Movie Thread: The Dissection Room

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Re: Movie Thread: The Dissection Room

Post: # 11786Post Garrett Gilchrist »

The Fabelmans: Steven Spielberg gets autobiographical with a story of a troubled teenager who wants to be a filmmaker, and who is starting to see his parents as people- complicated, messy, deeply broken people. Weirder, more complex and less sentimental than you'd expect ... and too specific to not be true. Michelle Williams stands out with a layered performance.

Steven Spielberg, our most popular filmmaker, gets a little experimental, and personal, with this moody semi-autobiographical drama about young Sammy Fabelman, who wants to be a filmmaker, after a traumatic moment seeing an onscreen train crash as a child. Back in 2001, Spielberg directed A.I. / Artificial Intelligence, based on an unmade Stanley Kubrick project, which was apparently intended to be shot in Spielberg's style. The Fabelmans, although it's pure Spielberg, feels a little like a response to David Lynch, and perhaps to Mad Men. It's a little bit cartoony - I think Spielberg can't help that - but it peels back a few layers of 1960s suburbia to show something a little darker and weirder lurking inside. It's not his most accessible film, but it is interesting, and populated with complex performances. It will also probably ring true for anyone who has ever picked up a camera and made their own films.

Michelle Williams turns in perhaps the most memorable performance this year, as the troubled Mitzi Fabelman, a fragile soul who seems like she might float away at any moment. Paul Dano is careful to soften the character of Burt Fabelman, the father who is nerdy, distant and out of his depth in all matters of the heart. Gabriel LaBelle plays young Sammy Fabelman without apparently feeling the need to be likeable at all times, having inherited some of the quirks of his parents, and letting his emotions get the better of him. Judd Hirsch has a ball in a brief role as Uncle Boris, who accurately diagnoses Sammy's future and curses him with it. It's not the most exciting film, and a long watch at two and a half hours, although the characters are eccentric enough to fill the time. Seth Rogen plays Bennie, the family friend who causes a rift in the family. It's a light, likeable performance, as if Sammy had more empathy for the man in retrospect than he did at the time. Sam Rechner plays an alt-right sports star who bullies Sam for being Jewish, before ending up in the crosshairs of his camera. Greg Grunberg and young Julie Butters also appear.

There's something about the style of the filmmaking that rings a little false, but pretty much every detail of the film feels alarmingly specific and true. It is easy to believe that the events of this film occurred to Steven Spielberg, and these events are depicted with a welcome complexity and empathy for almost everyone involved. It's a little weirder than you'd expect, and not overly sentimental, except in the fact that Spielberg has more understanding for these people than Sammy Fabelman does. Sam is going through his rebellious teenage years, and is really struggling as he starts to see his parents are flawed people rather than just family. In real life, Steven Spielberg was not close to his father for about fifteen years, and you feel that here, but from a later, retrospective point of view that comes without judgement. Paul Dano's Burt Fabelman is basically a good man who can't make this work, and who tries to support his wife and son without understanding them. The Fabelman daughters get less character development. Gabriel Labelle's performance as Sammy does not drip with likeability, but he really seems to feel Sammy's darker moments that distance him from his family and isolate him, all of which feel like a prelude to the rest of his life as a filmmaker, as the film ends with a joyous moment, from the point of view of a camera. It resembles The Muppet Movie, but I'd bet good money that it happened exactly as depicted.

I won't recommend this film to everyone, but if you've ever been a young filmmaker you'll find a lot you recognize here, and it's interesting and laudable to see Steve Spielberg dig deep into his own past, with all the messy complexity that suggests. It's thought-provoking, and avoids easy answers, and you'll feel like you understand Steven Spielberg better at the end of it.
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Re: Movie Thread: The Dissection Room

Post: # 11787Post Garrett Gilchrist »

The Batman - Murky and dull visual design lets down what is otherwise an accurate, if overlong, portrayal of the comics character. Robert Pattinson is appropriately brooding, and is constantly getting injured but gets up again. Watching him crash into asphalt is worth the price of admission, even if his acting is a little limited.

Colin Farrell hams it up pleasantly as the Penguin, although he flattens out the character into more of a generic gangster. Paul Dano is believable enough as an autistic, Zodiac killer-like version of The Riddler, but I think a more comic book-y take would have been better. A brief, visibly deformed portrayal of the Joker is so misguided as to be unforgiveable. This is almost redeemed by portraying The Batmobile as a monster in its own right. Andy Serkis does some real supporting actor acting as Alfred. Jeffrey Wright as Jim Gordon conveys the unusual working friendship the two have. John Turturro does character work as Batman tries to find out his family's overcomplicated backstory.

Zoe Kravitz reprises her role as Catwoman from The Lego Batman Movie, and also auditioned for The Dark Knight Rises, but the filmmakers went with Anne Hathaway instead for reasons I can't opine on without making serious allegations of racism. Kravitz is very close to her comic counterpart, let down only a little by the film's insistence on murky realism. She and Pattinson should sizzle, but merely steam instead. That said, it was still just cartoony enough to hold my attention during its sixteen hour runtime, even if at no point in the film could I see anything that was going on.

(Seen in theaters)
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Re: Movie Thread: The Dissection Room

Post: # 11883Post Garrett Gilchrist »

For better or worse, the 2023 Super Mario Bros movie very accurately translates the Nintendo video games to the big screen, offering fun and references but few surprises.

Some have defended the quirky 1993 Super Mario Bros movie by saying that the original games aren't cinematic, and aren't possible to adapt into a film. "What, do you want a movie where Mario jumps on some blocks in a raccoon suit and says Wahoo, it's-a-me, Mario?" Well, this is a movie where Mario jumps on some blocks in a raccoon suit and says "Wahoo, it's-a-me, Mario."

Will Mario, Luigi, Toad and Princess Peach be able to save the Mushroom Kingdom from Bowser, king of the Koopas? Will Mario eat some mushrooms, kick some shells, and jump on some blocks? Will fire flowers and invincibility stars provide a temporary boost in power? Will Mario drive a go-kart down a rainbow road? Will Donkey Kong throw some barrels? Is water wet? Does two plus two equal four?

It's been forty years since the Nintendo Family Computer (Famicom) hit shelves in Japan, and thirty years since the 1993 movie, made by an older generation that didn't understand the appeal of Nintendo's video games. This time round, everyone involved understands the assignment and plays it safe. I'm glad we're at that point where everyone is on the same page, even if no risks are taken with the material. There are similarities to the 1993 film but mostly it feels like you're watching one of Mario's recent video games, but as a movie. Which raises the question of what this film has to offer that a game doesn't.

For one thing, there's the character relationships. Mario doesn't have much to say in the games, but here is serviceably if blandly played by Chris Pratt, who somehow hasn't been fully cancelled yet. (See also: Fred Armisen as Cranky Kong.) The traditional Mario voice is used here only briefly for jokes. We somehow get a fair amount of bonding between Mario and Seth Rogen's amusing Donkey Kong. Incidentally the events of Donkey Kong (1981) are fictional in this movie, but the events of Wrecking Crew (1984) are not.

The standout is Jack Black, giving a very Jack Black performance as the lovestruck villain Bowser, king of the Koopas, the only character here who really gets serious characterization beyond what's in the games. (Followed, perhaps, by Donkey Kong.) Bowser mostly interacts with Kevin Michael Richardson, spot-on as Kamek the Magikoopa. Keegan-Michael Key plays an adventure-seeking Toad, whose part in the adventure feels underdeveloped, with scenes cut down to the bare minimum without much explored motivation. Charlie Day doesn't get enough to do as Luigi, mostly just looking scared in true Luigi fashion, but does well enough with what he has.

