of Mystery Science Theater. I don't know what necessarily makes Plan 9 from Outer Space the poster child for bad movies.
That being said, it's bad. I will say this for Plan 9 though. It's almost a lesson in what it means to have amazing intentions and ambitions, but little skill. I'm the kind of teacher who keeps repeating, "I'd take a million students who struggle and get mediocre grades over students who have natural talent but do no work." Now, I don't know the reality of Ed Wood's life. From what I've seen of the biopic, it seems pretty made up. Was Ed Wood this passionate guy who loved making movies, but just lacked every instinct for filmmaking? I don't know. But Wood's got a message. Now, I have to try to be a little bit objective here. I tend to be sympathetic to the message of the movie involving disarmament, so I need to put my bias aside. Plan 9 is almost a cautionary tale about what it means to make a political work. It's why so many people are nervous amount making message movies. Wood's got an atomic era standard political fear. He's directly stating that mankind is entering an era that will ultimately end with its destruction. That's something that should be said. I mean, it was said over a bunch of movies, but I think we still haven't gotten the message.
But the takeaway from a lot of people based on movies like Plan 9 is that we shouldn't make political movies. It's not one side that agrees with this. As Catholic as I am, I roll my eyes at Christian movies and, more often, Christian rock. There is a way to do this. Ed Wood isn't a technically talented director. (I'll expand on this in a second.) He's a guy who is shouting very loudly to anyone who will listen. I don't know if that's a bad thing. But it also is a warning that shouting loudly often makes people want to plug their ears. Honestly, I can't help but make a connection between Plan 9 from Outer Space and The Day the Earth Stood Still. The Day the Earth Stood Still is one of my favorite movies. I'll probably forever love that movie. I'm actually shocked that I haven't watched it in the past decade and that's a bit of a crime. But both movies could be chalked up to atomic era sci-fi warning Earth about its self-destructive nature. But The Day the Earth Stood Still is still lauded as one of the greatest science fiction movies of all time. It's about flying saucers and men from space warning people about the inevitable armageddon.
And I'll say this for The Day the Earth Stood Still. It looks good. But it doesn't look that good. If I showed that movie to my kids, they probably wouldn't be able to make much of a distinction from Plan 9 to that movie. I know. That sounds blasphemous. There's more to filmmaking than budget. Now, that's a little unfair. A budget also means more time to shoot. It means having sets that are complete and actors who aren't just there for street cred. But quality goes a long with getting a message across. It's not entirely Ed Wood's talent that is being blamed here. This raises an interesting question: Should Ed Wood have made Plan 9 from Outer Space something that has a message? David Mamet in his Masterclass would absolutely rip Wood apart. He's a guy who says that making movies political is a betrayal to the audience. I find that funny because I think that Mamet is one of our more political writers, whether he means to be or not. (The very nature of being apolitical is a political statement.) In the case of Plan 9, Wood has to maneuver a very threadbare story to get to the point of being a message movie.
The biggest critique I have of Plan 9 isn't the threadbare set or the inconsistent acting in the movie. It's the fact that the movie doesn't have much to do for a lot of the movie. Again, I oddly didn't find it boring and I didn't really find myself laughing at it but trying to enjoy it as a film. But Wood wants to get to the climax of the film, where the alien invaders call the Earth people stupid for their destructive tendencies. Maybe I'm overthinking it because Ed Wood probably free associated his way to an end of the movie. But let's pretend that he wants to be this guy telling the world to stop killing itself. He doesn't really have a story that would organically go there. He's got Bela Lugosi, Vampira, and Tor Johnson. He has visuals that he wants to include in his film. Cool. I'll even say this: outside of the fact that the zombies do absolutely nothing productive in the film, they look kind of cool and iconic, especially Johnson and Vampira. (Cue Martin Landau as Bela Lugosi shouting expletives about me right here.) This is a battle between "What would look cool" and "What the story needs". That's a fundamental writing practice. Most often, a writer's favorite parts are the things that need to get cut. This is barbecue sauce and oatmeal. Both those things are awesome. They don't belong together.
Do I find anything funny in the movie? Yeah. I wasn't watching it to laugh at it. I do that in the context of Mystery Science Theater, but not just for crapping on a movie. (I think the MST3K folks are funny and some movies are worthy of laughter.) But I do love the scenes in the airplane. Oh my goodness. There are two scenes where we see the pilots of an airplane. Sure, the set is threadbare and I don't hate that. The background can pass as a plane. The thing that gets me? The lack of control sticks. It's almost adorable seeing fully costumed gentlement pretend to be pilots and then have to mime something that should be easy to create. That part got me.
I'm never going to say to like Plan 9 from Outer Space. Yes, it's a bad movie. But I oddly sympathize with Wood on this one. If I'm meant to encourage passion, this is a passion project for someone. It's got all of their favorite things in a movie and it definitely doesn't gel. But is it the worst movie of all time? No. I don't think people understand how bad movies can get. There are some things out there that are burdens to watch. I almost didn't hate watching this. In fact, it kept me mildly entertained the entire time. That's more than I can say for Saw: The Final Chapter.
Rated R for slasher horror stuff. There's a lot of language and sex jokes, but the movie, compared to most films in the same genre, might actually be considered tame by most horror fans. Yes, there's gore. Yes, there's sexuality. But very little happens on screen. The movie isn't trying to gross you out, but almost mimic the mystery of the original Scream. Still, R.
DIRECTOR: Nahnatchka Khan
Oh man, I really don't want to write right now. Everything you see now? Sheer willpower. I'm also fighting a clock, so I had better cool it on all the fluff I tend to pad the beginnings with. The short version? It's fun but disposable. It's almost exactly what you think. Totally Killer is almost the product of a lot of movies that are horror comedies and streaming originals. That's kind of unfair to Totally Killer, which might have something original about it. But even the stuff that kind of got me thinking, that stuff is only kind of okay.
