okay, so first of all, right off the bat. let’s get this out of the way: “a cure for wellness” did not make the cut for the zine. this is for two reasons which are somehow not at polar opposite ends of the movie review spectrum: it’s very beautiful and compositionally competent. the costuming walks that thin line in capturing a sense of both mundanity and unease in all the bleached white uniforms and scrubs without giving in too much to one or the other. these locations they’ve scouted give a sense of isolation and insolation, with the tight hallways and symmetrical architecture. all this in effect creates a very claustrophobic feeling movie, which i feel is very appropriate for a movie which revolves around, and hardly leaves, a single creepy location. no one is slacking in their performances (some are working harder than others and dane dehaan zero charisma in this role but its fine).

its also insanely boring, insipid as shit and the plot is fucking stupid. i’m actually not sure what the hell happened with this movie. it’s an anomaly to me. everyone who worked on it appears to be totally average movie makers who tried to box above their weight class in a major way. this movie was trying to Be something. in that way it is kind of interesting, but it is absolutely NOT entertaining enough to recommend to people in good faith. it is cursed with an absurd run-time only get funny once or twice before barreling full steam ahead in the last 30 minutes.

the person presumably responsible for what it looks like, cinematographer bojan bazelli, has worked on nothing i’ve seen except for “boxing helena” (1993) (which i hated), hairspray (2007) (absolutely unremarkable filmmaking, maybe even leaning toward bad), and “the ring” (2002) (probably his best effort but its just like. okay). the writer has no notable credits and gore verbinski has graced us with a lifetime of terrible movies (starting with the 1997 “mouse hunt”) before winning an oscar for “rango” because there wasn’t a disney or pixar movie that year. these guys all got together and decided “what if we made an artsy psychological horror film?” and…to their credit…they got halfway there. they thought they could bamboozle me just by shoving film through my eyes for nearly 3 hours until i was overloaded with information. but im too powerful for them and saw through their ruse because i’m insane.

[begrudgingly] that’s pretty cool gore

the writing in this movie is outstandingly terrible. like we’ll hit all the individual components here because this movie is like a pale, ethereal, slippery soup made up of many stupid ingredients but let’s start with the shit they hit you with right off the bat. justin haythe writes his evil corporate glenngary glen ross wannabes with the grace and authenticity of a literal child. i’ve seen episodes of “riverdale” with more convincing suits. our main character is a boiler-plate business asshole whose introduction to the audience is literally shuffling numbers around in excel for evil reasons. it’s so fucking lucky for haythe that we get the fuck out of this setting immediately because any more time spent here might have. actually you know what i was going to say it would have ruined the movie but who cares and how could it have..

it’s a completely functional story, which is usually a major hurdle a psychological horror movie has to cross, so at least i can give it that. is it good? uh. no. its not bad either, it just is. our protagonist is a business guy (dane dehaan) who did business crime so his business bosses threaten to give him up to the business police unless he retrieves a business guy from a decidedly non-business sanitarium overseas. unfortunately, he gets owned big time by a deer while cruising in the swiss alps and flies through his windshield into a big ol’ clumsy leg cast at the super special clinic he was looking for. enter the mysterious doctor volmer (jason isaacs, who is really playing this role lol. he’s having fun being a naughty little mysterious man…hee hee! hoo hoo!). he encourages him to drink plenty of……water….hehehe…[exits enticingly]

isaacs is great in his role but for whatever reason the entire cast was directed to speak like they were in a public library. you really gotta lean in to hear anyone in this damn movie. there’s not really any jump scares so at least they’re not cheap enough to hit you with that, but then it begs the question as to why? you have to struggle to hear the persistent squeak of our protagonist’s crutches over the soundtrack CONSTANTLY going full ear-drum popping dolby BRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR that overtakes the soundtrack every 15 minutes.

our business boy finds his business man (harry groener) who refuses to come home in order to cure his non-specific illness he’s determined himself to have. that’s the psychological part of the horror you see. the water from the wells and springs at the sanitarium is believed to have very, very vague healing powers that the many elderly patients are gaga for. he also meets a very mysterious and wispy girl named hannah (mia goth, who i feel a little bad for her since she keeps getting stuck with these “creepy girl” roles because she has pale eyebrows) who is clearly under socialized from having lived in the sanitarium her whole life waiting for her dad to come back from getting cigarettes or whatever. 

our business lad, lockhart, is dumped into an enormous tub of water after he hallucinates and passes out in a very public way that was a little too close to my real life for MY comfort. the water vat is a treatment for what ails him; like sensory deprivation except there’s a huge window letting in a bunch of light on the side of the tank and he has to be submerged under the water with a snorkle, so nothing like it at all actually. this is where shit gets hysterical. please prepare your body, mind and soul for the next sentence which will reveal to you the unspeakable horror which awaits you in “a cure for wellness”.

our hero is menaced by a hundred eels (who just kind of gently swim around him while he screams and flails) while the guy who is supposed to be watching him is literally masturbating to a nurse who just decided today was more of a tits out kinda day.

just like grab them and tie them in a knot dude.

his stupid flailing pulls his snorkel out and he almost drowns. like at no point were the eels a danger to him in this instance. he almost killed himself because he saw creatures he wasn’t expecting. frankly. i wouldn’t do that. i would simply enjoy the creatures.

lockhart survives and reconnects with hannah, who is the only person not allowed to splash in the waters due to “her condition”, which is just Victorian Wasting Waif Disease at first glance. they sneak away on her bike into town which is FORBIDDEN and stop in the least friendly bar i’ve seen in a motion picture that isn’t a biker or trucker bar. the whole time we’re here, the soundtrack is blaring german (?) post-punk over the jukebox and it looks like a place where you go to be crucified by the local extremely niche pagan cult specific to the town.

wow big crowd tonight

look, they make plot progress here but all of it is so minimal and so uninteresting. it’s shockingly banal and cliché; lockhart runs into a kid drawing a ~scary picture~ and talks to the town vet (~who is covered in blood~) about his suspicions that the sanitarium might not be on the up and up! turns out the place used to be owned by a baron obsessed with creating a pure bloodline and his sister-wife, who was infertile. they both came here seeking a cure for her “condition”. meanwhile, hannah (who he left in the bar) flirts with womanhood by applying someone else’s lipstick that she found in a public restroom?! GIRL THAT’S YUCKY DISGUSTING

the vet cuts open a dead cow in front of lockhart and a bunch of eels fall out. ahhh heed this warning that this might happen to you!! after witnessing this frankly insanely fucked up scene that would have me questioning whether or not satan is real, lockhart runs back to the bar to… call his workplace so he can ask them if his business partner here at the sanitarium had any pre-existing health conditions. now, here’s a thing about employers: there’s this little thing called the ADA that makes it so they specifically can’t ask you about that. so why would they know that. im not trying to be smarter than the movie here but it’s a weird detail when it ends up honestly not mattering. this would have been a great scene for the cutting room floor in this THREE HOUR MOVIE.

lockhart freaks out at hannah over the Mystery of the Sanitarium instead of telling his employer to send a fucking car and a plane and the fbi and the guys that dealt with waco. instead he makes the wis 20 move of  starting a bar fight in a leg cast. 

i’m starting to think this guy is fucking stupid.

oh shit! the saca tripas! used to gut sheep and other warm blooded animals!!!

the MYSTERIOUS DOCTOR VOLMER pops in just in time to save them and bring them back to the sanitarium. lockhart should have maybe refused to leave. that’s what i would have done. but maybe i am not psychologically horrified enough yet. the eels didn’t do it for me. you know what is giving me the fucking willies are these scenes between the spooky doctor volmer and hannah, who is pining for her missing father. the unpleasantly horny doctor volmer makes a few REALLY bad moves on this explicitly underage girl while i check how much runtime i have left.

our protagonist starts to investigate the bowels of the sanitarium, where the movie honest to god does the room rattling BRRRRRRRRRRRR to reveal a woman in a laundry room witting a stick. two seconds later we see two nurses punch an old man in the head to no fanfare. the movie is starting to go off the rails a little but it’s not enough to make the movie worth it yet. we will be stuck in this speed for another 40 minutes. it’s a little better, but not quite where i need it to be.

he meets one of his allies in the sanitarium, an older woman who earlier enticed him with a crossword puzzle comprised of plot points, who gives him a little history lesson while lying on a slab like a corpse. legends say that the baroness was once infertile…but cured…through strange and mysterious means! means that apparently involved a fuck ton of dead peasants. once the remaining villagers found the bodies, they burned down the manor and killed the baroness. just to add insult to injury, they cut out the baronesses’ fetus and chucked it in a well where it apparently thrived long enough to be rescued. haha well baby

speaking of drowning in a well lockhart finds a horrible room full of naked old people soup.

ding-dongs unconfirmed but theres boobs

he spies his old pal pembroke the business man but that bitch just floats in the soup. he can’t be helped. business boy hustles back to the main hallway filling his pants with terror induced shit where he is intercepted by……THE EVIL DOCTOR VOLMER!!! YAY!!! the incomparable doctor volmer takes this time to show off his cartoonishly malevolent dentistry skills by just drilling straight through his tooth after strapping him down into what can only be described a dental bdsm device. oopsie!! tee hee!!

lmfao come on

there’s a wholly useless scene where lockhart tries to go to the cops that progresses nothing and adds no emotional depth to the film. this is truly the most useless scene in the film. if its supposed to underline the helplessness of our protagonist, i’m not sure it helps or hinders. our idiot protagonist had access to a phone and used it to ask his boss about his coworker’s dietary needs. i dont really need to be shown why the cops are useless. there’s already a good reason why our protagonist can’t be saved from the sanitarium: he’s fucking dumb.

it does have a hysterical moment where they bring pembroke into the room to prove he’s alive, implying that they brought him with them somehow knowing they’d need him. he was in the soup like thirty minutes ago so he probably had to dry up too.

we have forty minutes left and here the movie starts to offer us pockets of hope: our protagonist starts to hallucinate. you might be thinking “well, that could be spooky” but what if told you were treated to the delightful sight of watching a man in a leg cast rip a toilet full of eels out of the floor. the handle had the audacity to jiggle ominously at the camera. an eel peeks its head out of the bowl. it’s an all-timer honestly but it’s also only like a minute long. in no way enough to justify a three hour movie.

lockhart succumbs to life in the sanitarium. he goes in the soup but does NOT get his dick out. he’s wearing VERY conservative swim trunks like a bitch. in a moment of dawning realization, he finally tears off his cast to reveal his leg was fine the whole time (something i feel like would have been obvious much earlier??). 

thirty-five minutes left. the movie is now going to go full speed. hannah puts on the lipstick to symbolize her womanhood while lockhart discovers that the sanitarium is feeding the eels mummified corpses. get this: gore verbinski is about to blow your stupid mind with these sick editing tricks. you see, while lockhart witnesses the bloody feeding frenzy of the terrifying…eels, hannah gets her first period in a pool she walks into for some reason and starts bleeding like someone turned on a tap. i get its supposed to be a visual spooky aesthetic choice but…c’maaaaan. anyway the eels are like “yum yum blood” and swoop in. like literally i think they’re trying to swoop into her pussy based on her defensive maneuvers.

you need medical attention

let’s check in with our hero. oh he’s fighting off a henchman but don’t worry, he won. the eels meanwhile have abandoned the quest for pussy and instead are just circling her ominously. been there! hannah, wet and bloody, runs in and ruins a fancy banquet that the TWISTED DOCTOR VOLMER is holding for his patients! lockhart also wants to ruin the banquet and makes an impassioned plea: the doctor is keeping you sick! the water makes you dehydrated until you’re mummified! you’re dying and you don’t even know!!! literally everyone gets up and beats the shit out of him. BRRRRRRRRRRRRRR.

it’s plot resolution time. i’m going to try to explain this but if it doesn’t make sense it’s not my fault, im just the reporter. we are given an explanation for the spooky occurrences: the water at the sanitarium is very toxic to humans…unless it can be filtered through them (process unknown). im not sure how something can be extremely toxic but also can be filtered through them over a period of time. many things are unclear. the result is a little bit of juice that gives you a freakishly long life. the mischievious doctor volmer then floods our protagonist’s mouth with eels. as you do.

