Watership Down Retrospective Pt. 2: The Movie

U.S. theatrical release poster

The film adaptation was the brainchild of two producers hailing from California and Quebec, respectively, Martin Rosen and Jake Eberts. Rosen had previous experience in film producing an obscure Canadian feature called A Great Big Thing in 1968, as well as the more well-known Women in Love the following year, directed by Ken Russell (best known for The Devils, Altered States, and the 1975 adaptation of The Who’s Tommy). Eberts, a merchant banker at the time, was completely new to the film industry and was only there to help Rosen purchase the film rights from Richard Adams, which went for 50,000 pounds.

If TV Tropes is to be believed, Rosen and Eberts considered adapting the novel into a ballet and an opera before settling on producing an animated feature film. They chose legendary animator John Hubley as director, who quickly left the project after disagreements with Rosen. Any hopes of getting him back were dashed when he died while undergoing heart surgery in February of 1977, and Rosen decided…

Some of Hubley’s work did make it into the final film, most notably the introduction, which tells the rabbits’ creation myth, narrated by Michael Hordern, in a pseudo-aboriginal art style.

All the world will be your enemy, Prince with a Thousand Enemies, and whenever they catch you, they will kill you. But first, they must catch you…

Rosen’s direction went for a more detailed and life-like portrait of the story in the film proper, meticulously studying the maps Adams provided of the countryside in the original book to recreate them faithfully in the watercolor backgrounds, especially around Efrafa. Some artistic license was taken in regards to Watership Down’s actual appearance (basing its look more on nearby Beacon Hill, which Rosen apparently found more photogenic) as well as for streamlining the story, especially in regards to Captain Holly’s journey to the Down (more on that later). The naturalistic tone of the art style also reflected in the rabbits’ appearance, making them look as much like real-life rabbits as possible, albeit giving them human-like paw gestures and facial expressions to make them more relatable to the audience.

The film was produced in a studio founded in London by Rosen over a period of three years for a budget of $2.4 million. The film would be released to theaters on October 19, 1978, distributed by Rosen’s own production company, Nepenthe Productions, as well as the Cinema International Corporation. It would be rated U (equivalent to G in the U.S.) by the British Board of Film Classification, which would quickly prove controversial since Rosen did not hold back on the more violent scenes, especially the flashback to Sandleford’s destruction, the scene of an Efrafan rabbit named Blackavar getting his ears shredded for trying to leave Efrafa, Blackavar later getting his throat torn out by General Woundwort, Bigwig’s very bloody showdown with the General shortly after, and the Efrafan rabbits getting mauled to death by the Nuthanger farm dog shortly after that, leading to this lovely image of Woundwort charging at the dog.

“Whilst the film may move children emotionally during the film’s duration, it could not seriously trouble them once the spell of the story is broken and a U certificate was therefore quite appropriate.”- The BBFC.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Motion Picture Association of America chose to rate the film PG, although it almost certainly would have earned a PG-13 had they come up with that rating yet. The film’s violent nature has also earned it a memetic status on the Internet from clueless viewers expecting a cute Disneyesque tale of talking rabbits, often provoking responses of “I just wanted a movie about bunnies!”

Notwithstanding all the quibbles about child-unfriendly content, the film was both a critical and financial success. According to Eberts, some investors received a return of as much as 5,000 % on their investments. The film scores an 82% critic approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes and a 64% rating on Metacritic.

Is It Any Good, Though?

It most certainly is!

Perhaps the best aspect of this film is how well-chosen the voice cast is. They managed to perfectly capture a perpetually wary tone well befitting a cast of small herbivorous prey animals while at the same time playing to each of their characters’ strengths. Possibly the biggest name to appear in the film is John Hurt, his distinctively smooth and reedy baritone voice lending itself well to Hazel’s understated charisma as the band’s leader. Richard Briers lends a suitably high-strung performance as the waif prophet Fiver, and Michael Graham Cox’s gruff voice plays nicely into Bigwig’s no-nonsense tough-guy persona.

Other standout performances include Roy Kinnear (who plays well into Pipkin’s shy and timid nature), Denholm Elliot (as the shifty and secretive Cowslip), Harry Andrews (who probably captures General Woundwort’s savage bloodlust a little too well), and especially Zero Mostel, who’s hammy and bombastic performance of Kehaar lends the story some much needed comic relief. It also would sadly be his last film performance, as he died about a year before the film came out.

The animation style is perfect for the type of story it wants to tell. It’s a bit rough around the edges (not surprising, since a lot of beginners were working on it), but that’s only appropriate since this film isn’t telling a slick, escapist tale like a Disney Animated Canon film. The specter of the Black Rabbit of Inle is never far from the rabbit’s minds, and Rosen’s retelling never loses sight of the inherent bittersweet melancholy of the rabbit’s existence.

The music in this film is excellent. Mostly composed by Angela Morley (the original composer, Malcolm Williamson, also left early in production due to falling behind schedule), the score manages to give the rabbits’ journey an appropriately epic feel similar to Howard Shore’s score for The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Standout pieces include “Kehaar’s Theme,” which features one of the best saxophone solos I’ve ever heard, “Fiver’s Vision,” a creepy and foreboding piece that perfectly captures the horror Fiver feels as his visions show him the dark future of his home warren, and any piece in the soundtrack that includes Morley’s Watership Down theme, which appears most prominently in tracks like “Crossing the River,” “Climbing the Down,” and “Final Struggle and Triumph.”