Totally Killer falls in a sweet spot for me. I'm a huge time travel nerd and it's a spooky season that I've finally embraced enough to enjoy it. Very rarely can you catch me in that sweet spot. I think that Totally Killer works better as an absurd time travel movie, similar to Hot Tub Time Machine, sooner than a slasher film. It's a really underdeveloped slasher movie. Also, the slasher comedy, I want to say, might not work that well. I know we had Freaky, a movie that I kind of dug at the time. But the slasher really allows for natural comedy. One of my favorite things about Scream (outside just being a total package movie) is the fact that the movie doesn't forget to have fun. The characters are witty and charming. There's really no need for absurdity because the world of the slasher allows for big personalities to take jokes. I even saw the same thing in Friday the 13th with my last blog. When the killer isn't directly stalking the characters, it doesn't necessarily feel boring because these movies always end up being a bit of a party.
But I get the desire to send up the '80s slasher movie. It's a thing. All the stuff I'm talking about is super nitpicky, but it should be addressed. I feel like Totally Killer might be a bigger send up of Back to the Future than it is about the '80s slasher. While Back to the Future was a sci-fi comedy making fun of the '50s, it was meant for a broad audience. That movie covers such a wide demographic that studios have tried to replicate that zeitgeist ever since. But I think that Totally Killer was afraid to rip off Back to the Future so directly. They drop the title Back to the Future regularly. After all, that movie established rules for every time travel movie afterwards. When there's a comedic element to a time travel movie, the first thing that characters tend to do is either reaffirm or deny the time travel rules established by Zemekis and Bob Gale. Ultimately, the heart of Totally Killer isn't necessarily about surviving this generic Sweet 16 Killer. The heart of the movie is understanding one's parents and coming to Jesus with one's own crappy behavior.
That's where the movie is actually pretty great. It might be low-hanging fruit, but there's something beautiful about a simple thing done well. Jamie is garbage to her mom when she's alive. I'm not quite sure what made Pam exactly become Sarah Connor shy of seeing her friends killed years ago. I'm not sure the whole reveal of the letter is actually something that works with the story. But seeing how Jamie interacts with adult Pam and then seeing how teenage Pam acts is fun. Teenage Pam acts as the totem for the era. She is everything that should be criticized about the '80s. Admittedly, this is a version of the '80s that we see in film, not the reality of the midwest '80s with sad basements and cigarette smoke everywhere. But that's okay, because Totally Killer is both adulating for this era and not afraid to knock it down a peg or two. This might be the first great movie to celebrate Zoomers. A lot of Gen X culture is attacked here, most notably with the toxic political incorrectness that this era embraced / embraces. I don't know if the potshots are directly aimed at Gen X. I more get the vibe that society should progress.
That's maybe my favorite thing about Jamie. Jamie has a hard time maneuvering around the '80s not because she's so weak or enfeebled by the cultural context she shares. She's frustrated because things should have been a lot better. It's Marty noticing the casual racism of 1955 Hill Valley. Maybe Back to the Future doesn't go for the jugular as hard as Totally Killer does. It does point out the toxic masculinity of high school culture, especially surrounding the implied rape of Lorainne Baines. But Totally Killer is really aimed at saying, "Thank God we've come a long way." (You know, even if we are constantly backsliding.) That's where the movie makes itself known. There are things that are taken for granted by this generation and it's kind of nice that all of the faults of the era were packaged up in a single movie without being mean about it.
But in terms of making a whodunnit, I don't know if we really earned it. Totally Killer gives a shoutout to Scream, which it should and it does well. It tries pulling a Scream in the hardest way possible: by creating a background story that is fundamental to solving the killer. I love the Maureen Prescott story in the back of Scream. It's the reason that the killer reveal works so well. Totally Killer tries the same thing. Every so often, the movie will refer to Fat Trish, often for the sake of commenting on the insensitivity of both high schools and the decade in general. And, sure enough, the killer has something to do with Fat Trish. The killer, Doug, has a tie to Trish that causes him to go on a murder spree. And, yeah, there's enough hints that lead to the notion that the killer could be Doug. I picked up on the martial arts thing. I noticed that Doug is in the movie just enough to be a character, but without having the burden of raising suspision. (I call this my "Castle technique". When I was watching Castle --shut up! --when I was watching Castle, the heroes would always interview a minor character that would lead them to a litany of suspects. But the minor character was always the killer. The same deal is true here.)
It's just that...the Fat Trish story is really underbaked. They kept telling us that the Fat Trish story wasn't really all that important, that it just acted as a reminder that mean girls shouldn't really exist. It's really hard to solve a murder mystery when we just don't have the info. How were we supposed to know that Doug and Fat Trish knew each other? With Maureen Prescott, Woodsboro was rocked by the events that happened to her. Everyone knew the story and were traumatized by it, letting us into the daily life of a resident of Woodsboro. Because Sidney was Maureen's daughter, we were at the epicenter of the story. Fat Trish is almost an afterthought happening elsewhere. The movie was so desperate to give us just enough information that it gave us too little. I was mostly right with the Chris reveal, which felt a little on the nose. But I have to give Totally Killer some points when it comes to Chris.
See, I thought that the movie would have two killers, with Chris being the lead killer in this story. It explains the return of the killer later. But I also didn't use my time travel brain. The movie does a fantastic job of making the Chris Dubasage from the original timeline a variant pretty darned well. That epilogue, as dumb as it is, might be one of my favorite things ever. (I hate that I used the word "dumb." It's anticlimactic, but I was probably more okay with the movie ending than most people were.) I like the fact that the revised timeline has an adult Chris who is healthy and happy (and being monitored!). It got me there. I simply assumed that Chris had to be the bad guy in both timelines and I like that there's almost an element that makes Chris a sequel killer like in Scream 2.
I'd like to close by saying the epilogue is silly and fun. Back to the Future teased us by just making Marty's life significantly better. He could probably adjust to both sets of memories pretty easily and that was always nice for him. I like how messy Jamie / Colette's life gets. (Her name changes because she has an older brother with her name. How great!) I'm asking the same questions that I asked with Back to the Future: does Pam remember that Colette acts and looks like Jamie from the past? See, you could always write off that Clint Eastwood was just there for the Enchantment Under the Sea Dance and they never saw him again. Jamie saved Pam's life multiple times and time traveled in front of her. That has to be memorable. Also, why doesn't Lauren and Amelia let her in on the whole time travel bit. (OOOH! They explain away why Jamie still exists AND is able to have her cake and eat it too. Golf clap, movie! Golf clap!)
It's fun. It really is. But is it great? Probably not. It belongs in the camp with Happy Death Day and Freaky, but it probably doesn't really stick to the ribs like it should. It's a bummer because nothing is inheretly wrong with it.