now for a creepy wedding ceremony between the fifty year old doctor and the almost certainly not legal girl. i dont know what age you got your period at but for me it wasn’t even remotely close to eighteen.

if you showed this to someone they would think it was a real movie

the honeymoon begins instantly. and his super-hot come on is to gesture at the bed he’s dragged her to and say “this is where you started”.

that’s right. the fucked up and jokerfied doctor volmer is hannah’s FATHER!!!!!! oh, great. and he’s tying her down and talking about how he used to do this with his sister. i fucking hate germans, man. anyway whattttt the lascivious doctor volmer is the baron and hannah is the fetus that was chucked in the well and they’ve been living for a long time using the people eel juice??? oh no her boobs are out.

lockhart figures this all out when he finds a photo with a lot of important exposition hidden in it. he has like a jimmy neutron brain blast and saves us the trouble of going through this again.

with fifteen minutes left in the movie, the depraved doctor volmer tears his fucking face off revealing a bunch of green goosebumps goo underneath. i dunno! i laughed, i didn’t know what the fuck what happening. now this movie decided to get good all of the sudden? why now? why now after 2 hours and 35 minutes!! and then lockhart lights him on fucking fire!! it’s great! but not for long.

verbinski insults me and his audience by cutting between the incomprehensible doctor volmer flailing frantically due to his fire problem and the wedding guests dancing in the ballroom. we get it; there’s one thing happening, but at the same time a bad thing is happening that is visually similar to that first thing. i get it gore!! you need a second hook!

oops, we didn’t count on the undefeatable doctor volmer actually being a terminator. the fire did nothing except light everything on fire. now you have two problems. actually three, because the entire sanitarium is in flames and not just this sex room. hannah solves one problem when she hits her dad-husband with a shovel and the unfuckable doctor volmer dies an ironic death at the hands of his precious eels and daughter-wife.

hannah and lockhart escape! they are fleeing! our heroes have taken hannah’s bicycle and are riding it to freedom-

fuck!

you thought this movie was ending for the 20th time but you’re wrong. the people in the car are his bosses from new york (??) and they get out and yell at him while he’s bleeding in the street. we finally get our scene where lockhart tells his bosses that he’s “feeling much better” (get it? eh? eh?) and then he skids away on his little bike. i’m not sure how his teeth come back but they’re here for this final shot where he grins into the night. how did the teeth come back.

this is a movie of contrasts. it’s so fucking long and asks so much of the audience. it is too boring to recommend to people, too competently made to be sold to people solely on the basis of it being a bad movie (if this movie had a worse budget it would have been a whole different experience lol), and while there are some genuinely “what the fuck” great belly laugh moments in it, they are too few and far in between.

i spent 6 hours of my life on this movie watching it twice. imagine how i feel.

while watching this movie i thought about how i would or could possibly explain what a roger corman movie is to people who aren’t familiar with his body of work. in particular, i’m thinking about what an audience of people who are becoming bad movie fans should be told to prime them for what they’re going to see. nothing is ever as brain-meltingly incomprehensible as a wiseau or breen vehicle, nor is it as sleazy or morally reprehensible like a troma flick. they are usually only moderately confusing, his actors tend to move and speak like they’re waste deep in water and had a brick dropped on their head 30 minutes ago, and his soundtracks are almost always unremarkable for whatever genre he happened to be producing that day. corman’s a prolific director with millions of feet of film under his belt either from directing or producing and trained at least two dozen directors of major acclaim, so it’s not like the man is a novice who doesn’t know the craft. you know him at least as the director of the original “little shop of horrors” movie (not the musical, the very first one from 1960). his movie production ethos was built on doing what you could on a budget, the problem being “what you could” being limited by one’s imagination and personal tastes. so what you usually got in the end was a completely watchable but recognizably bad movie. a movie that isn’t torturous to watch but also  makes you go “man, someone made this?”. it’s a unique entertainment experience. “entertainment”.

i hadn’t heard of this one when my friend (who sponsored this post via patreon) requested it for the review chopping block. the few details he gave to me about it intrigued me (jack nicholson and boris karloff?!) so i started watching it almost immediately. then i bought a house and that took up literally all of my time for like 3 months so i’ve been stewing about how guilty i feel for letting this fall to the wayside while i look at paint swatches for walls i won’t be able to paint for probably years. aaaah!!! anyway. 

what is “the terror”? in short: it’s corman’s attempt at replicating edgar allan poe after doing a few movies based on his works. in fact, a vast majority of the sets for this movie are from “the pit and the pendulum” which he wrapped up before starting on “the terror”. one of the little facts that comes up a lot when you start trying to figure out this movie’s fucking deal is that the watery grave ending was settled on because so many gothic novels end with fire so corman just wanted to do the opposite (fool ass idiot doesnt know the opposite of “fire” is “no fire”, not water). a modern attempt at gothic storytelling is kind of a neat idea, but of course this movie fumbles the concept like a buttery football. the problem? well. nothing really comes together to create anything emotionally substantial. it feels like you’re watching a slideshow of someone’s vacation photos.

jack nicholson stars and is one of the five (?!) directors of this movie, including a young francis ford coppola (?!!). jack himself is looking pretty baby-faced in this one but don’t worry: he’s still got that nasally new york intonation despite playing the part of a french general circa 1800. he just sounds like himself which is fine in 99% of all movies he’s ever been in and absolutely hysterical in a period piece. he plays andre, who is lost and disoriented with his horse from the jump and ends the movie lost and disoriented without his horse. 90% of the footage of his co-star, boris karloff, is just scenes of him opening and closing castle doors. they apparently only had karloff on set for two days which is insane but also explains why some of the footage has lousy cuts or edits. gotta work with what you’ve got i guess.

andre, who my notes make sure to point out “has a crease in his forehead so deep that you can use it as a coin slot” encounters a whole gaggle of weirdos in quick succession. for example, a mysterious woman who calls herself helene (played by nicholson’s at the time wife sandra knight) behaves like a badly programmed AI which turns nicholson on for reasons that only he can explain. once she fully short circuits, she walks into the ocean to her apparent death while nicholson gets dive-bombed by a hawk. the hawk is successful in downing nicholson until he too is swept away to sea. thankfully, he wakes up safely in the house of a strange old woman, her pet hawk that’s resting after a busy day of committing assaults on french people, and her “mute” son gustaf (he is revealed to not be mute literally 5 minutes later. it is a secret created and revealed for no reason and to no effect). again, my notes cruelly point out that nicholson “sounds like he sells hot dogs in front of a ferris wheel”.

nicholson leaves the old woman’s house and finds helene again who mysteriously and seductively leads him to a more private and DEADLY location. if not for gustaf’s intervention, nicholson would have tumbled to a quicksandy death. gustaf informs nicholson that helene is POSSESSED!!!! and then bounds off into the woods like an elf while the camera just fades to black.

nicholson returns to the old woman’s house where they share a dinner of potions and methamphetamine. to my annoyance, as noted in my notes, nicholson keeps calling gustaf “gust-av”. he’s either the only one saying it right or the only one saying it wrong in the entire cast. how about some consistency huh!!! after the hot tip from both gustaf and the old lady, nicholson heads out to look for the castle of the baron von leppe, where he believes helene is being kept. people in the old times were so inexplicably horny. the lengths they would go for fucking is unbelievable. if i found out the woman i had been leering at all day went home to her castle i’d be like “well damn, uh. that’s that i guess”. i guess they had less to do back then so they had more time to fuck around in castles.

the baron von leppe is, of course, boris karloff, who is looking sooo cozy in his little robes in this movie. he must have been sooo comfy. he looks like dark universe hugh hefner. nicholson is let into the castle and spies what truly must be the most busted portrait in a mainstream movie i’ve seen in a while. i don’t know who was churning out all those awful paintings for movies in the 70s but i’d like to shake their hand.

somehow, nicholson recognizes this portrait as 1. a person 2. the woman he’s been chasing after all day. but it turns out the portrait is of the baroness von leppe and she’s been dead for over 20 years. this only deters nicholson a little bit and when the baron allows him to stay the night, nicholson makes awooga noises when he spots the woman from his window. he is stopped only by the horrific noise outside his door that sounds like 18 cats having sex while falling down a flight of stairs. nicholson bravely and smartly grabs his extremely tiny 19th century gun with the apparent intent of using it through an iron door. this story might make more sense if we assume nicholson is playing a common dullard.

okay, things start to get hinky here because this is where the story falls into a messy tangle of plot thread spaghetti that’s only mostly figured out by the final parts of the film. nicholson is exposed to a series of spooky sights: the von leppe crypt is devoid of any holy markings, helen’s face leers at him though a crack in a door, a terrible drawing he made of her for…reasons? anyway it’s torn in two when he returns from his little midnight stroll. after squeezing the baron for information, nicholson learns that “helene” is actually named ilsa and that she cheated on the baron while he was deployed. upon returning and finding ilsa in bed with another man, the baron killed her and then left his servant, stefan, to handle the man. none of this answers nicholson’s original question “who is eric” (how he found out about eric i can’t understand). but it’s fair to assume, due to him being the only unnamed character, that the man caught with ilsa was eric. the baron now confines himself to the castle out of guilt.

the audience learns that ilsa is under the thrall of the old woman, who is caught using black magic by stefan to in order to control and possess her. the old woman’s ultimate goal is to drive the baron bugfuck insane in revenge for some currently unspoken grudge. the old woman reveals that the house she has taken residence in once belonged…to ERIC!!! my goodness….what a revelation (?).

another shocking reveal: eric is indeed the man who was caught with the baroness and its dropped like its an earth shattering revelation. it’s like, obvious though right? again, he was the only unnamed character. who else would it be lol.  gust-av is punished for his meddling with a hawk attack. the effects for the gouged out eyes are hysterical: it almost looks like they used candy red acrylic paint due to how the “fresh wound” looks caked and dry in the footage they used. adding insult to injury, they throw a gustaf shaped dummy down a cliff which bounces off every rock piteously. nicholson also continues his bastardly actions by making a move on the baronesses’ ghost-wife when he gets alone with her in the crypt. unfortunately for him, she’s not interested in what he’s selling. she simply craves the grave.

if this all sounds like plot salad, that’s good; it means i’ve really captured the spirit of what watching the movie feels like.

okay for this next part i’m just going to copy and paste my notes. usually i just use these as the basis for what i want to remember to talk about when i write the review but this time all my notes are just a mad dash to try to keep up with all the working parts of this stupid fucking movie. the end result was a stream of consciousness that perfectly captured my emotional state while watching it, especially the highs and lows of both delight at what little i could recognize as classifiable human behavior and boredom when the plot started to try to muscle its way on screen.

lol another night of creepin on the baron, this time he uses a secret mechanism in a wall sconce to go in a secret room. jack, naturally, follows. its another coffin?? the baron is promising to flood the crypt and die with ilsa but where da fuck is she?? just kidding she’s there…or her voice is. she’s trying to suicide bait him and is making great progress but man he’s like 8000 years old. just wait like 2 minutes. the baron flips out and seizes when jack asks what the fuck these two are talking about. anyway the baron is bitching out bc god hates suicide. whatever.

whatever indeed.

there’s a scene where nicholson and stefan and the old woman all finally wind up in the same place together and collect all the information they have to come to a very annoying conclusion for everyone involved: this old lady’s revenge was for nothing. eric is not only the woman’s son but, as it turns out, he is the baron. in the struggle, the real baron was killed and eric took his place. eventually he came to believe he really was the baron and stefan was just cool with this i guess. a paycheck’s a paycheck no matter whose name is on the line. now the thing that really gets me is that karloff seems way older than this lady which raises some question here. maybe guilt really ages a person.

