Not rated, but this is a hard R if I had to ever give it one. The Lone Wolf and Cub movies are overtly violent and sexual. There's so much blood. Add to this one that there are a lot of elements of supernatural horror and it really locks in the R-rated. There's an incestual rape, which is a phrase that I wasn't really hoping to write about. This scene has nudity and violence. It's just a lot to take in. Again, while not rated, this is an R-rated film.
DIRECTOR: Yoshiyuki Kuroda
The last one is my favorite! I mean, I was hoping it was going to be a satisfying conclusion. I don't know if that's necessarily true. But the last entry in the franchise is the most pure. It's something that is engaging and summarizes everything that's kind of cool about the Lone Wolf and Cub movies. While I can't say that White Heaven in Hell is going to change anyone's minds about the Lone Wolf series, it definitely is super watchable and that might actually be because of how simple the movie actually is.
I think there's a hint of buyer's regret with my Zatoichi and Lone Wolf and Cub box sets. In fact, it's made me hesitant to buy the Godzilla Criterion box, despite the fact that my collectors' itch tells me that I would love having it on the shelf. The thing about buying a whole franchise of movies that were made within months of each other means that I tended to get a lot of movies that just kept doing the same thing over and over again. When I watched the first entry in the Lone Wolf and Cub movies, I was really excited. These movies were bloodbaths. It's not that I'm all about violence, but these movies seemed so free and so rebellious compared to the safer samurai films that I had taken in over the years. They were exploitative and focused on the movies being good times. After all, it's not like Ogami Itto just killed people with swords. No, he had a baby carriage that doubled as a machine gun and broke down into multiple weapons. It was super cool and shameless.
But there are six films. What ended up being a surprising departure for a type of film ended up being the same things over and over again. But to make there be some kind of sense of progression, these movies provided departures from the primary mission of Lone Wolf and Cub. Rather than simply journeying on the Demon Way to Hell, they would take on contracts. People would provide moral conundrums for these characters. They were plots forced upon these two that distracted them from their primary mission: vengeance. So when the last movie came out, it was something that returned to formula. I must be getting dumber, because I like how simple this movie was compared to the other entries. It was the good guy versus the big bad. It returned to what made the series important. We've been promised that there would be a reckoning and this is the movie that delivered on that promise.
See, Ogami Itto doesn't really get his revenge. From a certain perspective, he does make a satisfying dent. The movie vocalizes how much death he has dealt to the Yagyu clan. It's really one of those German emotions that shows how much pleasure one can receive from the misfortune of others. I'm sure that I could look it up pretty easily, but that would disrupt the flow. But Yagyu Kaori (I think I got the right one) gets away. What this ultimately leads to is something similar to Inspector Gadget. Dr. Claw is always going to get away and the rivalry will continue forever. For as much of a dent that Ogami Itto causes in this film, it is heavily implied that this isn't the end. The bad guy is going to form a new Yagyu clan and the cycle will continue. I think a lot of that comes from the fact that Lone Wolf and Cub was based on an ongoing manga. If the bad guy actually loses, what is Itto supposed to do? The Demon Way to Hell isn't supposed to simply be over. I always understood the Demon Way to Hell as something that was a suicide mission. Itto and Daigoro, father and son, were going to die avenging the family and the disrespect his family had gained. So to actually defeat the Yagyu means a lack of purpose. The story is over in a way that is not satisfying for Itto. For me, I'm sure that I would actually like the narrative to end with Itto Ogami ripping apart the head of the Yagyu clan. I mean, he gets his own super cart at the end of this movie. They are characters who are meant to be evenly matched.
And we know that storytelling would allow for the end of the Yagyu clan. Perhaps some people would argue against that point, which is fine. But I'm thinking of franchises that have the bad guy run off to start a new plan. There's the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, that killed off Shredder and still managed to tell new tales. Blofeld keeps on escaping James Bond until he didn't in You Only Live Twice. And what this creates is a sense of scope and awe of the villain. When the big bad dies, the labor pains of finding a new threat for the hero seems frustrating. But what it really does is provide a means to potentially find a new big bad. But even more of a silver lining to killing off a big bad is bringing them back. Despite the fact that I talk about the value of the comic book narrative, we have a tradition in comic books for heightened realities. We have retconning and magical abilities. The world of Lone Wolf and Cub is one where bizarre, beyond-belief things happen as commonplace. The idea of the head of the Yagyu clan coming back, despite being killed in a previous entry adds to the element of shock. We can get excited about something like this because we remember what kind of threat he presents. He has a personal connection to Itto Ogami and his son. That's something that only exists if he is beaten. Riding off into the snow is almost cheating the system a bit. Knowing that the journey is eternal is fine, but why does it have to be with this one guy? It becomes almost serialized camp at that point.
Again, I really liked this entry. But the weirdest thing about this one is the fact that Daigoro, the Cub element of Lone Wolf and Cub, had almost nothing to do in this movie. There's no real reason for him to be there. He sits by and watches for the most part. The cool thing about the movies that I didn't really get into is that they expanded the role of Daigoro so that he was as much of a boss as Itto Ogami was. But Daigoro has absolutely nothing to do. In fact, there was one moment that I thought that he should have been killed off because he was ignored for so long. It's odd because he should be more than set dressing for a winter theme.
But my favorite element of this one was the supernatural element involved. I think I preached about this in another entry for the Lone Wolf and Cub films. This one heavily invests in the idea that demons and spirits exist and they are can be used to fight the mortals. I adore really well done supernatural horror. It kind of changes the stakes because we understand that Itto Ogami can't be killed by a regular dude. So scaring him a bit gives the film the right amount of investment. There was a video game licenced version of Superman Returns. In that game, Superman couldn't be killed. That makes sense. Superman is always way too killable in these games. Instead, the health meter revolved around how safe Metropolis was. White Heaven in Hell kind of does the same thing. Knowing that Itto Ogami was such a boss, there is this weird torture that the demon guards put him through. Killing any innocent person who interacted with either him or his son really brings up this odd moral debate that the two go through. They aren't exactly moved to protect the innocent. While that happens to be a byproduct of their adventures, they never seem all that concerned about others. But in this one, the very existence of Lone Wolf and Cub leads them to be responsible by proxy for the people they interact with. Sure, there's rocket launchers involved. But it still tells a really cool story because the threat is so different from what they've dealt with in the past.
I don't love the cop out scene though. At one point, the illegitimate son of the Yagyu traps Itto Ogami in a swamp. That's the reason that the battle was set there. The entire thing was a trap. Itto falls for the trap. That was the point. We're all here to trap Itto and he just convinces you to have a fair fight? I mean, of course Itto Ogami is going to win. The reason that you were brought into this convoluted situation is because you knew how to trap him and take away his advantage. But then, you just gave it back to him? I don't even think that he was particularly convincing. Okay, that's my two cents on that scene. I just really wanted to see Itto Ogami in a dangerous situation and the movie went and undid it.
While I don't think I'd ever want to binge the Lone Wolf and Cub movies, I have to say that I had a good time watching them. Part of me is curious to watch the movie as Shogun Assassin, but I can't imagine how that movie would make a lick of sense. Regardless, I got my fill of sex and violence in Japan, so I guess I can start a new box set.
PG-13 for Bond style violence and sexuality. The World is Not Enough, specifically, has a little bit more skin than usual when it comes to Sophie Marceau. While there isn't any outright nudity, there is little left to the imagination with two of the women in this movie. The opening credit sequence, however, is fairly tame compared those those scenes that we would see in the classic Bond era. Also, I need to stress: This movie has the most over the top innuendo joke in a Bond movie ever. It's the last line of the film. I refuse to write it out. PG-13.
