screen-shot-2013-08-27-at-1-32-34-am

Where Have All the Bad Guys Gone?

Spoilers ahead for “Moana,” “Sing,” “Zootopia,” “Wreck-It Ralph,” “Big Hero 6,” and “Frozen,” although I assume everyone has seen “Frozen” by now.

“Moana,” the latest animated Disney film, has many of the conventions of beloved Disney movies. It features a princess, toe-tappingly good songs, a comedic sidekick and a weird animal. What “Moana” misses is a villain, although there is an argument to be made that Te Ka, a lava demon, is the villain of the film.

“Moana,” unlike many other post-“Tangled” Disney films, manages to work without the presence of a villain. With nearly every other Disney film struggles with lacking villains or red herrings, “Moana” manages to succeed because it’s structured as an adventure film, with some buddy-comedy aspects.

The disappearance of villains in animated films seems to be a bit of a new trend, one that doesn’t always seem to work. This seems to have been something stolen from Pixar since a lot of animation studios seem intent on stealing from what is arguably the most acclaimed animation studio out there. What seems to be the most beloved Pixar films–“Finding Nemo,” “Cars,” “Wall-E,” “Brave,” “Inside Out,” “Ratatouille”–tend to have no villain. Granted, plenty of other great Pixar movies, ones that I personally prefer, have villains in them, notably “Toy Story 3,” “Monsters, Inc.,” and “Up.” (For the record, “Ratatouille” is my favorite Pixar film, but Skinner is more of an antagonist and Anton Ego is Addison DeWitt-lite.)

Pixar, however, tends to make movies children and adults can enjoy, ones that even seem to be a little more cerebral. Most children’s entertainment seems to try to pander to kids and dumb things down for them, ignoring how children sometimes have a heightened sense of the world for how it is. Pixar’s approach to movies is similar to Laika, who has produced “Coraline,” “ParaNorman,” “The Boxtrolls,” and “Kubo and the Two Strings.” While Laika films don’t have villains in the traditional sense of classic Disney films, the films produced by that studio tend to delve into truly dark territory beyond the picture’s aesthetic.

Even several Dreamworks films feature villains, especially when we consider the “Shrek” films are essentially just parodies of films from Disney’s “renaissance” period. When Dreamworks, the biggest purveyor of the unnecessary animated dance party to close out a movie, still has villains in its movies the question arises as to what happened to villains.

In the Disney films myself and many others grew up with, there is the immediate introduction of a villain, usually noted by their dark clothing. (Think about it: Cruella De Vil, Gaston, and Captain Hook are really the only Disney villains who wear clothing where the dominant color isn’t black or purple.) Disney villains are often distinguished by their desire to stop at nothing to get what they want, be it King Triton’s trident, gold in Virginia, or Esmerelda and state-sponsored discrimination against a specific race of people.

What’s more striking is the motivation of those characters for committing often heinous acts is usually made very clear from the beginning. In the instance of Professor Rattigan in “The Great Mouse Detective,” he is motivated to kidnap Flaversham and his daughter because he knows both of those pieces can help him with his plan to overthrow Mouse Britania. His end game is to rule all of “mousedom” and outsmart Basil, which fuels everything he does in the movie.

 

the-great-mouse-detective-classic-disney-19899694-1280-720

The world’s greatest criminal mind.

 

This isn’t really the case with a lot of modern Disney movies. In “Frozen,” we are initially shown the Duke of Weselton, who has a strong desire to capture the mysteriously cut-off kingdom’s trade resources. Based on everything that goes on in the film, right down to him calling Elsa a monster when her powers are revealed, you would assume he’s the villain.

This is one of modern Disney’s favorite strategies in story telling: the red hering. The villain of Frozen ends up being Prince Hans, Anna’s love interest. While I am all in favor of twists in storytelling, the reveal of Prince Hans being the villain just doesn’t work. He has very little motivation for what he does in the movie other than what is revealed in the film’s third act. Furthermore, his reasons for courting Anna for marriage make no sense. If he just wanted to get close to her and gain her respect, it’s safe to assume he could have just tried to befriend her. It’s well-established in the film everyone in the surrounding kingdoms knows about how reclusive Anna and Elsa have been since their parents’ death, so it’s safe to assume if Hans wanted to just befriend her, she probably would have given him her unyielding loyalty.

A similar thing happens in the plot of “Big Hero 6,” although in that film the issue is more so that the presumed villain was framed by the actual antagonist, which is much more forgivable.