Anya Taylor-Joy plays the sweet and fiercely determined Princess Peach, who is very much a playable character here, as an overcorrection for her passive nature in most of the games. The result has Lego Movie syndrome, where it's not clear why this hyper-capable, overqualified character gets to do nothing, compared to a man with zero experience or skills. The Lego Movie also starred Chris Pratt, and both come uncomfortably close to the bigot's dream that "the best of them is lower than the worst of us." This is, at least, in line with the games, where Luigi and sometimes Peach and Toad are just as playable as Mario is, but are also not your first choice of character. (See also: anyone else in a Sonic game.) But there's no reason given in the film to choose Mario over Peach, and even Peach's interest in keeping Mario around is somehow less romantic than the quick kiss he'd get at the end of a game. Mario is also in the better position where he learns skills over the course of the film as needed. The film does often find things for Peach to do, including fighting Bowser herself. It also puts her in the passive role of watching Mario do something, while portraying her as overpowered compared to him, which almost feels sarcastic. For someone with main character energy, they haven't given her the arc that a main character would have. Mario's is a slim one, but he is going through training and learning to be a hero, and Luigi at least follows his lead. It's not clear how Peach (or Bowser or Toad) is learning and changing through the movie, which would have lent it more depth.

Needledrop choices of songs feel overfamiliar, and like temp choices that made it to the final. It's familiar stuff we've heard in other films, to the point of being embarrassing.

The predictable plot is not unlike the 1993 movie and 1989's The Super Mario Bros. Super Show, whose theme song is used here. Actually a lot of theme songs are used here, with the score constantly referencing themes from the games, almost at random. (In a real dick movie, Grant Kirkhope is not credited for writing the Donkey Kong Rap, with a blank space credited instead.) As in the 1993 film, the Brooklyn plumbers Luigi and Mario Mario journey into the sewers and are warped via pipe into another world, the Mushroom Kingdom, and menaced by the evil King Koopa. I'm pretty sure this has never been the actual storyline according to Nintendo of Japan (who sometimes claim that Mario is from the Mushroom Kingdom himself), but it's a key factor in American adaptations.

Otherwise this is stuff you've probably seen before in over forty years worth of video games. The attention to detail is laudable, but it's also just protecting Nintendo's corporate branding at a time when they've been doing this for over four decades, and are now expanding into theme parks. It would be an idiot move, at this point, to deliver anything that's unlike the video games. This movie would have felt like a miracle in the 80s or 90s, when anti-Japanese paranoia was still rampant among the older generations, and video games were written off as rotting kids' brains.

But coming at this with a Millennial and Gen X attitude, we know exactly who Mario is, and what he does. This is a Mario movie where you expect the expected. Of course it could have been a lot worse. The film feels a little too simple, but doesn't do anything actively wrong or bad. They had a chance here to lend a little more depth to Mario, who is barely a character, and that chance is not taken. The film zips by without much time for character development. Kids may find poetry in that, and be able to fill in the blanks, as if hours passed in these scenes rather than seconds. Adults will simply get what they paid for - a movie that feels like the Super Mario Bros video games. In particular, the New Super Mario Bros series, which upgraded the adventure to new hardware while staying very close to the old 80s formula.

Here's another metaphor for you. The Mario game series got more experimental with Super Mario RPG and the first Paper Mario, as well as the Mario & Luigi (Superstar Saga) RPG games. These introduced many unusual new characters, but the Paper Mario sequels have been progressively less experimental, presenting us instead with a lot of similar Toads and Koopas. That's also what we get in this movie - a sea of Koopas and Toads. Series creator Shigeru Miyamoto, credited as producer here, prefers it that way.

The scenes set in Brooklyn are a little stranger, filled with easter eggs and characters we don't learn much about. It's too cartoony to pass for the "real world," and is full of stuff Illumination are making up for this movie, rather than taking from the games.

I was surprised, somehow, that some animated version of Dennis Hopper's Koopa didn't show up. I think that might have been an improvement.

Not long ago, I edited an extended version of the 1993 Super Mario Bros movie, intended for an official Blu-Ray release which never happened. That film had a famously troubled production, and has some real problems with a mismatch in tone. The directors had created the cyberpunk TV series "Max Headroom" and wanted this to be a similar cyberpunk dystopia for older teenagers, while the studio heads at Disney were dismissing Mario as something for very young children. The shooting was a messy and unhappy affair, and something was lost in the edit. Meanwhile no one involved seemed to know or care very much about the actual property, which seemed impossible to translate into live action anyway. It's fanciful and cartoony, and the things Mario does in the games are things he does because it's a video game. There's no reason for him, in a movie, to be jumping on blocks and saying "Wahoo!"

The 1993 Super Mario Bros movie is very weird. The 2023 Super Mario Bros movie is a cartoon where Mario jumps on some blocks and says "Wahoo!" The latter is, obviously, much more accurate to the game. In a weird way, I think both approaches were valid. Older people actually know who Super Mario is now, so this is the movie we get. It's a kids movie, for those kids who've been playing Mario games for the past forty plus years. It's no better or worse than that. There's no false advertising here - it is exactly what it claims to be.

After the screening, in this small town, I noticed multiple people dressed as Mario at the concession stand. Others were whistling the Super Mario Bros main theme, or muttering bits of Bowser's songs from the movie.

I can't imagine that anyone will be thrilled by a post-credits sequence teasing Yoshi, whose species already appears in the film. That's about the least surprising reveal possible, in a movie that's already devoid of surprises. A set of toys for this movie came out at McDonald's, and this is really the McDonald's hamburger of movies. Something for kids that adults can just about choke down. Well, I've got all those McDonald's toys on my desk, and if they keep making movies like this I'll probably keep watching them. I'll watch a movie with Yoshi in it, or Rosalina or Wario or whoever they add for a sequel. I just won't pretend like it's something I haven't seen before.

Rating: Fresh / Recommended

(Seen in theaters)
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Re: Movie Thread: The Dissection Room

Post: # 11884Post Garrett Gilchrist »

Dungeons and Dragons: Honor Among Thieves gives a modern comedic sensibility to its fantasy setting, more Community than Lord of the Rings. You can almost hear the players rolling dice to see how their next plan will play out. Scheme might be more accurate. It's partly a heist film. There's lots of action, and few big laughs but many chuckles. It's a smartly made film which goes for a tone which is difficult to nail, and largely succeeds with it.

The film is just grounded enough that it doesn't break the fourth wall to wink at the audience. But it never shakes the feeling that this is all taking place in 2023, rather than in some forgotten ancient age of giants. Or at least a version of 2023 that has wizards instead of smartphones. This seems intentional, an extension of how Dungeons & Dragons is a game played by modern-day people improvising around the kitchen table, who are only in character to the extent that they need to be. This could have felt like a CW TV show, but the film aims higher than that.

There's a hint of an idea here, of Chris Pine starring in something like The Princess Bride. But the script doesn't quite live up to that level of depth and subtext. We land closer to something like a Marvel movie, with Pine playing a snarky rogue who shows that he's a little bit bad by being unpleasant and rude about everything. Pine manages to play this likeably, where a lesser movie star would have failed at it. At times, when the script allows him to, he shows what he would have done with a more serious take on the character. I can imagine a Harrison Ford or Chris Pratt version of this, which in this context wouldn't have worked as well. Pine commits to a performance where we believe he's a good person, and he doesn't.

Hugh Grant (as Forge) similarly uses his aging good looks and charm to make it unclear how trustworthy his character is. It's a nervy, lived-in performance where he uses his entire personality to take over any scene in which he appears.

The filmmakers are John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein, who did not direct Spider-Man Homecoming, but did direct Date Night. Daley costarred on the short-lived series Freaks and Geeks, as a kid who played Dungeons and Dragons. They seem like the ideal team to take on this subject matter, and take it almost seriously. You can feel every plot development clicking into place, and foreshadowed multiple times clearly before it happens, as if they're teaching a screenwriting class. You feel the effort, but the cast perform the material in a casual way which softens the blow. The result is solid enough, and those who wouldn't go to the theater for this will likely stumble across it on streaming television later and have a good time.

Michelle Rodriguez plays Holga, a butch female barbarian with an unusual taste in men. (Bradley Cooper is involved.) She spends much of her screentime beating the hell out of anyone who gets in her way, and the rest exuding the vibe of someone you could have a beer with. The female leads of the film seem queer-coded, although the film also assures us, in no uncertain terms, that they're straight. There is Sophia Lillis (a former Nancy Drew) as the plucky young shape-shifting Tiefling Druid Doric, whose character breaks a few actual D&D rules for convenience. Fast-paced effect scenes of her daring shape-shifting escapes feel rote rather than thrilling, but as a human she has an underdog quality which charms. There's also Daisy Head (yes, daughter of Tony) as the villainous witch Sofina, whose role consists of knowing when to be scary at the right times.

