Toy Story 4
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Damn good movie. Does a great job of displaying the prejudices of the past while not letting the present off the hook. I love a lot of the editing in the film, especially the whole Kwame Ture speech. The fading in of each face as they are changed by his powerful words becomes especially effective when we see Ron in the crowd. It was a lot funnier than I expected, perfectly walked the line between making the klan members look like the fools they without ever making them nonthreatening. Very likeable protagonists, I loved that Ron and Patrice could fight about whether you can change a system from within it without the movie really ever taking a side. The references to the modern day Trump-isms were incredibly on the nose, but you quickly catch on that it's purposefully ham handed. Spike Lee wanted to make sure that no one could miss the joke, and it becomes so blatant that it sails past being eye rolling and right around to making you feel like you're in on the joke, being nudged in the arm sarcastically.
I'm not quite sure how to feel about the framing bits at the beginning and end of the film. The top is a funny little scene of Alec Baldwin spouting racist propaganda, mixed in with shots of him messing up lines and doing vocal warmups. At the end is film of the Charlottesville protests and Trump's reaction to them. The movie ends not with an image of one of the black people still getting killed in the streets by cops, but with Heather Hayer. A white woman killed by a white nationalist. It's a deliberate choice that I'm not sure I understand in the context of the film. I'm fairly conflicted about these odd choices at the begging and the end, taking us out of the narrative of a film that was already effective in making us think about the modern day. There's also the strange almost-reveal of the cross burning at the end. I won't go into it for spoiler reasons, but it was more confusing than it was enlightening.
As good as Chloe Grace Moretz is in Miseducation, and she is quite good, I feel like her character is one of the least interesting parts of the movie. Jane or Adam both would have been more interesting protagonists, with Cameron still getting audience exposition when she shows up. I wish the movie had dedicated more time to Erin and Jamie. They were both super compelling characters, far more conflicted and damaged by this whole process, but we never find out how their stories go. They're tertiary, but they have more compelling traits than Cam, who is mostly quite sure of herself until one short moment of self-doubt which is quickly overcome.
But looking at what this movie for what it is rather than I what I think it could have been, it does do a good job. The view into conversion camps and the trauma that religious homophobia can wreak on a young person's psyche is powerfully brought to screen, and the students are all wonderfully rendered by this great cast of young people. The film is intimate, compassionate, and occasionally even pretty funny.
Under the Tree is a real mixed bag. There are elements of this movie that are really nice. The cast is really great, everyone puts a lot into their characters. There are scenes and subplots that are really lovely. The whole plotline of the son and his wife splitting up felt very real, where both parties feel betrayed and are behaving poorly but understandably. The slow progression of these two people realizing that they were both acting stupid is really nice and wrapped up very well at the end of the movie. Of course this whole arc has almost nothing to do with the main plot of the film, so while it's the better part of the movie and it plays to it's themes, it does lack some cohesion.
The first half of the main plotline is fairly dull. Neighbours in a middle class neighbourhood getting a little too worked up about whether or not to trim a tree. It's some really mundane, trivial nonsense, but the mother of our protagonist family gets very worked up about it, and is obviously a little unhinged. But nothing about their little suburban spat is all that interesting until forty minutes in when the mother come home to find her door ajar and some garden gnomes sitting on her table. At this point it gets more interesting and anxious. We are treated to some wonderful moments of shocking emotional pain, like the mother singing happy birthday to the son that disappeared years ago, or the neighbours finding their dead dog in a very interesting way.
Unfortunately there are some poor choices overall. The editing is very strange. There are a lot of ominous cut-aways to the tree in the yard accompanied by horror music, as though the tree is scary, but it isn't. All these edits serve to do is make the conclusion of the tree a little obvious. There are a lot of moments in this movie that struck me as very funny, but the movie was edited to seem very serious. The last dog scene felt very comedic, but was cut without the timing for laughs to form. I swear you could take all of the footage from this movie and cut it into a very funny dark comedy, but instead it's an intense thriller. Even the ending of the movie, which ends with a horror music stinger, but would have worked just as well if that sound cue was replaced with the Curb Your Enthusiasm theme (special thanks to Tyler Toppings for that mental image). The confrontation of the men of both households at the end feels unearned. They hadn't really had any conflict prior to the tree scene and so the intensity of the final basement scene doesn't quite feel in character for either of them.
Ultimately the end of the movie feels empty due to insufficient stakes and the script completely forgetting to wrap up several subplots. We're never told what was up with the gnomes appearing in their house without anyone showing up on the security cameras, and it's never clear why there is a whole plotline about the neighbours trying to have a kid. But the cinematography is really nice, it creates some wonderful imagery and the movie's colouring gives a really hopeless feeling that pervades the whole film. It's good at creating a mood and giving it's actors small scenes to thrive in, but the script falls apart pretty quickly on a closer inspection.
