The New York Times brings us a documentary about the life of a trapped celebrity.
Britney Spears is one of the most successful pop stars of the last 20 years, being the highest-earning musical performer for two different years since 2000. Despite that (and an estimated net-worth of almost $60 million), Britney has been legally under the control of her father, Jamie Spears, since 2008, when she had a mental breakdown. This documentary tracks her life from her youth and her appearance on the Mickey Mouse Club to her current fight to have her father’s conservatorship removed. Along the way, we see the story of what fame and America’s obsession with stars has done to her life.
It’s honestly hard to watch this documentary at some points because it does a good job of bringing home how much America’s love of watching famous people fall from grace has caused this woman pain. She has lost control of her children and even of her own business decisions, because the press refused to leave her any amount of privacy. When a paparazzo, who made a career out of taking candid photos of Britney, is asked whether he feels guilty, he immediately tries to deflect it by saying that she never asked to be left alone (then has the ridiculous nature of this statement thrown back at him). It’s clear that these people knew they were hurting her, but that the amount of money they were making on it made them ignore it. Of course, the only reason they were being offered that much money was because the public was insanely obsessed with any information about Britney, but particularly with trying to destroy her wholesome image.
The documentary also does a great job of investigating the conservatorship, which is itself already a bit of an oddity, since conservatorships are usually for the mentally unfit or the elderly. It seems unusual that the conservatorship has been maintained despite the fact that, for most of the time since 2008, Spears has been performing publicly. If her fame and exposure have been making her mentally incompetent, then it seems like having her continue is inherently against the purpose of the conservatorship. It becomes even sketchier when the conservatorship is literally described as being “a hybrid business relationship.” That’s very much counter to the purpose of the conservatorship. However, Spears, not being competent to make her own legal decisions, has limited options to appeal or change it. It’s even stranger that the judge denied her initial request to have an independent third party administer her affairs, but I suppose there are reasons that might have happened.
The film does a decent job of addressing many of the “#FreeBritney” people who think that Spears has been sending covert messages to the public so that they will help her escape her father. While it doesn’t endorse the conspiracy theories, it does point out that the situation in which Spears has found herself is not normal, is not healthy, and is only likely to change with public pressure. Fortunately, it’s gotten a little better since this came out, with an independent company now partially in charge of her conservatorship.
Overall, this was a really well-done documentary. I recommend it if you grew up in the early 2000s, especially.
Erin (Charlotte Sullivan) is a pet therapist in New York who is engaged to Travis (Philip Boyd) and has just been hired for a new position in San Francisco. On the day of their wedding, she finds out that her fiance has been cheating on her with her best friend Taylor (Jen Nikolaisen). Starting out in a new city on her own, Erin finds herself dealing with her egocentric new boss Martin (Donny Boaz) whose sister, Carly (Elizabeth Small), seems to have been the one who actually hired Erin. Erin quickly gets a strange assignment: Giving away 12 puppies that were left behind after a photo shoot. Despite her recent romantic troubles, Erin finds herself spending more and more time with Martin and finding love… and puppies. I wouldn’t call it puppy love, but only because I have some self-respect.
First, this is not to be confused with the film The 12 Dogs of Christmas, which is apparently also a movie which is actually better reviewed than this one. This movie was recommended to me as an example of a truly terrible Christmas movie. This has a 4.3 on IMDB, which makes it only slightly better reviewed than The Adventures of Pluto Nash, a film which lost almost $100 million. Despite that, or maybe because I was expecting the absolute worst and had been consuming eggnog accordingly, I actually didn’t think this movie was that bad. It’s not good, to be sure, and if you are looking for a strong script you have come to the wrong place, but it’s got puppies and some fun scenes and it’s willing to be just insane enough that you are never bored.
For example, the breakup scene between Erin and her fiance is nuts. Her fiance and best friend basically think she’s overreacting entirely to the reveal that she was being dumped for another woman on her wedding day, at the wedding site (it’s at city hall). The fiance reveals he was just planning on a fling, but that he fell in love with the other woman. He treats Erin yelling at them as if she’s being insane. He then makes a joke that Erin’s going to kill them later. It truly is a ridiculous scene.