Another piece of music worth mentioning is “Bright Eyes,” written by Mike Batt and performed by Art Garfunkel. The song appears in the film during a hallucinogenic sequence after Hazel is shot during the Nuthanger Farm raid, when Fiver, convinced his brother is still alive, sets out to look for him. The lyrics reflect his disbelief at how quickly someone like Hazel, so full of life and spirit one minute, can become cold and lifeless in the next. The audience also gets to see the world from Fiver’s perspective as the boundaries between the living world and the dreamlike realm of the dead become blurred.

There’s a fog along the horizon/A strange glow in the sky/And nobody seems to know where it goes/And what does it mean?/Oh, is it a dream?

It is a wonderful song and would practically become the franchise’s theme song for the next several decades… much to Richard Adams’ chagrin, as he reportedly hated the song.

As for the story of the film, I do think it’s difficult to argue with Arizona Daily Star critic Phil Villarreal’s assertion that “Martin Rosen did a superb job cutting through Adams’ book… to get to the beating heart.” However, in condensing the almost 500-page novel to film script running slightly over 90 minutes, Rosen made some noticeable sacrifices. For example, Captain Holly’s plight, facing the destruction of Sandleford Warren and getting captured by Efrafa, is condensed into a single harrowing ordeal. This makes no sense if you follow the original maps Adams provided in the novel (shown below), as they clearly demonstrate that Sandleford and Efrafa are located miles from either side of Watership Down.

This is more of a nitpick, though, since it doesn’t really have much of an effect on the story (plus, John Bennett’s performance is so good that it kind of makes you forget all that). I’ll admit that I was also disappointed that Rosen didn’t delve into Woundwort’s rather tragic backstory, which makes him rather more of a generic evil dictator, even if Harry Andrews’ performance does somewhat make up for it.

A cut that does have a significant impact, though, is how rushed over Cowslip’s warren is in the film. I could not make out just what the deal was with Cowslip and his rabbits just watching the film. Maybe it’s just that my autism makes me disturbingly blind to subtext, but I never realized that the farmer was farming the rabbits at the Warren of the Snares at the warren until I read the book, where Fiver’s epic speech spelling out what’s going on was a lot more than simply, “That’s warren is nothing but a death hole. Yes, let’s help ourselves to a roof of bones!” It kind of robs that scene of its impact if you have no idea what’s going on in the first place. It answers the “how” of what’s wrong with Cowslip’s warren but not the “why.”

Another flaw with the climactic battle that I overlooked until TV Tropes pointed it out to me is that it doesn’t give us any resolution on Fiver or Bigwig. Fiver completely disappears from the film after a vision of his gives Hazel the idea to bring the Nuthanger Farm down upon Woundwort’s troops, and the last we see of Bigwig is him standing bloody and battered after his fight with Woundwort, with the film giving us no indication if he survived or not. Indeed, the only character who does get a resolution is Hazel, who is shown flying through the sky with the Black Rabbit on his dying day years later after the Black Rabbit invites him to join his Owsla.

Despite all this, though, the film is a very worthy adaptation of Richard Adams’ novel. It stands as one of those unique animated features of the period that you can’t really tell if it’s for kids or not (like Who Framed Roger Rabbit or Don Bluth’s early films) thanks to the frankness with which adult subjects are tackled. If you think you or your child is up to it, definitely give this film a watch. And I’m giving this one a 9/10.

Before I wrap this up, however, I feel I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Martin Rosen’s second adaptation of a Richard Adams novel, The Plague Dogs.

Fair warning: this film is an adventure in the same way that Grave of the Fireflies is an adventure.

This film was released on October 21st, 1982 by MGM, and once again starred John Hurt as the put-upon fox terrier Snitter, who has been sent away to an animal testing lab in Cumbria (colloquially known as the Lake District) after his master dies saving him from an out-of-control truck, where experiments on his brain have caused him to experience hallucinations. One night he escapes the lab alongside Rowf (voiced by Christopher Benjamin), who has a crippling fear of water thanks to being repeatedly drowned and resuscitated by the lab’s resident “whitecoats.”

Once out in the countryside, however, they discover that life in the wild is far from easy. They manage to get by with the help of an unnamed Geordie-accented fox (voiced by James Bolam), but their repeated killing of livestock quickly attracts the ill will of local farmers and rumors that they may be carrying bubonic plague soon cause a military company to join the hunt (whose leader happens to be voiced by Patrick Stewart in one of his earliest film roles).

The film was equally if not more controversial than Watership Down when it first came out. Perhaps the biggest reason was how the violence this time ends up extending to humans. Two especially infamous scenes involve a hunter accidentally getting himself shot in the face when Snitter climbs over his gun…

I think you’ve got a little something in your eye, dude. Buckshot, by the looks of it.

…and another scene where, after the coming winter limits their food supply, Rowf and Snitter decide to eat a dead hunter after the fox scares him into falling off a cliff, and we get to see this lovely close-up of his half-eaten corpse afterward.

Hey Mr. Rosen, Cannibal Corpse called. They want their album cover back.