DIRECTOR: Michael Apted
It's going to be one of those that I have to rewrite after I lost all of my work. It's been a while since I've had to do that, so be patient with me. For my readers who have followed me through multiple Bond films, you are witnessing my childhood through a fandom. I acknowledge that a sizable percentage of my readership are probably people who know me, so these stories might bring about a sense of nostalgia. Regardless, The World is Not Enough (or as I tended to use the shorthand TWiNE) was the height of my Bond mania. This was the halcyon days of Quicktime videos over 28.8 modems. (I may have had a 56k modem by this point. I'm really bad on remembering specific years for things. When someone says, "I did this and that in 1994" or something, I'm flabbergasted.) But I would sit there and watch the trailer for The World is Not Enough and watch it frame by frame over and over again. Oh, and this wasn't in just one sitting. I would reload that video time and time again. I mean, I would just keep watching it. So me writing about The World is Not Enough as a grown man, who enjoys these movies but simply as movies, it's new. It's a new thing. Part of me was most curious about The World is Not Enough simply because so many people say this movie is terrible. Well, what's my final takeaway?
The one thing I will say is that I have always acknowledged that Denise Richards as Christmas Jones might be one of the worst casting decisions of all time. I'm so sorry, Ms. Richards. I am not an artist. I write a daily film blog that few people read. I hate ever commenting on an individual's performance when it isn't good. But Denise Richards is the least appropriate casting I've ever seen. I'm going to talk about a wealth of reasons that she's miscast. So just strap in. If you either are a Richards stan or Richards herself, I'm already apologetic. Can I just go for the jugular? In the first draft, I took a different route. But with the benefit of hindsight, I have to comment on Richards's age in this movie. Besides the fact that she makes what might be one of the classiest Bond movies into kind of a teen movie, the age difference between Brosnan and Richards just seems really icky. I mentioned that For Your Eyes Only that the filmmakers at least commented on the idea that Bond has an age rule. But the movie pretends like Richards isn't a ten-year-old in this movie.
Instead, they pretend that she's a nuclear physicist. Come on. There's a line. There's willful ignorance and then there's what is happening in The World is Not Enough. There's a line in the movie that completely illustrates how insane this casting decision was. It seems like I'm going to be harping on something, but this was the moment where I thought that maybe the Bond films weren't perfect. There's a scene where Bond explains to Christmas Jones that the bomb is jury rigged. Now, to give Richards a little bit of leeway, it is a phenomenally stupid line. Bond explains that the bomb is jury rigged and Christmas Jones says, "Someone's tampered with the bomb." Now, I put a YouTube link on that quote. Listen to that line reading. I know. I shouldn't let it bother me. But that line delivery sums up the entire problem I have with the casting of Denise Richards. It also shares the same problem I have with Keanu Reeves in Francis Ford Coppola's Dracula.
Now, Keanu Reeves is a national treasure. I dare not sully his good name considering the good he has done in these dark times. But some of his performances are less than stellar. I reference Dracula because it is an amazing parallel for what is happening in The World is Not Enough. There's a scene where Reeves' Jonathan Harker is sitting across from Anthony Hopkins's Abraham Van Helsing. When Anthony Hopkins is chewing the scenery and acting the heck out of every syllable, Reeves's performance becomes so much more wooden. Denise Richards is a bad performance in a movie filmed with classy performances. Maybe it is the fact that the Bond producers think very little about Americans, shy of Holly Goodhead in Moonraker. I mean, look at the Bond girl in A View to a Kill. The Brits probably loathe Americans. Everyone in this movie is just so classy and she just can't pull it off. It's almost as if the screenwriters wanted her to look cultureless and vapid. There's a scene where Zukovsky falls in his own caviar. Bond tells a great joke. "All we need is some champagne." Cool. Joke delivered. Then Jones gets a tag, "Maybe some sour cream." The champagne joke does the job. The sour cream makes the sad trombone sound. It's just a movie full of this.
And that's when I am over the dumb stuff of this movie. I know that it is reviled by a lot of people. But I really feel like The World is Not Enough might be one of the fanciest Bond movies in the series. It has this very cinematic feel, very much like GoldenEye did in the wake of Licence to Kill. Sophie Marceau as the villain of the piece is classy as all get out. I know that the movie throws Renard the terrorist as the red herring in there, but Elektra King is interesting. We've had villainous Bond girls before, but they have always served to be henchwomen to the big male bad. But I like the inversion. In this watch, I feel like the Brosnan era has been an exploration of the changing of the roles of women in the story while trying to maintain the formula that has served Bond well for so long. While I don't think that The World is Not Enough could be, by any means, considered woke, it does at least makes a major step forward in understanding that women don't have to be two dimensional characters. If there's an evil woman, there might be something complex going on there. Bond doesn't have the ability to turn people to good. (Bond nerds will know that's actually kinda sorta consistent. It is a misunderstanding that all Bond girls fall madly in love with Bond.) But King is complex. I know that the Elektra narrative is a bit of a hint about parental relationships, but I like that there seems to be a greater mythos to Bond introduced into it. I mean, it doesn't deserve the title of the film. You'd think that it would be more of a throwaway line, especially considering that it is the Bond family crest.
But this brings up the idea that the villain needs to have a personal tie to the characters. The Craig era would thrive on the elements that are touched upon in The World is Not Enough. Elektra has a thirst for blood when it comes to M in this movie. We'd see this done potentially better in Skyfall. But watching the modern era close together has made me realize something: for all the gravitas that Judi Dench gives M, her M is wildly incompetent. She has that smirk with everything she does. There are these moments where M comments when Bond is away that he's the best agent she has and that she cares about him. But really, many of the story elements surround M making a gross error in judgment and Bond has to fix her mistake. I mean, I adore the dynamic that Dench brought to Bond. The idea that Bond cares for few people as much as he cares for M is great character development, especially considering her introduction in GoldenEye. But really, is M a good boss? She puts her faith in 007, but regularly ignores the warnings that tend to be right. In this one, she refuses to believe that Elektra might be the one who killed her father, which leads to her getting kidnapped. Luckily, her kidnapping is the fatal flaw in Elektra King's plan because M just happens to have a tracking device on her. But Bond almost allows a nuclear submarine to get away because he has to save M. (Mind you, he also feels the need to make out with Elektra King's corpse, so there are all kinds of odd judgment calls going on.)
But I really enjoyed this one. There's something about it that really gets to me. Maybe it is because it is Desmond Llewellyn's last film. Maybe it is because it feels like Brosnan is in his stride. But I'll mostly defend this film. I know that Denise Richards is...rough. But besides that, this movie rocks. I will stand by my unpopular opinion.
Rated R for a whole bunch of reasons. While Don't Breathe prides itself as a horror movie, which reminds us how violent it is, the biggest red flag is the very disgusting sexual assault that happens in the movie. It's aggressively uncomfortable, as all sexual assault is. But from there, the movie is remarkably violent. It somehow makes what should be a sympathetic villain completely disgusting and gross. A well-deserved R rating.
DIRECTOR: Fede Alvarez
A student last year, before class, asked me if I had seen this one. There were a string of sensory based horror movies coming out and they started to bleed together. I remember that there's a movie called Lights Out or something. When I hadn't seen it and after the rousing review from this student, I threw it on my Netflix DVD queue. Well, it finally came in the mail and I watched it. I mean, I'm shocked that Fede Alvarez directed this, especially considering that I remember his absolutely brutal version of The Evil Dead. Maybe if I had known that he directed this movie ahead of time, I would have steeled myself. I would have known what I was getting into.