The whole movie just seems to operate on a number of massive logical gaps. Erin, a dog therapist, is hired for a company that makes GPS locators for dogs. She does end up helping, but only because she makes a number of extremely common-sense suggestions that somehow this entire startup never thought of and they have nothing to do with her being a pet therapist. Erin quickly gets promoted to do more and bigger jobs for which she is completely unqualified. When I say quickly, the beginning of her job is the week after Thanksgiving and the final scene is Christmas. She even has to pawn her puppy giving responsibilities off on Taylor. Yes, her best friend who cheated with her fiance. She MOVES TO SAN FRANCISCO to apologize to Erin within a few days. Then, naturally, Erin runs into her ex-fiance again and he tries to get back with her, again, less than a month after the breakup. Even her relationship with Martin seems to jump out of nowhere, with them going from angry to in love in like two montages. It makes no sense and is kind of hilariously abbreviated storytelling.
What really helps is that the film has a lot of cute dogs in it. Whoever picked the puppies needs awards. They’re all adorable, including Erin’s tiny puppy “Goliath.” It’s so hard to care about the film’s faults when you can watch tiny puppies being cuddled. It also has the most believable deus ex machina in history, because it’s just “rich people can do whatever they want.”
Overall, this isn’t a great movie, but it is a movie that needs to be seen to be believed. If you like cheesy Xmas movies, have some eggnog and give it a shot.
Abby Holland (Kristen Stewart) is invited to spend Christmas with the family of her girlfriend Harper Caldwell (Mackenzie Davis). Abby tells her best friend John (Dan Levy) that she considers this to be a positive sign for their relationship. Unfortunately, right as the two are getting to Harper’s hometown, Harper reveals that her family is very conservative and that she is in the closet. She’s told her family that the two are roommates and asks Abby to pretend during the holidays. Abby meets Harper’s parents, Ted and Tipper (Victor Garber and Mary Steenburgen), and her sisters, Sloane and Jane (Alison Brie and Mary Holland), with all of the introductions suitably uncomfortable. It quickly gets more awkward when Abby meets Harper’s ex-girlfriend Riley (Aubrey Plaza) and her ex-boyfriend Connor (Jake McDorman). Hijinks ensue.
I’m not going to say too much about this film because I decided to leave it to someone with more insight into the type of relationship that is the focus of the film, but I can say that I didn’t end up liking this movie. I’ll admit that my expectations were high when I saw the trailer to this film and looked up the cast, because these are all talented people. Moreover, I’d just finished Schitt’s Creek and I was begging for more Dan Levy in my life and I’ll never say no to more Aubrey Plaza. In defense of that pair in particular, their characters were two of the absolute brightest spots in the film, but the rest of the cast were mostly given absolutely unlikable characters.
Ted and Tipper are supposed to be a conservative political pair, but Ted comes off as borderline sociopathic about his mayoral race and Tipper is often downright mean to Abby, a person who, to her knowledge, is just a friend of her daughter. Sloane is similarly mean to a stranger. Jane is nice, but is ostracized from her family for apparently not being neurotypical. Then there’s Harper. I looked forward to Mackenzie Davis playing another semi-closeted queer character since she was in the great “San Junipero” episode of Black Mirror, but it turns out that her chemistry with Gugu Mbatha-Raw did NOT translate to Kristen Stewart. Moreover, Harper’s character is not just unlikable, she’s almost irredeemable within the movie. She has lied to her girlfriend apparently for months, invites her on a trip at the last minute, makes Abby change her plans in order to accommodate her, proceeds to ignore her or just ask her to deal with stuff, and is revealed to have ruined one of her exes’ lives. It’s even worse because Harper sells Abby on this grand image of waking up together on Christmas, knowing that they would not be able to sleep in the same bed in her family’s house. She promises a big, close, romantic experience and delivers basically none of it. She’s the Fyre Festival of girlfriends.
Overall, I almost want to tell people to watch this film for Dan Levy, but honestly, I would just wait until someone makes a supercut of Dan Levy being amazing on YouTube.
The Faceless Old Woman Who Lives On My Sofa
I told my friend I was watching this film and referred to it as a “holigay movie.” That’s a thing we have now! There are at least two! So I am very glad for that! This just wasn’t what I and a lot of other queer people were hoping for. It was very hard not to read everyone livetweeting this movie as soon as it was available, and I did feel like I was primed to be frustrated by it. Here are some good things about this movie: There are actual gay actors! Playing gay people! It was cowritten and directed by a queer woman! Dan Levy elevates every scene he’s in. In one he’s literally just reading the ingredients on a gas station snack, and I’m still riveted. Maybe it’s because I just finished Schitt’s Creek, but dang. More Dan Levy in movies, please. Aubrey Plaza’s understated and natural style is very refreshing in a movie filled with capital C Characters. The internet had pointed out the obvious screen chemistry between Aubrey Plaza and Kristen Stewart, and I have to agree. I’d like to see them together in a new movie. Maybe one that’s a little more feel-good?