Another source of controversy was the overall depressing nature of the film. Unlike Watership Down, where the protagonists eventually earn their happy ending, The Plague Dogs ends with the dogs swimming out to sea to escape the military, hoping to eventually find an island where they can be free from the whitecoats. This is in stark contrast to the novel, where Snitter’s owner is revealed to be alive and adopts both him and Rowf (although admittedly, Adams only added this happy ending because his publisher wouldn’t touch it otherwise).

Since it doesn’t seem to give the protagonists any reason for having gone through all this suffering in the end, the entire film may seem pointless to some viewers. However, I think it still has worth because of the commentary on animal testing, especially since every test on animals depicted in both the film and the novel happened in real life. Yes, even the experiment where Rowf swims laps around the tank until he drowns and is resuscitated. I don’t know why, of course, but it did happen.

In summary, while some children definitely can watch Watership Down if they’re old enough and/or mature enough, it’s probably best to keep this one as far away from your kids as possible. This is an especially harrowing watch if you’re a dog lover, but it’s all worth it if it can give you a deeper appreciation of the hurt that animals have to go through because not enough humans care. And I’m giving this one an 8/10.

And that’s all I have to say about the Watership Down film adaptation. Join me next time when we look into all three seasons of the 1999 TV adaptation and see whether its attempt at a more family-friendly approach to the source material worked out. Until next time, beautiful watchers.

So I Just Watched Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker…

…and I think the fact that they brought back Palpatine for this one really says it all (Warning: I don’t give a shit about spoilers for this one. You have been warned).

…in a story full of sound and fury that signifies nothing.

Upon its release on December 20, 2019, this film was just as divisive as its predecessor, The Last Jedi. Fans who hated The Last Jedi applauded it as a return to form for the franchise. Fans who liked The Last Jedi panned it as a nakedly obvious case of corporate cowardice on the part of Disney. This review is being written by someone in the latter camp, unfortunately. Granted, I am more of a casual Star Wars fan who’s only watched the movies so far, but I still think I have a right to give my two cents here.

There were several aspects of The Last Jedi that had a lot of more traditionalist fans angry with director Rian Johnson, but probably the biggest was the reveal that Rey’s parent were nothing more than “filthy junk traders,” in Kylo’s words, who “sold [her] off for drinking money.” This made many fans upset, as they couldn’t fathom how Rey could have such mastery over Jedi magic without having been born from a previous Force-sensitive lineage. So how did J.J. Abrams decide to remedy that “problem” here? By making her Palpatine’s granddaughter.

Of course, Palpatine being alive in this movie in the first place is its own can of worms (assuming this is a clone of Palpatine, like some characters in the film suggest, how did they recover his DNA from the wreckage of the Death Star?). But by far the biggest insult in this reveal is how it slaps fans who liked Johnson’s message from the last movie in the face. The Last Jedi tried to teach the message that anyone can be destined for greatness, illustrated beautifully by the film’s final scene. To be fair, Abrams insisted that he thought making Rey Palpatine’s grandaughter would show a more powerful message by having her come from “the worst place possible.” But it still runs into the trap of the “divine right of kings” issue that has plagued previous Jedi protagonists in the franchise.

Another aspect that really pissed me off was how Rose Tico was sidelined after her actress, Kelly Marie Tran, was bullied off social media by racist and sexist alt-right trolls. Many people criticized Disney for this, as they felt the company was capitulating to the absolute worst aspects of the Star Wars fandom. One of the film’s screenwriters, Chris Terrio, tried to defend the choice by arguing that she was written to be a companion of Leia in this film, which became a problem when Carrie Fisher died in the middle of pre-production. But that doesn’t explain why scenes between her and Rey were also cut and why the character was also removed from official merchandise.

Speaking of wasted characters, many reviewers have argued that Finn’s character was utterly wasted in not just this film but the trilogy as a whole. This includes his actor, John Boyega, who felt that Disney had used him as a token minority and didn’t give his character a proper arc. It was implied in the novelization for this film that Finn was going to be revealed as Force-sensitive, but that reveal didn’t make it into the film for whatever reason. Indeed, the only character that felt like he had a genuine arc was Kylo Ren, but his abrupt swerve away from the Dark Side, which was completely against everything Johnson set up in The Last Jedi, made the arc feel hackneyed and without an adequate explanation for his motivations.

But ultimately, that brings us to the biggest reason this film failed: it tries so hard to be the anti-Last Jedi that it completely fails as a standalone film. Doing so completely undermines any artistic purpose that the sequel trilogy could have had and basically turns it into a trite retread of the original trilogy. Indeed, the scene where Palpatine gloats to Rey about how her friends in the rebel fleet are being destroyed in front of her during the climax was so similar to the climax of Return of the Jedi that it was physically painful for me to watch.

The film’s technical aspects were good; the special effects, the camera work, the art direction, etc. The performances were still great, especially from Adam Driver, who manages to sell Kylo Ren’s redemption as well as he can with the script he’s working with (he only says one word after his conversation with Han’s force ghost and acts mostly through body language and facial expressions). John Williams’ music is as exciting as ever, and the battle scenes are as good as they can be given the film’s breakneck pacing.

But still, as someone who really liked the direction that Rian Johnson was hinting at the end of The Last Jedi, I would much rather be watching that film instead. And I’m giving this one a 4/10.

So I Just Watched Kirk Cameron’s “Saving Christmas”…

…and it was easily one of the worst mistakes I have ever made.