Justice Smith, of Detective Pikachu and Jurassic World Fallen Kingdom, affects a British accent to play the inept sorcerer Simon (there sure are a lot of sorcerers named Simon). In his mid-twenties during filming, he radiates awkward teenage energy instead, though with a casual coolness that keeps it from being irritating. Again, it's easy to imagine a much worse version of these characters, but this cast casually sidestep those problems.

Regé-Jean Page, of Bridgerton, also turns up as Xenk. There is a lot of tension between Xenk and Chris Pine's Edgin, as the two compete onscreen as to whom is more handsome and charismatic. Page makes this seem effortless, while Pine spends his time complaining. That's the joke, though it wears a bit thin, and they missed their chance to end the scene with a hug, as opposed to a handshake. Xenk could be interpreted as a character played by the DM.

A scene in a graveyard was originally written as a Monty Python cameo, and is as close as this film gets to that kind of wordplay humor. In practice, and in makeup, it feels more like The Frighteners.

The script cares about its characters and wants them to succeed, and it's easy to imagine a more cynical take on the material, which would have fallen apart pretty quickly. The humor of the piece is entirely set in its world and plays by that world's rules. The characters have 2023 attitudes, but it's an alternate 2023 where they grew up in this realm. It's not humor which mocks or pokes at the setting, or stands apart from it. Instead they commit to existing in this world, a world which has established rules. If this is a D&D game, we see only the moments where the players are in character. Visually the film is a nonsense hodgepodge of vaguely fantasy-related design, without a truly consistent visual language, but this also can be forgiven as it suits the tone of the film, and the bright visuals are up to standard otherwise.

The characters from the 80s Dungeons and Dragons cartoon have an extended cameo as background characters, and the film is full of other such odds and ends. The toyline includes a Beholder, which is not in the film but may have been in earlier drafts.

In a move which shows how soulless these corporations are, Forgotten Realms creator Ed Greenwood is not credited at all.

Otherwise this is a solid adventure which captures the essence of Dungeons & Dragons in a clever and charming way.

Rating: Fresh / Recommended

(seen in theaters)
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Re: Movie Thread: The Dissection Room

Post: # 11980Post Garrett Gilchrist »

INDIANA JONES AND THE DIAL OF DESTINY (2023) - A local carpenter and weed dealer who transitioned into bit-part acting in the 60s, Harrison Ford is now 80 years old, and still somehow unretired. Indiana Jones, meanwhile, is supposed to be about seventy. The equivalent would be if Indy's father, Sean Connery, was still playing James Bond in 2010. I'd say that Ford (and by extension all Boomers and above) should step aside and let someone like Chris Pine, Ryan Gosling or James Marsden make a movie like this, but we'd probably get Chris Pratt, Jared Leto, or Shia LeBoeuf instead, so I'll just have to let it slide. This time.

With a $294.7 million budget (Raiders of the Lost Ark cost 20 million in 1980), a large amount of CGI has been employed, along with green screen, stunt doubling, deepfaking, de-aging, and Phoebe Waller-Bridge, to make it seem like Harrison Ford is still a viable action hero. To be clear, he absolutely is too old for this, and it is absolutely a bad idea to make this movie. The $185 million "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" was an equally bad idea back in 2008, and it has somehow been 15 years since then.

I don't know if it's elder abuse or simply audience abuse to keep making these, but in both cases, an aging Harrison Ford is more engaged and interested in this role onscreen than he is in just about any other. 1982's Blade Runner gave us Harrison Ford in his prime, sleepwalking, disinterested and sullen. Now in 2023, Ford is visibly too old to be doing this CGI superhero bullshit, in a sequel that is forty years too little and too late, but he's committed to the role enough that he just about gets it to work. After a tepic reception at Cannes, the film is getting very good reviews and buzz, so I'll be the one to break from the pack and say that it doesn't work for me. Oh, no one involved embarrasses him or herself. Under the circumstances, it's a miracle that the movie is as good as it is. It's a bad idea that just about justifies its own existence.

A small caveat here: There may have been something wrong with the sound setup at the theater where I saw this. I couldn't understand a word being said for large chunks of the runtime, starting with a chaotic sequence in Morocco. But I don't think I actually missed anything. Maybe the sound mixing is just like that, Chris Nolan style. The opening sequence, with a younger Ford de-aged via CGI, was very dark and murky visually. In Imax, I could see the pixels on the screen, especially the bright white on black titles.

But I think the key problem for me is that I guess I don't like James Mangold as the director for this sort of thing. I haven't seen his full filmography, and he's clearly well regarded. But I have seen his dreary films about an aging Wolverine. 2013's "The Wolverine" sees the Hugh Jackman X-Men character travel to Japan and murder every single person he meets with his adamantium claws. At one point the female sidekick is mulching guys into paste with a snowplow. In 2017's Logan, he's older and unhappy about the situation, as he gets into danger with a child. These were, for me, examples of taking a superhero film way too seriously, as if gunning for the Oscar with a script that doesn't stand up to thinking about it for more than a minute or so. You wouldn't see a movie about Superman murdering a few thousand Japanese guys, because it's not a fair fight. "The Wolverine" (2013) wounds Logan just enough that he can plausibly act like the underdog, but he's a more-or-less immortal killing machine with knives coming out of his wrists.

It's hard to make a good film, and these films are polished, stylish, action-packed and memorable in many ways. But they also leave a bad taste in my mouth, comparable to the work of Zack Snyder. There's a lack of humanity to them. I could have predicted that in this Indiana Jones movie, Indy would constantly be murdering people, and that people would constantly be getting into accidents that kill them in horrific implied ways, and that the bad guys would kill any notable character that the plot isn't relying on.

That is what you get here, and admittedly it gives the film a certain energy. You don't get the sense that this is the cleaned-up Disney version of Indiana Jones, where everything is censored. You feel the danger. But it also forces me to be the party pooper and point out that this film lacks the magic that Steven Spielberg and George Lucas brought to the property. Steven Spielberg is hard to replace. He is the most famous and beloved film director of our time, and he has always brought an aura of wonder to the screen that other filmmakers can't really imitate ... with only occasional exceptions like the uncanny valley animated "Tintin" film.

It's unfair to expect James Mangold to fully replace Spielberg, and under the circumstances I'm not surprised they went with a director who presumably considers his work to be Very Important Cinema. Mangold manages to deliver lots of action, and make it feel like "an Indiana Jones movie," when forty years later it probably shouldn't. But it's just not the same, for a lot of reasons.

Spielberg's Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) is an extremely tight two hours which works like clockwork. There's a lot of wit and character to it, but it's that precision filmmaking which makes many people call it "a perfect film." It doesn't slow down very often. It's always doing something interesting visually, and always moving forward. Every Indiana Jones film ever since has tried to recapture that.

We have a problem here, which is that an eighty (or seventy) year old Indiana Jones is more of a character role, who we could expect to talk about what he's learned over the years. And an Indiana Jones movie cannot slow down for something like that, even for a second. Or at least this movie can't. The script is also not funny enough to lend much character to the proceedings, so we don't get much sense of who these people are as they're speeding around on green screens at a hundred miles per hour. The end product is chaotic, often to the point of incoherence. Everyone is almost always moving at great speed, for reasons which aren't always adequately set up. To repeat, they're moving at great speed whether or not there is a good reason for them to be doing so. They are often on green screen, or visibly stunt doubled, and one of them is eighty years old.

There's also a lot of fighting on the tops of trains and from moving vehicles. Why do the bad guys take a wounded Indy along with them as they enact their entire plan? As far as I can tell, no reason is given, except that it's a movie and Indiana Jones needs to be there for it. Helena also manages to board the plane while it's in flight, and Teddy manages to get another plane going, for the reason that these are the characters who are in the film, and they need to be there for the end of it.

The script contradicts itself constantly, and feels like bits of different drafts were combined with one another randomly. Why is Indiana Jones teaching in July, preparing his students for mid-terms or finals, then also retiring in July on the same day? Why is he coincidentally teaching his disinterested class about the same subject that the film is about, when it's a touchy subject which secretly tore entire families apart in the film's backstory? Why do we keep meeting his close friends, that he's apparently spent decades with, for about two lines of dialogue before they get shot?

