What is there to say about a film that for many years was the highest grossing film ever? A film that is universally beloved? A film that has been covered and studied and dissected endlessly?
Well I saw E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial this week in IMAX so I’m going to try. But I’m not going to add much new to the discussion of a film that’s exactly correctly rated in our culture. It’s a timeless classic. And I have no issue with it.
It’s weird to call an adaptation of a long running, moderately popular show a sleeper but that’s where we are. The Bob’s Burgers Movie is a throwback to the old school simple comedy theaters used to run on hot summer days. It’s modest with low stakes and a very chill energy level. Yet is it weird I enjoyed this more than almost every other franchise movie we got this year. Marvel hasn’t touched the heights of a family trying to float a single payment.
I own the complete DVD set of Beavis and Butt-Head. I bring that up at the start of this review to stress this is not a review coming from the perspective of a past tense fan who only remembers the show. No, I watch it frequently as an adult. I love the show’s darkly nihilistic look at people who never had a chance and who you start to think don’t deserve one. There’s a grit and sleaze to the animation. And of course the fantastic 1996 film looms large for me, a razor sharp parody.
Now to start something that makes perfect sense. This column will be a monthly retrospective of the movies from 20 years earlier. Most months I’m aiming for the first Tuesday to release this. But I’m starting late. For the record, release dates are weird so if it’s a smaller film, info is hard to always nail down. I’m using The Numbers as my source for the most complete list. Now did I see everything? No. This is from the perspective of a down the line filmgoer. If I went, I’ll tell you why. If I didn’t, I’ll tell you why. Here goes nothing.
June 7 Bad Company: We often mourn the programmer, a mid budget star film, but I look at this and I’m fascinated by how every piece of this was assembled from other parts. The title was reused. The cast of Chris Rock and Anthony Hopkins feels like the most “well they were free” cast with Peter Stormare used as a villain because he can’t be used as an actual actor (for two more weeks). Joel Schumacher directed because he was free. The premise is a Prisoner of Zenda/Prince and the Pauper riff. This is what we lose on these and I’m not sure we did lose. However there are some great ones coming this year.
The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood: I feel like this kind of movie is dead. The moderately popular novel put on screen. This would be a TV series now. The cast is basically all on TV now anyway aside from the indestructible Sandra Bullock. I didn’t see this but I think hsad the buzz been even vaguely good I would have. I like films steeped in the south, but this wasn’t it. Shame.
June 14 The Bourne Identity: Doug Liman went from two hipster comedies which are modern classics with genius scripts to an unexpected action great with this film. Though it should be noted that unlike the process we see now where a director with no experience is brought on to be a hired hand, Liman actually started the project as a fan of the book. And it shows. Look, this became a landmark franchise starter for a reason. This is a blast of a film with a phenomenal cast and a pace like a metronome. Liman knows the game. But the real thing this kicked off was movie savior legend Tony Gilroy fixing a film in rewrites, though he was the first writer here. This rules, but you know that.
Scooby-Doo: Look, you can’t talk about this film without pointing out that an R-rated cut will never come out but exists. That’s from the screenwriter so I consider it fact. I also ask why. This movie feels like it exists at a juncture between the ironic adaptation and the serious one and leans way too hard on the ironic side. It’s from nothing director Raja Gosnell and genius writer James Gunn and the issues are huge. Like making the villain an obvious punchline. However, three happy things. The sequel is considered a true adaptation. Freddie Prinze Jr. and Sarah Michelle Gellar were dating while filming this and have been married for 20 years. And the big one: Following the death of Casey Kasem, Matthew Lillard would take over the role of Shaggy in animation and is an utter soundalike to where I don’t know it’s not Kasem.
Pinata: Survival Island: I could list a million actual independent releases that matter. No. I’m going with the release of the legendary in b-movie circles b-movie that I’m genuinely serious played theaters in Little Rock as Demon Island. Oh and it played for two weeks so when I get to one of the best films of the year below realize you could choose to see it or this and I believe someone had to choose poorly. This is about a killer pinata who attacks Jamie Pressly (who rightfully hates this as it followed her career changing Not Another Teen Movie work) and Nicholas Brendon (who has one more year of work before never being heard from in a good way again.) No I’ve never seen it. I’ve tried though.