Don’t let this admittedly awesome poster fool you. This man’s soul is an appalling dump heap, overflowing with the most disgraceful assortment of deplorable rubbish imaginable, mangled up in TANGLED UP KNOOOOOOOOTS!

This movie came on the heels of the Christian movie renaissance in 2014 that also included films like God’s Not Dead, Heaven Is For Real, Noah, Son of God, Left Behind, and Persecuted. Cameron’s film differs from the others in that it’s presented in a pseudo-documentary style while simultaneously being a holiday-themed family comedy. And that may be part of the reason why this film is such a shoddy, disjointed mess.

Before I explain why, though, let me explain the plot of this film… as much as it can be said to have one. Kirk Cameron, playing himself, attends a party at his sister’s house and notices that his brother-in-law Christian White (played by the film’s director, Darren Doane) doesn’t seem to be feeling the Christmas spirit. When he retreats to his car, Kirk follows him. Christian opens up about his lack of comfort with how the holiday has become consumerist and over-commercialized, as well as how so-called pagan figures like Santa Claus have overtaken Christ himself.

Now, one would think this would be the part where the main character tries to help the doubting party overcome their grievances and show them that Christmas’s true meaning is still there, even if it is buried under all the capitalist excess and pagan influence, right? Well, apparently, that’s too cliché for Kirk because he’s convinced that all the holiday season’s materialistic aspects are actually ways of honoring Jesus. And by God, he’s going to make Christian see the error of his ways, even if he has to violate all the rules of logic (and even certain Biblical commandments) to do it.

First, he tries to compare the swaddling cloths that wrapped baby Jesus in his manger to modern-day gift wrapping. Then he argues that Christmas trees are actually symbols of the cross that Jesus died on because, as Alonso Duralde from The Wrap put it, “there are trees in the Garden of Eden, and Jesus was crucified on planks of wood, so tah-dah! Christmas trees!” Yes, seriously, that’s the kind of logical reasoning we’re dealing with here. During the same section of the film, he also dismisses the connection between Christmas and ancient pagan winter solstice celebrations because (and this is a direct quote): “Last I checked, it was God who created the winter solstice.”

But neither of these brain-dead rationalizations can quite compare to Captain Crocoduck’s reasoning for why Santa Claus deserves to be celebrated as a Christian role model.

Yeah, I’m just going to call him Captain Crocoduck from now on. Because it’s funnier that way.

You see, according to Captain Crocoduck, Saint Nicolas of Myra, one of the direct inspirations for Santa Claus, is a good role model for Christians because in his spare time not giving gifts to children and the poor, he went around beating up heretics, starting with Arius when he dared to challenge Christ’s divinity at the First Council of Nicaea. Also, rather than the white-bearded, red-suited jolly happy soul often associated with Nicolas and Santa, Captain Crocoduck’s version of the Turkish bishop looks like this.

Yeah, that definitely looks like someone I’d trust around my kids.

Basically, all of this is Captain Crocoduck’s way of saying the second most offensive moral in this entire movie: beating the ever-loving shit out of anyone who disagrees with you is a perfectly reasonable response, and anything less is surrendering to every conservative Christian’s biggest bogeyman- political correctness!

Dammit, now I’m wishing I was watching Avatar instead.

So then, even though literally none of Captain Crocoduck’s explanations really got to the heart of Christian’s criticisms of the holiday, Christian is completely transformed. He joyously rejoins the party, and to make up for his crabby behavior, decides to throw a dance party set to a hip-hop rendition of “Angels We Have Heard on High.”

In all honesty, I was actually somewhat enjoying myself during Captain Crocoduck’s monologues since his logic was so batshit insane. But here’s the thing: Christian snaps out of his funk about 55 minutes into a film that’s 80 minutes long. How does the film fill its last 25 minutes? First, there’s the hip-hop dance party that lasts about five minutes but feels like it lasts twice as long as the movie itself. Then Captain Crocoduck spends the next five minutes or so narrating over beauty shots of his family’s ridiculously extravagant Christmas dinner, telling us how “Jesus came to Earth in a material body, so we celebrate Christmas with material things.” Even though both those things are based on two different definitions of the word material, but (sighs heavily), whatever!

Then, finally, we come to the ending credits… except that hidden in them are five more minutes of bloopers, including a three-minute section at the very end where two black partygoers improvise a terrible freestyle rap about how awesome Captain Crocoduck is.

That’s just a sampling of the awful pacing this movie has to offer. I haven’t even mentioned Captain Crocoduck’s opening monologue at the beginning that spends four or five minutes complaining about how atheists and liberal Christians don’t like the way his segment of Christianity celebrates Christmas (before the studio logos have even finished airing!). Neither have I mentioned the segment between Captain Crocoduck’s monologues where the aforementioned black partygoers discuss how the so-called “War on Christmas” is tied to Area 51, GMO’s, chemtrails, and other such conspiracy theory nonsense. Ironically, said discussion seems to be Captain Crocoduck’s way of criticizing Christians who believe in the War on Christmas, which is hypocritical considering the insanely implausible ways in which Captain Coroduck tries to justify his own insane beliefs about holiday iconography, like how he argues for nutcrackers being analogous to the soldiers who committed Herod’s Massacre of the Innocents (yes, really)!