I think this film got caught between trying to be a Christmas movie (sappy, silly, oh no a series of events has knocked the tree over), trying to be a “meet the parents” screwball comedy, and trying to convey realities of being a gay person navigating straight spaces and dealing with a partner who isn’t out to their family. I don’t think it’s impossible to combine these things. I’ve seen writing that moves between serious topics and comedy easily (Brooklyn 99 comes to mind) and this wasn’t that. It made it difficult to fully appreciate the ample comedic talent in this movie – for example, Lauren Lapkus and Timothy Simons get a brief comedic scene as mall cops which probably would have been funnier if we weren’t so upset and concerned by the previous scene. The Christmas tree does get knocked over. It’s just…you feel so bad for Abby (and precious cinnamon roll Jane!) all the time! It’s so hard to root for Abby and Harper when Harper commits so many relationship-ending offenses. And it’s hard to really enjoy the movie when many of the supporting characters are so unlikeable and cruel.
Because that’s the key ingredient in a Christmas rom-com – it has to have some of that sweet feel-good marshmallow sap, and this didn’t offer enough of that. It’s clear to me that many queer people are weary of narratives around sadness and hardship (see: the recent Supernatural backlash.) From reading interviews, I can tell that Duvall really wanted to convey some of the more difficult experiences in her life, and that’s admirable. Especially after this year, however, I think we were hoping for something a little warmer.
The Warner Brothers and the Warner Sister are back.
SUMMARY (Spoilers are essentially impossible)
Back in the ‘90s, they were in a very famous TV show. No, it’s not BoJack Horseman, it’s Yakko, Wakko, and Dot Warner (Rob Paulsen, Jess Harnell, Tress MacNeille). Then, in 1998, the show stopped and, aside from a film in 1999, the trio have mostly been gone from the public eye. However, since Hollywood is completely out of ideas, the trio have been brought back to run rampant all over the Warner Studios and society once more. They’re sharing a large amount of the billing with everyone’s favorite mice, Pinky and the Brain (Paulsen and Maurice LaMarche). Welcome to the new world, same as the old world, but a little wackier.
It’s tough to review a reboot like this, because this show was a huge part of my childhood that it definitely has a huge nostalgia factor when evaluating, for better or for worse. On balance, I think it actually made me a little more critical of this show than I might have been. While the Warners and Pinky and the Brain have returned, almost no other characters return from the previous series, something that I think might be attributed to the fact that almost none of the writers or creators from the previous show returned. Yes, Steven Spielberg is still producing, but the creative teams for the shows are almost completely different. I guess after 22 years, everyone else had other stuff to do or wanted more money (or, sadly, had passed away). Because of that, while the show does have some of the feel of the previous series, it lacks some of the memorable characters and, rather than replacing them, mostly just focused on the Warners more. It’s tough to not miss the Goodfeathers or Slappy Squirrel.
That said, the new show is still really, really funny. It’s definitely aiming for a more mature crowd than the original, with wordplay and references that would fly way over the heads of the average kid. Kids will still like it for the slapstick and the sight gags, though. The show definitely gets away with some dirty jokes, but if you are surprised by that, you clearly didn’t see the original Animaniacs. The fourth-wall breaks that were fairly frequent in the last show are moved up to an entirely new level of meta-humor at times and it is often great. They also fully embrace their tradition of bad jokes that are so bad they loop all the way around to hilarious. Many of the puns fit this mold exactly.
I know a number of people have said that the show is pushing an agenda and I can only say that yes, they’re absolutely right. This show clearly disliked the Trump administration and they are not subtle about letting you know it. Compared to the relatively more “everyone’s a target” feeling of the original show, this probably will put some people off, but honestly it came up only a few times so you might not even notice.
Overall, I really missed this series and I’m glad it came back.
I thought this was one of the best movies of last year and I never wrote about it.
Amy and Molly (Kaitlyn Dever and Beanie Feldstein) are high school seniors who have been friends for years, but are considered elitist due to their dedication to academics. The week of Graduation, Molly overhears some of her classmate mocking her and tries to condemn them by saying that she got into Yale, only for the rest of her class to reveal that they also got into great schools while still enjoying their high school experience. Molly goes to Amy and reveals that they have wasted so many opportunities to have fun and gets Amy to go along to a party hosted by Molly’s crush, Nick (Mason Gooding), at which Amy’s crush, Ryan (Victoria Ruesga), might also appear. Unfortunately, they don’t know where the party is and a night of strange hijinks and misadventures ensues.