Windtalkers: I hate war films, so you’ll rarely get my opinion on them. And yeah I’m passing here. I’m going to get to a point where I will see every Cage film for a few years but I had no reason to watch this. No interest.
June 21 Juwanna Mann: OK, great I have two back to back all time greats to cover on this day. But I have to cover this first. Will I ever see a film like this? There are a few on my list. But this isn’t a film I saw. A movie about a man pretending to be a woman to enter the WNBA is so offensive it needs no explaining.
Lilo and Stitch: The birth of an iconic character. I see so much Stitch merchandise. My daughter loves Stitch. I have no objection. How can you not love this movie? This is a film about grief, about trauma, and yes family. It’s so ridiculously entertaining in every way. The animation, the last great bit of 2D animation from Disney, is art. The characters are rich. It’s so moving. I want to give special credit to the voice work by Tia Carrere who really didn’t get to work into her older years and here suggests she could have had a tremendous dramatic career. A true classic. I didn’t see it opening weekend though. I saw…
Minority Report: OK, let me get my critique out of the way. The mystery here isn’t great. It should be. The script is mostly by Scott Frank who is a genius at them. But it’s only so-so. The thing is, it’s a macguffin. Spielberg doesn’t care. What he was into was the satire of a culture with no privacy. And when you realize that, you get why Ebert named it the best film of the year. In 2001, Spielberg honored Kubrick but to me this is him getting the spirit. This is the weirdest film Spielberg can make, a darkly twisted film with crazy character work from everyone from the aforementioned Stormare to the great Tim Blake Nelson. The director of Blankman, Mike Binder, actually gets an emotionally devastating scene. And the satire is laser like. This is a film about where we were going and it’s spot on. In a great year, this is one of the best films.
June 28 Hey Arnold! : The Movie: I was 18 when this hit and wasn’t even a fan of the show. I will say the movie is legendary for getting a theatrical push it wasn’t built for. This was meant as DTV and we’re in an era where a lot of those went there, unlike now where Turning Red was theatrical grade but went to streaming. (I’m still mad.) A shame this killed the show basically,
Lovely and Amazing: I’ll concede a huge blind spot for me is Nicole Holofcener. This one is very popular with her fans. It’s got one of the Dermots. It’s not one I’m OK I missed.
Mr. Deeds: But you know what? I’m fine never seeing this. Like I don’t even know what the joke is. Adam Sandler gets rich? I don’t get it. I love this cast and Winona Ryder got a classic SNL from it. But as for Sandler, hey it’s 2002. We’ll check in with him at year’s end.
Analysis: June is weirdly unfamiliar compared to now. A few novels, a tv show, and one remake but only one truly major IP film. It’s wild how slight this month is. But the key is the three films that are great. Bourne will launch one of the best trilogies of the decade. Lilo and Stitch is gold. And seriously Minority Report is part of why I’m a passionate eternal Spielberg defender. It’s an interesting month.
Next month: July starts with a flop and ends with an underloved third film in a series.
This is the start of a 6 week test for me so we will see how this goes. I’ve never reviewed a TV show without at least a season or even a second episode. Future reviews may be wisps. But we will see.
Who is the breakout comic book character of the last 15 years? There are a number of good answers. Harley Quinn pulled away and got a semi-solo film along with a hit show. Obviously Deadpool. I could argue the Guardians of the Galaxy. But there is a character that feels unique to me. Kamala Khan made her first cameo 9 years ago, her first true appearance 8-1/2 years ago, and had her first TV episode yesterday. I know a ton of people who don’t really read comics but who got in to read her. To me, Kamala is the indisputable breakout character.
So it goes without saying her first appearance in live action–she was in Marvel Rising in animation–had to be correct. The pressure was almost impossibly high with the maximum amount of eyes. There couldn’t be a Thor that gets summoned by a college student here. Especially when you factor in the glorious climate we’re in. If you’re doing a show with a Muslim heroine good enough absolutely isn’t. Great was needed. The pilot had to be true to the character and high quality. If not, no second shot.