The other common failure of storytelling in modern Disney films is when the villain is a mystery. Generally, as seen in “Zootopia” and “Wreck-It Ralph,” something is wrong with the universe of the film and there is an antagonist who is causing the problem, which the protagonist has to solve. (Arguably, this is also what happens in “Moana.”) In “Wreck-It Ralph,” there are glitches in the games, which seemed to have been caused by Ralph jumping from game-to-game. As it turns out, these were actually caused by the actual antagonist of the film, who also sabotaged the game, resulting in the glitches seen in Vanellope. This one works because in the plot of the film the end results all make sense.

This works less well in “Zootopia,” a film everyone enjoyed more than me. In the world of the film, predators and prey live in harmony, but this is threatened when some prey go feral. After an initial false ending and increased prejudice in Zootopia, it is later revealed the timid sheep who works as the assistant mayor is behind the prey going feral. This ends up feeling very rushed and coming out of left-field for the same reasons why the Hans reveal doesn’t really work in “Frozen.” The motivations feel very haphazard, as if someone realized the final version of script was due to Disney and they didn’t have a villain. While the overall ending of “Zootopia” works, the reveal of the antagonist feels like such a twist, it catches one by surprise for all the wrong reasons.

But having an animated film with no villain can work. Studio Ghibli has made many films with no villains and they continue to endure, never ceasing to be a delight on every viewing. Illumination’s “Sing” is another film that, while not high art, manages to be a fun, light-hearted movie without a villain, although I would like to think capitalism is the villain in “Sing.” The movie is ultimately about a bunch of animals in a singing competition and it fulfills its mission. It’s fun and the plot actually makes sense, even if it seems largely like an excuse to have a bunch of stars singing popular songs from the past forty years.

While an animated film can succeed without a villain, the tendency to not have a villain as seen in classic Disney films can result in films not working because of poor scriptwriting. There is no reason why films should try to avoid a menacing villain as children can handle characters who behave in an almost unbelievable way. After all, we have enough people in the government and other positions of power whose behavior isn’t too far removed from the villains we saw in cartoons as children. Shouldn’t art imitate life, even if it’s to provide an escape?

I Can’t Believe I Just Watched This!: “The Huntsman: Winter’s War”

The+Huntsman+Winter's+War Once upon a time, in the year 2012, a film called “Snow White and the Huntsman” was released in a year where the world received two Snow White films–the other was “Mirror, Mirror.” The film earned almost $400 million worldwide and in an ivory tower, executives at Universal Pictures decided to greenlight a sequel. After a bit of complications, production on the film began and almost four years after the release of “Snow White and the Huntsman,” “The Huntsman: Winter’s War” was released.

Despite how well “Snow White and the Huntsman” did at the box office, the release of “The Huntsman: Winter’s War” feels like a bit of a surprise. I remember watching the first film on HBO while bored and finding myself bored every time Charlize Theron wasn’t on the screen, chewing scenery. I also remember having a hard time believing Queen Ravenna (Theron) would feel threatened by Snow White (Kristen Stewart) and wishing the movie wasn’t trying so hard to be a Serious, Gritty Reboot.

Thankfully, “The Huntsman: Winter’s War”–oof, this might be the clunkiest title for a film not based on a young adult series–has gotten rid of Snow White and a serious demeanor. The film, however, feels more like it should be a direct-to-video release instead of a major motion picture because of the clunky narration (Liam Neeson), poor narrative logic, a message pounded over the audience’s head and a pop song that was just inserted at the end of the movie. Which, no offense to Halsey, but when your first movie has a gloriously epic Florence and the Machine song, you need to have a song that can compete.

The odd thing about “The Huntsman: Winter’s War” is it’s incredibly dark and I don’t know how it got a PG-13 rating since there is blood shown in this movie as well as some sideboob. What is also interesting is the film manages to be both a prequel and a sequel to a movie and either way, I don’t think we asked for either.

At the start of “The Huntsman: Insert Caption Here,” we meet Ravenna, who kills a king by putting her finger on a chess piece. That’s right, Ravenna kills a man while playing chess and this happens in the first five minutes. She becomes queen with her sister, Freya (Emily Blunt), at her side. Freya is pregnant and after she gives birth to her daughter, she goes to be with her lover. Unfortunately, it appears her daughter was murdered by her lover and this unleashes an ice-based power in her. Freya heads to the north, where everyone there talks like they were raised by Groundskeeper Willie and she becomes queen, raising an army from children her army kidnaps and in the process she outlaws love. Unfortunately, two of her soldiers, Eric (Chris Hemsworth) and Sara (Jessica Chastain) fall in love and Freya punishes both of them.

Seven years later, Snow White has vanquished Ravenna and her kingdom is trying to get rid of Ravenna’s mirror. This sends Eric and Nion (Nick Frost) and Gryff (Rob Brydon) on a quest to find the mirror and destroy it, even though it seems to have the power to drive non-magic wielding people insane.