There's a lot in this horror movie that I like. But there's a lot in this movie that makes me feel gross. I don't know if I'm the same person I was when I had deep dived into horror movies. Maybe the world is a different place. Maybe I have to question my entire morality. There's something that left me real gross after the movie was over. I think a lot of it comes from the conceit. The conceit is genius. I'm not talking about the blind thing. We've now done Bird Box and a glut of other sensory based horror movies. Heck, I've been writing about so many Zatoichi movies that the concept of a blind tank is not something that even blips on my radar. No, the conceit I'm talking about is flipping the script on the heroes and the villains. I mean, the protagonists are all thieves. One of the thieves is super gross. The movie doesn't really shy away from the idea that the protagonists aren't paragons of morality. But it's cool. We have this villain who is a blind vet who lost his daughter. From any perspective, the villain should be the most sympathetic villain imaginable and the protagonists should be troublesome at best.
That conversation had to have happened. It had to. Between the screenwriters or the director, someone had to say, "I want to flip the script. I want the good guy to be the bad guy and the bad guy to be the good guy." I just wish that the movie would hold onto that central belief. It's such a good idea. After all, it worked for First Blood. Why wouldn't it work here? Because the majority of the movie is spent trying to make the protagonists sympathetic. But even worse, the antagonist is demonized. Like, he's allowed to be scary and still sympathetic. But instead, he's a guy who keeps a girl in his basement. He's a guy, and I'm mortified to write this, keeps a mini-fridge full of semen which he injects into women via means of turkey baster. Why is any of this necessary? I think Fede Alvarez is an extremely talented guy, but this movie is securing the idea that Alvarez is becoming something like Eli Roth. He really overwhelming dives deep into the offensive and the gross. Sure, it worked for Evil Dead. But even with Evil Dead, I never want to watch that movie again. The thing about shock cinema is that it really appeals to the worst of our sensibilities. I remember when I saw Dead Alive in college, I thought it was a movie that went too far. I never wanted to see it again. Conceptually, I should want to share Don't Breathe with other people. Everything on paper screams that this should be an ideal horror movie. But with this obsession returning the protagonists and antagonists to the status quo kind of throws a wrench into the whole thing.
But the movie did decide to take the safe route, so let's look at that from a functional perspective. Rocky, the final girl, deals with a moral choice throughout the story. There's no real good option for her. On one aspect, she could leave without the money. (Really, the movie doesn't really leave us the option to leave the money. After all, the sacrifice that the thieves make necessitates a million dollar payoff.) From a traditional moral perspective (and probably mine as well), the abandoning of the money is the objective good. After all, the victims of the hunt are the cause of their own misery. Because they chose to invade this man's home, it kind of follows the rules of the slasher film. With the Friday the 13th films, partaking in sexual behavior or drug use justifies whatever horrors happen to the heroes. So when Rocky keeps fighting for the money instead of focusing exclusively on escape, we allow ourselves to believe that she deserves it. But we also have that other moral evil that is oddly justifiable. Because Rocky is a mother living in a toxic environment with her daughter, she needs this moment to escape. It seems like the movie wants to have the moral discussion, but doesn't do much actually facilitate the discussion that the film is dancing around.
But there's almost a sense of unreality when it comes to The Blind Man. It's not like Don't Breathe screams realism. These thieves seem silly by any standard. I highly doubt that they act like this in real life. But The Blind Man has no drive outside of obsession. Part of me would love to think that his solitary lifestyle has driven him to this insane place. But it also makes him seem like a force of nature. So why am I cool about Michael Myers in Halloween versus The Blind Man? I think the idea comes from the promise of something different. I'm so attached to the concept that this villain could have been viewed from a different perspective. Instead, he comes across as completely one-dimensional. He is a force of nature sooner than a sympathetic human being. It's in those moments where we see him torturing the girl in his basement. So the movie really becomes about poking this bear as much as possible. We don't feel bad for him, but worry about how much more dangerous the character will become. There's also a silliness that is associated with how much he can do. It tends to be part of the archetype of the blind warrior. Like Daredevil and Zatoichi, these characters take beatings unimaginable, but keep going. The Blind Man might be taking things to a new extreme, so it means that nothing can really be trusted in the film.
Sometimes I love when movies are set in Detroit. I mean, I am pretty sure that Sam Raimi and Rob Tapert produced the movie through Ghost House. But this is one of those movies that really depressed me about Detroit. There's this image of Detroit as being exclusively economically depressed. I don't know if I can word this properly, but Detroit has a heart in its underdog quality that some movies, like It Follows, that understand that heart. But this just treats Detroit like a soulless apocalypse. The story actually hinges on how unforgiving Detroit is and that depresses me.
Yeah, it's a good scary movie. But in terms of the responsibilities it had, it took the easy way out and relied on scares more than the challenge. That challenge is there staring the audience in the face and nothing comes of it. It's a bummer, but still probably worth a watch if you want to feel icky afterwards.
Rated R for the f-word. Really, this might be one of the most tame R rated movies I have ever seen. It almost goes out of its way to include the f-word. In terms of other questionable content, the protagonists play around the notion with sleeping with each other, but that is really kind of pathetic and small compared to what constitutes an R-rated movie. It's really just the occasional language. You could watch a solid chunk of this movie and completely forget that the movie is R-rated.
DIRECTOR: John Carney
Nothing like running into a movie that I've been recommending a ton, but that I haven't watched since it came out in 2007. Yeah, I've been sitting on this one for far too long, getting leverage out of something that I just remembered loosely. I remembered it so poorly that I thought the movie had a drastically different ending than it had. In fact, I'm so far off with the actual ending and my imagined ending that I'm having the two narratives duke it out in the back of my head while I type furiously. What if I write about the wrong ending? That can't be good for a film blog.
Once again, I'm chipping away at the Fox Searchlight box I got a while ago. But this is one of those movies that has somehow, despite being a sleepy little independent film, kept poking its way into the cultural zeitgeist. When "Falling Slowly" kept on appearing on The Last Man on Earth, I knew that I should probably watch the movie again. It is one of those things that really both touches the romantic in me and the cynic in me simultaneously. It's such a bleak piece about romance and humanity when art becomes the primary motivator in life. Part of me has no real relation to the characters in the film. While I may teach English and in the sense that I try to write this blog every day, that's at least a peek into the world of the creative. But these are people who have abandoned comfort and success so that they can pursue their dreams. Well, at least that's true about Glen Hansard's Guy (who, like Girl, is an unnamed character). Girl, portrayed by Marketa Irglova (I refuse to do the accent marks because I haven't learned the shortcuts for them) is actually someone who has been forced into poverty.
But this is a story about the love of the functioning poor. Both Guy and Girl live these lives where every dollar matters. The movie starts for Guy with his busking guitar case stolen by someone he kinda / sorta knows. He hustles down the street and he's just ready for it. For Guy, the world of busking is commonplace. It has been part of his life ever since his wife? / girlfriend? cheated on him and now he just lives the life of a poor singer. Sure, he's got the Hoover shop as background, but everything about Guy screams that he doesn't live comfortably. It's interesting to see, and I hate to sound like Richard Attenbourgh with this, that someone like Guy kind of lives like a child. He seems unable to leave a state of arrested development with his father. They have become this symbiotic relationship. Guy needs to help his dad with the Hoover shop. Guy's dad knows that Guy has been so broken that he is unable to exit his cycle of sadness and poverty. Guy's room seems a lot like my room in high school. It's a bunch of tiny walls (this is before I moved into the basement and increased my real estate ten-fold) with things tacked to the walls.
But Guy seems rich compared to Girl. Guy starts the film as the most down-on-his-luck character imaginable. He's a bit of a grump because things can't get any worse for him. But Girl, despite her very trying background, seems to be the outgoing one. She is the one raising both a daughter and a mother with a very limited income. But she sees this Scrooge on the corner and engages with him. She is the immigrant who sees this place of sadness and hardship as a form of paradise. This isn't to say that she isn't happy. But she seems to engage with Dublin with the sensation that things are looking up. She has removed herself from her toxic husband. She has surrounded herself with people who deal with the same second-class-citizen struggles that she does. It's what makes her so charming.