after walking on consecrated ground, the old woman turns into a dummy that bursts into flames. nicholson and stefan enter the crypt where the baron and the ilsa ghost are beating the shit out of each other. the baron has realized he’s been bamboozled into damning his IMMORTAL SOUL!! by the sexy ghost who is now doing everything she can to make sure he doesn’t turn the water off. why is this crypt designed to fill with water and drown everything? unclear.

the final 5 minutes of this movie are so unbelievably noisy, between the brass on the soundtrack and the rushing water, my eardrums are getting pulverized by sound wave attacks. when its over only nicholson and ilsa are left standing. they share a weirdly unconvincing kiss for a married couple and perhaps in response to his tepid efforts she melts into a skeleton. she kind of looks like she was made of chocolate, honestly. like not as a joke. very strange editorial decision.

what can we learn from “the terror”? well, mostly that if you’re trying to make a movie on a budget and a short timeframe, you should probably go in with more of a plot than “poe but with water”.  we learned that its difficult to take an actor’s role in a period piece seriously if their natural speaking voice has an accent that is particular to a specific modern time and place, since that seemed to really piss me off in my notes. and, most of all, we learned that you just can’t trust ANY women ever. the end.

this post contains frank discussions of suicide.

one of the premiere rules of webcomics, and life really, is “never give people the ammunition they need to kill you”. which is uhhh a little overdramatic considering the scale of what we’re working with here, but i think it’s just a matter of taking one’s own well-being seriously; those who cannot endure criticism should not open avenues that facilitate it. online communities from 2010-approximately 2014 were much more open and heavy handed with their criticisms, a fact which i think really impressed itself on me as i watched people in art communities, especially webcomics, flame out painfully because of a constant stream of negative feedback. in spite of my little edgy, (and frankly pathetic) needlessly cruel and nihilistic-through-narcissism exterior, i was and still am pretty terrified of other people and what they think. to add to this, i get perspective from webcomic readers who do not have an appreciation for the wilder and stranger examples in the community (which i think is a shame). this makes me very self-conscious; what will they say if that target ever gets turned on me? it’s harrowing to put yourself out there, and when i was basically a shambling corpse from 2009-2014 i was a little too cavalier about that fact. corpses don’t have to care about what people think of them because they’re dead. now i’m at least 1% human being and it’s a problem.

however, i really like comics. and i really want other people to make comics. the ability for literally anyone (yes, especially the common lunatics) to be able to publish their art, no matter what the quality, to an eager audience with little effort is one of the few great changes that the internet has brought to the lives of both hobbyists and professionals. art is wonderful, but comics offer some interesting challenges that inexplicably have always called me to the field. the constraints of the same sized canvas every update, the decisions as to what information you need or want to convey to the audience, being extremely specific with dialog and word choices to make sure them talk in a way that’s informed by who they are…this is all the stuff that both drives me insane and that i live for. i’m not under any delusion that i’m not the only person in the world who notices or cares about this stuff, but more than anything i just want to be understood, like all people. the entire time i’ve been making comics i get the notion that i’m doing them “wrong” and no one has bothered to correct me. so with this post, hopefully either i will accidentally create good advice or create something contentious enough in its audacity that it starts a conversation about this exact topic.

i do not like to position myself as an authority and go through great means not to do so: doing this is like handing people a heat seeking ballistic missile. but i am dying to see new, less practiced voices enter the field now that it’s not as blisteringly hostile as it once was. it’s a great time to legitimize comic making as a hobby and i sincerely hope more people get into it.

i forgot where i was going with this from paragraph one. oh right. so, in order to hopefully dismiss any preconceived notions about how webcomics are made, i will reveal my writing process for the most recent chunk in my webcomic in the hopes that others will be inspired in one way or another. that took a long time to get here. lol.

i will be using my own comic as an example. you can read it here.

Step one: what

ok so what am i doing here.

i’m going to use the very specific chunk i just worked on, a flashback between jack and maxine, as the example. if you don’t know who they are, well, i guess you’ll just have to read literally all of my comic and get back to me. sorry, but them’s the breaks. anyway, i already knew where i was going with this flashback in general, so now its time to get down to specifics.

things i knew ahead of time i needed to cover and put on the page:

  • establish that jack and maxine met enough at college to recognize each other again in the future
  • that jack is at the lowest low of his life when he met maxine
  • establish that maxine has always been maxine. maybe more maxine than she is without jack to restrain her impulses 
  • make sure they leave together. lol. can you imagine if maxine had to come back a second time and jack had time to process and think about his first encounter with her. there’s no way

STEP two: the first part

the first part of the flashback, the college meet-up, was the least difficult. i’ve always known how this was supposed to go. they certainly met more than once during college, but were not friends (but not unfriendly). jack at this point in his life would have been the kind of insufferable 90’s guy who would bring his guitar to a party. maxine would be so depressed she would be oblivious to it; spending most of her time sleeping or in bed. the hardest part of this whole thing was figuring out what jack would have looked like in the 90s. i think i did a good job lol

left: the man of the past, right: the man of the future! the biggest change is his hair rotated

i got in and out in 2 pages. hell yeah. you see, a thing about webcomics is that they update page by page, typically on a regular schedule. unlike a comic book, which you can read through all in one go, a webcomic is something you get in drops. piecemeal. which means the pacing is always going to be glacial. this is simply a feature of the medium and i guess i see it as an additional challenge.

it’s a delicate balancing act: you have to think about timing not only on a micro scale when working per page but also on a macro scale by considering how it will read when read all in one go. it’s trickier than it sounds! consider: when updating only 2 pages a week, i only have those two opportunities to convince people to keep reading so i need to give them SOMETHING on that page to keep them coming back. on the other hand, i’m trying to tell a well paced story for archive readers someday. it’s entertaining two different audiences at the same time. 

it’s vital to his character to know he was also once a “sport jacket with tennis shoes” guy. just detestable.

my early pages are unreadable for a lot of reasons, but as a whole the story is also difficult to read because i, in a desperate attempt to make every page “mean something” put a joke or a plot beat on every page at the end of the page.  it was like the reading equivalent getting pelted with a baseball every 7 seconds. like at that point you know a joke or something is coming so you’re already primed for it to happen, right? anyway. 

the truth is your audience probably isn’t reading your stuff with the intent to hate on it, so whoever is reading it will be willing to endure the updates that are not packed to the brim with heart-pounding excitement. thank god for that, because jack and maxine truly meeting was something i assumed would take me like 5 pages. it wound up taking me like 15. 15 pages of these two sidestepping each other. fuck! it sure as shit didn’t look like 15 pages! that’s 7 weeks of this! you see what i mean!

step three: THE FIRST DRAFT

while sitting on the couch watching some dumb shit, i hammered out the first draft of this sequence. it is incomplete, it is erratic and it sucks. that’s fine. as long as no one picks up my notebook and reads it without the context of knowing everything in there is supposed to suck, i’m in the clear. i’ve provided a transcript below. this appears to take place after the part where maxine initially recognizes him after 8 years. this is a part i’ve been thinking about for years, so i knew exactly how it would go. easy.

the not easy part was extracting myself, and these characters, out of this flashback. here’s where we’re at: jack has been successfully recognized, not as a horrible bastard who is currently at the hands of internet and real life mockery and scorn, but as someone she met a few times in college. this is the turning point event in his life, unfortunately.

i thought they were called “push pops” but those are the candy ones. shows what i know.

i. ignore the fingerprints.

(J: Jack, M: Maxine, b: me commentating)

 

J: I’d rather hear more about what you’ve been up to…ugh. (b: apparently i already knew he was going to dump ice cream on himself, hence the “ugh”. he’s wiping it off.)

M: Still exterminating.

J: Oh you’re an exterminator? Which company?

M: I’m independent.

J: No kidding? You own your own business?

M: Yeah, I’m a, what do you call it? Entrepreneur. (b: would she be able to successfully pull this word? on the one hand she is business minded and would know it to throw it around. on the other, french?)

Okay, now you have to answer my question.

J: Is that how it works?

M: Yeah, let’s trade information! (b: oh i remember why i set this up this way. maxine has this relationship with victoria. she trades errands and lunch orders for information and money)

J: I don’t think I…have information.

M: Sure you do, everyone knows something worth knowing.

J: If you say so.

M: I’ll start with an easy one. Didn’t you used to sound different? (b: this is one of those ‘things no one cares about or notices but me’ things. jack in the modernest day drops his “g”s and has a few more linguistic quirks. being a newscaster meant he had to stomp that out in favor of a general american english accent. right now, jack is in a weird transitional state where he’s both newscast-voicing and reverting back to his feral texan form. so until maxine makes him go nuts with stress, his “g”s stay on)

J: Is it…? Oh my god, its that noticeable, huh?

M: Weren’t you southern? You sound like… (b: …joke pending)

J: How do you remember all of this? I can barely remember my first name most days. (b: he would never say this. jack henderson would never forget anything about jack henderson).

M: Is that your question?

J: Sure.

M: …You have a face that’s hard to forget.

M: My turn. Uh, this one’s awkward. You sleeping rough? Not to put you on the spot but you look…you have the look. (b: maxine has almost certainly slept in public before. she has probably seen the look in a mirror.)


and that’s what i managed. it sucks dog shit but its some kind of bridge to somewhere. beats nothing.

step four: second pass

now, while staring at my notebook with disdain, i retype everything into a notepad document, but good this time.

uh, “good”

this one is much longer and i was further in the flashback. it was at this point i was realizing my little flashback was going to be much longer than i anticipated it would be. i needed an exit strategy, but the problem was it needed to be natural feeling. or. as natural feeling as the cartoon universe of A Ghost Story can be. what possible fucking reason would anyone willingly walk away with maxine gottwin? i still hadn’t solved that and its evident in the script, which i will now give the same treatment as the previous one.


[maxine looks down at him, putting her knife away]
m: sleeping rough?

[jack looks back up at her trying to scramble for change]
j: …what?

m: if you need somewhere to stay, i know some people who can put you up. (b: lie)

j: no! no, no! i’m fine. i’m…my apartment’s being remodeled, so I’m staying at a hotel. (b: lie)

m: which one? i do work for a lot of the owners. i might be able to get you some money knocked off your tab.

j: …there’s a motel 6 off the highway.

m: oh, yeah.

j: i wanted something- i’m trying to save money for-

m: well, this is awkward but…if you kill yourself, can you do it at a different motel? 

[page] (b: lol this indicates to me when a good time to cut a page would be. i had to veto most of these in the creation process because they just didn’t fit the way i thought they would)

m: maybe the motor-lodge?

j: WHAT?!

m: like, i don’t think keith will care as much as nancy, but nancy’s mom just died and she doesn’t need any more stress in her life.

j: excuse me?? what the hell?

m: isn’t that what you were saying just now? you /just/ said you were thinking about dying!! (b: i mean, he did. this just wasn’t even remotely the reaction he or anyone probably expected another human being to throw at them)

j: n- i- what’s wrong with you?!

m: me? you’re the one jerking me around!

j: /wow/, this conversation is bad in a new way.

m: you’re really annoying. i see why people are mean to you now.

j: what’s your problem? why are you /soooo/ interested in where i die?

[page]

[maxine takes out her business card and hands it to him]
[jack stares at the card while maxine rambles]
m: didn’t you use to talk different? you were southern…it’s been cutting in and out this whole time. now you sound like someone from a commercial for a class action lawsuit. (b: joke pending)

…joke pending

j: how do you remember all this?

m: you’re a hard guy to forget.
[jack starts sobbing]

[page]

[jack’s hysterical]

m: shit, okay, uh.
m: ah, listen. i’m in no position to judge, alright? what’d you do?

j: P-PLEASE DON’T MAKE ME S-SAY IT
m: okay! okay!

m: you on the lam?
[j shakes his head]

m: felony?
j: [weakly] no…

m: well what-? was it a crime?
j: [sniff] t-they’re still figurin’ t-that out.
m: alright. okay.

j: i’m sorry. i’m so embarrassed. this whole thing is embarrassin’. (b: embarrassed has 2 “r”s??? great now i have to go fix my speech bubbles)
j: no one’s been nice to me in months so i thought-
j: i thought…
j: I’m worth more dead than alive.

j: …where do you want me to do it?
m: wh- n…no. no, forget it. never mind. I was being stupid. I kinda, my brain…doesn’t.
m: you know.