Rated R for slasher violence, sexuality, nudity, and some dated race humor. While everything might be considered tame compared to what the sequels would spawn, there's no denying that there is some truly horrifying shots in this movie. It's a sleepaway camp murder spree. It's not for the faint of heart.
DIRECTOR: Sean S. Cunningham
I know! How basic, right? I went from not being into spooky season to kind of getting excited. And then, for a Friday the 13th to come around in October. Here's the scoop: I loved the original Friday the 13th. I used to watch it all the time. But something happened and I stopped rewatching Friday the 13th. I think it mostly has to do with the fact that I don't rewatch movies as much as I used to because there are so many movies out there that I'll never have time to see. But this was an opportunity. This lifestyle has opened a door that was an unexpected treat. I was able to watch Friday the 13th quasi-fresh. See, I still knew that Mrs. Voorhees was the killer in the first one. I still remember how Kevin Bacon dies. I also remember Jason jumping out of the lake. But the other stuff? It's kind of fresh. Do you understand the happy accident that I got to enjoy? I love the first Friday the 13th. I mean, I was also able to be a little more objective about it this time, but it's still a pretty great horror movie.
The one thing I never realized is that it is an inversion of Psycho. I mean, it's right there. Listen, I know I have to be last coming to the party on this one. But since this is my blog, I'm going to explore the concept to death. Also, it's the basis of this blog and it's going to give me content. And Lord knows that people be loving content. I'm actually playing the soundtrack right now. It's a thing I do to remember the different parts. (Why am i explaining myself to you?) Anyway, the Bernard Herrmann score? Harry Manfredini probably owes him a couple of bucks. Not the whole thing. But there's an active decision being made. See, I love Psycho. It's great. Hitchcock offers his audience a terrifying premise and then gives us something even better with the twist. The notion of Norman's mother murdering people at the hotel is a scary concept. The reveal, that Norman is the killer while embodying Mother's essence is better. The only problem is that we are starved from the one thing that we were promised: a showdown with Mother.
Now, obviously the Friday the 13th sequels don't exist yet. The notion of hockey mask Jason won't show up for a couple more movies. But Cunningham is doing the same thing that Hitchcock is doing: manipulating expectations. There is an assumption that the killer is a big burly man. I mean, I said I would be critical of this movie now that I have some distance from my obsession with this movie. But it also only makes sense that the killer was a hulking mass, not an old lady. But when Friday the 13th is watched in conjunction with Psycho, it pays off the promise of the first movie while maintaining the same twist. We get to see what it is like for a scary grandma to be killing everyone. And, honestly, it's probably more realistic than it deserves to be. Instead of being this unstoppable grandmother, you can kind of, just, push her over. Yeah, that makes you really wonder how she managed to dispatch everyone earlier. Because I want the movie to be a functional film, I employ my suspension of disbelief. In most of the film, she uses the element of surprise to kill people real quick. But when she attacks Alice, for some reason, she feels the need to reveal her entire backstory.
I keep hearing that people aren't really into Friday the 13th. Why am I alone in the like for this franchise? Like many of the horror franchises, the series goes off the rails pretty quick. But I'll take Friday the 13th and Halloween over Nightmare on Elm Street any day. I feel odd waxing poetic about this, but there's something kind of fun about the slasher movie than something supernatural. I mean, don't get me wrong. A good vampire or zombie movie is super fun. I'll always be down for watching The Lost Boys or Night of the Living Dead. But there's something so basic about a summer camp slasher movie that is fun. Part of it comes from the fact that we're almost meant to instantly bond with archetypes. Yeah, it's not good filmmaking in the grand scheme of things. But there's this notion that we almost become friends with this group of intense personalities. I know that Friday the 13th is not the first summer camp film. But I also think that it may serve as the bible for other summer camp horror movies. Cunningham is giving us a bit of a shortcut into figuring out the dynamics of the people at the camp. Because these characters are thrown into a group of strangers, we too are meeting them as strangers. And thank goodness that they're all extroverted or else that wouldn't be very fun.
What is interesting is that this is the movie that also establishes the morality rules that horror movies are so infamous for. Mrs. Voorhees doesn't necessarily hate teenagers. She hates teenagers who are so overwhelmed by their own vices that they let her poor boy drown in Crystal Lake. It's why Randy talks about no sex, drugs, or alcohol in Scream. A lot of it stems from Mrs. Voorhees's revenge plot and her skewed sense of morality in keeping the camp closed. Now, I love this. I think it is a great storyline. But I also love that Mrs. Voorhees kind of just ignores her own rules because she's full on bananas. (Also, tied to Psycho where she has that D.I.D. because "Kill her, Mommy") Annie never shows up at the camp. She's picked up by Mrs. Voorhees (also, very cool with just hitchhiking. Totally Killer should have discussed that one) and goes into this message of how she would be the ideal camp counselor. She talks about her love for kids and how she was going to do this for a living one day.
And then Mrs. Voorhees kills her real bad. Like, real bad. Now, this is the moment that I have a hard time settling. Ignoring the fact that it doesn't align with Mrs. Voorhees's entire worldview of what camp counselors are about, Annie has a pretty good idea that Mrs. Voorhees is coming after her. She jumps out of the car. Sure, she has car-jumping damage. But she could take out an old lady. She's really running from Jason in that moment. But I want this movie to work, so I'm going to give her points saying that she's inherently non-violent and predisposed to flight instead of fight. Still, poor Annie, right? She makes no sense because she's wired to be the ultimate final girl. After all, Alice does drink and play Strip Monopoly. Just because she's good at Strip Monopoly doesn't mean that she's the paragon of virtue. She just has that subjective goodness.
Now that I think about it, it is really weird that this movie becomes about Jason as an adult murdering counselors later. I mean, the movie's last two minutes introduce the idea that Jason might be in that lake, killing people. But even in that narrative, the Jason she sees / dreams is a kid. Where is the jump where not only is her potential hallucination true, but also that Jason grew up in between sequences? I mean, sure. This could have been a very different franchise had it been a deformed little dead kid murdering people over and over. But still, I'm just going to have to bow out here because I'm not going to be talking about the sequels any time soon.