I'm the kind of audience member who shuts down when there's a marriage involved in a story. This is even before I got married. I just can't get comfortable with the idea that I'm supposed to be rooting for characters when they are committing adultery. So why am I cool with Girl cheating on her husband? Part of me thinks is that he is faceless until the end. We hear these stories of her trying to make it work. It really feels like they are divorced for the length of the film because he's never there and never wanted to be there. But the couple are quite sympathetic. Because Guy is so broken over his failed relationship and because Girl made his life gain meaning, they seem to be an even more healthy symbiotic relationship. I mean, there's symbolism in the idea that their instruments compliment each other. They find practical value in each others talents, but there's something so intimate about the notion that they perform and sing together that makes the whole thing gain just that extra bit of meaning.
I often exercise while I'm watching these movies. (If you are wondering how I can possibly maintain a near daily film blog, it is because I watch these movies during my daily exercise routine. I'm not ripped because of a combination of genetics and a recently abandoned diet that was causing my cholesterol to spike.) While I'm running, I often think what direction I want to approach while writing the blog. With Once, I knew that I wanted to talk about how this movie almost isn't really a movie, but simply an extended music video. I've been talking about the characters and the themes pretty hard so far, but I completely forgot how this movie doesn't really feel cinematic in any way, shape, or form. As much as I say that I haven't seen this movie in ages, I knew a lot of it because I had the soundtrack. I've always been honest about lack of pop culture savviness when it comes to music, but I dug the Once soundtrack. For all my ping-ponging around the point, Once is kind of just a visual form of the soundtrack.
Because as much as we care about the characters in the movie, and as much as I care about the themes of poverty and love, it really does put the music in a foundational spot throughout the film. From what I understand, Once has been adapted to be a stage musical. I always had an odd problem lumping something like Once into the category of musical because lots of movies that aren't musicals have people singing. It's always that questionable diagesis that has to happen for me to fully understand that something is or isn't a musical. (For example, I refuse to accept The Hobbit movies as musicals despite the abundance of singing in those films.) But the way that this movie is shot, there's very little story happening. But there's the scene where Girl is "testing out lyrics" on the Walkman batteries to "If You Want Me". Think about how long that shot is. It's impressive. But really, if a plot is being advanced, we can get that from one stanza. Instead, we get repetition, multiple verses, everything. The entire song is there. What really happens is that we get a very low-key version of a musical or a music video.
I can't believe that I thought that they ended up together. The movie is so aggressively about not putting the two of them together. There really is no happy ending that is possible in the movie. It's so bizarre. It's like the movie is kind of talking about the messiness of real love when the world isn't comfortable. Because these two people are poor and with responsibilities, it refuses to have that cinematic Hollywood ending. The whole movie, we keep hearing about bad of an idea Guy's ex is. But Guy's ex is in London, as is a chance for artistic success. From an audience perspective, at least I can speak for myself, we want Girl to join Guy in London. But she says something real: "What about my mother?" Guy, from his perspective, was ready to take an emotional leap into adulthood. He was going to jump right into fatherhood, taking care of Girl's daughter. But the choice to ask Girl to come to London, in this moment, is discovered to be a greedy move instead of an altruistic one. When he realizes that he's kind of backsliding into his arrested development by having to simply replace his father with a mother-in-law, he can't make that decision.
So the delivery of the piano, in this moment, becomes this bittersweet moment. The two of them have improved each others' lives, which is touching. But this relationship, despite both of their feelings, is not meant to be romantic. It's this character shift in a fairly short movie that really sells that. The events of the film really only take place over a few days. But Girl goes from being mortified that he sees her in a sexual way to being open to hanky panky. (Her words, not mine.) She tells him that she loves him, admittedly in Czech, and the real heartbreak is the idea of a relationship unfulfilled.
And yet, I had the memory of this being a happy ending. I suppose I like sad endings. This is a nice balanced ending because the finale isn't horrendously tragic. The movie has an understanding on how this encounter was an important snapshot in two much larger lives. Girl ends up back with her husband with an odd ray of hope. It never gives us too much indication what direction their romance will take, but there's the idea that he's at least there to try. It's sad and joyful at the same time. It finds value in things other than romantic love and that's kind of touching.
PG for kids in danger. I mean, there's also a song about pooping in the ground. One of the characters begins hallucinating from touching a mushroom and runs off into the forest naked. I suppose there's actually quite a bit to object to, besides the sense of otherness that indigenous cultures are repeatedly subjected to. But I'm also in the camp that a Dora the Explorer movie shouldn't be beyond PG. I suppose I can stand by this rating, mainly because the jokes are aimed at kids. PG.
DIRECTOR: James Bobin
Let's see what's on the docket for today. Nothing says, be ready to write like seeing that the next movie is the Dora the Explorer movie. If you haven't guessed, we're still doing family movie nights every so often. And since I sound like I'm already too good for the Dora the Explorer movie, I'm going to establish that I didn't oppose watching this. Heck, I even quietly rooted for this movie to be picked because the trailer made me giggle. And while I had a decent time watching this movie that was clearly aimed at children, a week out it seems like I should have fought for other movies.
We're in that great age of the ironic send-up. These are movies that hate their source material. At least, I hope that is the truth. But ever since The Lego Movie showed us that you can have an absurd corporate premise and present something of substance, other movies have tried tackling every franchise with a sense of attempting to do the same thing. Sure, no film has really nailed the sense of irony that The Lego Movie did, but Dora and the Lost City of Gold doesn't absolutely fail at doing the same thing. I hate to ever say this, but maybe my wife was right. Maybe some things shouldn't ever be adapted. Because for all of the joy that Dora and the Lost City of Gold really brings, is any of it really Dora the Explorer?
22 Jump Street made a famously great Dora the Explorer joke in the beginning of the movie. But as great as that joke was, I never confused 22 Jump Street for a Dora movie. While Dora and the Lost City of Gold keeps winking at the camera and parodying elements of the television program, there's really nothing there to make this feel like it is a continuation of a franchise. When my wife argued that some things shouldn't be adapted, Dora kind of fits that bill because the television show was remarkably anti-mythology and anti-narrative. Instead, the show used a loosey-goosey plot per episode to help kids learn skills to help them with kindergarten and taught them rudimentary Spanish. That's it. The movie doesn't really have the same goal. While the film acknowledges that the show was primarily educational, with jokes of Dora speaking to the camera and integrating Spanish from time-to-time, Dora's search for history's lost cities was never part of the plot. The world of Dora the Explorer was free from evil. The antagonist of the show was Swiper, a mostly harmless character that reminded kids to keep their hands to themselves. While it may be cute and funny to laugh at Dora going after armed mercenaries, that's the the stuff Saturday Night Live skits as opposed to actual content that one can seek their teeth into.
But other children's franchises have successfully spun-off into cinema. But those are the movies that are aimed for the kids exclusively, as opposed to building an all-ages audience. I'm thinking of examples like Follow That Bird!, spinning off from Sesame Street. Follow That Bird, as with most Jim Henson productions of the time, held no sense of shame for the property being expanded. Kids loved Big Bird, so telling a story about Big Bird was a point of success for Sesame Street. But for Dora and the Lost City of Gold, Dora had been off the air for a while at this point. I was way too old for Dora myself and my kids were too young. She was off the map. I think the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles kind of deal with this issue from generation to generation as it constantly reboots itself. So what happens is that a movie like Dora and the Lost City of Gold comes out and there seems to be a lack of depth. Considering that I've seen a handful of Dora episodes, I got the jokes pretty easily. But is this a love letter to a franchise? Probably not. If anything, it feels a little bit like bullying and embarrassment. The most crafted moments are the ones that stray as far away from the source material as possible.