Whew, we’re good for now.
The first episode is a fantastic start, a stylish, funny, clever adaptation of the comics that draws from a diverse blend of influences ranging from the comics and the Avengers game to Clarissa Explains it All and Chris Columbus’ golden age. This is a 40 minute ride that also accomplishes what most Marvel pilots haven’t and feels like an actual pilot to an ongoing series as opposed to a self contained story. I actually felt like I was watching a show.
The pilot, named after the first arc of the comic in one of many nods to the material, focus on Kamala Khan (Iman Vellani), a Muslim teenager in New Jersey facing a very normal life as a fangirl. She’s Avengers obsessed with her YouTube channel rapidly filling in how the world views the heroes along with answering the plothole of how anybody on the street knows what happened at the end of Endgame. (Scott Lang is a constant podcast guest.) She’s a normal high schooler with a best friend (Matt Lintz), a popular girl enemy (Laurel Marsden), and of course parents that don’t understand her (Mohan Kapur and Zenobia Shroff).
The show kicks off when a box of her grandmother’s things is sent to Kamala as she is looking to fix up a Captain Marvel costume for a fan con. Kamala discovers a bracelet and adds it to her costume as she sneaks out to the con. Then she puts the bracelet on and of course everything goes awry as it gives her hard light powers. A disaster ensues. And of course she gets caught by her mother. But we know what she can do. End of episode.
I’m working from what amounts to one issue of a comic. And I think the fact that I can judge this in those terms is how you know it nailed the job it has as such. We have a heroine. We have a cast. We have a world. We have a distinctive tone. We have an origin. The only thing we don’t have is the costume yet. But we have so many things in place to run from here. And it’s hard not to want that next episode.
I’ll get the obvious thing everyone is praising out now. This show belongs to Iman Vellani who is Christopher Reeve and Hugh Jackman level perfect as Kamala. Yes there’s a lot of metatext that she’s very similar. I don’t care. I care that she sells Kamala and she is from the first word the character we love. If the character never got her powers, I would be hooked on just her.
But of course she’s not the only actor singing. I was shocked at how much Kapur and Shroff sell their work as her parents. The easy thing to do is to have these characters be stern and unlikable. They’re deeply warm, funny people that obviously love their daughter. They really help push this to another level. If the show is to be about a daughter going against her parents, I genuinely feel like the deck is stacked fairly to make it hurt. Lintz and Marsden also fill their roles well, though they don’t have all the material I know their characters can get just yet from the comics. These are characters to watch.
The show gets off to a strong start technically. The pilot comes from directors Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah who show tremendous flair here. The show has a distinct, weird look with graphics that feel genuinely of a young woman’s mind and even a great fantasy scene. It’s also well written by showrunner Bisha K. Ali. The dialogue crackles.
I’m not all in here. It’s too early to tell if the change of origin from Inhumanity (one of my least favorite comic events ever for the record) to a family artifact will work. It feels like it could go bad. I also feel like while a clash between generations is a teenage trope, I want this to feel real and earned and not the typical one we see with Muslim characters as if conservative families of all kinds don’t have it. Lastly, it really does irk me her Muslim friend Nakia is barely in it while her white bully gets far more screen time. (Bruno, Lintz’s character, is in proportion to the comics.)
We’re off to a great start though. This is what Kamala Khan deserves.
My heroes are Dame Agatha Christie and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. I consider their creations of Hercule Poirot and Sherlock Holmes superheroes of the highest magnitude. I love that Rian Johnson honored their canon by giving us another prime example of the vintage murder mystery. I bleed the basic concept of a crime, a set of suspects, and a race to solve it.
Which is why I’m genuinely a fan of this year’s No Exit. This is a film that plays by the rules but brings a modern sensibility. It’s a tight little thriller with fantastic acting and direction. And because we’re in the streaming age this is probably the first time you’ve heard of it. It was released with only a tiny bit more fanfare in February than the usual streaming dump but it still slipped out. Time to fix it.