The result lacks character. As with the Crystal Skull film, stunt casting is used in place of giving us scenes that show who these characters are. I can believe that Antonio Banderas is a salty old scuba diver who has had many good times with Indiana Jones over the years. I can believe that because he's Antonio Banderas, but the film expects that to be enough for us, and gives him very little of interest to do. And Toby Jones' character, an academic who's not cut out for being an action hero, would be very uninteresting if it wasn't played by a character actor like Toby Jones. (Crystal Skull pulled similar shenanigans with Jim Broadbent, John Hurt, Ray Winstone, and Cate Blanchett.)

John Rhys-Davies shows up briefly as the returning character of Sallah, looking every day of his 79 years of age. I expect they wanted to keep any action with Rhys-Davies to a minimum, so we find him appearing in the movie for no real reason, except that this is an Indiana Jones movie and therefore he ought to be in it. I agree with that, but bringing these characters back one last time has an eerie David Lynch quality about it.

Mads Mikkelsen plays the memorable (if very standard) villain, a semi-retired Nazi called Dr. Voller. It's ideal casting, although it raises questions to have the 57-year-old actor playing the part in both 1944 and 1969. He is noticeably de-aged in the 1944 scenes, with a few less lines and wrinkles, but Harrison Ford manages to age 35 years in the same time (ten more than he ought to). A whole lot of CGI is used to give Indiana Jones one more adventure in 1944, and it's technically impressive, if still a bit noticeable and distracting. Toward the end of the sequence, a little too much of it takes place in the dark - not to hide the quality of the CGI but because movies tend to be too dark now.

Boyd Holbrook is memorable as a trigger-happy American who gives off Neo-Nazi vibes which aren't deeply explored. Ethann Isidore plays the sidekick, a thieving street rat kid called Teddy. Shaunette Renee Wilson plays a CIA agent, I think. Olivier Richters plays the guy who is 7 foot two. You know, I'm not sure that an 80 year old Indy and a 16 year old Teddy are really a match for this guy.

It is getting into spoiler territory to say that Karen Allen appears as Marion, although that won't surprise anyone either. It is definitely getting into spoiler territory to say what became of their relationship after the Crystal Skull film, and these are some of the only moments in the film where Harrison Ford really gets to act and lay out his character's backstory. I wish we'd gotten more of this. I've seen complaints about this storyline, saying it robs the character of a lot of his charm, and is too similar to plotlines in the Star Wars sequels, and the Blade Runner sequel. I can see that, but when sequels come this late, they really have to be about regret, and this storyline works better than anything else in the film. Although I couldn't help but think that this elderly couple began - in Raiders - with Marion punching her former Professor, who had clearly had an inappropriate relationship with her when she was a minor. The 30s were a different time, and so were the 80s. Marion's role is also very small here. It is crucial that she be present, but the film is not interested in exploring her character any more deeply than that.

We don't get Ke Huy Quan's Short Round, as his career only picked up this past year with a memorable role in Everything Everywhere All at Once. It's easy to imagine the character showing up in either Crystal Skull or this film as one of the leads, rather than these new characters, but that wasn't something they considered writing for the slightly embarrassing kid sidekick from "Temple of Doom." And speaking of embarrassing ...

The "Crystal Skull" character of Mutt, played by Shia LeBoeuf, was covered in the press at the time as a character who could replace Harrison Ford in the Indiana Jones films, played by an up and coming young actor whose career was given a huge boost by the Spielberg seal of approval here, leading to the equally annoying character of Sam Witwicky in the Michael Bay Transformers films (the first in 2007). And yes, in the actual film, Shia LeBoeuf is deeply uncool and mostly just a nuisance.

Pretty much every male nerd of a certain age wanted, and still wants, to be "cool" like Indiana Jones. Any internet reviewer, of the Angry Video Game Nerd variety, will put on a complete Indiana Jones cosplay for their review of this film, as they did with Crystal Skull, and they'll think they're being slick with it. The leather jacket, the shirt, the hat, the whip. All clothing items that they already, apparently, had. Nobody wanted to be Shia LeBoeuf's Mutt Williams. He's got a 50s greaser look which doesn't suit him, making him look less like Marlon Brando than like Michael Cera's Wally Brando, from Twin Peaks. Indeed Cera might have been better in the role. Shia is a very reactive actor, and could theoretically have pulled off a Michael J. Fox type role which required that. But planting the idea that he could replace Indiana Jones nearly ruined his career here, because he very clearly doesn't have the necessary swagger. The movie itself even confirms this. In the end, Mutt picks up Indy's trademark hat, and Indy grabs it right back from him. This can be seen as a metaphor for how this series has gone, and also for how the Boomer generation, and older folks who came of age in the 60s and 70s, have refused to retire and let the younger generation take over for them.

Okay, so maybe Shia LeBoeuf was never going to replace Indiana Jones, a character originally offered to the hairy-chested Tom Selleck. But perhaps another actor could have. Harrison Ford seems iconic and irreplaceable now, but in the 70s he was a weed dealer and carpenter who did bit parts on the side. While it's fun to see Indiana Jones come back one last time, it's also a metaphor for Hollywood leaning back on successes from over four decades ago, and refusing to create anything truly new. Shia was set up to fail, because he looks and acts young in a movie that sees his youth as embarrassing. It didn't actually give us a "new Indiana Jones type," and Dial of Destiny doesn't either.

Shia LeBoeuf eventually left the Transformers franchise. We're told that he was killed off between films. And then there were the allegations, as his behavior, according to the newspapers, became ever stranger and more erratic. "FKA twigs Sues Shia LaBeouf, Citing ‘Relentless’ Abusive Relationship. The lawsuit, filed in Los Angeles by the musician, accuses the actor of sexual battery, assault and infliction of emotional distress."

Shia LeBoeuf does not appear in this film.

(ROT13 because of spoilers)
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V ernyyl gubhtug jr'q trg gjb Vaqvnan Wbarfrf gubhtu. V gubhtug gung'f jul gurl jrer frggvat hc gur gvzr geniry ryrzrag naq gur qr-ntrq Vaql ng gur ortvaavat. V gubhtug gung jr jrer tbvat gb ybbc nebhaq naq trg zber jvgu obgu Vaqvrf. V jnf abg rkpvgrq nobhg jung jr npghnyyl tbg.

I have not yet mentioned the rest of the plot, which involves the Greek mathematician Archimedes and is stupid. At one point there is a dull scuba-diving sequence where Indy is attacked by equally dull CGI eels. At another point we get the welcome return of the red line on a map which marks which country Indiana Jones is going to next.

There's also the matter of Phoebe Waller-Bridge, who wrote and starred in Fleabag on the stage in 2013, and on television in 2016 and 2019. Her character is equal parts charismatic and off-putting, attractive and reprehensible. (Phoebe also appeared in "Broadchurch," contributed to "James Bond 007: No Time to Die" and created Crashing and Killing Eve.) Despite a strong outing in Fleabag, it took Lucasfilm some time to do anything interesting with her. Her voice role as feminist android L3-37 in "Solo: A Star Wars Story" (2018) is baffling. It may have made more sense before rewrites and reshoots replaced directors Lord & Miller with Ron Howard. But it also runs afoul of a recurring problem in Star Wars, which is that droids seem to be fully developed, intelligent, sentient beings, who are never treated as if they're deserving of human rights. Star Wars never deals with this in any meaningful way, and it's an exposed electrical wire that they often get tripped up on, especially in animated television shows like The Clone Wars.

Anyway, I think this movie, the Dial of Destiny, has a problem with women. There are a lot of characters in this movie that aren't deeply explored or explained, but none of them quite like Helena Shaw, played by Phoebe Waller-Bridge. Unless I missed something during all the dialogue I couldn't understand, this doesn't feel like an actual consistent character. It feels like several very different characters from several very different drafts of several very different movies, all stapled together more or less randomly.

The performance is fine - Phoebe Waller-Bridge is charismatic and delivers every line with a wink and a twinkle. Her character is also just deeply insane, and her motivations never make sense. She is also, I think, playing an entirely different character by the end of the film, who is a more traditional hero, and expecting us to believe that she's been playing that character the entire time. As with her character in Solo, this should probably be funny, but isn't, because it's not written to be funny or make very much sense. Helena is, depending on the scene, the puppetmaster in charge of the entire adventure, or coming along reluctantly and making it up as she goes. She is also, depending on the scene, only in it for the money, or very deeply invested in this academic mystery and adventure. She is ready to sell off the Dial of Destiny to pay off gambling debts, because it's either the most meaningful thing in the world to her, or not meaningful at all. Sometimes she's a straightforward hero, or sidekick to the hero. She is also just deeply insane and often untrustworthy, going goblin mode in a way that may have been funny or interesting in a different draft of this script.