When this movie came out it was advertised as being the female equivalent of Superbad. I liked Superbad a decent amount, but I can say that, while both films are about social outcasts trying to have a last fling, they don’t really hit any of the same beats in terms of actual story. Because of that, you can judge each one on its own merits and enjoy them both. However, no scene in Superbad ever had me angry laughing, something that I was nearly convinced was impossible until this film. The scene in which Molly’s “the reason you suck” speech is so brutally rebutted by the, ultimately pretty realistic, revelation that most of the people at this upper-class high school are going to good colleges is one of the funniest and most memorable things ever. It simultaneously is infuriating and hilarious, and I loved every second of it.
The dialogue in this film is brilliant, which surprised me because it’s something that often suffers when, as with this film, you have four writers. Instead, they nailed it. Several of the exchanges in this film, particularly between the leads, are absolutely hilarious. The “wacky hijinks” are all fun and are all worked organically into the plot so that they don’t feel like throwaway gags. The supporting characters manage to hit the sweet spot where you definitely believe they’re real personalities, but also stereotyped enough that you can understand them pretty easily. The performances are pretty great all around, but Feldstein and Dever have to do a lot of the heavy lifting and they make it look effortless.
It helps that the main characters, unlike most high-school comedy leads, weren’t focused solely on getting laid. They are legitimately just kids who bought into the belief that the only way to get ahead was to study at the expense of everything else, only to realize that it doesn’t help them be well-rounded people. It also helps that their friendship is a lot more complex than most of the friendships we usually see in a raunchy comedy. Then there’s the fact that Amy is a lesbian, something that adds an additional layer of complications to her desire for sexual experience, and results in several of the funniest sequences in the film. It highlights how so much of society’s heteronormative culture can harm LGBT people.
Overall, just a fantastic film, definitely something everyone should see, and it was a heck of directorial debut by Olivia Wilde. Can’t believe I never reviewed it.
I take a look at the only entry in the now-aborted “Adventure into Fear” franchise.
Daimon Helstrom (Tom Austen) is an ethics professor who also has demonic powers inherited from his serial-killer father (Mitch Pileggi). He typically aids the Saint Teresa Center for Mental Health, a church-run facility that tends to handle possessions. His sister, Ana (Sydney Lemmon), has more mental-based powers which allow her to search for bad people through her antique business… and murder them. Their mother, Victoria (Elizabeth Marvel), is housed in an asylum and is possessed by a demon named Mother. Daimon, Ana, and Daimon’s aide nun-in-training Gabriella Rosetti (Ariana Guerra) work in order to thwart demonic threats.
This was originally supposed to be part of a series of Hulu shows that were to feature darker series based on Marvel properties called “Adventure into Fear.” They stated that the first two were going to be this series and a version of Ghost Rider featuring Gabriel Luna reprising his role on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Then Disney bought Fox, gained controlling shares of Hulu, and decided to fold the Marvel Television division into Marvel Studios. That pretty much guarantees that, unless this show is an unmitigated hit, this may be the only season we get in the entire “Adventure into Fear” lineup. Unfortunately, this show did not appear to clear that hurdle.
I’m not going to say this show was bad. Despite the fact that critics seemed to lambaste it for being unoriginal, I actually thought the show’s style and mythology always kept it interesting enough to get past the fact that many of the characters were not properly fleshed-out. It’s actually mostly Daimon. I don’t blame Tom Austen, I just feel like the writers never really figured out who his character was. He bounces between sensitive, uncaring, sarcastic, and sincere as the show goes on, but it never quite feels like a coherent person. I know it’s weird to say that I am looking for coherence in a half-demon who might not have traditional human emotional stability for obvious reasons, but it made it difficult to connect to the central character and that doesn’t bode well for almost any show. Ana, on the other hand, mostly stays consistent. She’s been hurt horribly by events in her past and she lashes out a lot because of it. She punishes bad people, which allows her to maintain her central desire to do good but also indulges her violent tendencies. It’s not “relatable” in the sense of something people actually do, but it’s understandable. Still, it definitely put the show a little bit behind the 8-ball.
One of the best parts of the series, though, starts right from the beginning. They directly address the fact that so many various films and shows rely on the same images and gimmicks like holy water and reciting Bible passages. In fact, the show’s mythology is that the fact that so many shows and films depict it actually means that such things can’t work. Nothing that’s so public can have any real power in the world of secret rites. It gives the show’s mythos an inherent level of self-awareness and forced originality that does help keep you interested in what’s going to happen next.