The movie centers around Darby (Havana Rose Liu), a recovering drug addict released from rehab to go see her mother who is in the hospital. Trapped in a snowstorm, she gets stranded at a visitor’s center with an older married couple (Dale Dickey and Dennis Haysbert), a weirdo (David Rysdahl), and a charming traveler (Danny Ramirez). While looking for a phone signal, she discovers a kidnapped girl (Mila Harris) in a van. Thus the stage is set for a plot that twists and twists as things prove far more complicated than they seem.
Like I said, this is a vintage example of the things I love. It’s a simple set up that mostly exists as a framework for the acting and directing. It’s based on a book by Taylor Adams–unread by me–but it’s virtually a stage play. It works so well as just a simple scenario. The stakes just keep increasing. The heroine has two ticking clocks: Saving the girl and getting to her mother. As things get worse on both fronts, it’s easy to care. Adding in nature as a threat–I love snowstorms for this– showcases the formula at its best.
I have to give a lot of credit to the cast. Liu is a real find. She’s good at playing someone trying to think through a nightmare. I also liked Rysdahl and Ramirez as the two very obvious suspects both for being the person you least and most suspect. But the real stars for me are character actor legends Dickey and Haysbert. Dickey is an actress you know but not by name , especially from her terrifying work in Winter’s Bone. She kills here. Haysbert is better known thanks to 24 and his ad work and if you have taste Far From Heaven and here he gets to deliver a very different turn.
If I’m this enthusiastic, why just a 3.5/5? Well for one thing the budget on this shows. Exteriors are far less than convincing, and I’d only really call the direction by Damien Power fine. It’s honestly not much more than tv level. Compared to Andrew Patterson’s wild work on The Vast of Night on an even smaller budget, it’s a bit meh. It’s also not more than a genre exercise. It’s got nothing more to say beyond playing with the tropes. This isn’t any more of a meal than comic book movie.
But this deserves better than being dumped on Hulu. It’s genuinely gripping and well-acted. It deserves to be found.
One of the most important moments in my cinema going career was seeing Adaptation at the Col. Glenn theater in Little Rock, AR. It was my first trip to that theater. It was my first time to leave the city I lived in with friends to see a movie. And of course, it was Adaptation. That’s a classic. Much has changed in the last 20 years. I no longer see any of those people regularly. I live in the center of Little Rock. I’m of course married , a father,and work 8-4. The corporate ownership of that theater has changed. But it’s still the main theater in the city and it made the perfect place to see the spiritual sequel to Adaptation, The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent.
The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent is a grand tribute to Nicolas Cage’s lengthy career starring Cage as a heavily fictionalized version of himself. He’s in debt, divorced from his wife (Sharon Horgan), and has no connection with his daughter (Lily Sheen, the actual daughter of actors Michael Sheen and Kate Beckinsale.) He can’t get work so he takes a job appearing at the birthday party of superfan Javi (Pedro Pascal). They become instantly bonded but Cage gets tapped by a pair of CIA agents (Ike Barinholtz and Tiffany Haddish) to prove Javi is actually the head of a gun running cartel and bring him down. Chaos ensues.
I’m a huge fan of Cage’s run between 2002-2005, ending violently with World Trade Center and The Wicker Man., so I was inclined to love this film which feels like a spiritual twin to both Adaptation with its meta elements but also The Weather Man, Cage’s underloved film about an egotist focused on his career at the cost of his family. This is a movie that is deeply in love with Cage’s films but actually understands why they are so good. Cage is a great at character work and digging into flawed men. He gets to do that here and really tears apart what a disaster this man is. It’s just that this man happens to have his name and career.
And it’s so easy to imagine the bad version of this film: Nothing but bad memes. This definitely gives you the over the top Cage you want, but there’s more to this movie than slamming us in the ribs and reminding us of other films. This isn’t that. It’s a genuinely well made film. Director/co-writer Tom Gormican has a fantastic eye and with co-writer Kevin Etten understands that a real script is kind of nice to have here. The farce elements and the action are all first rate. And Cage goes all in as both himself and a deaged ghost of his younger self who is everything we remember about 80s Cage. He’s fantastic.