It is likely, considering her repeated lines that she's "in it for the money," that they intended Helena to be similar to Harrison Ford as Han Solo. But I think this movie has a problem with women, and failed to write her as a complete person with motivations that make sense. There is one scene in Greece where, to test how a location echoes, Helena starts shout-singing Beethoven's Fifth. Phoebe plays this a little bit wacky, so this feels like the setup for some comedic banter, probably with Indy being annoyed by this. But he just goes along with it and does the same. Helena Shaw is an eccentric performance in search of a better script which would actually explain what she's doing, or make it funnier.

The character clearly has a sense of humor, and is carrying a lot of trauma, and has a lot going on in her backstory, and none of it matters. This could have been a journey where her character changes over the course of the adventure, and maybe they think that's what they accomplished here. It feels more, to me, like this is four different characters held together by one performance.

The character we get as a result is acceptable, and at least she doesn't have the weight of having to possibly replace Indiana Jones, which made Mutt Williams so worrying. But it's also a character delivered with a wink to the audience, and another wink to Indiana Jones himself, as if this is all one grand joke that we're all in on. At no point was I in on this joke, so that didn't work for me. Throughout the film she does things that could easily cause the death of the very elderly Indiana Jones, as well as herself, and it just never matters because this script was rewritten a thousand times and has inconsistent internal logic.

Early scenes in the film set Indy up as a man out of time in a changing world, an interesting character note which is largely forgotten once he puts that hat back on, something he only does because it's an Indiana Jones movie and that's what Indiana Jones wears. For all of the film's chaotic, frenetic action, it's at its best when it's about an old man complaining about his life. There's a brief scene where Indy complains to Helena about the state of his body, and this angle really is curiously underexplored in The Dial of Destiny. At 80 years old, Harrison Ford is not a young action hero. This has become, whether Lucasfilm likes it or not, a character actor part. Phoebe Waller-Bridge is also performing Helena as more of a character-actor part. So I think this could have been a better movie than it is if they stopped pretending that this is an Indiana Jones movie and let it go completely off the rails and become a disaster. Like when a Sam Raimi or David Lynch film loses interest in what it's supposed to be doing, and pursues something more nonsensical for awhile. I think that would be better than what we got. I don't think the Dial of Destiny is bad, but I question all of the cultural decisions that led it to be made in the first place.

Does Indiana Jones, even at eighty, deserve one last hurrah? Sure, but we all deserve one last hurrah and we don't usually get them. If you wanted to make this movie, the time to do so was in the 1980s, or 90s if Ford was interested then.

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade came out in 1989. (Remember "It belongs in a museum!" "So do you!") It was intended as the last hurrah for an aging Indiana Jones, and we've now gotten three of those, which is more than the two movies that preceded it, both of which purport to be Indiana Jones' first adventure. If you take into account the Young Indiana Jones TV series, all of Indiana Jones' live action adventures are either his first ever adventure, or his last ever adventure. Sometimes they're both - Last Crusade has a Young Indiana Jones segment (the weakest part of the film), Dial of Destiny has a Relatively Young Indiana Jones segment, and The Young Indiana Jones has Indy as a one-eyed old man. Or at least it did; George Lucas has cut those scenes from re-releases. At least we get one episode in season 5 where a bearded 1993 Harrison Ford plays the saxophone.

That wasn't what we wanted either; we wanted Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis in 1993. The Indiana Jones film series was based on older adventure movies whose influence is, I think, nowhere to be found in the new film. Those films were probably familiar to audiences in 1981 but unfamiliar to even the filmmakers in 2023. Enough time has passed that many other series trying to recapture the Indiana Jones formula have come and gone. We've had The Mummy series. We've had multiple Lara Croft Tomb Raiders. We've had multiple Scrooge McDucks. Everyone is trying to capture that sense of old-fashioned adventure with a little comedy, and they're usually better at the comedy than Dial of Destiny is.

Full disclosure: I don't think Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull is as bad as its reputation, or at least I didn't when I saw it in theaters in 2008. I've not bothered with it since. As I recall, I was invited to see it in Los Angeles, with a friend from high school and his friend group. We couldn't all get tickets together, so I was separated. I was in either another row, or in another theater entirely. After the show, they greeted me with sarcastic feigned enthusiasm, saying "Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull rocks!" and high-fiving me. I hadn't especially liked the film either, but soon realized that I'd made a complete fool of myself, in their eyes, by having any opinion about it more complicated than "wow, that was complete garbage."

Folks, Harrison Ford was 66 years old at the time. It was two decades late to be as good as "The Last Crusade." Steven Spielberg and George Lucas had both gone to some weird places in their careers, and George's contribution was always going to include some peculiar story beats and very obvious CGI. It was about aliens.

The writers included David Koepp, who as far as I could tell is a terrible writer who was often paid a lot of money to write films that turned out very good in spite of him. David Koepp was also a writer of The Dial of Destiny. It's hard to tell, from a finished film, whether the actual screenplay was well written or not. People in Hollywood know this - that a bad movie can come from a good script, and that sometimes they know enough to judge a writer for that script rather than that film. David Koepp is credited for writing films that I like, so I might wonder why I was so convinced he's not a good writer. But those movies were mostly based on strong IP which did a lot of the work for him. It felt like Panic Room and War of the Worlds (2005) succeeded in spite of their screenplays. And what about the Johnny Depp thriller Secret Window (2004)? Show me what he can do without Steven Spielberg to clean up his messes.

Anyway, my expectations were not that high for Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull. I wasn't expecting something as good as Raiders or Last Crusade. I was expecting an elderly Harrison Ford, with a pretty bad script, and pretty obvious CGI, that would be trying to look like a vintage adventure visually but be easily dated to 2008 throughout. Dated before it was even released. I expected some distracting casting, of recognizable famous faces. I expected that Steven Spielberg and George Lucas would both be so successful now, and so deeply into their own individual eccentricities, that they wouldn't have been able to agree on what this movie should actually be, and that it would show.

I think it was a bad idea to have made that movie. I expected, more or less, what we got. And Steven Spielberg happens to be a great director who gave us, under these unusual circumstances, some of that Spielberg magic.

That magic is not present in The Dial of Destiny. As a movie, The Dial of Destiny is reasonably well made. It's action-packed. There is some obvious CGI, but it's trying to do things which are very difficult and expensive to do, like de-aging Harrison Ford or a cartoonish parade for the Apollo 11 astronauts.

Dial of Destiny is an okay movie. A lot of people are saying it's better than The Crystal Skull. I don't think The Crystal Skull is as bad as people are saying, and I don't think Dial of Destiny is as good as people are saying. I don't think either are fully successful in what they're trying to do. Indiana Jones really was too old for this, and Hollywood could have let some writer come up with a new idea instead.

I think it was a bad idea to have made both of these movies. I'm not sorry I watched them, because I'm old enough to be nostalgic for the property, but I also think they're trying to recapture something which they would have struggled to recapture forty years ago. I think, under the circumstances, both movies are pretty good and have some pretty good stuff in them.

I am also begging, begging, begging Hollywood to stop making movies like this.

These sequels that come twenty, thirty, forty years late. We watch them because they're familiar, but we don't need Indiana Jones, we need the next thing that could be as big as Indiana Jones. There won't be a sequel to the Dial of Destiny forty years from now, with a 120 year old Harrison Ford. Or maybe there will, because Hollywood wants to keep repeating itself. And we'll all be dead or dying from climate change by then, so what does it even matter?