But perhaps the biggest sin this movie commits is this little speech Captain Crocoduck gives toward the end during his Christmas dinner:

So this is Christmas. Pull out your best dishes, your finest linens, your nicest silverware, your biggest ham! Every side dish you can possibly imagine, and the richest butter. It’s time to feast!… And don’t buy into the complaint about materialism during Christmas. Sure, don’t max out your credit cards or use presents to buy friends. But remember, this is a celebration of the eternal God taking on a material body. So it’s right that our holiday is marked with material things.

Captain Crocoduck’s Saving Christmas

Yeah, I’d like to see how a poor black family in this country’s inner cities might react to Captain Crocoduck’s prosperity gospel bullshit. Or better yet, how an even poorer black family working at a De Beers diamond mine in South Africa might respond to his explanation of how the gifts piled under the tree represent the skyline of Jerusalem (by that logic, they could also represent the skyline of Wall Street and thus be symbols of the totalitarianism of late-stage capitalism).

Basically, this is an anti-Christmas film. Materialism is good, charity is bad, and Santa is a bigoted jerk who beats up people who don’t completely agree with his religious beliefs. Seriously, even Sandor Clegane would make a better Santa than this fundamentalist maniac!

And what do you want for Christmas, you dumb cunt?

Long story short, there are so many better Christmas movies you could be watching rather than this one. Maybe Klaus on Netflix with its beautiful and revolutionary new style of hand-drawn animation. Maybe Rise of the Guardians with its colorful and badass reinterpretations of classic holiday figures. Or maybe even Christmas with the Kranks, I don’t know! Any of those are better than Captain Crocoduck’s schizophrenic ramblings. And I’m giving this one a Fuck you/10. Merry Christmas, you filthy animals!

So I Just Watch “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm”…

…and I give our favorite lovably antisemitic foreign reporter’s Delivery of Prodigious Bribe to American Regime for Make Benefit Once Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan a rating of “Great Sucess.”

Very nice!

After first Borat make Kazakhstan very humiliate, the man responsible, Borat Sagdiev, is put in gulag for fourteen year. But then Kazakh government have change of heart and send Borat on new mission to US & A. He is to deliver Kazakhstan’s Minister of Culture and biggest porn star Johnny the Monkey to vice pussy-grabber Michael Pence. If he fail to accomplish mission, he will be execute. But things become very complicate when Borat’s daughter, Tutar, smuggle herself into US & A and eat Johnny. Can Borat save own ass and Kazakhstan’s reputation at same time?

And with that out of the way, let’s shift into proper grammar for the review.

A lot of people say this film is better than the original Borat in every way, and personally, I have to agree with them. Whereas the original was pretty much just one random event after another, this film actually has a narrative, driven by Borat and Tutar’s relationship. This isn’t to say that nothing in the original film was funny in any way, but actually having Borat go through a character arc was certainly fun to watch.

Speaking of Tutar, can we have a round of applause for Maria Bakalova’s performance? Baron Cohen really caught lightning in a bottle with this actress, and I really struggle to see anyone else who could match Borat’s comedic stylings while also giving the moviefilm an emotional core that its predecessor lacked.

Also helping the movie is Baron Cohen’s more sympathetic treatment of his interview subjects. Whereas the interviewees in the first film were often treated as mere prank subjects at best (i.e., feminists, gay rights activists, and the owners of the Jewish bed-and-breakfast) or outright monsters at worst (the racist rodeo attendees and the misogynist frat bros), here the interview subjects are presented in a much more sympathetic light. Not only are people like the Holocaust survivor Judith Dim Evans and Tutar’s babysitter Jeanise Jones treated with the genuine reverence that they deserve, but even people with otherwise morally repugnant beliefs, like the rednecks who help shelter Borat from the pandemic, are shown in a positive light for trying to teach him that women have and deserve rights, even as they preach to Borat about the QAnon conspiracy and advocate for violent revenge against the Democrats that they believe are perpetrating it. What Baron Cohen seems to be presenting here is presenting a much more optimistic portrait of America; yes, this country’s culture often makes it a melting pot of racists, homophobes, and other assorted bigots, but no one was born that way. There is still hope of reforming this society and curing it’s more prejudicial tendencies.

Or just burning it down and starting it from scratch. That could work too.

So all in all, just the kind of film US & A need right now. Funny, heartwarm, and politically conscious. Check out for hilarity and Rudy Giuliani sexytime. And I give Subsequent Moviefilm a 9/10.

So I Just Watched Reds…

…and I can safely say that it deserves it’s status as a modern American classic.

Released on December 4, 1981, by Paramount Pictures, Reds was released to widespread critical acclaim in the United States, which is rather surprising considering its subject matter. The film stars Warren Beatty (who also directed, produced, and wrote the film) as John Reed, a journalist who is famous for his socialist beliefs and for writing Ten Days That Shook the World, which chronicles his first-hand experience of the October Revolution of 1917 that turned Russia into a Communist state. The fact that the film features an honest portrait of leftist politics and still managed to win three Academy Awards (out of twelve nominations!) in the same year that the notoriously anti-communist Ronald Reagan was elected president almost boggles the mind. Although even he was a fan of the film, so… maybe there is something here for everybody.