Now that I type up the plot, it seems to make less sense, particularly compared to the first film.

At some point, you had to wonder what the Universal executives were thinking when they signed off on this film. I’m sure they were more than okay with Freya essentially being Elsa from “Frozen,” but a sadist and with even more emotional baggage. But this film has some of the clunkiest narrative I’ve ever seen and I voluntarily watched a Disney Channel original movie.

The “good guys” and the “bad guys” are clearly labeled in this film based on their positions on love. The good guys believe love conquers all, while the bad guys believe love makes you weak and ruins you. It oddly feels like the movie should have been released during Valentine’s Day weekend instead of in April because it’s a movie that’s not quite a summer blockbuster. The movie even has a plot around how dwarfs hate each other and implies the very uncomfortable situation as to how dwarfs tend to reproduce. But don’t worry, even Nion and Gryff can find love.

Then there’s the accents the actors use in this film, which might not have bothered me if I hadn’t started watching “Outlander.” Hemsworth is still sporting his Scottish accent from the first film, but Chastain’s accent seems to change from scene from scene, as if she was trying to figure it out as they went through the filming process. But it seems odd because only Freya’s soldiers seem to sport Scottish accents because everyone else has a British accent, unless director Cedric Nicholas-Troyan decided Scottish accents made for a good distinction of Northerners.

Improbably, this movie is thoroughly enjoyable if you know what you’re getting yourself involved with. At the screening I attended, I noticed a lot of walkouts, particularly people with younger children. Yes, this movie is incredibly dark, but it also has Hemsworth walking around with a big goofy grin on his face the entire movie, even winking at a girl who is the latest child to be turned into one of Freya’s soldiers. Theron is there, chewing scenery in every scene she appears in, especially at the end of the movie where she’s manipulating what looks like tar that also spews out of her mouth. Blunt, although giving the most restrained performance of the film, is also capable of spewing out bizarre dialogue and giving a well-rounded performance that feels like it’s aware of everything else going on around it.

Even more baffling with this film is it having the subtitle of “Winter’s War” and trailers that seem to promise as much batshit insanity as possible from Blunt and Theron, most of it is spent on the road with Hemsworth and company as they try to find the mirror. It has more of a feel of a historical comedy for a good half of the film than an action fantasy film with a war. (And there’s not much of a war. Sorry.)

The movie feels like it got the memo as to what the audience liked about the film the first time around and upped it for this prequel/sequel, which oddly works if you know going in what you’re getting. This is a movie where in the last 20 minutes Ravenna wears three different outfits for no better reason than, “Let’s see how many stunning, over-the-top costumes we can put on this character.” “The Huntsman: We Left Out Snow White” is a film that really has no reason to exist, but it’s here with a seeming motto of “Go Big or Go Home.”

“The Huntsman: Winter’s War” might be the campiest wide-release, major studio movie that will come out in 2016 and it feels like we should applaud it for simply existing and sticking to its artistic convictions, as bizarre as the movie is at times. If only it had gone will a less clunky message and had a better end credits song.

I Can’t Believe I Just Watched This!: “Descendants”

Descendants-Poster I don’t own a TV and it’s not something I go around bragging about as if I’m the coolest person you know. I could probably fit a TV somewhere in my apartment if I got rid of a bookcase (unlikely) or my desk, but until then, there’s simply not any space. As a result, I don’t have cable and all TV I consume is watched on my laptop.

This means I missed the most recent Disney Channel Original Movie phenomenon, “Descendants,” until I was in the checkout line at the grocery store. No, not one of the food co-ops I buy groceries from, an honest-to-God supermarket. (I have a craving for Bigelow Lemon Lift tea rooted in memories of sitting in the dining halls of MSU with food and a book.) Among the magazines was a tie-in magazine for “Descendants” with an image of the four main characters on the front. Confused and intrigued, I picked it up and flipped through before my purchase was ready. I looked it up when I got home and discovered it was a Disney Channel Original Movie and my interest has been piqued ever since, only growing since I saw a copy of the DVD at Target and noticed Maleficent on the back and learned from the blurb there’s a lot of retconning that goes on in this movie.

The movie is set shortly after the marriage of Belle (Keegan Connor Tracy) and Beast (Dan Payne) in the United States of Auradon, a land created from the unification of all the kingdoms in Disney films. Beast is elected king of Auradon and he banishes all of the villains and their henchmen to the Isle of the Lost. Flash forward 16 years and Beast and Belle’s son, Ben (Mitchell Hope), is preparing for his coronation as king because apparently this is an elected monarchy where the descendant of the king becomes the next king, sans an election. Ben decides his first act as king will to invite four children from the Isle of the Lost to attend school in Auradon and he selects Mal (Dove Cameron), Evie (Sofia Carson), Carlos (Cameron Boyce) and Jay (Booboo Stewart), who are the children of Maleficent (Kristin Chenoweth), the Evil Queen (Kathy Najimy? Kathy Najimy.), Cruella de Vil (Wendy Raquel Robinson), and Jafar (Maz Jobrani? Maz Jobrani.), respectfully.