The film largely avoids being the bad version through the genius creation of Javi. Pedro Pascal is fantastic as the most adorkable fan imaginable. He’s so lovable he’s responsible for one of the film’s few weaknesses which is that Javi is so lovable you never doubt the film is going to reveal he’s an innocent. It really never lets you truly believe that he’s the big bad and the actual one is so obvious I’m not even sure it’s a twist. In fact I’ll say right now the only big complaint I have is the film telegraphs every note. But I’m not mad because we do wind up loving him so much that we’re relieved that he is what he seems.
I really had a blast with this film. This is a celebration of one of the greats and just a thoroughly entertaining movie.
When the Golden Raspberry Awards or Razzies were forced to walk back an “award” given to Bruce Willis for worst performance in a DTV movie, a job it’s now known he only took to try to work as much as he could before his aphasia got too debilitating which was I stress an open secret, it forced a conversation about if the awards themselves had any purpose. And it’s a conversation that isn’t new mind you. We’ve been having it in fits and starts for ages and I don’t think anyone who takes film seriously takes them seriously. But we’re finally at such a breaking point I wonder if we’ll hear from them again.
The thing is, we’re not just due for this conversation. We’re due for an analysis of how we discuss bad movies in the mainstream. Because it’s not just rotten but it’s very misaimed. It’s time to seriously analyze what the Golden Raspberry Awards have wrought. Because no matter how often they’ve been discredited, there are still echoes in the culture.
I want to start by examining the culture that birthed the Razzies and that means noting that there was nothing original about the awards. Writers Harry and Michael Medved probably weren’t the first to cover the worst of film either but with books like The Golden Turkey Awards, The Hollywood Hall of Shame, and The Fifty Worst Films of All Time, they have what I consider a fair claim as the originators. I’ve read their books and you can see every tactic the Razzies would use there. Like it’s shameless.
The Medveds were key in codifying a lot of ideas that stayed codified for years. They really instituted the idea that failed special effects were a bad thing without the affection that makes MST3K so great. The (wildly inaccurate) idea of Ed Wood as the worst director of all time starts here. But more than anything else, the sheer seething hatred for Hollywood begins here. If the Golden Globes are legendary for falling all over celebrities, this was their opposite number (sort of).
That cynicism was really what drove the dawn of the bad movie culture. They put it into print but it was something that was in the air. The books predate to conclude a few years after the Razzies started but there were other things in the culture to note. This was the death of the grindhouse and to the lament of Joe Bob Briggs the drive-in. There was such an embrace of modern sci-fi that the classic stuff almost had to be thrown away, completely missing the point of Star Wars btw. And there was a violent rejection of New Hollywood and everything the 60s and 70s stood for in film emerging in pop culture. So I get how the Razzies were born.
And I’ll go one further. I’m not opposed to the idea of a counterbalance to the Oscars which is a bloviating hagiography for an industry that truly could not care less about quality. The concept of stopping and going “this isn’t reality” is fine. But like a sniper who is just a tiny bit off, the Razzies miss their mark.
Let’s begin by acknowledging the obvious: The Razzies have nominated and even honored some great work. They had to publicly apologize for nominating Shelley Duvall for The Shining this year though citing her abuse by Kubrick and not the quality of her work. The sad part is that’s common. As I looked through the 80s I saw an array of great direction like Cimino on Heaven’s Gate, De Palma on Body Double, and Kubrick on The Shining. Acting? Similar. Barbra Streisand for Yentl, Schwarzenegger for Conan the Barbarian (he’s iconic!), and Michael Caine for Dressed to Kill. And that’s one decade that they blew.
But most of those are just nominations. Mostly they pick work that’s at least agreed is bad. But even that’s kind of a problem. The Razzies rarely actually reward the worst art. No what you usually see are the safest jokes. Like they hated Stallone so much despite the 80s actually being a pretty great decade for him as he stretched himself constantly and used the safety of his franchise work to do so. But he was big and that was safe. Kevin Costner and Adam Sandler became huge punching bags with Sandler first winning in 1999 for Big Daddy, a fantastic comic performance.