Overall, I don’t think it’s a bad show, but I am resigned to the fact that it is almost certainly over already. Given the pseudo-cliffhanger ending, it’s probably not worth the binge.
Anna Bludso (Elle Lorraine) is an assistant at Culture, a TV station featuring predominantly black artists in 1989. Anna’s mentor, Edna (Judith Scott), is replaced by former model Zora (Vanessa Williams) on the orders of the station’s owner, Grant (James Van der Beek). Anna pitches a new idea for the network to Zora, impressing her. Zora tells Anna to get a weave, rather than her natural hair, in order to better meet with the new image for the network that Zora wants. Anna gets the weave from major stylist Virgie (Laverne Cox). However, it turns out that this new hair may be more unnatural than a normal weave. It may, in fact, be evil.
The idea of having hair that is evil is not new. The Simpsons did it in 1998 and that was a parody of an episode of Amazing Stories from 1986. However, I’ve never thought that the hair itself was scary. This movie, on the other hand, makes me genuinely terrified of the experience of getting a weave something I, as a white dude with a scruffy look, will never actually have to contemplate. The sounds and the visuals that accompany Laverne Cox giving Elle Lorraine a weave are visceral. It’s bloody, it’s painful, and we know that every second of it is not just damaging her physically but erasing her essence. While apparently weaves aren’t as bloody as they appear in this film, a woman I know who has one described getting a bad one as “like someone attempting to scalp you without a knife.” This movie makes that abundantly clear. The fact that it’s mandated for no reason other than to try and reconstruct black women into a look that white people find appealing really calls attention to one of the more subtle ways in which society tries to mandate conformity to a Eurocentric ideal.
This film is a big swing by Justin Simien, the director and writer of Dear White People. He appears to be trying to do his own version of Get Out, something that a number of black filmmakers have been given more rein to try since Jordan Peele reminded Hollywood that black people can, in fact, make solid horror movies with good social commentary. Unfortunately, I think Hollywood also doesn’t fully trust them to do so, which sometimes leads to a disjointed feeling between the vision and the product (like Antebellum). Simien described the film as a love letter about the relationship between black women and their hair, something I’ll admit that I don’t know if I can comment on too much. I will say that I thought the performances did a lot of the talking, in terms of showing that relationship, and the script did have some of the sharp dialogue that Simien has proven he can produce.
The movie, unfortunately, doesn’t really balance the horror and satirical social commentary particularly well. While the idea of trying to tie cultural erasure into a monster could probably be very powerful, maybe even on the level of Get Out, this movie never actually manages to do it. Honestly, I don’t think a man, even a black man, could ever have done this movie right. It tries to make numerous statements about the relationship of black women to their hair, but most of them seemed like rehashed jokes from In Living Color rather than an actual depiction of how hair impacts the way that black women are perceived by white society. While the hair being a key to promotion and social acceptance could be a great way to expand on the theme, I think the movie drops the ball a bit and instead just has it be demanded by other black women who just want to perpetuate a cycle of cultural erasure. Possibly the only really good commentary is the reveal that ***SPOILERS*** everything that happens is really in service of a wealthy white guy. ***END SPOILERS*** It doesn’t help that the movie has difficulty being a horror film while it’s doing social commentary and vice-versa. The scenes of Anna’s hair being evil don’t really seem to further the themes at all, with a few small exceptions.
Overall, though, any movie that can make me feel this uncomfortable at times must be doing something right and I think any critic would be hard pressed to say the film’s not entertaining. Give it a try and let me know what you think.
The most accurate part of the show is that Zeus being horny destroys everything.
In the beginning there were the Titans. The Gods came next, smiting the Titans, but in response the Earth spawned the Giants. Eventually, the Giants were banished to the underworld and the Gods began to rule over humanity.
Heron (Derek Phillips) and his mother Electra (Mamie Gummer) live outside of a modest Polis in Greece. He and his mother are shunned because the city has been covered by clouds since the day they arrived. The only one who seems to care about them is a local old man (Jason O’Mara). However, it turns out that Heron is actually a son of Zeus, and that he is one of the only things that can stop the army of demons, people who have eaten the flesh of the dead Giants, and their leader, Seraphim (Elias Toufexis). Also, Zeus’s affair to produce Heron ends up causing him to have to deal with an angry Hera and a ton of other terrible stuff.