When I deal with the problems of adaptations, I tend to have to shift away from the primary problem with the film. I now have to look at Dora and the Lost City of Gold as a story divorced from its source material. If we didn't consider the TV show to be the motivation behind this movie, what we get is a movie about an absurd copy of Indiana Jones or Lara Croft. If anything, Dora and the Lost City of Gold probably does a more capable job of sending up those movies while staying aimed at a pre-teen audience. Because the story, what little there is, tends to reflect a complete lack of imagination. The movie really relies on tropes and universal themes to talk to the audience. It is no surprise that Dora, as an outsider to civilization, has a hard time adapting to high school. The thinly veiled biome of high school is the same premise we saw in Mean Girls. The survivalist in the big city is just Crocodile Dundee. And the side characters simply act as archetypes needed to tell a thinly constructed theme of acceptance of difference. If anything, the protagonist is actually too perfect because she's never even tempted by human motivations. She is the Dora of cartoon fame, who has no idea how to get really angry and frustrated. I don't see her singing a poo song, but it does make for good comedy.
So why did I even enjoy it while watching it? From what I've written, I'm pretty down on the movie as a whole. There's a lot of talent behind this movie. While I don't love the eye-rolling attitude the creators of this movie went into it with, the movie is exactly what it aimed to be. It makes fun of the concept of Dora the Explorer, for better or worse. It tells a simple narrative that is laden with jokes both about the show and about the quest trope throughout. Considering that Dora and the Lost City of Gold is meant to be a comedy first and an action movie second, a lot of the jokes land, especially those that tie into the original program.
As a kids' movie, it does a lot of what popular cinema does. We rarely get the educational elements of the original show. Even with Follow That Bird, which I consider the pinnacle of film adaptations for children, there isn't a ton of academic moments in the story. So instead, it makes kids giggle. Sure, I probably ended up enjoying it more than my kids did. They're hard sells and even their limited Dora exposure weren't long enough to considered glory days. But the jokes kind of work. It's a silly movie that's mostly appropriate enough for kids. It's just something that is remarkably forgettable.
Not rated, but it has plenty of the f-word. Really, it should be TV-MA, but rating movies is not my job. Heck, it's not even my job to write about movies anymore. I just do it because I do. But this isn't necessarily for all audiences. For the true crime fans out there, you understand the fact that people are talking about real death casually. But with Class Action Park, it kind of goes to the next level. Death is joked about at times and taken very seriously other times. It's not for everybody.
DIRECTORS: Seth Porges and Chris Charles Scott III
I've been talking about this ever since I saw the trailer. It's not like I ever went to Action Park. I can't be preaching this as a hometown favorite. But there's something instantly seductive about watching a documentary about a park that was infamous for injuries and deaths. Now, before I go into the whole hullaballoo about safety in parks, from what I understand, practically every theme park in the world has a death toll. It's kind of part of the secret history of theme parks. So if you want to instantly correct me for my morbid curiosity when it comes to Class Action Park, be aware that I know. I know. You don't have to tell me. People died at Disney. I get it. The fascination isn't necessarily that people died (although I don't feel great about writing that and coming to terms with that), the fascination lies in the fact that the guy who owned this place wanted it to be a little bit dangerous and had no understanding of engineering.
For a good chunk of the film, my wife and I were cracking up. You can't help it. The entire notion of Action Park seems absurd. The movie wisely gives us the background of Gene Mulvihill and how he just didn't care about safety at all. While probably part of the Greatest Generation, Gene was this guy who out Boomered the Boomers. He was a guy who grabbed as much money as he possibly could in the least ethical ways imaginable. He probably knew he was a criminal, but that did nothing to impact how he was going to act or run a business. So when this guy decided to open an amusement park, he didn't want to make it for crybabies. I mean, this was an oddly smart financial decision if he was okay with lawsuits because that appealed to a lot of the New Jersey crowd. After all, the appeal of the amusement park is the spectre of death. I'm not adding this as my own commentary. The documentary stresses that amusement parks have a goal of making you fear for your life despite the fact that you are perfectly safe (kind of). But removing those barriers between the illusion of danger and a very real potential of danger was appealing to a lot of people. I don't know if everyone who visited Action Park knew of the danger, but it seemed to be one of the marketable traits of the location.
The humor really comes from the absurdity of the entire situation. Recreated through crude animations, Class Action Park illustrated how dangerous this park got. Possibly the most insane thing I have ever seen involved a waterslide that ended in a vertical corkscrew. The idea was that the rider was dropped into pitch black darkness at such an insane vertical angle that they often left the safety of the slide, launched up and over. But it would be commonplace that if you were either too big or too small, there was a chance that you couldn't get the right velocity to make your way around the corkscrew. So you'd end up slamming into the vertex of the corkscrew and they'd have to fish you out. From my audience perspective, it's just one of those things that seems impossible to exist. We live in a world where it is hard to organize a Breakfast with Santa (speaking from experience), let alone get a whole bunch of people to make a ride that everyone knows wouldn't work. This was Gene's philosophy. Because he wasn't really an engineer, he would pay to build these rides that often were immediately scrapped because people couldn't actually complete the ride. Remember how the appeal of death had to be a smart financial decision? I don't know how those ticket prices paid for all of the insane experimentation that Gene Mulvihill allowed on the grounds.
But tonally, Class Action Park rides a really fine line. There's something remarkably entertaining about this absurd park that got people killed. It's morbid humor at its best. But the movie doesn't treat all death as a joke. I mean, those animated segments really wanted to make us laugh. It wasn't an accident that Chris Gethard had the best stories about the park. The movie is meant to be funny. But the issue is that death really affects people. The filmmakers are aware of that. They brought in the mother of a child who died at the park. Well through all the laughter, there's a haunting shift to a mother's testimony about a young child who died at this park because of Gene Mulvihill's laziness and braggadocio. What this kind of leads to is an odd commentary on gawker culture. Really, the movie slightly jabs at you for getting in the spirit of the film. If we are meant to look at this woman in the eye as she laments the memory of her child, doesn't that make us in the same categories as the thrill seekers who are just looking for a good laugh? I suppose the true crime genre has always walked a fine line between those who fight for justice and those who want to hear sordid details about the dead. But the movie never really actively criticizes us for being rubberneckers. It takes the safe position of having its cake and eating it too.
But as much as I enjoy the film, there's something that's terribly haunting about the film as a whole. It's no surprise that I am one of the many of my generation who hold nostalgia as currency. It's why I read and went to see Ready Player One. It's a dangerous precedent. And this movie might be the one that have turned us into the next generation of Boomers. Every generation values its childhood (for the most part). Things were always better in those days and they certainly were harder. "These kids today have no idea what it was like." There's a very strong message of the toughness of '80s kids. Sure, the commentary is more along the lines of things being both better and worse at the same time. Because things were dangerous, we loved the choices presented to us. But at the same time, we shouldn't had to have made those choices as children. As kids of the '80s, we waded for a good long time in the nostalgia pool. We lead lives surrounded by toys and games and we revel in those memories. But by saying that we're somehow different from current generations has officially made us old. Class Action Park, for all of its glory, might have actually put the final nail in the coffin for people in their 30s and 40s.
But at the end of the day, I still talk about this film. I recommend it to everyone. It's got the allure of a true crime story with the goofiness of Wet Hot American Summer. While I'm glad the park is closed, I'm oddly intrigued that it ever existed.