[silence]

m: if you wanna do it thats your business but…don’t do it on account of me.
j: [small font] i don’t- i’m a c-coward.
m: wait, you DON’T want to?
j: i want to but i…can’t.
m: oh, jesus christ. what the hell, man!
j: i j-just want to be u-useful. i’m s-sorry.

m: je-sus! that’s no way to die! if you want to be useful stay alive and- and-…be useful!
if you die, i make like, what, 150 bucks? once? that’s really the amount of useful you deem acceptable to die for?

j: are you tryin’ to make me feel better?
m: y- n- uh, is it working?

j: …I don’t know.

(b: this whole section got cut for time constraints. it just would have taken like 2 more pages and i just didnt have it in me when it came to actually drawing it and decided it could be excised. fwiw i think i was able to get across that jack is in that paradoxical state of mind where you both do not want to participate in life but are afraid to die. like you want to burrow underground like a cicada for a huge chunk of time. experiencing nothingness like you’re vacationing…)

[pause]

m: hell of a reunion.

[pause]
[a customer is laying on their horn] (b: a trickle of an idea to get me the fuck of of the past arrives. what if they had a third party to gang up on, or that maxine could field for jack, giving him a taste of the delicious high of companionship and its perks)

[page]

m: let’s get outta here.
j: [sniff] what?

m: I’m hungry, aren’t you? It’s late.
j: i…guess. i don’t k-know.

m: i live above a chinese place, you like chinese? the old lady’ll feed you 

j: oh no, p-please. i can’t. no more people-

m: c’mon, i won’t let her do anything to you.
m: trust me, she’s way more mad at me than she ever could be at you.

[the customer is still laying on their horn]
c: HEY!! HOW ABOUT SOME SERVICE? HEY!! (b: this guy was going to be just a common asshole but that was too easy. he wound up being one of those extremely passive types that totally shuts down when presented with adversity)
j: shit. work.

[page]
m: oh, yeah. uh, just tell them you had uncontrollable diarrhea.
j: i’m not. i’m not goin’ to do that.
m: okay fine. “medical emergency”. coward. (b: no one listens to me, but this is the most potent and powerful way to get out of literally anything. now you can’t use it bc of the deadly pandemic sweeping the nation, but you know. in the before times lying about having the shits promises no one will ask for follow up questions or demands)

c: hey!! HEYYY!!
m: stay here, wouldya?

[maxine walks over to the car which is in the background they are distant as jack watches]
m: HEY FUCK OFF!! READ THE ROOM. IDIOT.
[there is a pause before the customer slowly drives away] (b: by the time i got to drawing this part i absolutely did not want to draw a car in motion. it would have been mad funny if i had used an entire page to draw him slowly making his way out of the parking lot as they just stare at him uncomfortably)

m: you wanna go?
j: i can’t pay.
m: neither can i. come on!

[maxine runs off, then stops and looks back]

m: what’s your name again?

[back to the modern day]

j: and i never left.


okay! better. as i draw the page, i put some last minute touches and spins on what i’m doing because, unfortunately, coming up with funny ideas doesn’t happen on a schedule.

step five: drawing it and the final revisions

FINALLY let’s get this fucking thing made. i mean i’ve been making it simultaneously this whole time but you know what i mean. webcomics (as i understand it) is that one scene from “the wrong trousers” where gromit is desperately putting down tracks as they go full steam ahead. it makes for some wild and on the fly creative decisions.

for example, i still wasn’t satisfied with my ending. what, they just walk off after maxine epically owns some guy and everyone stands up and claps?? it’s bad. i have no idea why or how i thought of it but thankfully i got a better idea as to how to get them to leave together: have her literally drag him away.

this page dedicated to oregon’s gas pump laws (they do not live in oregon)

he’s not struggling and he’s not really putting up any kind of defense. life is happening to him and he just re-cycled through his grief stages and is back at acceptance. maxine is free to rehome him. how can you have the high ground in an argument while you’re dragging someone on asphalt to an unknown location?

this was the most last-minute change i made. literally the update before oh i remember now. i realized i had written this dialog knowing that maxine was going to touch jack in some way at this point. like, pulling him to his feet, not anything weird. but when the time came i didn’t…have enough space on the page. big problem! and with deadlines coming up i had to compromise. i thought, maybe it would be funny if she just hooked her arms under him so she could take him away like a piece of used furniture back to her hovel.

that’s the “shuff”

thank god i made all my rambling come together. now you know why i was ranting about update schedules and pacing and shit.

 

additionally, as i use photoshop to put the dialog into the comic…it gets its last re-write I SWEAR. i tend to mouth it under my breath as i type it to try to make sure it sounds like dialog from people and not comic book character dialog. if you scroll back up to the example page in step 4 you’ll see diversions from the script that maintain the spirit but plug up the empty air with small talk and babblings. the purpose of the page and the end result is the same but it adds the additional, explicit reasoning for maxine’s location request: she’s lazy and doesn’t want to travel far.

one pitfall i fall into a lot is that i’ll write “maxine hands him her business card” and then, at the moment of business card conception, realize i have no idea what it would look like. this results in a ton of research into business card templates and standard phrases to make a card that maxine would make herself. same thing with “jack works at a convenience store”. when i go to draw it im like “shit, what does it look like? where in the city is it? is it a gas station too?” etc. there will always be surprises you don’t anticipate lol. half of comics is rolling with those punches.

well, that’s it i think. i made it over the finish line in 2 months, which is 1 more than i wanted which is a bummer but listen: webcomics are unpredictable. 99% of my life is starting to draw something and then going “uh oh!!!!!!!!” as i realize the problems i’ve backed myself into. maybe i will make a post about victoria’s house. i already talked about it on tumblr but i could talk about, in general, how the landscape of A Ghost Story has changed as i’ve changed coasts and finally have first hand experience of the buildings and environments im trying to draw.

thanks for reading. or if you hated this, fuck you sucker! i stole precious minutes of your life you’ll never get back. ppppbbbbt!!

 

apparently this movie, which is impossible to find unless you order it from someone who i can only assume (based on their eclectic collections) must display a type of mania for movies that you have to open a pineal gland to obtain, has re-entered the zeitgeist. thanks to random news outlets reminding people that it, at minimum, exists, people are now aware of this movie. and now, you are aware of this movie. it’s a movie you can be aware of. that’s the most i can say about it.

i was immediately brutally bait-and-switched by this movie during the first literal minute during which i assumed i was going to be treated to one of my favorite lost movie arts: the song created about the movie for the movie. but it turned out to be the start of an absolutely nothing of a gag that went on for about 40 seconds too long, which caused me to slump back in my chair and start to decompose from a combination of disappointment and the deliberate assault on my ears. the setting…da greatest city in da world: new york. the credits, which play out over “city sounds” of construction, traffic and people yelling, offers a life raft for me to cling to: a listing for a bird trainer. oh more than one life raft! costumes designed by…legendary fashion designer edith head?!

before the first 5 minutes are up, you are subjected to the hackiest series of juxtaposed images put to screen sincerely probably since 1968. this might have been the high water bar for hacks for a solid span of movie history. it’s the kind of observational humor that barely counts as an observation. check it out, women be shoppin, men be drinkin, college students be radicalizin, and beat poets be weird. all observations that were staler than a year-old crouton by the time this movie came out and by now have aged into the audio-visual equivalent of one of those maggot cheeses.

mary tyler moore is SLUMMING IT in this movie. my god. she looks and acts far too well to be forced to have the screenwriter’s trash drop out of her mouth. this has the stench of older men trying to write “youth culture” ground into it. it’s no offensive, just grating on my senses. oh thank god, the bird is here and it’s a hell of a bird.

turns out the bird is a carrier for a disease that causes euphoria and bad greek accents, if the actors are anything to go by. the bird, once caged safely on the ship it had infected, is released by the giddy crew to wreck havok on new york. meanwhile, mary tyler moore and her increasingly wacky beatnik compatriots are having a d-tier sitcom level conversation about the function of art (“to reflect misery in society”….well that explains this freakin movie!!) while the bird spreads it germs above them. sounds like this is going to be a movie where we see sad or angry people become uncharacteristically happy over and over again as the single gag the movie has to offer us. i guess we’ll find out in due time. 

boy if there’s one thing i can comment on with absolute certainty about this movie it’s that the ADR stinks. ADR is tough to pull off in the best of circumstances (it’s a useful tool in editing!) and with this movie every ADR line is a total clunker that seems to have been inexplicably added after the fact to the detriment of the film. example: as one beatnik waters his weed he’s growing on the rooftop, he says, (“says”) “i’m going to put up a sign: keep off the grass!”. this is not a joke or even an observation. it’s a reference to a mundane thing irl with no apparent connection to his current thoughts or actions except through the most tenuous connections.

a health official confirms that the virus is spread through the respiratory system and infects the brain, which the mayor of new york shrugs off with a “whatever”, so at least that part is true to life. this is also the least new york mayor ive ever seen. no way is this guy an italian. he’s like a fucking protestant or something. if you look at him you’ll know exactly that i mean.

anyway mary tyler moore’s pal (george peppard) starts to feel a little better about his life instead of acting like a cartoonish and clownish caricature of a tortured artist so she raises the panic alarm among her fellow weirdoes (who are on, get this, UNEMPLOYMENT!!!!!!) before hitting the street for a doctor. on the way, she runs into a cop who clues her into the connection between the bird and her boyfriend’s newly cured depression. if only looking at a funny bird could cure you from your various brain problems instantly in real life.

apparently the virus does have one little quirk, which is that, much like cordyceps, it makes you want to spread it to everyone in a nearby vicinity. in order to achieve this and to have an excuse for blasting people’s faces with bursts of air exploding from his mouth, peppard disguises himself as a the german philosopher hero of the beatniks. the joke is german people talk loud and forcefully. lots of pop in those consonants in the german language. i am “laughing”.

as an aside, the leader of the beatniks throws out randomly that they only use first names, because when the world ends, first names will be last names. i just wanted to make a note of that.

in a scene that feels like it’s fresh from every dsa meeting ever held: mary tyler moore is sexually harassed by peppard-as-the-german and then is told she has bourgeois sexuality when she rejects him. he forces a kiss out of her, reveals himself to be peppard and then he bails as she chases him out. 

all the beatniks awaken the next morning, ready to become wackier than ever. my stomach hurts a little from anticipation because i know what’s coming is certainly going to be, as they say, “cringe”.

the mayor is recommending people wear masks when they go outside. im starting to feel exhausted watching this on a base level i haven’t experienced with a movie before. i feel like i’m listening to a waiter explain what the specials are tonight at a restaurant that only ever has meatloaf every night. the uncomfortably featureless mayor is downplaying the amount of infections in order to prevent public panic and to maintain the illusion of control. the low–grade fever i’ve been nursing all day is starting to bubble over into something more severe as a immunization response to what i’m seeing and hearing

mary tyler moore and peppard show up to the crowded media event revolving around the mayor’s cowardly flight from the city in a fruitless attempt to encourage everyone to catch the virus and breath all over everyone they can. she describes how she and the art collective secretly spread the virus all over new york by deception, infiltrating distribution programs intended to provide sanitary masks to people and hosting crowded events so they could attend them. i’m starting to feel a little ill from retrospective whiplash.

unlike the novel coronavirus, all this disease has done is benefit society. very lucky for all of these absolute freaks. the least believable part of this movie is that no one has shot the bird yet. but he did just do a funny trick where he flipped a grape into his mouth, so i’m glad this movie is not a 1:1 re-creation of real life.

i’m upset realizing that there’s still somehow 50 minutes left in this movie. after 20 minutes dedicated to a long, boring, absolutely nothing of a scene where they try to sneak the bird out by disguising it as mary tyler moore’s pregnant stomach (for reasons unclear to me, the audience, and likely the screenwriters as well since we aren’t given one), i realized that what i had been subjecting myself to this entire time was a movie that had spun out of ideas immediately after the conception of the premise. this movie has meat, no bones, absolutely no substance. it could be a 7 min SNL sketch in a low tier episode at best. i’m shocked this script got financing. my god there’s still 25 minutes. just let the bird fly out the window or something. what the hell.