This is a soap opera, but, let’s face it, so is most of Greek Mythology. There are secret siblings, long-lost relatives, and affairs everywhere. Also, the Gods are even more dysfunctional than they are in most of the media adaptations. Zeus cheats on his wife so much that Benjamin Franklin probably had his picture on the wall as an inspiration, but I don’t think his wife ever went Hera’s route and constantly tried to kill his lovers and children. Hera killing someone because of Zeus’ d*ck was a leading cause of death in ancient Greece, slightly behind “plague” and before “Sparta” (come at me, Spartans). If there is one thing this show gets right, it’s the fact that mythology was the equivalent of trashy reality television as often as it was about epic tales of heroic deeds.
The rest of the story, though, is a blend of the generic mythology storyline. Demons are trying to awaken the giants and kill humanity and the Gods are forbidden to directly interfere… except that they absolutely will break that rule by lawyering it to the point of absurdity. I know that you didn’t see the movie Immortals, and you’re the better for it, but that’s almost exactly the plot of it. Both even have Zeus pretending to be an old man to mentor a kid. They also both end with pointless casualties as a result of the gods not being able to interfere until too late in the story. The rest of the film, though, contains the kind of scenes of the Gods looking down over humanity and the weird and fun imagery that’s reminiscent of Clash of the Titans.
The show is pretty ambitious in its scope, going through a really large amount of story in under four hours of total screen time. The animation is highly stylized, but I think it’s pretty great. It’s reminiscent of the animation in Castlevania, which makes sense as they’re from the same studio, but it’s distinct enough to be its own animal. The voice actors do a great job of adding extra layers of emotion when the dialogue might have fallen short.
This is my third watch-through of a movie I tell everyone should be watched exactly once.
SUMMARY (CW: Children dying horribly)
On September 21, 1945, less than three weeks after WWII ends, a young boy named Seita (Tsutomu Tatsumi/Adam Gibbs) starves to death in a train station. As a janitor goes through Seita’s possessions, he finds a tin of Sakuma drops (a hard candy from Japan) and discards it into a field. Several small bones fall out, and, along with some fireflies, the spirit of a small girl, Seita’s younger sister Setsuko (Ayano Shiraishi/ Emily Neves), emerges. Together, Seita and Setsuko’s spirits board an ethereal train.
The film then moves a few months back to the end of WWII. Seita and Setsuko live in Kobe with their mother (Yoshiko Shinohara / Shellee Calene-Black), who dies when the US firebombs the city, getting burned to the point that she is unrecognizable. Seita and Setsuko move in with a distant aunt (Akemi Yamaguchi/Marcy Bannor). The aunt is kind to the children at first, but eventually she convinces Seita to let her sell his mother’s valuable silk kimonos in exchange for rice. Seita also gives his aunt all of their possession, except for a tin of Sakuma drops that he keeps for Setsuko. As the war gets to the final stages, rations start to decrease and the number of people in the house starts to increase. The aunt starts to accuse Seita, whose school has been burned down and who can’t get work due to the factories being destroyed, of being lazy and ungrateful. Seita, who wants independence, buys a stove using his mother’s savings and cooks for just himself and Setsuko. Eventually, he decides that the pair should live in an abandoned bomb shelter.
The pair survive off of the land for a brief period while living in the shelter. When Setsuko gets scared of the dark, Seita catches fireflies and keeps them in the shelter with them. The next morning, all of the insects are dead. Setsuko buries all of them in a grave and starts to ask why everything has to die, like their mother. After their supplies start to run low, Seita tries to trade with the farmers, but is refused. Eventually, he starts stealing from farms and running into houses to steal during bombing raids. Eventually, he’s caught and beaten, but is saved from prosecution by a friend of his father, who is currently in the Japanese Navy.
Setsuko starts to fall ill and a doctor tells Seita that it’s just malnutrition. Seita withdraws the last of the money from their mother’s bank account just as he learns that Japan has surrendered and that his father is probably dead. Seita returns with food for Setsuko, but she dies before he finishes cooking it. Seita cremates her body and stores her remains in the candy tin. In the present, their spirits arrive in modern Kobe, sitting on a hilltop and watching the world happily.
I absolutely hate whoever came up with “Film that Depresses You Horribly” as a prompt, but I hate the fact that I didn’t get rid of it even more. Trying to decide which horribly depressing film you want to watch is like asking what brand of liquid laxative to drink before your colonoscopy. No matter what you pick, it’s a shitty time. Anyway, after nominating Sophie’s Choice, Blue Velvet, Lars Von Trier’s Depression Trilogy, and this film, I picked this one because it seems the most relevant. No, not because we’re fighting a war with Japan right now (we’re not, right?), but because of the actual intended message of the film.