TV-MA for over-the-top scary zombie violence coupled with human-on-human violence. The grotesque factor is pretty palpable with Train to Busan, mainly because of the weird contortion stuff that the zombies do once reanimated in this movie. A lot of people die horrible horrible deaths, often by being trampled or eaten. There's no way around the fact that the film is insanely violent, but there is also is some pretty mild language in the film as well.
DIRECTOR: Sang-ho Yeon
I think my first year teaching my film class, one of my exchange students really recommended this movie. He was obsessed with it. I don't know what it was about a few years ago, but I wasn't exactly itching to watch another zombie film. It was probably because I was neck-deep in two separate The Walking Dead shows and I just was kind of getting over zombies. But we're cable cutters now, so I haven't seen anything zombie for about a year. (I just realized that we cut cable just in time for Covid.) When I saw that Train to Busan was on Netflix, I knew that I had no excuse to not see it. Part of me was actually low-key excited to watch the movie. Now that I've seen it, I actually can say that my student was right. Train to Busan pulls off what a lot of zombie movies fail to do.
The zombie film subgenre is a bit bloated. We can probably all agree on that, right? Like, if you are a die-hard, ride-or-die zombie fan, there's plenty of content out there for you to watch. A lot of it is probably pretty rough, but the content actually exists. So what is it that makes a zombie film really worth watching? Now, I have not seen the sequel to Train to Busan, but I watched the trailer for it. It didn't really grab my attention. Really, a lot of stuff reads like the trailer for Peninsula, so I'm really trying to rack my brain to figure out what it is about Train to Busan that knocks my socks off so much. And, because if I'm honest, Train to Busan just mixes the zombie formula with a healthy dose of Snakes on a Plane.
It's not to say that bad zombie movies or Snakes on a Plane aren't watchable. I really enjoyed Snakes on a Plane when I saw in the theater. There's a lot of pleasure to be grabbed from ironically watching a movie. This is not that. Train to Busan mixes prestige filmmaking techniques with a fun premise to create a film that really works on all levels. I'm a little worried that, in my breakdown, I'm going to be just talking about the greater zombie allegory. Zombies tend to be really scathing criticisms about civilization and culture. From a narrative perspective, Train to Busan doesn't open any new doors. The protagonist of the piece is the character we've seen in every action movie. He's the dad who has put work as a priority in front of his family. Through the course of the film, he builds a relationship with his daughter, who finds him to be aloof and the two waddle their way through the apocalypse together. SPOILER: Because he's a jerk at the beginning of the movie who is pretty self-involved, his redemption arc needs his death, so all of that plays out.
And, like any zombie movie worth its salt, the real villains can't be the zombies. That's why The Walking Dead is interesting. The zombies are part of the setting. They are an excuse to force our heroes to never be comfortable. If you are standing still, you are dead. The real villains will always be people of power. In the case of Train to Busan, it's a wealthy CEO who wants to protect his own life at all costs. I would like to say that the actor that they got for this role kills (pun intended). He's so good as the hateable villain that his eventual dispatch is all the more satisfying when it finally happens. He's the guy who typically overreacts to threats, claiming that anyone who is not part of the guaranteed safe group is clearly a zombie. He inadvertently saves the heroes of the movie by isolating them, but somehow manages to survive himself. It's nothing that we haven't seen before. But for some reason, in Train to Busan, it absolutely works wonders. I think it is because he's such a pathetic schlub from moment one. Instead of being a slicked-back hair tycoon, there's always something really pathetic about the rich guy in this movie. He really screams that he's going to be the jerk in the whole thing, so when he continually escalates his obsession with safety, he comes across as a lunatic. It's that gradual build up that does it. We can see where he abandons the pretense of having a moral code and just does darker and darker things. Every time I think I'm through hating that guy, he does something else really worse than what led up to that moment previously.
Maybe I liked that Train to Busan wasn't afraid to get rid of its most likable characters. I mean, a lot of the characters die in this movie. There's a shot towards the end of the movie where all of the trains are at the station and they're all packed to the brim with zombies. (I love in that scenario, a zombie snuck onto every train, eventually infecting everyone.) We think that the train we're following, which I'll lovingly refer to as "our train", is for some reason special. But after the devastation that occurs throughout the cast, we just realize that our Train to Busan isn't special at all. We get two survivors, which I guess makes it kind of unique. But really, the people that we treated like Daryl from The Walking Dead aren't all that special. Cool, I'm glad we liked those characters. But when they died, it made the movie actually pretty heartbreaking. I put that image of the older lady for today's post because that scene is great. We adore her and just watching her exact vengeance on the greedy passengers is perfectly choice.
But there is one moment I would have changed. The movie runs about a minute-and-a-half too long. There's a moment where the pregnant woman and the child (who should have their own adventures where the child has to deliver a baby), walk into a dark tunnel. We don't know what is on the other side of that tunnel. It's a little bit of Schroedinger's Tunnel because on the other side is either the promised safety or the tunnel is just ravaged by zombies. When we have the tease about the gun and it doesn't go off, it is actually a Chekhov's gun. Don't tease us with the gun to create one last suspenseful moment. It doesn't work. Relating this to the OG zombie movie, Night of the Living Dead, Romero followed through with that shot, murdering the protagonist in cold blood accidentally or "accidentally". That scene doesn't work as well as it should.
But Train to Busan is better than it has any right to be. Considering that we've been overrun by zombie movies, much like zombies tearing their way through a train terminal, the movie works. While I'm not really a fan of running zombies like Simon Pegg talks about, there is a real threat throughout the film of overwhelming masses of quickly moving terrors. This is the kind of zombie apocalypse that we couldn't crawl back from. But it still tells a great story.
PG-13 for the same reasons that the rest of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies are PG-13: mostly for supernatural horror. Because this is a direct continuation of the second film, Dead Man's Chest. Really, everything that happens in the first movie happens in the second movie. I suppose you see a hallucination of Captain Jack with his brain falling out of his head as well. There's the innuendo and drunkenness that was also in the other movies as well. It's not surprising that this is a PG-13 movie.
DIRECTOR: Gore Verbinski
Geez, what a painfully long movie. We did this movie over two nights. There was one point where we had to pause the film. My wife honestly thought that there had to only be fifteen minutes left in the movie and we realized we hadn't even crossed the halfway point of the movie. I thought she was going to confiscate the TV at the point. I remember being profoundly disappointed by this movie the first time I saw it. I know that people swear by this entry in the franchise, but I could not be more bored when I saw it. I thought I might have been wrong in my first opinion of the film. I watched it again and was even more bored. So I'm pleasantly surprised that...I didn't hate it this time?
I know that's not the most resounding praise of a movie, but I really hated this movie the first time I saw it. Like with Dead Man's Chest, this movie really has a problem with trying to do too much with the screentime. The Pirates movies, in general, keep forgetting that the most interesting elements of the story are the characters. Because At World's End, is technically the end of a trilogy and it is aware that it is the end of a trilogy, it has the character moments that we turn in for. It's just that those moments tend to get buried under some really burdensome fantasy technobabble. As with The Wrath of Khan and The Search for Spock, At World's End is locked into bringing back Captain Jack Sparrow.
There's something a little self-indulgent about the return of Captain Jack Sparrow. I mean, we're all watching these movies for Captain Jack. I know that there are rumblings of making more of these movies without Johnny Depp now that he's slightly persona non grata. But for all of the Will Turner and Elizabeth Swann shipping in the world, the interesting character in the movie is Captain Jack. But even with The Search for Spock, Spock himself doesn't dominate the film. In that film, we see a young Spock going through pon farr, acting very un-Spock like. But with At World's End, a good portion of the movie is devoted to giving as much screen time as Johnny Depp can handle. The movie not only understands that we love Captain Jack, but it basically screams to us that we're not allowed to fall out of love with Captain Jack. While I won't swear that The Search for Spock is a great film, it at least understands that putting the return of Spock as the crux of the story is a smart idea.