the latter half of this movie really drives it home but this is an impressively ugly movie even for the time. the set direction is particularly wretched; the mopey beatniks/art crowd live in an apartment completely lacking in any semblance of aesthetic sensibilities or any sense of how to use a space to establish characters. the space is supposed to be both messy and artsy but it just looks like there was a sale at the used grandma furniture warehouse and the artists pooled together to spend a reasonable amount of money on things they needed instead of slowly accumulating a hoarder’s house worth of assorted weird crap they either find or make. 

the only exception to this is this dresser:

like what the fuck is that! lmfao! i love to see him!

the final third of this movie takes place in a concrete bunker marking the lowest point of the movie visually. the scenery is grey, the clothing of the government suits are dull, and a solid 10 minutes is dedicated to looking at a black and white tv set of mary tyler moore and peppard about to go to slam town.

the virus is cured because the u.s. government has a vested interest in keeping people from uniting or treating each other well. the end. no moral. the movie literally ends with the threat of restarting the pregnancy bird gag. what a nightmare.

unlike “hudson hawk”, i don’t think i can bring myself to re-bore myself by pushing play on this movie more than once. it was a struggle to get through after the 20 minute mark passed and i realized i had seen everything this movie had to offer me and was staring down the barrel of 70 minutes of mirthless comedic sleepwalking. is there any despair more uniquely agonizing than having to outlast the run-time of a boring movie? the last time i watched a clock this closely i was still working a desk job. i could feel the precious moments of my young life slip away from me and thought about all the stuff i could be doing instead of watching this movie. like uhh. ah shit right, pandemic. well, i could have been playing videogames and smelting virtual iron or whatever. or trying to prevent my royal son from fucking his mother and throwing my kingdom into chaos.

i suppose the question that every movie raises by the nature of existing is “why was this made”? for movies that are entertaining or informative to watch, the answer is quickly evident. but this movie is neither of those things. why was this movie made? there’s an air of aloof certainty wafting over this movie like a bad odor that makes it seem like everyone involved was thinking about a pandemic in america in the abstract. i can’t read people’s minds, obviously. i don’t know what they were thinking when they made this movie. but i would put money down on at least once facet of the creation process involving a smug assertion that this would NEVER happen here.

having to exist in the current reality we have today while watching this movie is a deflating experience. the attempt to sugar up and dress up the fun of a pandemic has been retroactively spoiled both because real life is a bitch and because this movie sucked ass to begin with.

holy shit i just went back to edit this and completely forgot edith head was the costume designer. what a fucking waste.

don’t watch this movie. it has nothing for anyone.

im a mere 30 years old, so i was not around really to experience firsthand bruce willis’ clumsy start and stop with his early career and thank god for it. watching this felt a little voyeuristic. i mean…i feature a lot of vanity projects in things but this is a tragic vanity project. it’s not so deeply embarrassing in its sheer incompetence in the way that many vanity projects are and i think that’s because those tend to be self funded; instead, this whatever-the-fuck movie was a means by which bruce willis got to demonstrate that he was a…renaissance man. as long as the movie allowed him to do x (story), y (sing) and z (act) it could be about whatever.

and it is truly about whatever.

the movie is framed as through we are being read a storybook by a narrator (william conrad) who, with all due respect, must have been told to read his lines after being shown them for the first time. leonardo da vinci, in a classic italian blunder, accidentally invents a machine that turns lead into gold instead of lead into bronze. for no discernable reason, he smashes a crystal used in the machine into multiple pieces. the way the crystal breaks is like, remember in legends of the hidden temple, when they had to put together a statue that was made of multiple pieces? it’s like that. very clean cuts, mr. da vinci.

cut to the modern day, where the narrator informs us that a modern day genius is just getting out on parole: a man named…hudson hawk.

hudson hawk was a cat burglar…but he’s out of the game…but he’s not. the music during these scenes is wretched. i think its really hard to get across and only bad once you notice it. i didn’t notice how deeply unpleasant it was for the first time until the scene after this one, but because i’m watching it again for a THIRD time (don’t ask) i’m noticing all the background music and it’s like someone’s chasing me around the room crinkling a little ball of tin foil in my ear. it’s like…what videogame noir music sounds like. it’s point-and-click adventure music. this is fitting, since our hero wears both a fedora AND a vest.

this was ’91, they didn’t know any better. we have to forgive them. he also has four piercings in one ear, which at the time was literally the coolest thing anyone could have or do.

hawk’s parole officer tries to rope him back into a life of crime, but hawk turns him down. once on the outside, a loud noise scares our intrepid and noble hero so he immediately panics and curls into a little ball like a baby. its okay though, its his annoying best friend: tommy “five-tone” (danny aiello). tommy “five-tone” brought him a cappuccino and buddy, let me tell you a little somethin’, hudson hawk really just wants to drink a cappuccino. that’s the wacky running gag in this movie. hope you like it because you’ll see it a lot. hope its your favorite.

willis has this bizarre inflection he puts on his sentences where he screams. that’s not an inflection i guess. or maybe it is. anyway, let me try to impart to you, a person who has probably not seen this movie, what this particular screech sounds like and when it’s activated. i’ve heard bruce willis talk, so i know he knows how to talk like a person, and i know he lived in new york bartending for a while, so i know he knows what a new york city native sounds like. and in spite of having a fairly gravelly voice in real life, willis is purposefully putting on a shriller affectation that, when excited or agitated, rises slowly by oscillating with every word.

brandy GOAT cheese PIZZA?!”

at his own restaurant (i think), hawk is accosted by the mafia (one of whom is the always terrible frank stallone), who force him to rob an auction house, the same job his parole officer wanted him to do. the music, is bad.

after this we are treated to an excruciatingly long scene where hawk is quizzed by his friend tommy on the lengths of various songs, which he does repeatedly like it’s an impressive trick. hawk is TROUBLED by being forced into this job. “do you think you still got it, eddie?” asks tommy “five-tones”.

“yeah” says hawk. “that’s that i’m afraid of.” pbbbbbtttt!!!

the heist is edited strangely. at some point in the creation process of this movie they decided they wanted to lean toward making it take place in a cartoon-ish universe and, first of all, bad job, and two, in their futile attempt to achieve this goal, they flooded the storybook world of “hudson hawk”  with the hanna-barbera sound fx reel. i don’t know if it was intentional, but the heavy use of ADR in this and subsequent scenes feels exactly as cheap as it must have been to do. it’s impossible not to notice how much those guys are in a sound booth somewhere.

willis and aiello then proceed to pull off the most annoying heist in human history. in order to keep time with each other they sing bing crosby’s “swinging on a star” and both of them are fucking dreadful compared to the original, which is already annoying enough. i’ve had it stuck in my fucking head for a week. i’ve been singing it while frying potato chips like a dipshit. they steal the thing, a small-scale replica of a massive statue leonardo da vinci made of a horse, and in a clumsy edit that would have worked in a better movie, they escape from what seems like an inescapable situation. hawk passes the item off to the mafia who hand it off to a british gentleman like its a hot potato who smashes it over the head of hawk’s parole officer. inside….why it’s one of the crystal shards…

after seeing a news headline claiming his robbery was foiled, hawk decides to snoop and infiltrate the auction…with sexy results.

there he meets a hot young woman named anna (andie macdowell) and five video game bosses. two rich freaks (sandra bernhard and richard e. grant) bid for the horse but what’s this!? as the gavel strikes, the auction house explodes. or to be more accurate the gavel itself explodes. the first time i watched it, i thought the auctioneer himself exploded like a bloodless “scanners”. upon realizing this is not the case, i’m really down about this movie now. i feel like i watched a better movie before even if it was by accident.

the mafia shows up in an ambulance and drives off with hawk for reasons (?). none of this part makes any sense at all. what follows is a tortured and cacophonous car chase scene that serves as a vehicle for jokes and one-liners so hackneyed and tired, they make popsicle sticks look like the algonquin round table.

thankfully once its over the CIA or something like it puts hawk to sleep. thank god! not a moment too soon. sadly its not permanent. they only send him to rome where his secret employers, the mayflowers (the weirdo couple from the auction house), let their dog (voiced by frank welker, not a joke) suck him off. oh i just realized mrs. mayflower is masha from “the king of comedy” . that’s why i’m confused by her energy she’s bringing here lol. she never quite hits that same terrifying energy scorsese managed to coax out of her. her role isn’t grounded enough in reality. the refusal of “hudson hawk” to commit to either a cartoon universe or a grounded one has resulted in a world where there are no stakes and no threats, yet at the same time no comedy.

its happening again. its the midway point and the movie is starting to lose me. he is in rome and he is stealing another bullshit thing. i’ll have to shelve this for now and try to tackle the enigma of “hudson hawk” again tomorrow.


alright, i’m back.

the main gist and purpose of this scene really is to get the 2nd macguffin into hawk’s hands and let him rendezvous with macdowell, who as it turns out is a secret agent for the vatican working to prevent the mayflowers from making the gold machine. for some reason. i’m not sure why the vatican thinks this is their jurisdiction, but who am i to question the wild and raucous surrealist logic of “hudson hawk“? whatever. this movie is throwing everything at the wall and it’s so half-baked that nothing is sticking.

i guess during this sequence (which i still am struggling to pay attention even with fresh eyes) it would be a good time to talk about how this movie feels like an eerie pale and sickly shadow of “raiders of the lost ark“. once this movie becomes globe-trotting it becomes more evident that they were trying to capture some kind of spirit of adventure that simply cannot and will not be raised. at its core, there is no sincerity to “hudson hawk“. there is only a thin, weak, stringy heartbeat of cynical slapstick that sputters to life occasionally with a piercingly unpleasant sound or dialog. for example:

anna: it’s funny. that excites me. i seem to have a thing for sinners.

hawk: well, i seem to have a thing for sinning! check please!

hudson hawk, who got his name because a hawk is a cold wind that blows over a river and the hudson is a river uhhh somehow that relates i guess. anyway he has a bad tattoo of a hawk too. there is a “joke” here that lands like a fucking thud and i truly want to go back in time and talk to the writers and ask them how and why that one made in there. who’s idea was it? why was this scene added?? i don’t really want to talk about it because it’s quite off-color but i am intrigued in it the same way someone might be intrigued in why a serial killer does things.

at this point the movie has made a grave miscalculation in assuming the audience is full hog ass in on this wild adventure they’ve dragged us along on. the truth is i could not give less of a fuck about the exploits of hudson hawk and that horrible boor tommy “five-tone”. i hope they both fall in a pit of spikes or someone throws a hadouken at them or something.

the movie attempts to drag a series of twists and turns out to keep you “on your toes” by revealing tommy “da salami” “five-tones”‘s betrayal. however, again, this is predicated on the idea that you are invested in the idea that hudson hawk, a man with a haircut i previously thought only ps2 characters had, and tommy “five-tones” (a wretch of the lowest order, a gutter water enthusiast) had a friendship worth preserving. “the only law i cared for was friendship” tommy “five-tones”, the bastard of new york city opines to his friend, hudson hawk, who looks like an uncooked hot dog in a t-shirt, “but i broke that one too didn’t i?”

i don’t know why they dress tommy “five-tones” like a band-aid as well. that’s worth mentioning. some people in this movie get great wardrobes and some get fucked. tommy “five-tones” was cursed to walk the earth dressed like a wendy’s napkin.

hawk and “five-tones” get in a gunfight and fall ten stories onto marble and more or less dust themselves off without a scratch or an acknowledgement that their brains should be scrambled like eggs. the cops roll up and arrest them…and those cops are intercepted by the vatican…and it turns out it was all a ruse, and everyone is still friends and they meet up with anna and whatever. nothing matters. the movie comes to a screeching halt so hudson can make a series of clumsy and WEIRD passes at anna. let me also drag this review to another full stop to try to elaborate on the exquisite lunacy of this scene:

after faking their own death, they are turning in for bed. tommy “five-tones” takes the couch while hudson hawk chomps and whinnies at the bit at the mere excitement of being in proximity to anna. hawk presumes they’re going to “sleep together”. anna assumes he’s also sleeping in the living room because she is a nun.