People who watch this movie will almost uniformly declare it to be an anti-war film, something which the late director, Studio Ghibli founder Isao Takahata, would say was incorrect. In fact, he directly opposed the idea that this is an anti-war anime, because he believed that anyone that used the suffering of the citizens as a justification to avoid war could also use it as a justification for just attacking first. After all, if you kill all of their innocent citizens first, then yours get to live. Not hard to imagine why a guy born in Japan in the 1930s and who lived through a 1945 bombing might have some negative opinions about trying to justify starting a war.
However, I think that the film does successfully convey the horror of being a citizen when your country is being attacked. There is one scene in the film in which almost everything on screen is on fire, with the entire block just being erased from existence by the bombers. When we next see the area, it’s now a completely scorched landscape, with factories, homes, and even people rendered into a charred mass. It’s incredibly disturbing, but it’s only compounded when we are shown the image of Seita’s mother burned over her entire body. She’s unrecognizable to almost anyone, and later, her wounds are filled with insects and rot. The movie makes sure that we understand that this was not a pleasant end. The same is true of Seita and Setsuko starving to death. It’s not a fast ending, it’s slow and painful. Moreover, it was easily preventable by any number of people.
That’s apparently closer to the film’s actual aim, at least from what I can find. Obviously, if you’re a fan of ignoring authorial intent, then that’s a completely valid point of view, but I do like to consider it, particularly in films like this. It seems that the intent in this film wasn’t to say that war is terrible, but instead to say that these children died because no one helped them. They were socially isolated because their aunt kept telling them that they were ungrateful, leading them to leave, and she never checked on them again. Children become aware that the two are living there, but no one comes to check on them. Seita takes Setsuko to a doctor who tells him the child is malnourished, but when Seita asks how to feed her, the doctor just ignores him. The farmers don’t offer to help the children. Even the janitor seems unphased by the dead pre-teen in front of him. The society has become cold and insular because of the stresses from the war, rather than working together or trying to help each other. These children die because everyone abandons them.
Overall, this is a great film, but it’s hard to watch. Not just because it revolves around kids dying, but because the message isn’t just about war, but about humanity. People need to care for each other, even more when everything is going badly.
I legitimately forgot how awesome this movie was, and I remembered it being great.
Kat Stratford (Julia Stiles) is an antisocial student at Padua High School outside of Seattle. Her father, Walter (Larry Miller), is overprotective of Kat and her sister Bianca (Larisa Oleynik) due to the loss of his wife and the fact that he is an obstetrician who works with teenage pregnancy. While he originally forbade the pair from dating, he modifies it so that Bianca can only date when Kat does. Cameron James (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a new student at Padua, wants to ask out Bianca. Realizing that the way to Bianca requires Kat to get a date despite her hostile attitude, he decides to recruit local delinquent Patrick Verona (Heath Ledger) to date Kat. Cameron, using his friend Michael (David Krumholtz), convinces Joey (Andrew “Apparently I run a Cult now” Keegan), the wealthy jerk who has made a bet that he can bed Bianca, to hire Patrick to seduce Kat.
Kat immediately rebuffs Patrick, but Michael and Cameron provide him with insider information gleaned from Bianca. Patrick starts to gain Kat’s trust and interest, leading to the two going to a party together. Bianca also gets to go and upsets Kat by talking to Joey over Kat’s objection. Kat gets drunk and cuts loose, then knocks herself out on a chandelier. Patrick takes care of her and she finally opens up, but he can’t reciprocate when she attempts to kiss him. Meanwhile, Joey’s behavior angers Bianca and she ends up kissing Cameron.
Joey, still wanting to sleep with Bianca, hires Patrick to ask Kat to prom. Though she’s still mad about him not kissing her, he wins her back by arranging for the marching band to play Frankie Valli’s “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You” and serenading her. However, Kat refuses to go to prom with him due to her hatred of popular and sexist events. She finally confesses to Bianca that her rejection of social norms is because she slept with Joey years ago due to peer pressure. Bianca tells Kat not to make decisions for her, so Kat relents and goes to Prom with Patrick. Bianca goes with Cameron despite Joey asking her, leading Joey to take Chastity (Gabrielle Union), Bianca’s former best friend.
At Prom, Chastity tells Bianca about Joey’s bet to sleep with her and Joey reveals that he paid Patrick to date Kat. Kat storms off and Joey punches Cameron, only for Bianca to beat Joey up for his actions. The next day, Bianca reconciles with Kat, as do Kat and Walter. Kat reads aloud a poem entitled “10 Things I Hate About You” which reveals that she still loves Patrick and the two reconcile.
Also, Daryl Mitchell plays the most aggressive English teacher ever and Allison Janney plays an erotica-writing guidance counselor.