And then there’s the PR stunts. Look, I obviously need to point out that this whole enterprise is just one. All awards shows are. But somehow they’re worse. And it’s weird because a lot of their political biases I completely agree with. I’m not mad someone mocked George W. Bush or Dinesh D’Souza as I hate them. But Bush was in archival footage in Fahrenheit 9/11 and D’Souza wasn’t an actor. When you reward Paris Hilton for a movie that nobody saw and those who did see it called eh, you’re not concerned with anything more than that headline.
But Hilton brings me to the thing that makes this whole enterprise sick and that’s the bullying. Look, I’m not against a good critique. They honored Gigli and I’ve done a podcast on it and I was probably madder than them. But there’s a dark history of singling out whoever the tabloids hated. They hated Bo Derek and Pia Zadora, women basically under the thumbs of their husbands at the time pressured into work above their talent levels. They hated Brooke Shields, a woman whose mom/manager pushed her into work the opposite of her natural comic gift. They hated Sharon Stone, who was simply one of the best major actresses of the 90s and remains a titan. And as you’re noticing, they hate women. Like a lot.
This bullying spirit is what made me write. Because that’s all the Razzies have contributed is making punching at easy targets ok. And bizarrely they’ve had an influence. I don’t think Mommie Dearest would be seen as a camp classic, the opposite of what it is, without them. They’ve contributed to what I consider the memeification of criticism. All you have to do is pick on the safe target regardless of context. It’s why they felt fine honoring Maddie Ziegler for a performance in Music that, to tread lightly, she was pushed into doing and even autistic people defended. Because really they wanted to laugh at Sia and none of the hate for Music was about the film.
That’s the other thing. They made it ok to talk about movies you haven’t seen. Because we all know they usually don’t. All awards have that issue but they’re legendary. When Sandra Bullock won for All About Steve, she showed up explicitly to call them on this. (I saw the movie and as bad as it is, I assure you there was worse work that year.) I’ve had so many conversations with people who know they’re meant to hate things and they assume they do. Gary Larson fell into this when he assumed Ishtar was the only movie in hell, a movie he later enjoyed.
And I know, a small PR event annually shouldn’t matter. But all of these issues are a rot on modern criticism. All of these are things that we take for granted in discourse and they’re rancid. What’s actually bad about modern film isn’t being brought up. Instead, we just take it for granted that the Oscar nominated films are either good or out of touch and boring but rarely truly awful while we assume that these things are bad. Gigli wasn’t bad because we were sick of Bennifer. It was bad because it was offensive to every single group it depicted, shot like a hotel commercial, and written and directed with the graceful flow of a traffic jam. And that’s rarely brought up in favor of the easy laugh moments which might be the only times it’s alive.
Ultimately there’s another deep flaw to the Razzies that nobody brings up. The ceremony posits itself as the anarchic response to the Oscars but in the end it’s like many a revolution in dystopian fiction: it serves the status quo’s needs. That’s what the Razzies do. They’re the swat on the nose that reinforces that you’re supposed to follow traditional ideas of good.
I look back at Sandra Bullock showing up to great hype the weekend she won the Oscar. It seemed like an anarchic moment. A celebrity showed up to call them out! But was it? For one thing, it was promotion for the film that probably got people to see it. And for another thing, it was a nice distraction from the fact that her Oscar win was for The Blind Side, a movie with chronic White Savior syndrome not viewed particularly well by people who knew Michael Oher’s story. The norm was reinforced that a risky black comedy that fizzled is bad and incredibly racist art that claims to mean well is respectable. And there’s ultimately nothing bold or daring about any of this!
And look, I could go after the Oscars for the same broken issues. They are two sides of one rotten coin. But at the very least, the Oscars are a celebratory force that every so often pushes people to watch something like Parasite. It serves a very minor good even as it does so much ill. Not so the Razzies. They exist to serve a bullying purpose only. And we would be better off without them.
Ultimately the damage can’t be undone I suspect. To the mainstream, the most acting will probably always be the best and anything that dares to not be what the mainstream knows will be bad. The easy targets will stay the definition of bad. But I hope that in this one moment we get to stop and reject them. We have moved past the need for the Golden Raspberry Awards. Next year, may they be ignored.
