My last journal entry, I got a comment about my star rating system that sort of reinforced some of my own qualms about how many stars I do or don't give a movie. Am I rating these things based on how much I liked them or how well made or good I think they are? Because they aren't necessarily the same thing. Saving Private Ryan might objectively be considered a much better movie than Pacific Rim, but I'd much rather watch Pacific Rim. Also, maybe sometimes I'm too generous with the stars I dole out because I know making movies is hard and I'm trying to be fair. As I said in my response to that comment, he best example of this I can think of is the Scarlett Johannsson movie Under the Skin, to which I gave three and a half stars out of five, which in my mind means "not great, but better than average," because I thought it was an interesting film, only if I were to rate it based on how much I enjoyed it, I'd give it zero stars because I'm having trouble thinking of a movie I've seen in my lifetime that I've hated more.
So, I'm going to try something different this time and dispense with the stars. Instead, I'm going to use a more scientific method of rating movies: Britney Spears emoticons. The number of emoticons doesn't matter; if I really like a movie, it could get one emoticon or several... same with the movies I don't like. I'm just going to use however many of Britney's facial expressions it takes to try to convey my feelings about any given movie.
How to Murder Your Wife
Look, I tend to try to cut a little slack to older entertainment that always doesn’t have the most enlightened attitude, unless it’s something so grossly offensive that it’s impossible to just shrug it off as a product of its time, and it’s difficult to deny that this movie is pretty damn sexist, even by early 1960s standards. I finally got around to watching Mad Men this year, and in the beginning, I honestly kind of thought they were laying on the blatant sexism of the era a little too thick. But then I’m reminded that a movie like How to Murder Your Wife exists and it suddenly seems like maybe Mad Men wasn’t exaggerating as much as I thought. This is like if someone took the phrase, “Women. Can’t live with ‘em, can’t kill ‘em,” and decided to turn it into a movie.
Jack Lemmon plays a massively successful syndicated cartoonist who stages and acts out all the action in his comic strip in the real world, so that he can have his butler photograph him and he can use the photos as references. I wish I could do that, but my camera is broken and I had to fire my butler because I couldn’t afford to pay him. Anyway, Lemmon’s cartoonist’s happy bachelorhood is disrupted when he wakes up one morning to discover that while in a drunken state, he got married to a woman he met the night before. He changes his comic strip to reflect his new reality, but gets so fed up with married life that he plots the murder of his fictional counterpart’s wife. Full disclosure: I actually watched this movie a few years back and haven’t seen it in full since, nor have I wanted to, but felt like talking about it now for a reason that'll be clear in a moment.
The movie culminates in a scene in which Jack Lemmon’s character has been put on trial for the murder of his own wife. When a long jail sentence or possibly the electric chair seems inevitable, he brazenly announces in the courtroom that he is guilty, but argues that any other married man would do the same thing if they could get away with it. He appeals to the misogyny of the all-male jury by telling them that they should acquit him just to put the fear of god into their own uppity wives. The jury enthusiastically agrees and all the cheering men in the courtroom carry Lemmon out on their shoulders while the women sit in stunned silence. I couldn’t help thinking of that scene when I was watching coverage of the Kavanaugh hearings this past week.
Side note: Even though this is not a really well known movie and I never saw it until maybe five years ago or so, in a very tangential way, it plays a role in a memory from my childhood. Ever since I was a little kid, my dad referred to concrete as “gloppitta-gloppitta,” so my siblings and I all called it that, too, thinking that that was just the name for it. It wasn’t until years later that I learned that it came from this movie, because Jack Lemmon’s murder plot involves dumping his wife’s body in a cement mixer, which he and his butler call a “gloppitta-gloppitta machine” because of the noise it makes.
I give this movie one cringing Britney.
Michael Shannon plays a regular guy who starts having terrifying nightmares of an apocalyptic storm. He’s afraid that he might be going crazy, but he also is partly convinced his dreams are prophetic and starts to prepare for the storm, to the chagrin of his wife, played by Jessica Chastain.
As I watched the movie, I had this feeling that I’d be disappointed regardless of whether his nightmares turned out to be true or not. There are a lot of movies where people experience something inexplicable and/or fantastic, and it would be really unsatisfying if every one of them went the most logical route of explaining away the fantastic element as a figment of the main character’s imagination. Imagine if every time you watched a movie like Close Encounters or The Sixth Sense, it inevitably turned out the main character was just crazy. Maybe there’s a good movie or book where everything crazy that happened was just in the protagonist’s head, but I can’t think of one… except for The Wizard of Oz, only I prefer the books where Oz is a real place.
I found myself really kind of wanting Michael Shannon’s character ‘s dreams to be real so that the other characters would feel badly for misjudging him, which is interesting, because in the real world, if someone starts claiming knowledge of the future and declaring that the end is nigh, etc., I would be squarely on the side of those saying that that person is delusional. That’s why, even though it’s fiction, part of me feels like treating signs of mental illness as legitimate prophetic visions is potentially troubling. I’d almost put it in the same category of treating exorcisms as legitimate or saying that there were real witches killed at Salem.