I love slop, I love garbage. Pour it into my mouth.
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Re: Movie Thread: The Dissection Room

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BARBIE (2023) - Toward the end of writer-director Greta Gerwig's Barbie, America Ferrara (as Gloria) gives a speech about the tightrope that women must walk, the impossible and contradictory standards that a woman must navigate in order to be taken seriously in society and seen as a person. It is an overtly feminist moment but also serves as a metaphor for the film itself, which has to balance very contradictory tones in order to please several very different and contradictory audiences and owners. Is Barbie a fish-out-of-water comedy about two fashion dolls traveling to the real world? Is it a serious feminist statement about growing up in a patriarchy which does not value women enough? Is it Blade Runner? Is it a toy commercial? As Will Ferrell's character might say, "Yes." It is all of these things and a lot more, and in the hands of a less capable director that would have been a bigger problem than it is.

Like Barbie herself, Barbie the movie is expected to be everything all at once, to all people. Some of the things this movie is expected to be contradict each other pretty heavily. The film is trying to do a lot, and there's a lot of evidence of roads not taken. So much is unexplained or left hanging, and so much of what happens is silly and frivolous. This is a very smartly-made movie, which at times seems very dumb or makes dumb decisions, partly because what it's trying to accomplish as a film is nearly impossible.

It is possible to imagine a better version of this film, one which explains itself better, leaves less characters unexplored, leaves less plot threads hanging, goes to darker places, and does not make so many compromises. But I can't imagine that film getting funded as a $145 million toy commercial from Mattel, with an extra $150 million spent on marketing. Under the circumstances it's impressive that the film is as good as it is. That imaginary version of the film would be more coherent, and probably Oscar-worthy, but you'd have to call it "Malibu Stacy" or something, as The Simpsons did, and it wouldn't be one of the biggest hits of this year. What we have instead is a very complicated gymnastics act to satisfy many different audiences and the demands of corporate capitalism. The film sticks the landing, and comes out of all this looking as beautiful as a doll-sized Margot Robbie. But it's also full of moments which are out of place, underwritten, confusing and weird, like a doll-sized Kate McKinnon.

The toy company Mattel has been trying to get into the movie business for some time, as Hasbro already did with "Transformers" and "My Little Pony," among others. They've been trying to crack the code of a Barbie movie for adults for years. (And apart from Barbie, the idea of Mattel getting into movies is mostly a bad idea.) At Sony, up until 2017, Diablo Cody was writing a more ironic, deconstructionist version to star Amy Schumer, as a Barbie who didn't fit in. (Cody has said that the more traditional Barbie was not seen as feminist enough at the time, and that they struggled with comparisons to The Lego Movie.) Anne Hathaway was attached to a version written by Olivia Milch (Ocean's 8) until the project reverted to Mattel, and moved ahead at Warner Bros.

Greta Gerwig's Barbie feels like a film rewritten over the scattered corpse of a worse film, or many possible worse films. It walks the tightrope of being both an ironic deconstruction of the character, and an unironic celebration of Barbie which shows her in the best possible light. This film has a lot to say about Barbie's place in pop culture, as an ideal that little girls want to be like, which also saddles them with unrealistic expectations that can be very harmful. Since this film is also a toy commercial by Mattel, Barbie the movie can't interrogate these issues too negatively, but it goes farther than you'd think. It starts a conversation about what Barbie has meant to girls and women since 1959, which gives the film much of its meaning. The film raises some basic questions that it's not actually allowed to answer, while ignoring others. The chaotic script feels like the product of extended battles with Mattel, where the filmmakers are allowed to say certain things, and get away with certain things, only in specific scenes and in specific contexts.

Consider the rebellious teenager Sasha, as she meets Barbie for the first time. Sasha believes this is just a woman pretending to be Barbie, or that this is a crazy woman believing herself to be Barbie. Sasha and her entire friend group unload on Barbie about the negative effects that Barbie has had on society, to the point of calling her a fascist, without quite explaining why. This is a strange scene, because they've just met this woman and have very little reason to see her as "the real Barbie," or a representation of Barbie. They have barely been provoked to unload on Barbie like this, and we don't really hear this kind of talk from Sasha (or the movie) afterward. But the scene is written this way because that's where Sasha and Barbie are, at this point, as characters, and so this is the scene where Sasha is allowed to say these things, and where by extension Greta Gerwig is allowed to raise these questions, without openly agreeing or disagreeing with them. By the end of the film, Sasha will be saying stuff like "Barbie, you got this!"

Or consider Will Ferrell, as an executive in charge at Mattel. While we meet him in the "real world," he is a whimsical and comedic character, whose motivations are concealed behind several layers of irony. We are supposed to read him as "a Will Ferrell character," perhaps identical to his character in The Lego Movie (something that Barbie was compared to often, in development). He could also be Buddy the Elf from Elf, or George W. Bush from SNL. We know who this characters is, because he's played by Will Ferrell, but it would be very hard to explain his character otherwise. That's because this character has been forced into an impossible position, and gets around it by being several contradictory things at once. Will Ferrell, vaguely, occupies the space of an antagonist or villain for this film. He represents the real-world corporate patriarchy that Barbie is really struggling against, and his ostensible goal is to capture Barbie and restore her to factory settings. But he also represents Mattel, in a movie produced by Mattel, so at no point can he actually be the villain. Will Ferrell coats the role in several layers of irony and comedic schtick that make him hard to pin down. He plays the role with a wink. When his men are chasing Barbie, he is doing schtick rather than seriously trying to capture her. He forgets or changes his motivations quickly, while still pursuing Barbie, and most of his lines afterward are about how he's a nice guy really, and the son of a mother. He does that with a wink too, making his character hard to explain generally. He occupies the general space of a villain or antagonist, but also has to assure you that this is not the case in any serious sense. The daftness of the character papers over any holes in the story by assuring you it doesn't matter.

This is equally true late on, for the exact same reasons, when (spoiler alert) Barbie struggles with the Kens. The Kens can't actually be the villain in any serious sense, despite the serious real-world threat they represent, because this is a toy commercial for Barbie and Ken. When the Kens go to war, it needs to be as serious as possible, and as silly as possible, at the exact same time. Tonally, this film always needs to do everything backwards in high heels. It's a tough tone to hit. Ryan Gosling distinguishes himself as Ken, whose job is just "Beach." Gosling must convince us that he's both the generic, harmless (and stupid) Ken doll, and a character with much deeper psychological issues that he's working through, without the one overshadowing the other. Ken becomes a cautionary tale about how someone who is missing something in his life can easily become radicalized into something much darker, but not to the extent that he is irredeemable and can't be Ken anymore. This is a film which puts its actors in a very contradictory position when it asks anything of them, although the other Kens and Barbies are not explored deeply as characters. The film must have it both ways. It tackles toxic masculinity in a way which is both deeply serious and unserious. There is a very cutting remark, at one point, about a recent superhero film, which must only have been allowed because Warner Bros also owns that film, and which could also be very loosely interpreted as saying it appeals to its desired demographic. At one point in the film, Ken tries to figure out the rules of the Real World, and whether the opportunities he wants can simply be given to him. This opens a few questions about the many layers of societal gatekeeping - of wealth, class, race and so on - which makes opportunities harder to attain for the unconnected. Unfortunately these are also questions that are well beyond the scope of this movie. Despite a diverse cast, race and sexuality don't enter into this as themes.

Another thing the film doesn't- and can't- mention is that Barbie was not an original creation of Ruth Handler, but was based on the German "Lilli" doll, based on a sexy comic strip for adult men. The doll caught the attention of little girls precisely because it wasn't initially meant for them. As Helen Mirren's narrator notes, Barbie seemed much more exciting than dolls of little babies. She seemed to open up a world of adult possibilities, precisely because she was originally an adult fantasy. Ruth Handler is played here by Rhea Perlman, with probably a bit less gravitas than the role calls for, although she gets in a few good joke lines about Ruth Handler's real-world issues with financial fraud, yet another thing I'm surprised Gerwig got away with referencing here. (The contributions of Jack Ryan, and his troubled personal life, are not referenced.)