Little films like Little Miss Sunshine and Juno feel elevated into larger conversations with their best original screenplay wins which are bad enough. But if one of these films should win the top prize, it’s devastating. The Artist was a lovely bit of cotton candy that suddenly had to answer for a status it didn’t need. Ordinary People is generally considered one of the best films of the 1980s, but because it won Best Picture over Raging Bull, it will forever have an asterisk. And the less said about the wonderful Shakespeare in Love the better because it will never escape this shadow.
That’s the fate that befell The King’s Speech. When I mentioned to a friend that I was writing on it, they immediately assumed I was going to tear into it. After all, it beat films including audience favorites Toy Story 3 and Inception, critical favorites like Black Swan and Winter’s Bone, and most unforgivably the audience and critical smash The Social Network. No matter what I say about this film, I have to argue that film.
I can’t of course. The Social Network absolutely should have won best picture. It was timely in 2010 and it’s somehow more timely now. It’s a meticulously crafted film with justly Oscar winning work from Aaron Sorkin and the scoring debut of Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. David Fincher absolutely deserved best director. It wasn’t my favorite of the nominees–I prefer 127 Hours, Inception, and Winter’s Bone–but it’s an all time great in an absolutely ridiculous year.
The thing is that doesn’t mean The King’s Speech isn’t a great film too. It’s not on the same tier as those but I don’t think it was meant as that. It’s a warm fuzzy holiday movie about nice people that’s frequently laugh out loud funny. And approached on that level? It’s one of the filmds I keep in constant rotation.
The most obvious thing I have to note is that I approach this film from the perspective of someone with a neurological disorder. I’m autistic–reminder of what site you’re on–so I relate to stuttering. I understand the hell of not expressing yourself clearly. And David Seidler wrote this film from a first person perspective as a stutterer. The film is as much autobiography as it is biography with the scene that got the film an R rating taken from his life. The authenticity the film brings to this struggle in a way so many films don’t sets it apart.
It’s a deeply human film too. Are the characters sanded down? Yes. But I also can’t separate the fact that like Albert in this, I’m the father to at least one girl. I love that the film depicts fatherhood as the highest good. Albert and Lionel are both devoted fathers who reflect non toxic masculinity . Albert is also depicted as a deeply loving husband, a fact it pleases me to note is apparently very hard fact. I did look it up and the way their marriage is portrayed is indeed highly accurate.
The film is a marvel of craft too. Which means I have to discuss Tom Hooper. I feel like we misunderstand Hooper. He isn’t bad at directing. He’s not good at directing large films though. He thrives on intimacy. This movie is basically a stage play and he has a gift at finding the music in the scenes. Hooper needs more of this because this is his gift.
And now I come to the indisputable Oscar this won. Colin Firth’s win is brushed off as a make good for A Single Man. Nah. This is a thoroughly worthy win. Firth is an immensely potent force in this film and he’s matched by two equally fantastic supporting turns. Geoffrey Rush has never been better than he is here. Sure, he’s not straining as an Australian actor. But he’s so likable and funny he’s on fire. And I can’t say enough good about Helena Bonham Carter here. She’d gotten lost in the years of playing weird, dark roles and it’s easy to forget she started as an English rose. She’s the definition of a strong woman here, which again was her actual character. Also credit to Guy Pearce who is so slimy here. He’s great. Though yes the film needed to be much harder on his character.
Now here’s the thing. I’ve made a good case for this as a crowd pleaser. And the film did decent box office. But I still heard it discussed as homework. SNL had a joke about one of its sketches being the movie so now you’ve seen it. By which point I’d seen it twice in theaters. It was treated bizarrely as too stuffy for the mainstream and not good enough for high art. Which is true?
I think the film is a lovely film for a wide audience. And it’s come for me to symbolize how the Oscars force the conversation I began with, This is a minor film, the kind you watch on TNT. But it’s the kind of film you always stop to watch when it’s on TNT. It’s of a piece with The Shawshank Redemption. It shouldn’t have to carry the weight of the best film of an all time great year.
The Oscars really do ruin how we discuss films by putting extremes on them. When there isn’t a choose only one. Do I want only Inception, Best Worst Movie, or Winter’s Bone from 2010, to name three films I saw in a week? No. I’m better for seeing all. I’m better for seeing The Social Network. I’m better for seeing 127 Hours. I’m better for seeing True Grit. I’m better for seeing Scott Pilgrim vs the World. And yes, I’m better for seeing The King’s Speech.