Upon watching this film again, I realized that there’s nothing more appropriate for Shakespeare than to take a tired plot and revitalize it with clever lines and fun performances. As most of you probably remember from High School (where you might have been allowed to watch this film as part of the course), this is an updated version of the play The Taming of the Shrew. Much like this film, the core of the play consists of a man being hired by a suitor to seduce and marry the older sister of the second man’s intended. The twist is that the “Shrew” in the title, Kate (here Kat), is constantly rejecting proposals and has a harsh way with words. In the play, Petruchio (here Patrick), convinces Kate to marry him by being the only man willing to trade verbal jabs with her (in some of Shakespeare’s funniest dialogue).
However, the play doesn’t age well after that because he starts to psychologically torment her into being completely subservient to him and a “good” wife. This film mostly tries to avoid the latter part while keeping the harsh verbal jabs, which is probably the ultimate way to “update” the Bard. Instead of trying to “tame” Kat, Patrick mostly just tries to get her to open up about her interests and for him to realize that he actually likes her. Kat’s changes, while prompted by Patrick, are mostly internal, such as realizing that she only is anti-social because she has to push against any kind of peer pressure. While the film doesn’t make it explicit, it seems like part of her willingness to go to the prom is because she finally recognizes that only doing things because they’re against the crowd is still letting the crowd influence your behavior.
I remembered this being a fun movie, to be sure, but I actually was amazed how much I had forgotten about it since the last time I watched it, which, and I’m dating myself, was probably in High School. Right at the beginning of the film, I had forgotten how we were introduced to the characters and the world. Most of it is through either David Krumholtz introducing the various “cliques” around the school (something that would be taken to the extreme in Mean Girls and parodied in Not Another Teen Movie) or through Allison Janney interviewing the various students as a guidance counselor while attempting to write her own pornography. Interestingly, the only two students who actually contribute to the erotic language are Kat (who contributes “quivering member”) and Patrick (whose antics motivate Ms. Perky to use Bratwurst as a euphemism). These are intercut with some witty dialogue exchanges between the various characters which gives us an idea of who everyone in the film is within just a few minutes.
Between Ms. Perky’s wildly inappropriate behavior with the students and Mr. Morgan’s tendency to bluntly berate the students for failing to acknowledge their privilege, the film doesn’t treat teachers like impartial authority figures as much as most high school stories, but more like regular people who somehow fail to get fired. In contrast, Larry Miller, the actual authority figure, is shown being genuinely just concerned for his daughters, even if he’s over the top. Mr. Morgan seems to mostly serve to keep taking the students down when they forget to check their privilege, something that becomes incredibly blatant when he tells Kat “[i]t must be tough for [her] to overcome all those years of upper middle class suburban oppression. His character seems a bit ahead of his time, when you consider this movie is from the late 90s and Mr. Morgan repeatedly points out that the school refuses to let him teach black authors and that Shakespeare’s prevalence, while valid, doesn’t mean that he wasn’t still complicated by being a white guy from the 1600s. Both of the teachers just seem to exist to give the characters an opportunity for honest and funny interactions.
While the story is an update of a play, I will acknowledge that this movie is very dated. From the slang to the outfits to the pop culture references to the soundtrack, this movie screams “welcome to the 90s.” If you were a kid in the 1990s, you’ll probably find almost everything nostalgic. If you weren’t, then there are a number of jokes in this film that will fall flat. While I do love the soundtrack, I will also acknowledge that the heavy presence of Letters to Cleo also feels off, since the band broke up shortly after this film. Their cover, with Save Ferris, of “Cruel to Be Kind” does really elevate the prom scene, though. However, all of the other music gets overshadowed by the sheer beauty of Heath Ledger’s iconic singing of “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You.” That scene is so over-the-top and ballsy and genuine that it really should never have worked, except that Ledger completely commits. You can feel that he knows it’s ridiculous but that he is willing to do it anyway. It’s iconic for a reason.
Then there’s the poem that gives the movie its name. I remembered that it existed, but I will admit that I forgot that it really is the climax of the film. Kudos to Julia Stiles, it comes off as completely sincere even though the poem is slightly ridiculous. I mean, one of the lines is “I hate you so much it makes me sick – it even makes me rhyme.” That’s pretty corny. However, when she reaches the end, she finally breaks down as she openly admits that, as much as Patrick did to her, she still can’t hate him.
Overall, this film really does still work. Yes, it’s mostly for 90s kids, but I think anyone would appreciate the clever dialogue and great performances by most of the cast.