This is sort of the first time I've given a movie a ten out of ten since I started writing these thoughts out, so I feel I should clarify: a ten does not mean the movie is perfect, it just means it's one of my favourite movies. There's no such thing as a perfect film, but if I see a movie that I know I am going to come back to again and again, or one that changes me on some level, then it's a ten. Other ten out of ten movies for me include Hot Fuzz, Room, Fantastic Mr. Fox, Blue is the Warmest Colour, Wayne's World, and Birdman.
Hearts Beat Loud is my favourite movie of the year so far. I could probably criticize it for the stakes being a bit low, or for the lack of conflict through most of the runtime, or romances feeling a little rushed at the beginning. But I don't want to. Because I love this movie to pieces. I saw it three times in three days, and I've seen it five times as of posting this. It's such a feel-good, inspiring experience, and does the fake band within the movie thing extremely well. Every time Nick Offerman gets all excited it fills my heart with joy, and I had a dumb grin plastered across my face through the whole concert bit at the end of the movie. The music is great, the father-daughter dynamic is great, I just really loved it. After watching it on Friday, I went home and bought the soundtrack. Then I was having a crummy Saturday so I went to go see it again and it cheered me right up. It's just so fucking wholesome and I adore it.
It's a simple movie, it's not really saying anything big or groundbreaking like other amazing films this year, it just makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. It's one of those. It's kind of corny, but it's really sweet. Sam and Rose are super cute and fun to watch. I love the offhanded way that Sam being gay is handled in the movie. Frank notices that his daughter has written a love song and asks, "Do you have a girlfriend?" We don't need to rehash the coming out story, this is a conversation they had ages ago. When Sam doesn't answer, Frank looks confused and says, "Boyfriend?" to which Sam replies "Dad. Stop." This scene could have played out the exact same way if Sam was a boy, it would have gotten the same laugh. The fact that she is a queer woman of colour is never a plot point, it's normal. It's sort of sad that it feels unique, but it does. It's kinda generically fresh.
There is an odd cameo near the end that I didn't understand the first two times I saw the movie. It's just obviously a cameo but I didn't recognize the person. Turns out it's Jeff Tweedy, who Frank is listening to at the beginning of the movie. Tweedy is also in a band with his kid, who's mother died tragically. It's an odd cameo, but I get why it's significant. There is a lot of good music in the movie though. I brought a notebook to my second viewing to write down all the recommendations and references. I like the mix of older and newer music in the movie, the old and the new is a nice consistent theme. The dynamic between Frank and Sam. The conflict of their actual ages and their personalities. The juxtaposition of Frank's record store going out of business while he finds musical success on Spotify. Frank's desire for new equipment for a new era. The way Frank's mom had to earn success in music versus how jobs are earned now through emails and streaming services.
Ted Dansen is really great in this. He's really funny and charming. His connection to the bar is interesting. We never see him in scenes outside of the bar, even the concert at the end. So he kind of acts as Frank's spirit animal, and the camera perspective of the bar shifts when Dansen's character goes from confidant to being an actual resource for Frank to improve as a person. Hearts Beat Loud has some really subtle but specific camerawork like that that I like. As another example; when Frank and Sam are at odds near the end of the movie, they are always either framed separately or if they are in the same shot there is significant physical distance between them.
I like the way they show the characters making music. The montage at the beginning shows each element of the music as they make the song and it reminds me of YouTube videos by people like Andrew Huang, except with narrative weight. The movie also has trust in it's audience to just sit through someone playing a song, which is really nice. Especially at the climax of the film, which is basically just three consecutive songs that the characters have worked on over the course of the movie. I feel like normally you wouldn't see the full concert like that, but as an audience, we've fallen for the characters at this point and we want to see the whole show. We get to join in on the concert of a band we really like. I love that.
It's a heartwarming movie about love, family, moving on, and finding the inspiration to make and share art even when it doesn't really fit into your life at the moment. It's filled with charm and catchy tunes and great actors and I love it.
Good quotes: "When life hands you conundrums you turn them into art." "You've gotta be brave before you can be good." "And as great as Samwich und Frank could have been..."
So to put my experience with this movie in context: I have a long history with the Slender Man mythos. I came across some of the Marble Hornets videos back in 2010 or 2011, before the game came out and the character became sort of a meme, and I became obsessed. I poured through every webseries and blog I could find. Searched for forum threads of photoshops and did research on similar historical iconography. I even made my own short film on the subject. The community that was built around this monster was truly fascinating. An instantly recognizable monster whose stories were being built by a disorganized group of horror fans and amateur writers and filmmakers spread out across the internet. It was rapidly evolving modern folklore, and it was really cool to watch. Nearly the whole community seemed to understand what made Slender Man scary, and if they added context or back story, it would always be small and it would always raise more questions. The less you know about him the better. There were no solid rules. Just various accounts of stalking and death. Going back, a lot of this writing is fairly mediocre outside of the bubble of that passionate bunch of people, though some of the stuff still really holds up. One of my prized possessions is the complete series of Marble Hornets on DVD signed by the guys who made it. So with all that being said, I am going to address this film in two different ways: firstly as a film fan, and then as a Slender Man fan.