The film is divided into two acts and covers the last four or five years of Reed’s life. The first act covers his meeting with Louise Bryant (played by Diane Keaton) in Portland, their time spent in New York City’s Greenwich Village with many other leftists and bohemians of the day, Bryant’s affair with Eugene O’Neil (Jack Nicholson), Reed’s growing frustration with America’s anti-communist practices as it enters World War I, and his and Bryant’s traveling to Russia and witnessing the Bolshevik revolt firsthand.

The second act shows Reed as his life falls apart in the wake of Ten Days… publishing. He tries and fails to introduce the spirit of revolution to the United States, causes the Communist Party to split in two, is deported to Russia with the increasingly authoritarian Bolshevik leaders stripping more and more freedom away from the people they swore they would lift up, and finally dies of typhus in a Russian hospital aged only thirty-two as Bryant tries and fails to nurse him back to health.

One of the most unique features of this film is the use of “witnesses.” That is, talking head-style interviews with people who actually experienced the events dramatized in the film. Some of these individuals include radical pacifist Scott Nearing, author Dorothy Frooks, muckraker George Seldes, ACLU co-founder Roger Nash Baldwin, and Tropic of Cancer/Tropic of Capricorn author Henry Miller. These interviews, which Beatty began recording about a decade before the film was released, really helped give the film a unique character, as the “witnesses” provide a true connection with the actual events that a lot of other historical films lack.

Of course, everything surrounding them is great as well. All of the actors were excellent. Beatty, Keaton, and Nicholson all received Oscar nods. The only actor who actually won, though, was Maureen Stapleton, who, despite her rather limited screen time, shines as the great anarchist activist Emma Goldman. Indeed, probably my favorite part of the film was her argument with Reed over the Bolshevik government’s legitimacy. She argues that the Bolsheviks have destroyed any chance of a real socialist government by centralizing power in the hands of a few and murdering anyone who protests. Reed argues that centralization is necessary because Russia’s infrastructure is not modernized enough, and its peasant population too uneducated to run things for themselves. Given my own anarchist leanings, that fact that there were areas of the Soviet Union that were successfully run on anarchist principles for a short time (like the Free Territory of Machnovia in Ukraine), and how the Soviet Union would eventually turn out, I’m gonna have to side with Goldman on this one.

The script also does a great job of portraying not just Reed’s life, with his strengths as well as his faults, but also gives us an amazing portrait of life in the WWI era. The costumes and set design really made Beatty, Keaton, and company really feel as if they had literally stepped into the late 1910s. And despite the three hour and fifteen-minute runtime, the film really didn’t feel unnecessarily padded in any way. I did tend to tune out a little bit during some of the more talky scenes, but that’s probably more because of my autistic brain needing visual stimulation than any fault on the film’s part.

Overall, I can definitely see why this film is so highly rated even in a country as notoriously hostile to leftist politics as my own. I feel its sympathetic portrayal of America’s communist underground is especially needed today as the faults of the capitalist system America was built on continues to be laid bare. Which makes it somewhat ironic that I watched it on Amazon Prime, which is owned by a guy who is practically Lex Luthor in all but name. But yeah, especially if you are a leftist or interested in leftist politics, then, by all means, check this film out. If you hate leftists with the same burning passion that I hate the Trump administration, then still check this film out. And I’m giving this one a 9/10.

So I Just Saw “Midsommar”…

…and my feelings about it are rather… mixed, honestly.

Come to our summer solstice festival! Our cliff-diving event is to die for!

Before I talk about my problems with the film, let me state for the record that this is by no means a bad film. The film was directed by Ari Aster, who also directed Hereditary, my current favorite horror film of all time. A lot of the elements that made that film so effective are also there in Midsommar. The cinematography is as brilliant as it was in Hereditary, greatly helping to complement the slow-burning tension. The acting was excellent, especially from Florence Pugh, who was definitely channeling Toni Collette during her more emotional scenes. The beginning scene also demonstrates how good Aster is at portraying family tragedies in the same vein as… that scene from Hereditary. Don’t play dumb, people, you know the one.

Don’t look in the back seat.

While I’ve never done drugs before, I’ve also heard that the scenes showing the perspective of characters under the influence of drugs were also very accurate. Indeed, it’s not for nothing that such figures as Nicholas Cage and Jordan Peele have heaped praise upon it.

Where my biggest problem lies, however, is in how some of the characters are portrayed, especially the cult itself. Unfortunately, in order to answer why will require major spoilers, so if you haven’t seen the film yet, I would suggest you see the film first before continuing with the review here. If you have seen it, or have no plans to, well then, let’s get started.

My biggest problem is how the protagonist Dani’s induction into the cult is presented in the film. Maybe it’s just because I’ve been watching too much of that Leah Remini series where she muckrakes Scientology lately, but to me, the Midsommar cult seems to be a vile institution. Their members force their elders to jump off a cliff to their deaths when they are seen as no longer useful, and they murder the foreign characters with impunity for questioning their rites. True, Christian and his gang are a bunch of frat-boy assholes, but does that really excuse the cult fucking blood-eagling that British guy for calling them out on said cliff jumping ritual?

For those of you who don’t know what a blood eagle is, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blood_eagle. Of course, like many old Norse myths, there is some debate over whether it was a real ritual or invented by Christian missionaries to make the pagans look bad.