As much as I love the first movie, I have no desire to watch the sequels. It's not that I wouldn't have a good time with them. But I also know that there's going to be a sense of diminshing returns coupled with the knowledge that there are a billion great movies out there. You might be shocked about that argument considering that I'm going to be writing about Plan 9 from Outer Space pretty soon. But that at least will have some context.
Rated R for blood, death, cannibalism, and rape. A PG-13 rating might be the best thing for Tim Burton because it forces him to be creative with his macabre humor. But giving him carte blanche feels exploitative. The sheer amount of times we had to watch the corpses break their necks from the chute was to the point of being absurd. Yeah, this is a hard R.
DIRECTOR: Tim Burton
I'll tell you why I watched this. We watched Schmigadoon season two and I wanted to get all of the Sweeney Todd references. Also, it aligned with my spooky season expectations, so that was pretty nice for me. But, man, I forgot that I was the one guy on the planet who didn't worship at the altar of Tim Burton. Honestly, I wanted to think that this movie was good. But I'm apparently in the anti-camp for this film. I'm the guy who loves Les Miserables and not this, despite the fact that they kind of share a cast.
Why? Why was I so bored? There is this thing I have to admit. Maybe my expectations were too high. I mean, this is Stephen Sondheim. This is the grand daddy of musical theatre. I normally think that I would worship at the feet of Sondheim. Then I Googled "Stephen Sondheim musicals" and found out that I only really like a select few of Sondheim's musicals. This is a a me thing. Please, I acknowledge and bow to his genius. It's just that, Sweeney Todd, completely divorced from the film version of the play, didn't really do anything for me. In fact, the Schmigadoon / Schmicago version of Sweeney Todd was way more compelling than the version that I saw here. There's nothing really fun about this movie. I think the macabre works in juxtaposition. Tim Burton actually cut his teeth on the initial version of Sweeney Todd by having stuff like Edward Scissorhands and The Addams Family. We laugh at stuff like Beetlejuice because the contrast between the dark and morose with vanilla society is what makes the concept entertaining. Sweeney Todd is just over the top violence and sadness without actual character development.
Maybe that's what really bugs me. The story starts in medias res. Benjamin Barker, while not named Sweeney Todd, has adopted the mantle of the character. He's already bitter and vengeful with the loss of his wife and child. He comes into the story morose and looking for blood. A lot of the story is just him sitting around a room, hyping himself up for the murder of Judge Turpin. He's even given the opportunity to do so and squanders it. It feels like a lot of the movie is a stall tactic. The most interesting element of the story is the shift to cannibalism by Mrs. Lovett and that becomes the most fascinating combination. I don't know why Barker would just be cool with cannibalism and his choices in murder is bewildering. But this is where the movie starts for me. And the thing is, a lot of this is squandered. I know that this story is based on a Penny Dreadful. I can't say that I've read the original. I don't know the ins and outs. But the fact that this guy goes from a revenge story to Sweeney Todd just murdering willy-nilly and feeding people to society makes the hero not a hero.
I'm not saying that you need to ahve a moral character as your protagonist. I actually really like morally bankrupt characters as my protagonist. But this is a story that is meant to be hinged in sympathy. Benjamin Barker is only sympathetic in flashback. We have no complexity in the decisions that are made throughout the story. He's so go-with-the-flow, to the point where cannibalism isn't even a morally grey area for him, that there is nothing to weep for. He's just sad all the time. Now, I like Johnny Depp in a lot of things and I don't really know the musical or past productions for this show, but he's just so flat affect in this. He's talking about how life is just weaponized misery and trash, but that doesn't make him sympathetic. I kind of just wish that there was this moral complication with the whole thing. The thing is, there's this opportunity right there. Toby and Mrs. Lovett have this weird connection in the story where she's put through the moral gauntlet. She grows closer to Toby and that's interesting when she decides to lock him up in the meat room (there's a word for that exists; I just don't know what it is right now). (What's her endgame, by the way? He would just be in there forever?)
But Toby is around Todd the entire time. He is an opportunity for redemption and second chances. The jump from actual father to found father is right there and how does this movie not make that decision? Toby is this kid who goes from being a street hustler to exhibiting genuine gratitude to these two monsters. How does that not tug at the heartstrings and give the protagonists something to consider? Think about this. Imagine this was the movie. Toby thanks Todd for taking him in. Todd, in his bloodlust, is covered in gore. Toby doesn't care. He is just happy to have a father figure who doesn't take advantage of him. Todd looks himself in the mirror and washes himself clean. Toby is cleaning Todd's razors. He swipes the air, mirroring Todd's precise cuts and Todd is horrified by what he has become. It is in that moment he spies Judge Turpin. He has this opportunity to murder the man who destroyed his life. He spares Turpin, which allows Turpin to discover Todd's true nature. In doing so, he kills Toby and Todd is given this morally complex story.
But instead, we get his tragic tale of Todd murdering his wife. There was this era in comics (and I'm definitely not on Estes Kefauver's side in this) where horror comics modeled themselves after Penny Dreadfuls. There was this tragic ending that revolved around self-destruction. Sweeney Todd is no exception to this. He ends up killing his wife, who he does not recognize because she is homeless and mad. It's effective, but it's also kind of fake. We don't really get to know anything about her. When it's revealed that she's Mrs. Barker, there is this reveal equivalent of "huh". There's no resonance because we know so little about this character. I know the movie has to be a rushed version of the story because we know that Mrs. Lovett knows about the beggar woman. She knew that Mrs. Barker wasn't dead, but Mrs. Lovett wishes for a future. The movie has to do a lot of "tell, not show", leaving that emotional connection a little barren. I never get the notion that Sweeney Todd is warming up to Mrs. Lovett in any way beyond symbiosis. I want to like that twist, but it earnestly has no emotional resonance with me.
I can't help but thinking that Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street would make a good double-feature with The Phantom of the Opera in the worst way possible. There are these moments where characters make absolutely absurd choices and I have a hard time connecting with any of the characters. If anything, these are movies that love filming the gothic and being incredibly melodramatic. I know that people like this movie and don't like Phantom, which boggles my mind because they're the same movie to me. I'm not saying you should like Phantom. I thought that musical was pretty abysmal as well. It's just that I don't get why this movie is so good. Maybe we're not all that used to the blending of gore and musical. I know that there are other movies out there, like Repo! The Genetic Opera that touch on stuff that Sweeney Todd touches on. But this is indulgant Tim Burton at maybe his worst. I don't like Tim Burton on a good day (for the most part. I kind of like Batman Returns and Big Fish). But this is distilled Tim Burton. This is no one saying "no". I wanted to like it, but it kind of is just empty show for me.