now that is not the insane part of this, just the framework. it’s the architecture of the set itself. this apartment is an open floor plan. there are no doors. the only thing separating anna’s room and bed from the living room couch is a translucent curtain. was hudson hawk going to just bare ass fuck in front of his friend tommy “five-tones” and if so what does this mean about their friendship. this is NOT the adventure i signed up for. i am glad he strikes the fuck out. thank you anna for saving me from having to face this head on.

the CIA finds them the next morning, paralyzes them, then everyone makes fun of hudson for dating a nun. owned lol. they pulled the heist without hawk so they plan to off him since he’s outlived his usefulness. i am clapping and singing with glee at the idea. anna apparently is still useful because she knows fun factoids about leonardo da vinci. in a world before smart phones and the internet that probably was useful. i take so much for granted. this movie has really made me think…

they survive. two CIA agents die. who cares. do you? what i care about now is that a room full of adult people now demand a woman help them put together this crystal, which, if you remember, i described as being about as difficult as a puzzle designed to confound children under immense stress. in fact it has less parts than that. it’s only three pieces. this is a fisher-price toy that is blowing the minds of multiple people.

naturally of course, during what is supposed to be the climax of the movie, where my blood is supposed to be pumping and my gooses bumping, these fucking assholes start singing “side by side”. another song i liked until they truly, and unforgivingly, start butchering it like it’s sunday dinner. this movie thinks its a musical and tries to incorporate musical elements (a classic being a villain cutting in with the final word of the song; the butler with the literal assassin’s creed knives shows up to menace the dreadful tommy “five-tones”) without uhhh being a musical. there’s only two fucking bad songs in this thing thank god. i wish there were zero.

in a series of mentally taxing and displeasing scenes, hudson hawk is assaulted like a cartoon character by the head of the CIA (james coburn) while tommy “five-tones” reverts to his bestial and primal state by attempting to bite mr mayflower’s face off like a chimpanzee. anna deals with mrs. mayflower because that’s what women do in movies like this. they’re only allowed to fight other women. tommy “five-tones” fucking explodes in a fiery car crash lol. it felt great to see. i loved it.

everyone is captured again. it’s time to make gold.

for some reason hawk is the one who has to put the crystal together again despite the fact that i thought that’s why they kept anna around. reminder: this is my third watch. i still don’t know what’s happening. however, i do know that hawk sabotaged the machine by fucking with the very complicated three part crystal so it explodes. they mayflowers die horribly and face a final boss battle…butler with knives.

the fight with the butler is terrible. after being built up to be a man of elegance and ruthlessness, he’s now sloppy like he’s been personally slighted somehow by the failure of the gold machine. the directing and editing is choppy and they had the audacity to show me one of the most plastic mannequin heads i’ve ever seen and try and tell me it was a human decapitated head. that thing hits the ground and bounces like a superball. 100% rubber.

the fight ends with the decapitation and hawk spitting “[you] won’t be attending that hat convention in july!”

okay.

hawk kills the frank welker dog bc anna is so useless she can’t even keep a terrier from jumping on her. they fly away in da vinci’s flying machine and when they land it is swarmed by a horde of italian youths.

tommy “five-tones” didn’t die. even the movie is like “just believe it, okay?” i have no choice. hudson hawk finally drinks his cappuccino. im free. on the way out of this movie i’m reminded we were being told a story in a decrepit old book.

i’m free. i’m free. this movie is like getting peanut butter stuck to the roof of your mouth.

this review is overdue because i had thought i would wait to see who the official, undisputed president of the united states would be.

i get that this feels like a pretty flimsy excuse given it’s now the end of the month and i’m at the point now where i have put this off for so long that it’s ridiculous but it did seem like it was going to be a relevant fact in a movie that truly feels like it’s from an ancient age. to be upfront, i like krampus. it was pitched to me by a patreon donor, a frequent flyer (repeat offender?) who sends me bad movie suggestions that i pretty much have mostly loved. this is a rare one where i straight up said i wouldn’t add it to the bad movie book but would prefer to write a glowing review of it to celebrate what i loved about the deliberately hammy atmosphere of this movie that works in service of its stupid premise and execution.

and then i watched it. and my desire to write a glowing review dropped a few degrees. just a few.

it’s not the movie’s fault. that’s part of why this review has taken such a long time to do: i’ll have to actually think about how i’m going to address this movie’s themes that have since carbon dated it as from the Before Times. there is a balance i want to strike when i try to discuss this. if i’m too aggrandizing, i’ll come off as smug and patronizing. if i’m too blasé, i’ll look like the kind of person who swerves into animals on the road.


i think there’s a vital distinction to be made between something that is 80s inspired in the way that something like “stranger things” is and something that is 80s flavored the way that krampus is. it assumes we, the audience, have a few shreds of dignity lying around and want to maintain, so instead of pounding us over the head with fists whiles crying “remember this thing from the 80s?” so you can receive the nostalgia brain chemicals, it tries to evoke the aesthetics and tone of movies such as gremlins or child’s play indirectly. krampus pulls from the rarely drawn well of that sort of tongue-in-cheek, campy, self-aware horror that doesn’t sacrifice the soul at the core of it’s conception in pursuit of what it thinks might be a good joke.

in spite of the modern day setting almost no trace of modern tech exists in this movie. outside of a brief scene where the sister uses something skype-ish to talk to her boyfriend, this movie could have taken place at any point between 1980-2015 (and absolutely no later than that, because the right-wing people depicted in this movie no longer exist). it’s a movie that’s dated only in the hamfisted and stereotypical politics that seem quaint by today’s standards.


there are some odd dips and swerves in the ability to maintain the 1980s monster movie pastiche. the adherence to the form is admirable when it comes to the practical effects and the movie suffers drastically when stuck to wallow in the CGI swamps. the monsters the ransack the attic benefit enormously from the audience being able to perceive them as something tangible, something that has some fucking weight to it. most horror movies in the modern day are made or broken by whether or not the audience will be able to be convinced of the authenticity of the monster. they don’t need to be convinced that it is a 100% living and breathing (or…you know. just animate) creature, but that it is an organic and natural part of the world it occupies regardless of physical limitations.

uhh for example: e.t. is just a bunch of vulcanized rubber some puppeteers are wiggling around in ways that could be construed as lifelike, but its the way the world around them reacts to its physical presence that makes that little son of a bitch seem like an actual part of the world he is occupying instead of something that has been clumsily overlaid onto it. the aim is to maintain the illusion of seeming life-like, not necessarily “real”. 

in comparison, the cgi gingerbread feel weightless and cheap. they float through their scene ineffectively feeling like a bad phone filter or oddly specific ghosts. the sheer mass and volume of the previous monsters that caused them to feel as though they were overflowing or bursting wildly out of the screen is totally absent here in spite of the attempts to capture some manic giggling energy. it’s not the same!!


it’s a little odd that a movie about the physical manifestation of disproportionate retribution for a year’s worth of childhood mischief decided to take a staunch liberal political stance but it’s only odd in hindsight, i suppose. thinking back to when i saw this movie in 2015, i don’t remember blinking an eye at the spoon-feeding of what are essentially “the daily show” jokes that were left on the cutting room floor and given new life by being clumsily stitched into this script. max, the protagonist (who is 7 years old or maybe 15. it’s literally impossible to tell), comes from a family comprised of affluent, attractive, sensitive liberals while the visiting in-laws are poor, dumb, ugly rednecks. if you were expecting nuance and subtlety from krampus don’t hold your breath. its evoking the 1980s after all.

but if krampus had anything substantial to say with these jokes and character archetypes it more or less squandered them, although i have to be clear, i’m not really bothered about the inclusion of these characters in the sense that i think their depictions are harmful or too alluring (since it seems evident that the audience is intended to jeer and pity them as slaves of their ignorance). instead, i found myself roiled with a flurry of contrasting emotions when watching this movie in 2020: nostalgia, longing, weary resignation and the horror inherent in the gradual dawning realization that this movie is accidentally one of the last of a forgotten time. the attitudes present in this movie today were, as hard as it is to believe, once the mainstream. i wish people were this normal again. god take me back. we could fix it. take us back!! take us back!!!

given what we have collectively experienced over the past 4 years, i have no doubt that the smug liberal viewpoints coming from the primary protagonists and the fact that the moral of this story is “learn to co-exist with your vile republican side of the family” has the potential to get under people’s skin. consider this: we are living in a world bad enough where a movie from 5 years ago is now so politically irrelevant that we have to preface it with the warner brother’s problematic content warning lol. alright obviously nothing is even remotely that bad. all of the awkward dinner conversation and offensive shit talk is comparatively mild to literally anything that gets aired at 6am on the morning news now. but now it is legitimately fascinating to go back and look at krampus, this fucking christmas goat movie, as a accidental political piece because it incidentally captured the zeitgeist of a country on the tipping point of madness. 

see, now this is the paragraph where i would have compared and contrasted our future based on the election results that happened during the first week of this year, but i can’t do that because democracy has failed. it does seem like the gears are finally inching forward for biden. to be honest i wish i knew what this meant, but i don’t. if it were trump it would have meant more of the same: the violence, the terror, the waking up every day wondering if this is the one where you finally can’t take it anymore because you’re tired seeing a steady stream of misery in your eyeballs 24/7. with biden, my fears are the same but with one difference: the return of the smug intellectual superiority that permeates the extended family’s introduction clouding the senses of everyone who was seemingly radicalized to the left after realizing how broken the systems are for everyone and not just the tiny bubble they were entrenched in for decades.


anyway, the movie is good. it is a time capsule in layers, as both a love letter to the 80s and as an accidental snapshot of a time when the national political discourse was so radically different that it makes this movie feel like it fell out of a different dimension. in spite of my review here it is a light watch (VERY light, no blood at all and only 98 minutes) and has some of the best audio design in a movie i’ve heard in a while so if you can hear it on a good sound system you’ll be pleasantly surprised. throw it on mid-december and let it ride while you laze on the couch surfing on your phone and dreaming of a better world.

It’s extraordinarily uncommon for me to turn off a movie and not know how I feel about it. Even when I turn to the person sitting next to me and go “huh!” usually there’s a tinge of intonation that sways one way or the other so the only ambiguity is what I did or didn’t dislike about the experience. “Miracle Mile” has me scouring the internet for reviews trying to step into t he shoes of people who liked it to understand what’s wrong with their brains to make them feel that way, yet at the same time I can’t bring myself to feel any sort of way for it other than baffled. This movie exists. This phrase is a total cop-out, I know. People tend to say this when they don’t want to confront the movie at all or feel frustrated by it or bored or confused; I think I’m the latter. This movie thought it was saying something and it didn’t. It’s like trying to make filet minion out of a Lunchable: you don’t have the ingredients. It was never going to coalesce and so the end result is the most jumbled tonal mish-mash I’ve ever seen. 

Our hero is a pretty typical late 80’s guy named Harry (Anthony Edwards). You probably recognize Edwards as one of the nerds from “Revenge of the Nerds”. You will not recognize him in this get up as “Goose” from “Top Gun”.

 

Our heroine is Julie (Mare Winningham) who I guess did something to piss off the hairdresser because they cursed her with what can only be described as a mullet. Time has not looked back fondly upon this haircut. Harry only squeaks by without being heckled by me, the cruel audience, because he is extremely unremarkable in every conceivable way.