The very ending, which seemingly shows Dani having finally achieved peace, thus rings kind of hollow given how she’s accepted this wretched hive as her new family. It certainly doesn’t help that Ari Aster himself was apparently inspired to make this film after he experienced a real-life breakup, even going as far as describing Dani as a reflection of himself. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that Aster is trying to convince us that it’s good that Dani traded Christian for a giant clan of gas-lighters, but I definitely don’t blame some people if they did come to that conclusion. True, the cult members do put a lot more effort into comforting Dani during periods of emotional distress than Christian could be bothered to. Still, given that one of said emotional episodes was induced by the cult members forcing a drugged Christian into a sex ritual against his will… yeah, that doesn’t exactly endear them to me.

Still, even if the moral ambiguity of it all seems to work more toward the film’s detriment, in my opinion, it’s overall a great work of horror from a director who seems well on his way to becoming a true master in his field. It has a great atmosphere, a solid cast, and great special effects for the drug trip scenes. Definitely check this film out if you haven’t yet, and I’m giving this one an 8 out of 10.

Hey guys, this is a new thing I’m gonna be doing in between my other blog posts, trying my hand at movie reviews. This one was obviously a lot shorter than the Dark Tower one, as it is more in the style of YMS’ Quickie reviews.

For those of you who don’t know who I’m talking about, it’s this guy, Adum Johnston! Watch his movie reviews here! https://www.youtube.com/user/YourMovieSucksDOTorg

I’m not sure how often I’ll be doing these. Just know they aren’t going to have a set release date as the other bigger posts will. I’ll just be doing these whenever I see a film that I feel like I have things to say about it. I hope you enjoy it! Thank you, buh-bye!

“The Tower Will Fall, Roland”: A Postmortem on “The Dark Tower” Film Adaptation

“You really think I’m gonna let you destroy the universe?”
“Be a lot cooler if you did.”

Adapting books into a visual medium like film is a very tricky gambit. Sometimes the filmmakers care very much about respecting the source material, resulting in cinematic masterpieces like To Kill a Mockingbird and the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Sometimes the filmmakers do care about the source material, but for one reason or another, they end up making a film that fails to do the book justice, like comic book legend Alan Moore’s work. But by far the worst thing any filmmaker can do is not care at all about the source material, which is what happened with such works as the Percy Jackson series, Eragon, and the subject of today’s review, Stephen King’s The Dark Tower.

Stephen King’s history with adaptations has always been rather spotty. It seems that for every good adaptation of his work (The Shining, Carrie, Stand by Me, The Shawshank Redemption), there’s a bad one lurking just behind it (Maximum Overdrive, Children of the Corn, Dreamcatcher, etc.). Perhaps nothing illustrates this dichotomy better than the two big adaptations that came out in the summer of 2017, namely The Dark Tower on August 4th and It on September 8th. Whereas the latter stands at the time of this writing with an 86% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes and rave reviews calling it one of the absolute best Stephen King adaptations, the former stands at only 16%, with many critics lambasting it as “wildly unfaithful and simplistic.” And honestly, as someone who read all eight books before the movie came out, I think they were right on the money.

Before I get into why, though, let me clear up a misconception often stated about this movie; Sony Entertainment (who distributed the film under their Columbia Pictures division) was not trying to condense the entire eight-book series (totaling 4,250 pages) into a single film running a measly 95 minutes. It was actually intended as a sequel to the books, which was made possible by how the end of the seventh and last book in the series revealed that protagonist Roland Deschain’s quest to find the tower was actually an extended cyclical time loop. In theory, this would have allowed the filmmakers to keep the story’s basic gist intact while having some license to change some elements around.

In execution, however, the film ends up a confusing mess haphazardly combining story elements from several different books in the series. Even though I’ve read the books, I still had trouble following what was going on, so I can only imagine what the film must feel like to someone who hasn’t read them.

The basic Lord of the Rings meets The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly premise of the books is kept intact. The gunslinger Roland Deschain roams an empty, post-apocalyptic fantasy world called All-World in a quest to find the Dark Tower, a universal linchpin that guards the universe against the primordial chaos. Roland believes that the Tower holds the secret to rebuilding his dying home. He has two main enemies that he faces in his quest. The first is an evil wizard called Randall Flagg (or the Man in Black/Walter O’Dim in the film), who seeks to control the Tower. The other is All-World’s despotic ruler, the Crimson King, who wants to destroy it. He is joined by several companions hailing from Earth in his quest, including Jake Chambers, Eddie Dean, Susannah Dean, and Father John Callahan.

However, the film seems to shift the focus away from Roland in favor of making his child companion from the first book, the aforementioned John “Jake” Chambers, into the main protagonist. This, I think, does a great disservice to Roland and his actor, Idris Elba. Granted, I think that Tom Taylor (Jake’s actor) is pretty good as far as child actors go, but I also think that more focus on Roland in his fantastical setting would have helped to better establish the unique universe that Stephen King set up in his books.

Of course, the fact that the film is only 95 minutes long certainly doesn’t help matters. You would think that a film in development hell for ten freaking years would have had at least a little more to offer us. This film definitely needed at least another twenty minutes to make it a proper introduction to the Dark Tower mythos.

One thing that definitely suffers from the minuscule run time is the main characters’ motivations. For example, Roland’s tragic backstory, which explains so much of his single-minded pursuit of the Tower and his need to save his decaying land, is very quickly glossed over in the film in a few short flashback sequences (most of which were re-shoots done after poorly received test screenings). We also receive no explanation as to why the Man in Black (played by Matthew McConaughey) wants to use the psychic energy he gathers from kidnapped children to destroy the Tower. The best we get is “Death always wins,” maybe suggesting an ultra-nihilistic viewpoint.