Rated R for Saw style killings, although this one has far more of a Se7en / Silence of the Lambs vibe than the other movies. This might be the least gory of the bunch, but that doesn't mean that it isn't extremely gory. There's some brutal stuff. There's also some language that these movies tend to have. But you do know that the two big actors in this movie are Chris Rock and Samuel L. Jackson? Yeah, there's going to be some f-bombs. R.
DIRECTOR: Darren Lynn Bousman
Like, I'm done for a while on these Saw movies, right? I know that I'm probably not going to see Saw X in the theaters, so that means I get to take a break and say that I'm mostly caught up. If you think that I'm goign to knock out a bunch of those early Saw movies again because I want to finish it for the blog, you're mostly wrong. There's a part of me that wants to just be a completionist and say that I have a blog for every Saw movie on this page. But there's also a bigger part of me who got excited for Spooky Season for the first time in years when he figured out that there are curated lists of horror classics that I haven't seen. So, yeah, I don't need to rewatch Saw I-V.
But speaking of Saw I-V, this is directed by Darren Lynn Bousman? The same Darren Lynn Bousman who made some of the worst entries in the series? How is that possible? Is none of this Bousman's fault? Do you give him a budget, talented actors, and probably time to make a movie and he returns something fairly solid. Sure, I know that, for some reason, Spiral was a quasi-passion project for Chris Rock. Maybe Rock had some influence. But I also am applauding for studios understanding that people can't do things on the cheap all of the time. While I can't say that Spiral is one of those movies that is going to change society or even exist outside of the context of Saw, it's not a bad movie. Predictable, yes. Exploitative, yes. Bad, probably not. Again, I keep evaluating these movies contextually. For a Saw movie, I'll even say it's good. But it is also a painful reminder that the guy who made the majority of the bad Saw movies made this one and it looks pretty solid. This is a movie that could have existed in theaters without the Saw name attached to it. I mean, it's almost weirder that it is a Saw movie. I read the background on how this movie was made in a Variety or a New York Times article. (For a guy who teaches English and makes a huge hullaballoo about this, I'm being really bad about citing my sources.) Chris Rock was at LionsGate. He saw the properties that they had and was interested in doing something with Saw. If you took away some of the gore and some of the world building, this is a movie that could have stood on its own two feet as just a dark cop thriller. It's like how Die Hard with a Vengeance wasn't originally a Die Hard movie. Studios need to respect that, even though something could be made without the resources or the time, it probably shouldn't be.
I don't want to gush about this movie because, honestly, it was just fine. Again, it's all about context. I felt starved for good content with the Saw movies I was watching. I know. No one made me do it. I wasn't hate watching them. Read my thoughts on Jigsaw. I wanted these movies to be good. Spiral's biggest problem is that it is incredibly predictable. I thought someone spoiled it for me a while ago by telling me "it was the cop". Okay, everyone's a cop, so I'm giving myself the win about figuring out who the killer was in this movie. Although I was also a little disappointed that my answer for the killer was slightly better. (I pulled a Scream and made it two killers. I had Angie as the second killer because she was able to pull a lot more strings than Schenk. That's honestly a pretty frustrating plothole in the story, Schenk getting himself connected to Zeke.) But Schenk is telegraphed pretty hard in this movie. It's in one of the moments that just highlights him as a character. If you have a small moment where you give away your cell phone, regardless of reason, that guy did it. (For the most part. That phone still came into play in Scream 3, even if it wasn't taken by the killer.) But also, there's some meta analysis that is a bit too non-diagetic and you couldn't hold against Zeke.
The biggest one is that this is a Saw movie. This franchise loves showing you people getting ripped apart and put into games. If there's a body of a major character and we didn't see that person "play a game", that person's not dead. The first thing I thought is that you can't identify someone by a tattoo in these movies. Did I know that Schenk was the witness's kid? Nope. I think the motive always requires a leap of faith that is the burden of the screenwriter. I always forgive myself when it comes down to the why of the whole thing. In real life, when I have a suspect, I'm trying to find a way to piece together a backstory using resources. The writer doesn't really feel the need to expound on details. With the case of Schenk, in the smallest way there's a bit of a retcon. Zeke saw a kid at the shooting and bonded with him (in a weird way that involved him whispering. Was his partner ready to kill a kid?). We never saw that moment in the story. I can't help but thinking that this movie is a bit reminiscent of Batman: Hush. Hush was this really well made Batman comic by Jeph Loeb and Jim Lee. Unfortunately, it's criminally predictable. We're talking about a character in depth that we've never talked about before and he's the big bad guy we're looking for? Yeah, that is a bit on the nose for me.
I'm not quite sure what Schenk's big final reveal and plan was with Zeke's dad. I get that Zeke's dad was a corrupt cop. It makes sense that this new killer would want to torture him because he was a corrupt cop. That's the focus of the whole movie. But Schenk says that he made Zeke the center of the spiral (maybe I made that phrase up because it should have been used in the movie) because he wanted Zeke as a partner. I'm 90% sure that Zeke is playing along when he says that he'll help Schenk in the future, but let's pretend that he was dead serious. I mean, that's why Schenk is doing all this. It's why he offers Zeke a way out. After all, Schenk shouldn't hate Zeke. Zeke is the example of what police officers should be compared to what they are. He's the inspiration for Schenk. Do you think hanging up Zeke's dad is going to be the thing that brings him to your side? Also, it's a test to see if Zeke is really on your side? But the game that he gives Zeke is a one-bullet save-your-dad-or-kill-me scenario. Where is the partnership on that thing? How is that a loyalty thing? Both answers imply that Zeke is still trying to arrest Schenk?