 

I don’t think the narrative realizes that Harry and Julie are the most annoying people on planet Earth. Over the course of like 3 hours at the La Brea Tar Pits (which, I’m not sure if you know this, smell like absolute shit due to being full of dead garbage), they madly in love with each other, as seen through some scenes where they flirt obnoxiously by quipping jokes about fossils to other people’s children (?). Their weird scenes being so heavily focused around children lead me to believe that Harry was a museum employee and she was a teacher on a field trip, but no, he’s a trombone player and she’s a waitress. There’s absolutely no reason for these two to be talking to random stranger’s kids and using them as means by which they demonstrate how cute they are to each other. It gave me the same weird douche chills I used to get watching people become twin flame soulmates via public forum chatrooms just by posting rapidly back and forth at each other back in 2008.

Harry is literally, immediately introduced to Julie’s family which is apparently composed entirely of her grandparents who haven’t spoken to each other in 15 years. The scene in which we meet them is about 30 seconds long and exists only to introduce this plot point which never really amounts to anything and its inclusion only makes the day-long courtship feel like it’s been going on for much, much longer. The scale of time in this movie prior to the phone call the kicks off the actual plot is completely incomprehensible. Is it intentional? Are we supposed to feel like they’ve known each other forever even though it’s been like 6 hours? After the phone call, the movie proceeds in real time, which is legitimately interesting and works pretty well. But everything before that feels like it takes place out of time.

They agree to meet for a date, but a bird with a cigarette burns the power lines to Harry’s hotel room (??) so he wakes up 3 hours late. He rushes to the diner they were supposed to meet at in the hopes that Julie will return if he makes enough desperate calls from the pay phone outside (but she’s completely zonked out from a Valium, she’s not on this planet). One thing about this scene that’s totally inconsequential in the grand scheme of the plot is that in order to indicate how late he’s slept, the TV is blaring the national anthem and playing that filler they used to play late at night. Remember when TV used to end?? There was a point during the day where there was no more TV. Never mind I don’t care about this anymore. Harry just hit a palm tree and like 5 rats fell out of it onto his car. I only care about this now.

The movie now does something terrible, which is that it really, truly believes that it is a strong character driven story and thus introduces a plethora of characters all at once, all of which are either cliche (the crazy homeless man, the career driven 80’s business woman) or exaggerated caricatures of people we might know in real life but exacerbated to such a degree that it feels like Harry is ordering food from the comfort of a diner in Toontown and not L. A. It is odd that the movie bothers to introduce these characters and flesh them out to what little degree it does and then toss them away after the diner scene entirely. I had thought they would return at some point, as narratives typically work that way, but I think this movie is under some delusion that its operating from some basis in reality and in real life these people would enter your life briefly and leave forever because that’s how life works. But this is a movie in which a cigarette smoking bird causes a power outage.

Harry calls Julie and instead of getting a call back from her, the voice on the other end of the payphone is a panic-stricken young man in a missile silo babbling about how nuclear war is on our doorstep. Kid’s got the wrong number; this was supposed to be for his dad. I had the pause the movie here though because the voice on the phone sounded REALLY familiar and I had to look into it. Well, lo-and-behold. Who could it be but Star Wars: Knights Of The Old Republic’s Carth Onasi!

It is vital that you see this.

After a family death, I got extremely into Star Wars media as some sort of shockingly unhelpful coping mechanism and this ugly motherfucker was the guy Bioware inexplicably decided was what girls of the early 2000s wanted to slurp on. With his late-80’s Dicaprio hair fringes and clothes that make him look like an anthropomorphized peach pit, playing as a female character in a game has never been so much of a detriment to a game play experience. Hearing his nasally voice wafting out from the phone socked me right in the mouth. I’ve never been so blindsided by a voice performance in my life. I was suddenly back in my old apartment wondering what happens at the moment of death and if our consciousness remains in some fashion so that our time on Earth isn’t completely wasted while this asshole belches misogynistic quips directly into my ears and eyes.

Anyway Harry has an hour and 10 minutes to prepare for nuclear annihilation.

Harry takes a solid amount of time trying to convince the people in the diner of the impending doom, but the 80’s business lady is the one who confirms that world leaders are fleeing to Antarctica for safety and plans to follow suit with the diner denizens. Harry initially joins them and then decides to go back for his girlfriend of 6 hours (who he stood up) after failing to force the driver to stop by holding a gun to his head. They make him jump during a turn because no one cares enough about his girlfriend he’s had for less than a workday and he bounces on the pavement. He doesn’t even crack his glasses despite them flying off his head.

This flick makes sure to touch on every possible genre and aspect of movie making there could ever be, which is why at this point in the movie it makes sure to introduce a racist character: Wilson, the black car stereo thief. I have seen no review that acknowledges or mentions this. I’m not sure why Wilson has to be a literal thief in this script; it’s character dressing that serves nothing and dregs the lowest portrayals of black men in 80’s cinema for what appears to be literally no reason. There is a scene where his race is relevant because he and Harry are hassled and harassed by two cops specifically because Wilson is black and it’s late at night in L.A. I think, and I loathe to say it, this aspect was written in so the audience, in theory, wouldn’t feel so bad when he dies. In truth, I only do not feel bad when he dies because it means he no longer is subject to Harry and Julie’s whims and is free from this hell on Earth.

Harry and Wilson stop to get gas in a scene that takes approximately 10000 years in which they are accosted by the gas station owner (no 24 hour pumps!) who levels a shotgun at Wilson while Harry makes a bunch of boring phone calls that amount to nothing in the long run. Cops show up, Wilson sprays gas in their faces and when one fires her weapon they both go up in flames. BBQ pork. Check out this dummy work ahahaha.

Harry and Wilson jack the cop’s car and bail to go get Julie. Harry then breaks into Julie’s apartment when she doesn’t answer the door and watches her sleep (normal!). Wilson rightfully decides he can’t put up with this shit anymore and leaves to go save his sister from certain death, making him the smartest character in the narrative for leaving it when he had the chance. The grandmother and grandfather reconcile just because one broke the silence that’s been hanging between them for 15 years. I understand that the suggestion by the script is how absurd it is that nuclear annihilation was the only thing that would force these two together again but as an audience member I couldn’t care less. Both of these characters had two lines each prior to these scenes. They were barely people to me. This makes me sound like an incredibly cold, evil person but a movie is not real life!! I know these aren’t real people and I need to be convinced that they are like real people and why their long silence is so effecting to the other characters who should also feel like real people!! Otherwise who cares!

Harry, Julie, Julie’s grandma (name forgotten by me due to disinterest) and Julie’s grandfather (same) head to the building where a helicopter will take them to Antarctica. Julie wakes up and inexplicably decides they are going on a balloon ride based on absolutely no information at all. I mean literally none. She’s just like “oh boy a balloon ride 🙂 sounds like something you would do! (how would she know?)” right after she wakes up. The grandparents bogart the car because they’ve decided they want to die together. Julie still has no idea the world is ending and Harry doesn’t tell her so she doesn’t actually have a conversation with her grandparents before they leave forever to become Pompeii skeletons.

Finally, they go to the helicopter, but there’s NO PILOT!! This is where the plot becomes so deliriously infuriating because Julie is incapable of staying still. I hate to say “she should just follow directions, from the man” but 90% of this movie would not have happened if she hadn’t wandered off like a toddler in a JC Penny. Perhaps they should have coordinated some kind of plan together and utilized the fact that there are two of them to cover ground faster. Maybe she should have been given a bigger role than “object to chase” by the director/writers, but alas, she is merely akin to Baby Mario in the hit 1995 Super Nintendo Entertainment System game “Yoshi’s Island”. Just floating away, inconveniently.

Meanwhile, Harry is literally running all over town desperately trying to find someone who can fly the helicopter. He finds a piece of beefcake at the gym with a boyfriend (played as a joke!) who can fly the copter but Julie is off eating dandelions in the outfield so now he has to go and wrangle her again. Wilson returns to the narrative by driving the cop car directly into the building near them so they can waste more time in the plot. Wilson’s sister is dead from the crash and he furiously points out it’s been an hour and nothing has happened. What if…It was a prank…? (It’s not, but the movie would have been better if it was.)

Cops surround the building. Wilson dies with his sister in his arms. Harry and Julie have a very symbolic conversation in a clock section of a department store. Just as Julie attempts to face the cops with her hands up and explain the situation to them very calmly (white-ly), the cops fucking bail. Like they just pack up and dash off. It’s happening baby!!  Harry just wastes more time calling the panicked soldier’s dad to confirm he has a son before the streets descend into chaos. There’s a coyote in the diner now.

After some more random stupid shit happens, they finally make it to the top of the building. But not before they have what I can really, truly, only describe as a conversation not unlike two thirteen year olds trying to discuss mortality and morality during thelongest elevator ride in the known universe. “People will take care of each other, right Harry? The survivors?” Julie pleads. “It’s the insect’s turn,” Harry says indifferently as though the restaurant they’re at has Pepsi and not Coke.

On the roof, the only person remaining is the assistant to the 80’s business woman who is allowed to have a drunken/high rampaging shirtless rant as the first missiles cross the sky. The helicopter arrives to save our two heroes, albeit not for long. This is the point where the movie starts to test my ass because it thinks its “Threads” or “Barefoot Gen”. As the nukes hit, the assistant’s eyes apparently melt (it is impossible to see this in the video I was watching but reviews mentioned it so I guess I have to take their word for it) and the electromagnetic pulse kills the helicopter’s engine. We end where the movie began…At the La Brea Tar Pits. Wow…screenwriting.

As they sink into the goop, Julie rightfully freaks the fuck out. Harry, in his most throttle-able moment yet, attempts to placate her in their final moments by reminding her the world is a scorched wasteland with no hope and the best thing is to simple roll over and die (probably true, okay) and that someday scientists will find them in a museum or they’ll be hit directly and incinerated so thoroughly they’ll be turned into diamonds. If I were Julie I would be force feeding him tar at this point but she seems enamored with the idea of turning into a diamond or a museum exhibit. It ends with a big boom. Then credits.

No one makes it out alive. No lives are sacred in nuclear holocaust. The most successful movies about nuclear warfare have made this their central point in order to sway the hearts and minds of people whose only motivation for avoiding war is “me?? I could die as well?? ME?? The Hero of Life?”. “Miracle Mile” perhaps is not the movie best suited for doing this; it presents a world where I want everyone in it to die. I am indifferent to some at best. The worst people you are forced to repeatedly interact with in the movie are the protagonists and they are exactly like people making out furiously while you’re trying to eat a sandwich at the park but they keep making eye contact with you even though you’re not even remotely trying to look at them.

 

 

Maybe I don’t like this movie, actually.

The public perception of the American Western is inexorably intertwined with a specific concept of masculinity that- no, stop, don’t click away you asshole. I’m making a point. I’m not here to blow smoke up your ass, but if we’re going to have an honest conversation about the media that the National Film Registry has determined comprises the cultural fabric of America we need to talk about how and why without mincing any fucking words. The western genre was made with a very specific image of men in mind and, we need to be honest here, was broadly made for a very specific audience of men. This is probably why for a large chunk of my life, I stupidly, ignorantly, wrote off the entire genre as a loss. 

 

 

The perception of the big swinging dick American male is diametrically at odds with both the protagonist, Dan Evans, and antagonist, Ben Wade. Neither is a grizzled, cigar-chomping Man-With-No-Name or a swaggering John Wayne-type. In lieu of that, there is a softness to both of them; distinct from one another but both of their edges have been sanded off to create men who do not conform to the mold I (and maybe you!) believed men of the wild west had to adhere to in order to survive. The starkest difference between the two is Ben Wade is not unwilling to kill when pushed to it, but he also does not go around murdering as he pleases with his little gang of ruffians. Ben Wade is, apparently, a gentlemen who chooses to be a lout. Dan Evans is a man who lives so rigidly within the confines of “the rules” that he is being strangled by himself and taking his family down with him. In all the ways that two men can be so seemingly diametrically opposed, the ways in which they are human and honorable in spite of the harshness of the world outside are more meaningful measures of their character.