But instead, we have a portion of the film that is completely devoted to getting Jack back and then we have to start a whole separate story. I know that the story really tries making Jack's return vital to the survival of everyone, but I only understood that upon that watching. It's not like the pirates tried to fight Davy Jones without Jack and have failed. Instead, their first response is to get Jack back. Really, if the story embraced that it is meant to be about Jack's return, there might be something really worth watching. But by splitting the movie into disparate plots, we never really get the investment that these moments really deserve. We actually never even get a moment away from Jack. When Jack is revealed, it's a bit into the movie. But in terms of fasting from Captain Jack, we are never really deprived of his presence. The movie needs to let us appreciate Jack. Instead, we actually get more than Captain Jack Sparrow than ever. He's everyone in this movie. And if it wasn't enough that Captain Jack Sparrow is a character who plays the part with an esoteric attitude that doubling down on that isn't exactly something new. We don't get much of a growth in the character.
But the movie does a couple of things really right. While I want to applaud the tragic end of Will Turner, I am more in the mindset that At World's End makes Will Turner kind of fun again. I don't really understand the friendship of Will and Jack. Will keeps running to the rescue of Jack Sparrow, but seems to really hate him as well. It's not a fairweather friendship. No, it honestly seems like Will Turner really hates Jack because they always end up on opposite sides of central conflicts in these movies. But it is once Will is reminded that his primary goal is to marry Elizabeth Swann, he becomes this fun character again. I always remembered my favorite moments from these movies as the rad fight scenes with the jokes. Well, that's still pretty true, but I really enjoy the marriage scene, for all of its absurdity. Maybe that's what I realize about the Pirates of the Caribbean films. They really shine when they embrace the absurdity of the entire situation, which would be something like the marriage battle. It's so goofy and fun that it reminded me why I signed on for these movies. I don't know why I can't get behind the Jack and Davy Jones fight on top of the mast in the same way. Maybe because it doesn't feel very dangerous, due to CGI. But the marriage fight is just fun.
Similarly, I do approve of the growth of Elizabeth Swann. I mean, it's a bit silly and you have to squint to see how Elizabeth Swann got into the position of being the Pirate Lord or whatever, but I do approve the fact that At World's End completely abandons the notion that Elizabeth Swann needs saving. Will Turner was always the epic hero in the series and At World's End gives Swann something to really do. While she isn't the swashbuckler that the other characters are, I do love seeing other characters put in their places when she shows up. Her character arc in this movie is actually pretty rad. Yeah, it's a bit of a lightswitch, which is absurd considering how much she's in the franchise. But the moment that was teased with Swann and Sparrow on the island in Dead Man's Chest is really paid off in this movie. We know that she is a capable character, but she's finally allowed to strut her stuff.
While I can safely say that I never really want to watch this movie again, it wasn't the terrible movie I remember. Yeah, I would definitely purge a bunch of storylines. Yeah, I get that we get emotional about Bootstrap Bill and his son. I get the idea that the movie is about sacrifice. But it is a silly movie series. When it takes itself too seriously, it actually becomes a bit of a burden. But when it focuses on character and fun, the movie proves that it is a good time.
Rated R, because it has a lot of really unnecessary nudity. I think it is a crime to skip past opening credits. But when we were sitting down to watch a movie that I convinced my wife to watch, that opening credit sequence just kept going...and going...and going. There is some nudity that ties to the plot, but that opening credit sequence is a lot. Also, the movie's atmosphere is just super dark and bleak. There's adultery, rape, murder, language, violence, cancer. It's got everything. This is a hard R.
DIRECTOR: Tom Ford
You can tell when I've made real headway in my Netflix DVD list when I start hitting movies that were made four years ago. It's either the movies are labelled "2019" or "2020" or they're ancient. It's the stuff that I put down in 2016 that got buried in the Netflix queue that are really impressive. I think I even remember why I threw it on the queue. This was one of the Academy Award nominees for best supporting actor I think. It's was for Michael Shannon. Listen, I have some really strong opinions about Michael Shannon. Okay, let's revise that sentence. I have really strong opinions about Michael Shannon that I need to reconsider. Because he was one of those actors that always made these lists of impressive actors and I was always confused. I had a hatred for both him and Timothy Olyphant, both of whom I now completely respect. Perhaps it was that they both had a bad role or something, but Michael Shannon is absolutely fantastic in this movie and I totally get why he was nominated for stuff.
I almost turned this movie off. When I throw these movies on the Netflix queue, there's some excitement there. I'm super jazzed to see something that is topical and water-coolery. But when a movie comes out after it is a talking point, I tend to completely forget about it. If I had seen the opening credits of this movie with its extremely sexual opening credits, I might have considered powering through it because I knew that I could at least have a moment of "What were those opening credits all about?" When the opening credits ended and the movie just wallowed in being bleak, I thought that this might be a quitting film. I don't like quitting movies. I don't like quitting TV shows or books or anything. I feel like I failed. But with Nocturnal Animals, I'm glad I powered through. I mean, it got real close to me not moving on. The only thing I knew about the film was that Amy Adams and Michael Shannon were in the movie, not the premise of the film. Once the central conceit showed up, I was on board.
It really is a weird movie. A few years ago, during my wife's annual MIT puzzle hunt, there was a puzzle that I figured out that involved stories within stories. These are the narratives that are about storytelling, so there's a whole meta-narrative happening in the background. With Nocturnal Creatures, I was so turned off with the melodrama of Susan and Hutton that when the crime drama of the novel began, I was instantly hooked. Despite both stories being brilliantly filmed, it was the high tension of the novel that really grabbed my attention. I desperately hope it isn't the primitive, stereotypical male part of me that can only graft onto action and mystery. But considering that the world of the novel is rich and dramatic, that made the world outside the text all that much more interesting. I know that I'm kind of crapping on the melodrama part of the story, a story about an artist who married the wrong man and has problems with her mother. By itself, those scenes feel very self-indulgent. People are sad because that is how their characters are described. But in context with a novel that Susan is reading, it makes all the more sense.
Perhaps I'm too in love with the idea of the glory of the artist. Susan as an artist feels cheap. While everyone is mesmerized with her art, she feels like a hack. (Note: I also think that she's a hack and I think we're all supposed to recognize that she's a hack.) Instead, there's something sexy about her ex's novel. Because he isn't famous and because he's still got that garage band authorship behind him, Edward's work seems fresh and vibrant. It feels like it lacks the empty tank that Susan's art displays. In this moment, because I'm talking about art, there's a Woody Allen vibe to everything going on in the background. It's not unlike Allen to use a meta-narrative to talk about the struggle of the artist. It's just that Nocturnal Animals doesn't read like Allen, despite the format of the film. Sure, Allen will jump between the "real" world of the artist and the fictional world of the text, but the tone of the film in both cases is so bleak. Even when the story plays around with the halcyon days of early love, the movie still feels pretty darned serious. I mean, it's not to say that Gyllenhaal and Adams don't have chemistry. They totally do. These performances are pretty solid. It's just that this never really feels like a romance story. It always is a breakup story, a breakup story without hope.
Part of me is terrified that I love the end because I love bummer endings. I know it is because it is an expertly crafted ending that really works with the themes set up throughout the piece. But having that moment of Susan being rejected is just such a spiteful and perfect resolution to the film. Susan is so confident when she is talking to her mother. Her mother is meant to come across as the absolute worst. We all rally behind Susan's courage when it comes to telling her mother off and defending her love for her husband. But that's why it is such a betrayal to both Edward and, subsequently, the audience. We know that Edward is right. It is crushing to know not only that Edward and Susan didn't work out, but that Susan's mother was dead right. It's like we all lost a battle that we oh-so-desperately needed to fight for. Because Susan gave up her ideals, it kind of is a statement screaming that love isn't real and that everything is a sham. So when Edward doesn't show up for the date, the novel becomes this damning revenge. It could either have been an olive branch of an attack upon Susan and the book works so much better as the perfect revenge.