Now that I'm thinking about it, why Jigsaw? I get that there's the hidden figure who is killing corrupt cops. I like that he's using the masks and the pig heads are on brand. But the games make almost no sense. Jigsaw used games to make people appreciate their lives. (That is still something I still don't understand, but I can shut my brain off enough to say, "Whatever".) Schenk doesn't want them to escape. Often, his games (which was similar to the traps in the later Saw movies) were based on word play. For example, "Or will you throw away the key" meaning that the key was in the trash can the entire time. The guy was dead pretty quickly. I'm wildly confused about the fingers being ripped off. He lost his fingers AND he got electrocuted. Why go through all of that work? The point was to send body parts by courier to the cops. It seems like a lot of work and technical knowhow to do all that. You could have tortured them in really banal ways and then sent the stuff in the mail. Having a secret degree in mechanical engineering isn't necessary to be a scary serial killer.
Oh my goodness, I can't believe I didn't take two seconds to write about this. I actually hit publish. Hopefully, I get this in before anyone actually reads this. (Guaranteed. No one reads these things.) How can I ignore that this is political as heck and I love it. I'm doing a professional development Masterclass taught by David Mamet about drama. One of his first lessons, which rubbed me the wrong way (but Mamet is smarter than I am, so take that into consideration), is the fact that drama shouldn't be made to be political. That's a pretty privileged statement. Do I think that Spiral: From the Book of Saw, the ninth movie in the franchise, is political. Absolutely. Do I think it is as political as some of the articles I read on the movie believe it to be? No. I do think that the ending, of police bursting in and killing a Black man who is strung up to the wall is saying something. I do think that there's commentary on the Thin Blue Line in the movie. But Zeke is our avatar. I may not be Black, but as the protagonist, Zeke's philosophy is what we should be. He fights corruption where he can and bears the weight of an oppressive system on his back. But Schenk's work is appalling to us; it is appalling to him. Again, Spiral isn't a great work of art. But it started with a political statement and then made entertainment out of it. It proves that you can do both. Also, Glengarry Glen Ross is anti-Capitalist as the day is long.
Regardless, I applaud this for being the first Saw movie that was fun. Chris Rock was right. There's no reason that these movies shouldn't be fun. Yeah, there's still gross out stuff. But the most upsetting part about the format of these movies that people only smiled in Saw movies because the creativity of the manslaughter. Instead, I enjoyed Zeke being a person. I enjoyed that the comedy led to characterization. Some of it was hamfisted, sure. But that goes a long way to making a movie watchable.
Rated R for Saw related violence. You should know the reputation that these movies have. They are often brutality for brutality's sake. It's more of a commentary on me that I'm watching these movies and writing about them. But these movies pride themselves in as much intense gore as they can offer. Some people like this kind of stuff, but it is the content that make a movie R. I guess there's language as well.
DIRECTORS: Michael Spierig and Peter Spierig
This movie is going to get such a boost because it was following Saw: The Final Chapter. I can't even imagine how to wirte about this movie objectively. Saw: The Final Chapter is such a low-point in cinema. It is the inevitable result of a studio throwing less and less money into a franchise and expecting returns. I mean, there's almost a certain amount of sympathy to the franchise up to that point. One of the key things driving the franchise was that it was a guaranteed horror movie every year for seven years. There had to be a point of diminishing returns when you make a movie yearly. (Okay, Woody Allen did it for the portion of his life when he wasn't appropriately cancelled. But there are a lot of Woody Allen stinkers in there too.) But Jigsaw almost just gets points for treating a Saw movie like a movie. If I had seen this movie without having just seen Saw 3D, I would have railed that this might be a soulless horror movie that didn't make a lot of sense. But that's not how things played out.
I mean, I'm trying to step out and say that it is pretty soulless and it made almost no sense in terms of logic. But I'll tell you this: it might be the second best Saw movie up to this point. That doesn't make it a good movie. It just means that the Saw franchise is always just asking a bit too much from its audience. I must also confess that this movie was kind of spoiled for me accidentally. I already knew that this movie was in flashback. Actually, when I was watching it, I was surprised that they claimed that John Kramer was dead because only half the movie is in flashback. (My brain quickly started piecing together the twist of only half the movie is in flashback, which only kind of makes sense.) But it seems like the Spierig Brothers genuniely cared about making a good Saw movie. Sure, a lot of it is the money. But there's a certain degree of crafting. I'm sure that there was a reputation to overcome and the Spierig did everything that they could to move past the reputation that the previous films did. I mean, Saw 3D was the low point in the franchise and that had two kinda / sorta big celebrities in it. This one has no celebrities and feels so much more polished than the previous movies.
But the movie is kind of dumb, right? Like, when this movie is actually going and you can move past the fact that it looks a lot prettier than the other movies, it is kind of dumb, right? I know that the reviews and the metacritic score are higher. But they're still pretty low. I mean, one of the plans wouldn't have worked, but I'm still going to point out from a the "try" perspective. The movie takes place mostly in a barn. There are five people who are captured in that room and they have to escape a creepy barn that is trying to kill them. Initially, they're all chained to walls and are being brought closer and closer to death until the chain releases them. Now, from a directing perspective, I get it. (Maybe cinematography is the term I should be using.) The Spierigs decide to use the barn locale to have a fake magic hour the entire movie. Sunlight bursts in through the slats of the barn the entire movie. Okay. That works. It looks relay cool. But the victims are trying to escape this place, right? Why are they taking crowbars to big metal doors? Why wouldn't you just put your weight against one of these gapped boards and escape that way.
Now, at one point, Eleanor (?) takes a crowbar to the No Exit door and is captured by Pigman. Okay, that scans. It means that they shoudn't be able to escape regardless because the killer is watching the entire time. But there are three of them in this room at one point. If they all take a different plank, wouldn't they just be able to escape? It just seems like these characters make the dumbest choices to make the story proceed forward. I also have that same complaint that I had with the previous movies. Why are people so eager to play the tapes that Jigsaw leaves for them. That's when the trials start. Every time. Every time they hit a button, a trial starts. There's one puzzle in here that starts with them already being pulled and it ends with the tape being played. (Note: what if Mitch never hit the tape? All of that planning would have gone to pot?) Stop going out of your way to do these things. Also, Jigsaw is getting borderline psychic. Logan goes after the "No Exit" door. The other two scream, "It's a trap". He ignores them, gets caught in the trap. But there's a good scenario where Logan listens to them and doesn't fall into the trap. The entire puzzle is based on someone falling into the trap when, realistically, no one would fall for that.