 

 

The movie has a…look in…in 2020 the movie has a…a vibe. It has a…Hey, why do they keep Ben Wade locked in a bridal suite for like 40% of the movie with Dan? Why specifically a bridal suite? I’m certain at the time they were not intending for any homoerotic subtext but. I might have to make my big post about what “death of the author” actually is so I can explain why seeing this movie as a bisexual in 2020 is so drastically different than in 1957. It seems difficult not read into Ben Wade bouncing suggestively on the bed and wondering absentmindedly “how many brides…”? Ben Is flirtatious and flattering to everyone he meets, from the barmaid to Dan’s wife to Dan himself, preferring to solve his problems by oozing charm and greasing palms than firing shots.

 

 

Dan, conversely, is charmless but reliable. He is nothing if not true to his word and it’s evident by the end of the movie that Ben deeply admires his character when he saves Dan’s life. Poor Dan is a failure and he knows it; his ranch being on the verge of financial ruin is why he’s volunteered to escort Ben Wade in the first place. But Wade pushes all of Dan’s buttons and picks and pulls at all the threads keeping together the only thing he has left: his integrity. 

It’s a strange kind of bond that forms over the course of 24 hours that ends in one man willingly going to jail for the other even though he could have easily slipped away. But Ben Wade saw something he liked in Dan. Maybe his complete refusal to succumb to Ben’s temptations, like everyone else who crossed Wade’s path. In turn, Ben chooses to rise to Dan’s level. rather than Dan stoop to his. There is no bloodied shootout. And really, no justice. But an equilateral exchange and a torrent of hope as the train leaves the station.

 

 

I know for a fact there are plenty of the archetypal westerns on the list, making “3:10 to Yuma” unique in its execution. Shed your preconceived notions about what the genre should be and join me in exploring more of it. 

Assorted thoughts:

  • The first thing said in this movie is “Now see here, I’m Mister Butterfield!” which is the most western thing ever.
  • Though it must have been an ordeal to film on location in Arizona in 1957, the film’s setting makes the southwest look better than it does in reality (a shithole).
  • ITS BULLSHIT MOVIES DONE HAVE THEIR OWN SONGS ANYMORE…what was the last movie to do this? “wild wild west”?

Despite human reasoning and every fiber of my being screaming out against doing such a thing: I am finally, after many years, rebooting my project in which I watch as many of the movies on the National Film Registry as I can get my filthy little hands on. There is no reason to do this. It benefits no one and wastes my own precious time on Earth I could be spending doing anything else on watching hundreds of hours of movies in which there is a 75% chance at least a little racism happens. But since the first time I tried to conquer this almost 5 years ago, my understanding of how exposing myself to a wider variety of film intersects and intertwines with my life and has vastly improved how I approach plot and character writing. My brain also works better now, so that also helps. I think this could be a good thing. We could broaden our horizons together, you and I.

what is the national film registry?

In 1988, the Film Preservation Act established a board whose goals were to “ensure the survival, conservation and increased public availability of America’s film heritage”. Every year the board picks 25 new films that it feels are significant to the American historical or cultural landscape for safekeeping and preservation on the registry.

why are you doing this?

My intent is to review these films with the steely, dumb-ass gaze of your modern, average American and determine these things:

  • Does the film remain culturally (or historically, technologically, etc) significant?
  • Is the film entertaining by modern day standards?
  • What are the themes and messages being put forward by this movie?
  • Should anyone watch this? Who is it for?

I am also doing it because I am stupid and have bad ideas.

first up: the “a”s

I’m not going to go into excessive detail with each of these in this pre-review rundown but I did conquer this section in my first attempt at this gauntlet. The thing is, I don’t remember most of these movies enough to give them a fair and impartial review today. They deserve a second chance with a better functioning brain. And frankly I wouldn’t say no to re-watching half of them anyway. Here are some scattered thoughts before I sign off:

  • Remembered favorites on this list: 3:10 to Yuma, 12 Angry Men, All about Eve, Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein, The African Queen, Airplane!, Alien, All The King’s Men, Anatomy of a Murder, The Apartment
  • The Apartment and Abbott and Costello are probably my favorite on this list. Possibly in the world.
  • Is Asphalt Jungle the one with Marilyn Monroe’s first role? (yes first big role apparently)
  • I thought All the President’s Men was boring as hell the first time around so we’ll see how it goes this time. I also remember greatly disliking All That Heaven Allows because I kept waiting for something to actually happen but instead its just about a cougar who bags a hot stud. 90% of 2001: A Space Odyssey is boring to me too. Not that I think that it’s bad, I understand why it is good. It just does absolutely nothing for me. You might as well just hit me on the head with a claw hammer for 3 hours, its the same experience.
  • [ages 30000000 years thinking about when i have to write about Annie Hall] shit

Well, see you soon. 

One of the most persistent genres of children’s fiction is “oh no! I’m a little creature!” in which the protagonist of the work is suddenly chucked headfirst into a situation that requires their cunning and determination to work their way out of since they have been robbed of the advantage of their opposable thumbs and physical form. Typically these stories revolve around a lack of physical agency and loss of control over their understanding of their personhood (an unsurprisingly popular plot given that puberty is right around the corner) usually at the hands of an outside force or as some kind of cosmic punishment for child crimes (rudeness to parents, disobeying god, not washing hands, etc). These plots are the backbone of both pretty much every single Goosebumps book ever made (when the plot was not “I found a weird thing!”) and also the story of Roald Dahl’s “The Witches”.

The 1990’s movie adaptation of “The Witches” offers a lighthearted horror story about escaping and defeating adults whose only goals are to hurt you (and people like you) and inflict bodily damage upon you for no reason other than inherent cruelty. In execution, the horror of the subject matter is a reasonable amount of terrifying instead of deeply scarring; it is terrifying to realize that there are people in the world, possibly near you or who claim to care for you, who take pleasure in causing you to suffer for something over which you have no control. But to know that you can conquer and work to repair the damage these people can attempt to drive into the world is the message that children suffering at their hands, whether briefly or daily, deserve to hear and take to heart. I love horror stories intended for children; they tap into some extremely primal part of our brains that can be understood by everyone no matter your personal experience. Horror for children is meant to be simple, uncomplicated and straightforward.

It’s been ages since I’ve read “The Witches”; I must have been in elementary school so I can’t attest to the accuracy of the movie to the classic Roald Dahl book outside of the fact that the ending is wildly different. In fact, I think the point of the ending has been warped so badly that it obliterates an incredible message (more on this later). At least I can say that the tale presented to you in this BLESSEDLY trim 91 minutes is pretty pleasant and shines with a cast of extremely british actors giving some extremely hammy (except for Rowan Atkinson, who is the straight man for whatever very mysterious reason) performances that rise to match the ridiculousness the roles of cackling child-hating witches calls for.

The kid actors are uh…well. I’m overly harsh on kid performances in general so my opinion needs to be taken with a grain of salt. Kid performances are very rarely good and usually fly all the way to “nails on chalkboard” levels of cloying faux-cuteness due to terrible directing and writing by people who haven’t interacted with kids for over 30 years, but in this case one of the actors is just kind of a dud. Jasen Fisher in the role of the protagonist is actually pretty great. The other kid, who is dressed like a 40 year old New Jersey mechanic but talks like a chimney sweep is pretty terrible.

The kid actors are doing the best they can and both of their voice acting is much better than the physical direction they were given. Speaking of which, the puppetry is, unsurprising given that it’s the Jim Henson Company (the last movie before Henson’s death), is fantastic. It’s hard to imagine what this movie would have looked like in less capable hands when it came to the practical effects or the directing. I’m actually not familiar with director Nicolas Roeg’s other work, but a quick glance at his filmography reveals this movie was a heck of a turn for him content wise. 

I’m pretty sure everyone who follows me is like me and a huge sucker for a great practical effect and my favorite in this movie is that dang ol’ mouse puppet. I cannot believe how CUTE the mouse is. The most jarring part of the movie is when it switches between using a real mouse and using the little cartoony but so very endearing little fucker. It should have stuck with the puppet the entire time and thrown out using live mice entirely. THIS is a puppet I love and want to succeed in life. This is a puppet I long to see thrive. 

There is one example of some seriously impressive editing where the head witch (Anjelica Huston, with maybe the intentionally worst french accent in history) appears to put her fake rubber face back on without an obvious cut (it’s hidden by a woman in the foreground briefly moving in front of the camera, but appears as one seamless action). The makeup work to transform Huston into the Grand High Witch looks like it must have been absolutely tedious to have been subject to, but creates a very memorable looking hideous visage to shock and stick in a younger audience’s head. However, the best effect hands down is when the Grand High Witch casts a spell which is visually represented by laser beams exploding out of her eyeballs to cause the offending member of her coven to erupt into flames.

Plot spoilers to follow, if you don’t want to be spoiled for a 30 year old children’s movie.

After being introduced to the concept of witches by his grandmother (who lost her childhood friend to a child-hating witch), the protagonist, a young boy named Luke, is turned into a mouse as part of an evil plot by the Grand High Witch to destroy all the children in England. The witches of England have gathered under the guise of attending a dinner for “The Royal Society for the Prevention Of Cruelty to Children” at the same time that Luke and his grandmother are attending the same hotel while on a vacation for the grandmother’s health. He and another boy, Bruno, are used to demonstrate a potion that transforms children into mice so that they will be killed by exterminators, predators or the children’s own parents. As mice, the boys work with the grandmother to steal the potion from the grand high witch’s room to pour into the soup they will eat at that night’s celebratory dinner. They succeed and all the witches of England are transformed into mice in a delightfully terrifying transformation sequence which causes the whole ballroom to fall into chaos.

The messaging of Dahl’s books have always been a bit muddled; they flit between modern Brother’s Grimm-esque morality tales where the protagonist is put through repeated trials to come out stronger in spite of the troubles they’ve traversed but hinge on lazy stereotypes that no longer hold up to scrutiny under the lens of the modern day reader/film watcher. There is always a hapless fat child who acts a foil to the good thin child, or in this case a cabal of evil, ugly childless women who cause a boy to distrust the entire gender. The movie has deliberately softened the blow of the sexist undercurrents (I believe it’s much more overt in the original book) by introducing, in the last 20 seconds of the movie, a witch who was slighted by the Grand High Witch who now uses her powers for good instead of evil. Does this fix the narrative’s central misogynistic problem? Not entirely, and what it might attempt to solve completely obliterates the most important line, and message, of the film. Please understand that this is a book (and really, an author) who I feel explicit cognitive dissonance toward. I like many aspects of this story, but dislike much of it as well. I find myself excusing the worst parts of the story to uplift the parts that speak the most to me. Because of that I am asking you to indulge me when I discuss the final scene of both the movie and the book and why the change, while understandable, does the message to children a disservice.

In this movie, Luke is turned back into a human by the aforementioned good witch (which kind of raises some questions about Luke and his grandmother’s future plans to kill every witch in America next; what if they’re decent or can become decent?). The movie is a simple adventure story where the protagonist overcomes a trial. It’s good fun and I can’t fault it for that. In fact I liked this movie a lot! It’s silly and scary! But… 

In the book, he remains a mouse. Luke is permanently changed by the experience and no matter what he cannot go back to the child he was before he was hurt. But by the end of the book he has embraced it and refused to let the experience change who he is as a person…er, mouse. Explicitly in the text of the book, Luke is likely only to live another few years because of his transformation, but he is comfortable with this fact, as he does not want to outlive his old grandmother.

A refusal to be defined by your suffering because you are buoyed by the love of someone who understands it is the bittersweet ending that this movie (understandably) lacks. And yet, “The Witches” is a totally pleasant movie that would be good for brave or horror seeking kids looking to dip their toes in the genre. In the end, at least, the best and most poignant line of the book is preserved:

“It doesn’t matter who you are or what you look like, so long as somebody loves you.”

 

Also, who doesn’t want to be that little mouse puppet. Come on.

 

Okay, there’s actually one more thing I need to address in this review but there’s no organic way to fit it into the above paragraphs but in the movie, when Luke is a mouse, he gets cut by a chef’s clever and a piece of his tail gets chopped off. How does this translate to when he gets turned back into a human?! Is it like a finger or is a piece of his butt missing?!? The fact that this was NOT addressed in any way has kept me up at night. This is really the greatest mystery of the whole movie.