This is a very bad movie. Just atrocious. Wow. Do not watch it. Damn the writing is just so godawful. This is a movie about a bunch of teenage girls that was written by a middle-aged man and it is painful to watch. They spout weird dad jokes, and the flow of their conversations is so stilted and weird. They talk about leaving town in only the most generic, general ways. When Slender Man gets brought up, of course one of them has never heard of it, and the rest must explain it to her and the audience. They're all incredibly stupid. There's a scene where they all just have to sit still and wear blindfolds, and because the writing is trite garbage, one of them moronically lifts her blindfold and looks straight at the monster. Dumb. The drunken father of one of the girls breaks into his daughter's friend's house and attacks a couple of children and then is back in his home no problems the next day. Ridiculous. The whole set up and plot is basically a straight rip-off of The Ring. They watch a video, and then they are cursed to be killed by a monster. Plot threads are picked up and dropped almost instantly. There's a very pointed line about one girl having a bunch of trophies, and it's spoken with resentment. It sounds like a line you're supposed to remember but this almost conflict is never brought up again. There is a person feeding them information through the internet whose identity is called into question several times that stops being relevant halfway through the movie and they never address them again. The editing is choppy and the dream sequences are generic. The effects are inconsistent, sometimes they're creepy but usually they're in your face and looking awful. The sound design is full of odd choices. There is a sequence where she hears something downstairs and you hear metal clanking to the floor. This is later revealed to not be the monster, but I couldn't help but imagine Slender Man sneaking through the kitchen and accidentally knocking a pot off a shelf and it made me laugh in the middle of a scene that was supposed to be tense. Some of the cinematography was okay. The actors were alright, they probably would have been good if they had anything to work with, the cast really deserved better.
And as a Slender Man fan? What a mess. The writer and the director obviously have no concept of what makes this monster scary. Watching Slender Man videos trains you to watch the background for him. One of the scariest things about the character is seeing him when the protagonist doesn't. In Marble Hornets, the characters would become paranoid about doing things they don't remember and would film themselves when they sleep. Leading to recordings of Slender Man watching them while they lay unconscious. Characters would walk through the woods and you would catch a glimpse of him in the background. It increases the paranoia. He's always watching. In this movie the only time you see Slender Man is when the characters do. It's so blunt force about it. Wouldn't want the audience to miss him. Got to have him front and center. Wouldn't want to leave anything for someone to notice on a second viewing. Well, that's not fair really. I suppose there is one time where we see him and the girls don't; when his shadow sneaks into their room like he's fucking Peter Pan. It looks so stupid, and it's not even consistent with how he normally works. As someone who obsessively researched the Slender lore and got so freaked out by the videos that I would see him out of the corner of my eye next to trees and street poles, I can tell you that just finding the videos is enough to get someone hooked. That's what the community means when they say that he spreads like a virus. You find out about him and you go deeper and deeper and then you share your story and he spreads. Like a disease. The writer of this movie read the virus thing and instead decided to make it that Slender Man is "a computer virus but for your brain." Stupid. Nonsensical. So I suppose he did do some research, they showed a couple of the original Victor Surge images. They have the woodcarving of the skeleton. There's a brief mention of shadow people. But they obviously didn't do much more digging than that. And then there's the videos. They decided to rip off The Ring and make it so that instead of someone just becoming consumed by thoughts of Slender Man after finding videos or blog posts, there's a whole video-based summoning ritual that people do at parties. Sort of a modern Bloody Mary. Then well after that they find all of the drawings that are usually indicative of someone completely corrupted by Slender Man, a "proxy" as most people call it. But that doesn't actually make much sense for the character at that point, so it feels more like an element they knew they had to include but didn't know where to include it. All the videos they watch are strangely highly edited, with a whole lot of cuts and music playing over them and circles edited in to point out ol' Slendy, once again they have to point him out every time he's there because subtlety is impossible for this movie and it doesn't trust its audience to pay attention. And all these videos are posted on some deep web site. Why though? There's no violent content. Why are they not on a YouTube style website? You know, like they are in real life? And to cap it all off. Ever wonder what happens to Slender Man's victims after he takes them? Want to know what happens to these mysterious disappearing people? HE TURNS INTO A TREE AND THEN ABSORBS THEM INTO HIS TRUNK I GUESS.
OKAY. SURE. WHY NOT? FUCK IT.
It's just such a waste of a good monster. Slender Man can be terrifying, Marble Hornets frightened me more than any other horror media back when I first found it. But this movie is not remotely scary. Slender Man can be fascinating, finding all the little clues strewn about writing by dozens of different creators made me feel like I was uncovering some great secret. But the lore in this movie is so blunt force and expository it doesn't spur any curiosity. And ultimately, Slender Man can be great metaphor. He's been used as a way of addressing child abductions, self-medicating, our broken medical system, emotional isolation, mental illness, and fear of the wilderness. In this movie he is just a generic monster in a generic monster movie. He's the Bye Bye Man. He's Annabelle. He's It Follows, but shitty. Don't watch this movie. It's not a good movie.