Rated R for a stupid amount of brutality coupled with some harsh language. There are some jump scares in the movie and I know that's a button that people don't like getting pushed. I don't mind jump scares so much as just the gore for the sake of gore. Really, I can safely say that there's nothing redeeming in watching a Saw sequel, so you at least know what you signed up for. R.
DIRECTOR: Kevin Greutert
Why? I don't like these movies! I don't. I liked the first Saw way more than I thought I would. I thought that the franchise might Fast and Furious its way into my heart. Do you know what? These movies are straight trash. Mind you, I just read that the consensus is that this is the worst in the franchise. I'm really validated by that takeaway because I don't know what I was going to do about Jigsaw, Spiral: From the Book of Saw. or Saw X. But people hate this movie and, no offense to people who probably worked very hard making it, they're kind of right.
Studios have weird logic. 20th Century Fox thought that Deadpool was going to be a bomb, so they cut the budget midfilming. When that movie proved to be the most lucrative thing that they had going, they threw all of the money at Deadpool 2. Not Lionsgate. Oh no. They took a movie made on the cheap. That movie made them a ton of money. They then made them on the cheaper because "why spend money"? I know that technically this is a 3D movie, which in my money has to cost a lot more. It does not look like it cost a lot more. Most television looks better than this movie. This looks like someone self-financed the film and then stocked the movie with all of his little buddies. There's nothing really good about this movie. All the budget went into begging Cary Elwes to come back for very little of this movie, despite the fact that his character is instrumental to this franchise. I'm going to talk about Cary Elwes at some point in this blog, right? I hope I am because I have thoughts. But this is barely a movie. Henson down the hall just showed me a Christian version of Saw called The Redeemer. Slow down, he showed me a trailer and dared me to watch it. I don't watch movies because I want them to be bad. (Although I am planning on watching Plan 9 from Outer Space because I want to watch Ed Wood.) But there's almost nothing in this movie that actually qualifies it to be a cinematic release.
Ignoring the fact that it visually looks terrible and that the actors are almost cast exclusively from GettyImages for being stock archetypes, the movie almost ignores what little goodwill that the franchise has loosely gained. Listen, Saw movies tend to be manipulative. But one thing that has always kind of been the case is the final act. You kind of sit through this torture porn (which I know a lot of people really sign up for) to get to the final game. The final game, from what I remember, has tended to be an exercise in misdirection. We think we're looking at one thing and then we get another. Jigsaw will always have the one up on us and everything tends to get recontextualized. Saw 3D really tried pulling this card. But there was nothing in the chamber, which is funny because the movie is billed as "The Final Chapter". You would think that there would be bold moves and decisions made about the franchise. Maybe there would be a promise that there could be no more Saw movies. After all, one of the few noble things that Saw has done is keep the film non-supernatural. I dare not use the word "grounded" because there are some truly outlandish elements. But this final sequence?
One of the key tenets of the franchise, which I will begrudgingly allow the understanding that Detective Mark Hoffman (whom I will probably refer to as Mark Brandanowitz because of his lack of chemistry. My apologies to both actors.) doesn't always care about the rules, is that Jigsaw is making people care about their lives. This one really stretches the imagination on that one. Brandanowitz (see?!) just slaughters a bunch of cops for his own needs. Also, those cops are doing the things that John Kramer wanted. They should be out there giving their all to stopping a murderer. That's part of the central irony of Saw. In the case of Bobby, there's something to be said. I can see Jigsaw really getting mad at someone manipulating victims for the sake of profit and success. That's on brand. But almost everyone else? Why are they being put in these traps. There are two specific victims that I want to stress in terms of "What's the logic?" Now, before you scream "Brandanowitz Jigsaw! Doesn't count!" Nope. The flashback shows John planning these murders. Sorry.
Let's talk about Joyce really quickly. I get why she's in the trap. She's motivation for Bobby. But this is just fridging a character. Jigsaw states that Joyce saw the light of Jigsaw's message, even if it came from a dishonest place. So why is Joyce in this trap? The point of Jigsaw is to make people appreciate their lives by putting them into mutilating traps that would encourage them to question the stupid stuff. Joyce learned from Jigsaw and basically became a follower of this mentality. Don't murder her. Okay, maybe there was a scenario where Bobby figured out a way to get her out. After all, there is an element of risk and assumption that people wouldn't be able to get through these horrific traps. It's what makes a movie, after all. But Jigsaw gives Bobby a trap based on what he said in the past. He went on these talk shows and said that he put hooks in his pectoral muscles and was lifted from the floor. Jigsaw creates the trap he describes and is even dubious in his voice message, implying that pectoral muscles wouldn't be able to suspend a grown man. Sure enough, Bobby goes through the trap. His pectoral muscles snap. Joyce burns to death. Now, if there was a way to get her out of that, I would say "Okay, I can shut my brain off." But as is established, that doesn't really work out that way. It's going against the very nature of the story.
Then there's the part that I want to laugh at. Guy wakes up in a car. He's superglued to the seat. Beneath the wheel of the suspended car is a lady's face. Behind him is a guy chained to the back of the car. There's a guy in front of him chained to a door. Guy hits tape. "You and your friends are racists." What is that writing? Okay, Jigsaw should absolutely kill racists. But is that the story at all? Okay, the racists all die. Thumbs up on that front. But let's pretend that the racist, despite the fact that he gave his all to escape, actually pulled the lever in time to escape. Would he stop being racist? If anything, he would just accuse Jigsaw of being a dem and then become a bigger racist. I don't see a scenario where he would take this introspective journey about his choices in life. No. There was a guy who was a lib who kidnapped him. He told him to stop being conservative. That dude overpowered that weak lib's trap and would probably go out and hunt other libs. I've lived in America for a long time. That's how things would play out. Nope. I call shannanigans real hard.
And now: Cary Elwes. I almost just closed this up because I'm having difficulty writing this blog entry. There's all kinds of noise and I don't like this movie. Cary Elwes looks like he hates the Saw movies. I liked the first Saw movie, as previously stated. But even in that movie, I felt like Cary Elwes was slumming it. He looked like he hated every minute of that filming, despite the fact that Saw was apparently a fun independent film. (I read something about how hard it was to film that movie because of budget stuff.) I thought the same thing about Michael Douglas in Ant-Man. But Michael Douglas quickly learned that this was his way back into the spotlight. Cary Elwes, still feels like he's slumming it. He just hates every second of this movie. Understandably. But even more so, his character makes no sense in this movie. There's retconning and then there's this. I know that one of the characters (Amanda?) was a survivor who became Jigsaw's accomplice. Okay. That's fine. But that was very clear with what (for the sake of simplicity) Amanda was in charge of.