Furthermore, this is the complete opposite goal of his book counterpart. In the books, he wanted to seize control of the Tower and become a god. It was the Crimson King, who is directly related to the demonic creatures that live in the primordial chaos, who wants to destroy the Tower so he can rule over the chaos left in the void. What makes this even more confusing in the film is that at several points, we see graffiti declaring ALL HAIL THE CRIMSON KING, which just made me wonder where the hell he was supposed to fit into this mess if the filmmakers were going to make the Man in Black into a copy of him.

There were also several instances in the film where I thought that the book’s key terms were misused. For example, when a bolt of psychic energy strikes one of the energy beams that hold up the Tower, Roland refers to the event as a “beamquake.” In the books, however, a beamquake happens when one of the beams actually snaps, which, on top of leaving the Tower more vulnerable to collapse, results in the fiery destruction of any ground that lay in the path of the beam.

Another term I thought was misused was “taheen.” In the film, Roland uses it to refer to the half-human half-rat minions of the Man in Black hunting him and Jake down. However, in the books, the rat-men are referred to as “can-toi,” or “low men.” They are hybrids of humans and the taheen from the books, who are basically humanoid creatures with animal heads (very much like Egyptian gods in appearance) who are speculated to be the only supernatural beings left in All-World. The taheen in this film, however, are basically nothing more than generic evil minions.

Some other miscellaneous elements that didn’t make sense:

  • Roland’s character arc was stupid. He starts out being as nihilistic as the Man in Black, also thinking that the Tower’s going to fall one day anyway, so why bother protecting it? He now only seeks to kill the Man in Black for the sake of revenge. Except… wouldn’t that still be protecting the Tower? You know, killing the single biggest threat to its existence? Roland gets lectured more than once about putting revenge ahead of protecting the Tower. I don’t see how the two can be mutually exclusive in this case.
  • Speaking of things about Roland’s character that don’t make sense, what was the deal with him being immune to the Man in Black’s magic? It doesn’t really add anything to the story other than plot armor for Roland. The optimist in me wants to think that the writers may have had an explanation for this, but it’s probably more likely that they couldn’t figure out a better way to stop the Man in Black from just killing him on the spot.
  • At one point in the film, Roland sees a GEICO commercial featuring talking raccoons and asks Jake if the animals still speak in his world. This joke makes no sense even if you have read the books, because talking animals never show up. The closest we get (aside from the aforementioned can-toi and taheen) is Oy, a billy-bumbler (looks like a cross between a raccoon and a corgi) that Jake adopts as a pet in Book III, The Wasteland. Even then, his speaking abilities are no more developed than that of the average parrot, repeating simple words and syllables that he hears the rest of the team speaking.

There were elements of the film that I liked. While Idris Elba was a controversial pick since his character was white in the books, I personally thought he nailed the gruff personality of Roland Deschain, even if the script didn’t leave him much to work with. I also liked Tom Taylor as Jake Chambers, even if he did steal the spotlight for the first half-hour, and the bonding scenes between him and Roland were a definite highlight. Matthew McConaughey was also clearly having a lot of fun playing the deliciously depraved Man in Black, and watching him snatch Roland’s bullets out of the air with his bare hands and kill people just by telling them to stop breathing was both entertaining and terrifying.

The visuals, I thought, were also well done. The portrayals of All-World in all its decaying glory were a lot like how I imagined them. The way the Dark Tower itself was portrayed in the film, soaring high above the clouds, definitely does justice to its status as the center of all reality. Finally, the action scenes were exciting to watch, even if the Man in Black’s death was a little too unrealistic. Seriously, how does a .45 caliber bullet wound to the head not leave any blood? (Speaking of which, the film really shouldn’t have been a PG-13 film. The books had a lot of foul language and bloody violence, as do most Stephen King books. Granted, the former wasn’t really present until Eddie Dean joined the team in book two, but still…)

In the end, I think my main problem with the film comes down to the execution. The world set up in the book series involves an order of Old West-style gunfighters descended from King Arthur and his Round Table knights (Roland’s revolvers are even fashioned from Excalibur’s blade) roaming a post-apocalyptic world that suffered a nuclear war so terrible that the world still hasn’t recovered thousands of years later, with magical and supernatural threats lurking around every corner. On top of all that, the laws of space and time are slowly unraveling due to the Crimson King’s constant attacks on the very Tower that is holding the universe together.

The film does justice to almost none of these elements. It takes a maddeningly pedestrian approach to everything in its unique and imaginative source material, treating it like nothing more than your average shoot ’em up action film, but with a supernatural twist.

I’ve read rumors on the Web that a follow-up series that Amazon is developing (originally a sequel series adapting Roland’s backstory as depicted in the fourth book, Wizard and Glass) will be revamped as a complete reboot of the franchise. I’ll wait for the series to air before I judge it (which might not be a while, since Amazon passed on the pilot in January). As for the film, I give it a 5 out of 10. It is a shame that the filmmakers made such a flat and uninspired film out of such vibrant and imaginative source material. To paraphrase Rotten Tomatoes: “Go then, there are better Stephen King adaptations than this.”