Michael Shannon is really good in this and the story gets pretty suspenseful as it progresses. I found the movie mostly compelling, but I will add that my prediction that I’d be dissatisfied by the ending wasn’t 100% off, though I won’t give away how it ends. Roger Ebert gave it four out of four stars, so what do I know?
Tucker & Dale vs. Evil
For the longest time, I had no interest in watching this movie, I think partly because I inferred that it was within the “splatstick” genre, and I’m squeamish, so gory stuff is not my favorite. I can handle it a little… I’m a fan of Evil Dead 2, for instance, but even just seeing a quick clip of Peter Jackson’s Dead Alive is almost enough to make me sick. This was closer to Evil Dead 2 in terms of tolerability, though. The other thing that made me unenthused about checking it out was that the titular characters are clearly redneck types and I guess I was afraid it was going to be some godawful Larry the Cable Guy-esque thing. But it was actually kind of a clever twist on what feels like a semi-familiar trope.
I don’t think this is spoofing a specific movie, but the closest thing I can think to compare it to is Deliverance. The plot is that a group of college students go camping at the same time as Dale and Tucker, a pair of hillbillies, who the movies establishes right away are nice guys, but through a series of misunderstandings, the college kids jump to the conclusion that they’re dangerous creeps. Chaos ensues. If you haven’t seen the movie and plan to, for the love of Pete, do not watch the trailer, which spoils practically everything that happens. I’m so glad I saw the movie first.
I give Tucker & Dale a few mildly entertained looking Britneys.
Gareth Edwards’ first movie. Impressively, he did the visual effects on his home computer. A photojournalist is charged with safely escorting his boss’s daughter through Mexico, which has become overrun with giant tentacled alien creatures from outer space. For the most part, I was reasonably engaged by the story and can kind of see why Edwards was given the job of directing Godzilla and Rogue One, but the ending pissed me off so much that it soured the whole experience. Again, a number of prominent critics rated this movie pretty highly, so maybe I was just too stupid or too annoyed to get it, but I was ultimately left wondering what the point of anything that happened in the movie was. Maybe there’s some clickbaity YouTube video that explains it.
The Voice of Terror
After Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce starred in two movies set in Holmes’ and Watson’s proper Victorian or Edwardian period, they were transplanted to a contemporary setting for the remainder of their movies together. This maybe goes part of the way towards explaining why felt less than eager to watch the Basil Rathbone movies for such a long time, even though I’m a big fan of Sherlock Holmes. I guess I’m a bit of a purist. Of course, now we’ve got shows like Sherlock and Elementary, both of which I enjoy, so putting these characters in a modern setting doesn’t seem so sacrilegious to me anymore. However, using them in what is basically war propaganda feels strange.
I find I don’t mind Holmes operating in a different era, but as much as the idea of him fighting Nazis might sound cool on paper, I’d rather just see him sticking to solving the more standard type of mysteries instead of engaging in international intrigue. Of course I hate Nazis – probably more than an alarming number of modern people do – but propaganda doesn’t seem to age well a lot of the time. I mean, the Fleischer Superman cartoons are classics, but the one where he’s fighting the Japanese is probably the worst of the bunch. I suppose sometimes it holds up. I love Charlie Chaplin’s speech at the end of The Great Dictator, for instance. But there’s a speech in the middle of this movie that frankly felt a little corny to me. The movie has other problems as well, starting with the train crash at the very beginning, which is taken directly from The Invisible Man, which immediately makes it look cheap.
The Matrix Revolutions
I watched the first two Matrix movies in the theater, but this one slipped by me. That can partly be attributed to confusion. In a world where it’s common to have to wait years for a sequel, it’s kind of cool that there was only a six month wait in between The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions. But they came out so close to each other and their names are so similar (maybe they should have numbered them) that I legitimately was unsure whether this was the movie I’d already seen or not. More to the point, I didn’t really care.
The original Matrix knocked my socks off. Though it may have been lost in a computer crash, I very clearly remember writing in my private journal immediately afterward that this was the kind of movie for which hacky reviewers would use clichéd phrases like “action packed” and “roller coaster thrill ride” and be totally justified in doing so. I almost as clearly recall the disappointment I felt watching the sequel. During the fight scene on the freeway, I remember wondering how I could have gone so quickly from being blown away by the action scenes in the first movie to bored and numb to what was happening on the screen this time around. If I’m being honest with myself, my antipathy towards this franchise started when I saw the first movie for the second time in the theater. Upon the second viewing, I had already started to feel more cognizant of the draggy scenes.
It’s weird watching a direct sequel thirteen years after the previous movie. Maybe I should have checked the plot synopsis for Reloaded on Wikipedia. I had enough trouble remembering what had gone on before and who the characters were when I saw the last Hunger Games movie, and only a year had gone by since I’d watched the previous one. But I think I managed to follow Revolutions’ plot okay. From what I could tell, these people needed to get to a place to do a thing. I dunno, it just seemed to lack a lot of what made the first movie stand out. Instead of awesome kung-fu fighting, we got people in robot suits shooting endlessly at swarms of deadly mechanical squids and it just wasn’t nearly as interesting.