Don’t watch it for high art. But watch it to get a well made piece of art.
I have incredibly complicated feelings about Disney which is the nicest anyone should feel. They’re the most monopolistic corporation in the history of media. They hold back progressive art through this monopoly while feinting towards progressive stances. They bought Fox only to destroy it and withdraw most of their films from the public. They’re also the owners of so much I love including Marvel and Star Wars. They’ve made great work through their myriad studios. I couldn’t ever truly boycott them because I’d deny myself what I love. It’s complicated indeed.
Last week it got worse. The company bungled its response to the Don’t Say Gay bill in Florida. It’s come out the studio has suppressed LGBTQ content in its films. They tried to apologize but the discontent is out there. And it should be. This is a dark moment on that front and the biggest corporation can’t be neutral let alone hostile.
All of this puts a shadow over a film that does not need it. Turning Red, directed and cowritten by Domee Shi, already suffered the indignity of being denied a theatrical release, a fate that befell the previous two Pixar films. It then had to come out amidst the controversy of its distributor shooting itself in the foot.
Here’s the good news. The film is proving an immediate hit. I’m approaching 40 and my twitter feed is nothing but raves for the film. It’s received strong reviews and struck a chord with audiences. It will survive the troubled release and most likely be a film that matters to people for a long time to come. And it deserves to.
Turning Red tells the story of Meilin (Rosalie Chiang), an overachieving 13-year-old living in Toronto in spring 2002. She’s striving to be the best at everything, a mission fated to fall apart when she falls victim to the family curse and turns into a giant red panda. It’s a curse that impacts all the women in her line but it can be stopped with a ceremony the next month. The problem? It falls on the night of a concert from her favorite boy band and even more, Meilin starts to like being the panda. Will she get cured or is there anything to cure?
Much was made of a reviewer who boasted they found the film unrelatable, a review that annoyingly also ate up a lot of the discourse. This is patently ridiculous. Turning Red is one of the most relatable films yet from Pixar. I may not have been a Chinese-Canadian girl in 2002 but I was a teenager and the movie nails what being an academic overachiever seeking to succeed feels like. The characters in this film are inherently relatable, richly etched and highly specific. I watched it and I remembered geeking with my friends.I honestly am talking around her friends because you need to meet them blind then live in their world.
The movie also benefits strongly from a potent central metaphor. The easy one to connect it with is menstruation but I think there’s an even clearer one in trying to live up to expectations. Meilin is pushed to be the best in everything to make everyone happy. She snaps, in this case becoming a giant adorable kaiju. It’s not as ugly as a meltdown but it sure is familiar.
Given that it’s Pixar, quality animation can rightly be assumed. The company has been playing with more cartoonish styles in recent years and it looks great for it. This is proudly a cartoon. It even has an intense anime influence, especially in the eyes. Color is great here.
The movie is strong on the voice front. Chiang is a likable heroine while Sandra Oh does her usual phenomenal work as Meilin’s empathetic but stern mother. Supporting voices are great. This is the kind of film I expected to hear James Hong in and smiled when he showed up. The film also has remarkably strong boy band music that’s a spot-on pastiche from writers Billie Eilish and Finneas O’Connell.
If the film has a weakness, it’s that it’s fairly predictable. Pretty much every plot point is broadcast from a mile away and I admit there were times I was waiting for the film to catch up. It’s not a bad thing given that I am a good 20+ years above the target audience, but I do have to note it.
What I’m ultimately left with on this film is a deep frustration that the film didn’t get the release it deserves. This is a phenomenal debut for Shi who establishes herself as an important voice. It deserves better than to be reduced to content for the service that threatens to be forgotten in a week. This doesn’t deserve to be seen just at home on TV. It should play on a big screen where the gorgeous animation can be soaked in.
This deserves the best. It’s a genuine triumph from an individual filmmaker and a top-notch studio that crafted something special. Put the politics and absurd reactions aside. Turning Red is gold.
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