But Cary Elwes was nowhere near the rest of the movies. Also, like it really implied that Cary Elwes's character died. I know. "Implied." Fine. But you can't have a glorified cameo be a key plot point. I know that Cary Elwes is not Jigsaw, right? It's not like he's this guy who has committed to making a bunch of these movies. And sure, Jigsaw and Saw X are both prequels. Spiral is a spin-off. But that reveal is dumb. But potential points...maybe Saw 3D is actually the final chapter. If everything else is a prequel, maybe this is the one franchise that actually closed the door (no pun intended) on the series. Sure, there are other movies, but they aren't technically sequels. Either way, that ending is unearned and a deus ex machina (only replace "God" with "Disdainful Cary Elwes"). Nothing is earned in this movie. It just ends. It. Just. Ends. I know that Final Chapters in these franchises aren't always the best movies. Some of you are howling over Friday the 13th. But this is an all time low.
This movie is so bad. It's so bad. It's barely a movie. Thank God that people swear that these movies get better. It's not like the reviews, shy of Saw X, are anything to write home about. But they aren't 9% approval ratings. This is a movie deserving of shame.
G rated and I'm pretty sure that's an okay...waitaminute! Isn't there a whole section about "nose candy"? Is that "nose candy" just cocaine? Also, isn't one of the funnier gags when the Tramp accidentally takes a bunch of this nose candy and loses his mind, Cocaine Bear-style? Still, G rating, I guess.
DIRECTOR: Charles Chaplin
It's spooky season! What am I doing writing about Charlie Chaplin? That's a loaded question. First, I think the obsession with spooky season has completely killed my love for spooky season. I don't want to be the spooky season grump, but it's the way my mind is wandering. Secondly, I was finishing a unit on the Early American studio system and Mark Sennett, so I had to show them an example of ur-slapstick. It's one of those movies that I absolutely should have written about before this time, but my stupid obsession with rules and completeness probably put the kibosh on that.
Chaplin always is a vibe check for me. Like how I feel with writing (especially today!), there are times that I really want to write and there are times when writing seems like the greatest burden imaginable. With the case of Chaplin, I want to watch all of Chaplin. My mental understanding is "I like all of the Chaplin I see. I'm sure it holds up." The emotional understanding is, "I'm not in the mood." It's weird. It makes no sense and I need to get that checked out because I have a lot more Chaplin to get through. But Modern Times reminds me how much I like Chaplin. In terms of the feels, I'm more of a The Kid fan myself. That is a movie with a concrete narrative and a character that is worth getting behind. With Modern Times, there is a narrative, but it is more loose than The Kid. If anything, Chaplin sets up a lot more vignettes and gags and then ties it together with a narrative framework. I mean, it works because I'm about to gush over this movie. But the analytical part of me really can't get by me. I'm watching the sausage get made and I can't stop thinking about it. Do you know why I keep thinking about it? I've seen Modern Times a handful of times. I remember images and gags from the movie, but I didn't remember that this was an anti-capitalism story that also had a romantic foundation. Nope. I remember the Tramp going through the gears and I remember the blindfolded rollerskating scene. It's because those set pieces exist almost as a complilation of short films, similar to that of Mr. Bean.
I'm going to say that my hippie-dippie liberal nonsense loves the heck out of this movie. If you told my 12-18 year old self that I would find the plight of the worker, especially during the Great Depression, the most fascinating part of American history (or at least close to the Cold War), I would scoff at you. This was something that was so off my privileged radar that I found tales of survival in a capitalist wasteland exhausting. But I start my American Lit class teaching Of Mice and Men and secretly want to hang out in this part of history forever. Perhaps it is the fact that the survivors of the Great Depression were able to distinguish between the traps of extreme capitalism and the notion of attaching that to America that really resonates with me. Okay, it was the artists who were doing that. But there's this parallel that I see with America today that I keep jumping back to when it comes to the Great Depression. Watching Chaplin's Tramp navigate through the lowest eschelons of society in an attempt to make a living reminds me the value of art as a time to take the pulse of a society in need to medical / economic salvation.
Modern Times goes hard too. I mean, it's always funny. Good art shows up when society starts to crumble because the one thing that people need during this time is something to bond over while having something entertaining. While Karl Marx proclaimed that religion was the "opiate of the masses", I know that entertainment has been placed in a similar camp. But Modern Times might be the film that kind of proves that entertainment doesn't have to try to be apolitical (there is no such thing!) while appealing to notions of simultaneous education and entertainment. I know that not all of my students found Modern Times to be perfect. I got some genuine laughs, so I know that there's at least debate about the quality of the film. But Modern Times, taking into account that comedy is subjective, is honestly very funny. Comedy relies often on the suspense that comes out of dramatic irony. The more you watch a movie, while the dramatic irony is the same, the suspense is lessened because we know when the "bang" is going to come. But I'm a guy who has seen this movie a handful of times. Why am I still laughing?
I think that comes down to craftsmanship. I was getting really mad at my Wifi connection during my favorite scene. I had to bring in my Criterion DVD (I had to throw that it was the Criterion in there. Why? Because my brain wouldn't let me not put that.) to show off that scene unbroken. Logically, I remember how close the Tramp gets to the edge of the floor. I know it. But I still held my breath. I still had that cathartic moment when his blindfold is taken off, despite the fact that it has been seared in my head. Very few movies get me to laugh that way over and over again. Why? Magic tricks are less impressive after each viewing. But with the sheer daring-do of Chaplin in Modern Times, he still got me. As much as I replay that image of him skating in my head, somehow Chaplin gets even closer to the edge than I remember. It's really very impressive. I know that we don't have the tradition of Buster Keaton or Harold Lloyd anymore, but I can't see why no one has pulled this card closer. Maybe it is that special effects and OSHA regulations have taken the danger out of any scene viewed (note: they absolutely should). But watching Modern Times, all I can think is "How the heck did he do this?"
But back to politics! Yay, politics! (Also, 12-to-18 year old me would roll my eyes at politics while 40-year-old me wants to burn the system down.)
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.