Margot Robbie holds the movie together as Barbie, also known as "stereotypical Barbie," the Barbie you think of when you think "Barbie." While there is a diverse cast of Barbies and Kens played by familiar faces, they're not cast to be "Barbie and Ken" in the way that Robbie and Gosling are. At one point in the film, at Ken's urging, a Nobel Prize in Horses is given out. For her part, Robbie seems to be trying to win an Academy Award in Barbie. Once again, this role carries a lot of contradictory expectations with it. We all know about Barbie, and her perfect, silly, fake little world, where everything is pink and plastic, and about 23% too small. Robbie gets laughs by parodying the doll Barbie, but also embodying her unironically as if it's the role of a lifetime. This is a silly, frivolous, comedic character, which also requires extremely serious dramatic acting, and the one side informs the other. This is both the fashion doll "Barbie," and a real person who is having a nervous breakdown, either because she's becoming a real person, or for other reasons which are only barely explained, and arguably outside the scope of this film. (America Ferrara's "crazy drawings" and parental angst are only hinted at, as is whatever magic connects Barbie to Mattel.) Margot is good enough as an actress that you never question it. She brings some serious drama to scenes which aren't otherwise filmed like serious drama. It is also fun to see Barbie wear all her little outfits, an energy which she also brought to the worldwide premieres of the film, with a different Barbie outfit at each event. I believe the SAG-AFTRA strike meant that we missed out on some of her final Barbie looks, and this thought will haunt me. Margot Robbie fulfills one of the requirements for playing Barbie in a film like this, which is that you should be a little too attractive to be playing someone as bland as Barbie. This is something that Mattel understood when they turned the adult property "Lilli" into the kids property "Barbie." Even Helen Mirren's narration points out, at one point, that Margot Robbie has difficulty playing Barbie as "ugly," even when "ugly crying." She has no such difficulty playing Barbie as a cultural monolith, or with a wink as she floats downstairs as a Barbie girl in a Barbie world.

That song, Barbie Girl by Aqua, parodied the character in a way which got them sued by Mattel, and which would still be inappropriate in this film if played in full. But audiences would also notice if it wasn't played, so once again the film is put in an impossible position, and tries to have it both ways. So the end credits have a song which features portions of "Barbie Girl." The intro also features Lizzo, discussing Barbie's pink world in a way which gives it a little more street cred. And there's a sad ballad by Billie Eilish which better reflects Barbie's identity crisis- and the film's.

I wasn't left wanting more- the film does not call for a sequel- but I was left wanting more clarity on what we got. What have we really achieved, at the end, for the Barbies and Kens, and does it matter? What have we achieved in the real world, and does it matter? Does this journey only really matter for Barbie herself? What does it even mean to have Barbie in the real world? Okay, that's better left unexplained, probably. Like most of our journeys it's about growing up, learning how the world works, and realizing you actually can't go back home again. Even Barbie never really had a choice.

The connection between the real world and Barbie world is probably best left unexplained, although the transition is handled well with rear-projection backgrounds. it does raise the question of how "real" Will Ferrell's character even is, as he acts almost like an escaped Ken. How "real" is the real world when it also has magical elements and exaggerated characters? What is Barbie's connection to the ghost of Ruth Handler, who only sort of created Barbie anyway? Why is "Barb" from "Barb and Star" here? Is that to make the movie more "Barb"-y?

At one point an FBI agent calls in, tracking Barbie. This is never mentioned again- I believe that those tracking Barbie afterward are Mattel employees, and not a lot of them. Is Gloria connected to our Barbie because she works at Mattel, and played with a discarded Barbie? Were her "weird drawings" really all that weird? Can we assume that the Barbies reflect the dreams of the girls playing with them, including a doctor played by trans actress Hari Nef, and a President played by Issa Rae? Wouldn't there be a lot of Barbie Lands in that case, with this little town just standing in for all of them? That sounds too complicated. Does it matter?

If this is a current Barbie lineup, without "discontinued" dolls, why are the retro pair of pregnant Midge and rainbow-shirted Allan present? We never see them together either, so what is Allan? Is "Allan" its own gender entirely? What would it mean to be Allan-gender? (Allan appears to be, simply, Michael Cera, no more and no less.) What is Allan's motivation? Is it enough to say that "Allan is Ken's Buddy" and that "all of Ken's clothes fit him?" Probably! Would it fix the Kens' problems if they figured out whether any of this is a gay thing, or not? Is "Weird Barbie" (Kate McKinnon) a gay thing? Isn't she "weirder" in the real world than she is in the "Barbie world?"

I believe we never hear about Skipper, Barbie's younger sister, in the film until hearing that a Skipper once escaped into the real world. Two Skippers, including the bizarre "Growing Up Skipper" (with growing bust) appear as discontinued Barbies later. It is clearer, for this film's purposes, to just refer to a lot of Barbies and Kens when setting up this world. But I'll bet there was a draft setting up Skipper. There have been a lot of animated Barbie movies where Barbie has a family and other continuity, but this film is more interested in a personal experience of Barbie rather than any of that corporate lore. I've heard that some of the animated Barbie Dreamhouse content is jokey and meta.

Basically none of the male characters have motivations that make very much sense or are explored in any detail, which I think was a good choice on the director's part.

And that's just the stuff that seems to matter, until it doesn't, like the entire plot. There are a lot of throwaway moments and details which will make you say, that was kind of weird. Or, I have questions about that.

There's a few jokes in the film about "guy movies," and it seems significant that Christopher Nolan's Oppenheimer, which was originally tracking to open to much smaller audiences than Barbie, has been very successful in piggybacking off of Barbie as a double feature. For one thing, this is Ken behavior. For another, the online reaction was sometimes very toxic. People excited about going to see Barbie on social media were often harassed with all kinds of slurs. Even by itself this supports the very basic point about what women have to put up with. The opening was a huge success for both films, with Barbie surpassing $200 million and Oppenheimer crossing $100 million between Thursday and Tuesday or so, opening weekend.

I was reminded of how Barbie's trailer sets this movie up as really something special, which the movie itself delivers on. The movie has something to say about Barbie, and about the world we live in. It's visually beautiful and funny. It calls back to classic films of the 20th century, such as 2001: A Space Odyssey, Grease, golden-age musicals, The Matrix, The Wizard of Oz, and the work of Jacques Tati. When I saw Barbie, on the big screen, it was preceded by some of the worst movie trailers I've seen in my life. Often movies based on toys and familiar IP, with nothing interesting to say, saying it in the most obnoxious way possible.

Barbie is a silly toy commercial comedy that also manages to, for the most part, be a meaningful piece of cinema with something to say, crafted masterfully by the director. It does what a "guy's movie" would do backward in heels, making an impossible situation seem relatively effortless. There are things that this movie does not accomplish, but under the circumstances I wouldn't expect it to. Barbie is a concept by which we may measure ourselves, if we so choose. It is the start of a conversation, asking questions that it is not at all prepared to answer. For the Barbies and Kens, nothing needs to be resolved. For us in the real world, nothing ever can be. Barbie does not have the answers. In its desire to please many different kinds of audiences, as well as its corporate masters at Mattel and Warner Bros, there is something inevitably missing at the heart of the film. This Barbie is a gorgeous piece of plastic, but it is also, in the end, inevitably hollow. And in that missing space in the middle, it is inevitable that audience members will insert themselves. That is true whether you see yourself as a Barbie, a Ken, a Gloria, a Sasha, a Greta, whatever Allan is, or something else entirely. This Barbie has more personality than other Barbies have, and I think this movie could be very meaningful to people, but that's going to depend on what they, personally, are bringing to this movie as viewers. I hope, in the end, you too realize that you are Kenough.

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Garrett Gilchrist
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Re: Movie Thread: The Dissection Room

Post: # 12314Post Garrett Gilchrist »

FURIOSA: A MAD MAX SAGA (2024) The fifth in George Miller's Mad Max series of dazzling post-apocalyptic dystopian road warrior epics, following 2015's Fury Road, and 1979's Mad Max, as well as its sequels in 1981 and 1985. Miller and co-writer Nico Lathouris spent over 15 years writing the two scripts and initially intended to shoot Furiosa back-to-back with Fury Road, something that this film's ending makes evident. Charlize Theron was apparently aware of this film's events when filming, although Furiosa is here played by Anya Taylor-Joy and Alyla Browne. Both Theron and Taylor-Joy apparently went through hell during filming, although native Australian Chris Hemsworth seems to be having a ball in this film by comparison.