It's so sad to see her sitting there, putting away whiskey after whiskey as the restaurant empties. In that moment, we think of all of those questionable moments in the meta-narrative. I adore that they straight up cast Isla Fisher as the avatar for Amy Adams. I always thought that they were the same person and I'm sure both actresses are sick of that comment. But those moments of extreme violence to Tony's wife and daughter are terrifying, especially considering that their stand-ins are alive in the "real" world of Susan. Having the two red-haired daughters be these stand in for female violence. As part of that, it is kind of gross. The movie is really just hovering around gross content and fragile masculinity. While I can identify with Edward and his frustrations with Susan, there's also something accusatory in a character like this. Because both Edward and Tony are both played by Gyllenhaal, it's interesting to see what Edward views in himself.
Before I really delve into that idea, I do have to comment on the dual ways to read Gyllenhaal's casting in the movie. The most realistic scenario is that Susan mentally pictures Edward as a stand-in for Tony. That is my headcanon, but it doesn't quite hold up. After all, Isla Fischer plays the stand-in for Susan in the book. So why doesn't Amy Adams imagine herself in the place of Tony's wife? The other read is that Edward places himself in the role of Tony consciously. Because Tony is the hero of the narrative, he could be painting himself as the wronged man who is the hero / antihero of his own life. Tony, for all the gray lines he crosses, still is the protagonist that people are meant to identify with. But that good guy role is almost fantasy wish-fulfillment. In Tony's version of events, he didn't lose his family. His family, instead, was taken away through violence. Because he is the clear victim of assault, it gives him free reign to make grandiose choices that reality would not afford him.
But the big takeaway is that Nocturnal Animals is this really complex story that asks you to make some investments to really enjoy it. There are things I really didn't like about the movie, but it all didn't matter when the story fully got going. It is this strong work that asks me to question the morality of the artist. It's a really solid film with great performances.
Not rated, but mainly because this is barely considered a movie. An hour five? That's not much of a film. I suppose the first Asterix movie is pretty harmless. There's a lot of cartoon punchy violence. I suppose there might be some stereotypes played up, but even that is pretty tame. Really, this movie should be G. For all I know, some releases might even have it as G-rated. But since it is technically not rated, I have to give it the blue text.
DIRECTOR: Ray Goosens
It's so hard to take that specific thing from your childhood and thrust it upon your children. I did the same thing with Not Quite Human, but apparently I never learn my lesson. My dad was obsessed with Asterix comics. Because he was upsettingly smarter than I will ever be, he read them in the original French. I was always confused by the fact that he never liked the American puns that the characters from Asterix had because they apparently worked better in French. Regardless, Asterix and Obelix were characters I grew up with and hadn't revisited in a really long time.
Part of the appeal of revisiting this movie came from the fact that we're homeschooling. Yup, we're one of the folks who thought it was too dangerous to send our kids back to school in the midst of a plague, so we thought we would spice up our curriculum with some stuff that they might not get in a traditional school setting. As part of that, we said that we would study different cultures every month and we started with France. My contribution was to French popular culture, and voila! Here's what you get. But the thing about Asterix the Gaul is that it is really dated. How did I not notice how dated this movie was? The animation is super-duper basic. I mean, we're talking about even more simple than a classic episode of Scooby-Doo: Where are You? While I have to applaud that my kids lasted a few minutes into the episode, they clearly were not entertained. I think I'm quickly becoming the bummer pick for family movie night.
It's really interesting to think that we don't really know much about Asterix the Gaul over here. I have a Sega Genesis game of it that is borderline unplayable and a handful of translated comics in my collection, but that's about it. Part of it is that it is goofy and silly, but it also has this really weird mythology. I couldn't help but make the connection to The Flintstones in terms of visual craftiness. But The Flintstones and Asterix may be stressing the differences in both cultures. I'm not saying that it takes a genius to really piece together the basic elements of an Asterix cartoon. But both cartoons look at history in very different lights. The Flintstones don't really care about the history of its setting. Cavemen hang out with talking dinosaurs. The entire thing plays up on the novelty joke that it rode through our cultural zeitgeist. But Asterix assumes a lot. The beginning of these stories gives the basic mythology of Asterix and his tribe of Gauls. It requires a basic understanding of who the Romans were and how invasions worked. It needed you to understand who Julius Caesar was and his global politics. It never really asks for an in-depth understanding of world history, but it definitely asked for basic literacy.
I suppose, in that way, Asterix the Gaul has more in common with Mr. Peabody and Sherman. All of these cartoons seemed to be made on the cheap, as opposed to the Disney model of having gorgeous fluid animation. But Asterix seems to have at least a basic mythology to follow. I adore that there are character flaws and arcs that seem to happen. The character I always rooted for was Obelix. While as a short guy who got bullied as a kid, you'd think that I would warm up to Asterix, who was able to topple any bully with a single punch. But Obelix was always this sympathetic dude to me. He was this gentle giant who loved roast boar and simply wanted some magic potion. He was always dancing around this odd morality of wanting what everyone else had. Basically, Obelix is the metaphor of sneaking a cigarette when he really needs to quit. Because he fell into the cauldron of magic potion, he isn't allowed anymore. We're not really sure what would happen to him, despite that he sneaks droplets from time to time. But he was the character I always liked.
Because this is a children's cartoon, the good guys and bad guys are always clearly delineated. The Gauls were good. The Romans were bad. Except for Caesar. Caesar was outside of the petty morality of these cartoons and comics. He was something grandiose and large. Something that made you excited to see when he was going to show up because he was real. But it's kind of nice having such clear bad guys, especially from the French perspective. If the Gauls were pure French, the Romans were outsiders trying to take land simply for the glory of Rome. They had no good reason to continue attacking this small village, outside of the fact that it was the last unconquered land. But it made them ever so sneaky. I also adored that the Romans were always kind of double crossing each other. The head Roman (believe it or not, the imDb page is kind of lacking on Asterix the Gaul) spends the majority of the film trying to be the next Caesar. His second-in-command, the same deal. It makes the Romans so hilariously villainous that it actually encourages the scheme that Asterix and Getafix have for the Romans.
Because it really does go too far. There's a part in Hamlet where Hamlet's revenge makes him the bad guy. If Asterix the Gaul wasn't an absolutely absurd French cartoon, you do have to wonder at Asterix's intentions. Honestly, Asterix is supposed to have a downfall if it followed a traditional narrative. The inciting incident is the capture of Getafix. Asterix has to make a plan to help Getafix escape. He actually solves that problem remarkably quickly. Acting confidently into the Roman camp makes everyone think that they are going to get walloped. But because he likes to play games with the Romans, the rest of the film is just tempting fate. There should be a moment where Asterix worries about actually pulling off the plan. It's the same thing with Ocean's Eleven. The problem itself is easy to solve. It's the self-gratification that should get them in trouble.
But because the Romans are such bullies, it becomes entertaining. When they all pick on the tiniest Roman, there's this degree of sympathy. Don't get me wrong. That tiny Roman also sucks. He's super excited to narc on all of the Gauls, who were super friendly when it came to taking care of a lost little Gaul. But the story does this fun gig of making all of the revenge schemes so entertaining because they're kind of jerks.
I don't know if I can sell future films in the Asterix line to my kids. But as bad as the animation was, I really enjoyed the movie as a whole. It's very dated. Maybe it only applies to my childhood. But I got a kick out of it and felt like the weird kid all over again, so I guess it won?
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.