The 2015 film has a 97% positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and this film currently has 90%. Critics love these movies. I'm willing to be an outlier here and accept that the problem is me. These are impressive movies, brilliantly directed and action-packed. It looks like people died making them. And I wondered if I was simply in a bad mood when watching Fury Road. But given the additional evidence of Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga, I must conclude that these movies are depressing for me to watch. They're a living nightmare, and I'm not entirely sure what I'm supposed to take away from them. It's difficult to care about (or at least fully understand) the stakes of these movies, because everything about humanity at this point is disgusting, degraded and deranged. I'm pretty sure the cool action and vehicles are supposed to counter-balance this, and make the whole thing seem like fun, but it's also like watching zombies play football. As Chris Hemsworth's villain all but says by the end, these people are already dead, and are fighting over scraps of nothing. Maybe that's the point.

Or maybe that's why he's the villain. He's swaggering and charismatic with an absurd false nose, apparently having lots of fun playing a different role than he's known for. He's a heartless bastard whose actions doom humanity everywhere he goes. His nihilism is a self fulfilling prophecy. As an actor, Hemsworth fits right into the Australian desert atmosphere. He's given a juicy, actorly scene toward the end and does a great job with it.

Anya Taylor-Joy is also appropriately fierce and furious as Furiosa, doing a lot with very little dialogue, as this is nearly a silent film in that regard. The storytelling, effects and filmmaking conspire here to tell the story of a younger Furiosa, first played by Alyla Browne, and for awhile pretending to be a boy. We first really "see" Anya Taylor-Joy, in more recognizable form, halfway through a long action sequence, at the same point when Tom Burke as Praetorian Jack first really "sees" her. Burke is her love interest here, of sorts, and it's a real star role, that makes an impact with relatively little screen time.

There is also the matter of George Shevstov as The History Man, who also narrates the film, despite being shown onscreen to be ill-equipped to do that. This film leans into the idea that these are stories being told in an oral tradition, without complete 100 percent accuracy. So we can have multiple people playing Furiosa and Mad Max, even within the course of this film, and there is no true canon or timeline as to when the Mad Max movies take place relative to one another. With thirty years inbetween sequels, and now almost ten years, it would be difficult to have true continuity between these films, so this is something of a workaround.

"Oh," I said, at one point in this film, "That's probably supposed to be Mad Max." I didn't have much of an opinion about that.

And I know that's my personal problem. In 2009 I wrote most of a novel, still unpublished, which covered similar themes of post apocalyptic decay and action in a desert with a female lead.

At the risk of being a buzzkill, our society faces a collapse caused by climate change and resource scarcity within the next thirty to fifty years. So these movies hit a little too close to home to be fun, and a little too far from home to be sensible. Some have said that in Australia, these are just documentaries. It's hard for me to parse the stakes of a world where food, water, and shelter are scarce but people spend 90% of their time burning gasoline and trying to kill each other while driving. It's not especially fun or escapist for me. It's depressing. I can never decide if these movies are good entertainment or depressing. Or both.

Maybe that's even the point. Objectively, there's a lot of good and impressive filmmaking happening here. And frankly under the circumstances it makes me nervous. I wonder how George Miller, himself, feels about all of that.

(Yes, this is the kind of movie where I'd rather think about themes and how intentional they are than just say it's good and be done with it. Especially as this is one man's life's work. There's a lot of nuance here which is more interesting to me than the technical aspects.)
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Re: Movie Thread: The Dissection Room

Post: # 12322Post Garrett Gilchrist »

I SAW THE TV GLOW (2024) - Can a film be depressing and inspirational at the same time? Some reviews have said that nothing happens in this film, and that's not quite true, but it is, in some ways, the point. Jane Schoenbrun has crafted an eerily anxious, downbeat and melancholy film, which also serves as a passionate wake-up call to some viewers. It is a horror film, in which the horror is a life wasted by living inauthentically. Some viewers may exit the movie feeling like they've been visited by Jacob Marley and three ghosts.

The David Lynch influence is obvious, in particular Twin Peaks: The Return. The film works on a similar dream logic, where many things are left ambiguous, and reality itself is an unreliable narrator. There is a lot about this film which is strange, or inconsistent, or not fully explored, and you can choose to read almost all of it as intentional. I am curious, in places, about what the filmmaker meant. But as with a David Lynch film it's fine to experience it as a dream, and piece together theories about how these conflicting pieces might fit together. The film is all vibes ... bad vibes.

(some spoilers)

Jane Schoenbrun is trans and non-binary, and the film largely plays out as a cautionary tale about staying in the closet as a trans woman. The concept of being transgender is never brought up outright, but is a constant metaphor. Autism, PTSD and ADHD aren't mentioned either, but Justice Smith (as Owen) and Brigette Lundy-Paine (as Maddy) are introduced to us as teenagers who don't fit in and barely express emotion, outside of a special interest in a Buffy-like TV show called The Pink Opaque. Both perform their roles with a flat affect, emoting only when they absolutely can't hold it in anymore. I must assume that this is also intentional, and somehow the film itself is emotive enough that this isn't a mark against it. A more old-fashioned and Hollywood type of acting might have gotten in the way here. It's a risky but modern choice.

Fred Durst also appears, briefly, as Owen's controlling stepfather, and a threat of male violence hangs over his scenes which is not explored textually. Both Owen and Maddy seem like they have been bullied at school and abused at home, but this is not shown explicitly. In place of specifics, there is a discomfort around their lives which just hangs like a cloud. They can never really be home. Danielle Deadwyer plays Owen's mother, who means well but doesn't know how to relate to her withdrawn, quasi-verbal son. Conner O'Malley seems to have stepped out of a Tim Robinson sketch as Dave, a horny boss who is another ghoulish representation of abusive masculinity. Amber Benson, Buffy's original Tara, also appears.

The Pink Opaque itself, as an analog for shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, is not fully fleshed out, or fully convincing when we see it. This may be intentional as well; there is some ambiguity about the exact nature of the show, and what level of filmmaking was on display there. There is ambiguity about to what degree it was a TV show at all, or instead a metaphor for the relationship between Owen and Maddy. Answering these questions isn't important.

What is important is that seeing The Pink Opaque unlocks something inside Owen that he couldn't articulate before (I'll use he pronouns here for simplicity), and that he finds himself terrified and ashamed of this outside of the company of Maddy. It remains their secret, and Owen is stuck feeling like a void and never figuring out who he actually is. You feel for Owen, who is in many ways a victim of circumstance. He has very little control over his teenage life, and has withdrawn into himself like an abused puppy.

On the occasions where Maddy asks him to take a big risk, and change his life completely, her demands are so extreme that they feel like suicide. She is trying to teach Owen that an old life must be burned down for a new one to be born. But he isn't ready to abandon his home life, even as there is less and less there for him, week after week, year after year. If Owen dreams of TV adventure, he is still Neo refusing to see what The Matrix is. He is Luke Skywalker refusing to leave the farm. The circumstances are too insane, impossible and dangerous. The time isn't right, but then it never is. The idea that Owen is somehow Isabel (the film's Buffy analog) is never really in doubt (with Maddy as the Willow-esque Tara). But everything that Owen is would have to die in order for something new to be born.

And that's just too big an ask. "There is still time" but it's easier to allow one day to bleed into the next without a radical change of course. The ending of the film is as ambiguous as the rest of it, but Owen is visibly dying, surrounded by people who can't care or listen or see it. Either because they can't relate to Owen's feelings, or because this is a cage. And one suspects that Owen could go along apologizing for who he is, endlessly, to no one, until she finally suffocates. "There is still time" but not for Owen, necessarily.

According to Jane Schoenbrun there is another way to read this, as more hopeful. Owen, at least in private, knows exactly who he is, and has come out to himself. At one point the ending went on longer, and showed Owen in the process of exiting the arcade. That's not much of an escape but it's more of an escape than the film shows, as released.

The bleakness of the ending is probably more powerful. It's tempting to give Owen more of a happy ending but I think that misses the point. He was given opportunities to change his life completely, and/or die in the process. Those chances were always too dangerous and insane. The time was never right, because it never actually is. The film is empty, and hollow, and frustrating, and I think that's most of the point. You're supposed to be frustrated because this film is a missed connection. You're supposed to feel uneasy, like this entire life is wrong. "There is still time" for the viewer of the film to live authentically. This movie is telling the viewer, with ambiguity but no subtlety, that you are dying every day and you only get one shot at this. Like Maddy, the film demands that the viewer make that big, impossible change before it's too late. And then it disappears into the night.

Phoebe Bridgers appears.
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