The children are tasked by Maleficent with getting the wand of the Fairy Godmother (Melanie Paxson), which will allow the villains to break free and get their revenge. While at Auradon, the four, erm, descendants work on trying to make the plan work while connecting with the children of the good guys and struggling with if they’re really evil as a result of who their parents are.

Oh, and it’s a musical.

The biggest issue with the movie is the logic right at the start. Beast is elected king of Auradon, not president. And on top of that, his son automatically becomes king? There’s no chance Prince Charming could be king? Or Li Shang? If we’re going to be honest, Shang and Mulan would be the perfect leaders. They have military experience and proven leadership. But then there’s the Isle of the Lost itself, where we have reason to believe the villains have found other villains to procreate with, even though the only villains we meet are the four mentioned earlier. Where’s Governor Ratcliffe, human Ursula, Gaston and Lady Tremaine? Did Frollo get banished to the Isle of the Lost or did he get to help out with state-sponsored discrimination against a group of people? Also, how are the Evil Queen and Maleficent alive? Why is Jafar running a junk shop and why is he the only person who has a new thing since being banished to the island? The movie just tells us these things are the case at the beginning of the film, assuming we’ll just accept the reality presented, but no, I’m sorry, I was raised on Disney movies and I know how these villains go.

The other big issue with the film, although it could be argued it makes the movie stronger, is how every child of a “good guy” is significantly less interesting than the main quartet, right down to the costumes, designed by Kara Saun. But on the other hand, the film presents us with four characters you can root for, particularly Mal as she struggles between pleasing her mother and doing what she really wants. Sometimes the movie tells us things in the most rushed way, like in order to prove to us Evie is smart she has her magic mirror stolen and she manages to still get a good grade. But the four of them are believable as being good people, with great moments like a recurring gag about Jay and Carlos loving chocolate.

The film also does something unthinkable even in 2015 and actually casts actors who are good for the roles, regardless of their race. This means having Robinson, who is black, play a character usually depicted as white and having a son who appears white. Similarly, Sleeping Beauty’s mother is also played by an black actress and her granddaughter also appears to be white. You can suspend all disbelief here because the actors are perfect in those roles, particularly Robinson, and the characters they play are all that matters, not the race of the actors, which is how it should be. Even if some of the characters come off as bland because of how they’re written–looking at you Ben–the casting for this film is pitch perfect, particularly the four leads and their parents.

I have unfortunately glossed over the fact the film is a musical, which is actually the only other demerit. The opening number, “Rotten to the Core,” is a catchy EDM-influenced number–Carson recorded a fantastic version of the song I recommend checking out–but at no point during the song did I truly believe the actors were singing the song. The rest of the original numbers are bland, but the worst I can say is they feel like a time suck and without the songs I feel like the movie would not be nearly two hours long. If you do watch the movie, I recommend skipping the bizarre pseudo-hip-hop cover of “Be Our Guest” the students of Auradon perform because it is flat out awful and feels like an arbitrary number dropped in the film to remind us all of how the movie follows the children of our favorite Disney characters.

The film does have the trappings we now cynically expect from a Disney Channel Original Movie, but thanks to some fantastic casting and protagonists I can actually care about it manages to be a fun movie to watch, even if you just put it on in the background. It’s a shame they really didn’t think through the logic of how Auradon works.

 

 

 

Milwaukee Film Festival: “Call Me Lucky” and “Nina Forever”

Call Me Lucky

Barry Crimmins made a name for himself as a humorist in Boston in the 1980s, influencing many young humorists, including Bobcat Goldthwait, the director of this film. Crimmins revealed he had been a victim of sexual abuse as a child and went on to take on AOL’s role in the distribution of child pornography in the 1990s.

Even though Crimmins left a mark on comedy with his incisive take on the United States government, he still manages to be a somewhat obscure figure, possibly because he’s largely been inactive for several years as he’s been living in a cabin in rural New York. But Goldthwait’s film gives you a reason to care about him even though he’s possibly the prickliest of subjects for a rather uplifting and moving documentary. One of the things the film excels at is showing how Crimmins could be an incredibly caring person while also showing his tendency to some times lash out at his audience members or other comedians. Even though it is made by a friend of the subject, it manages to be very even-handed and fair in the best way possible.

Although a dark film because of what the subject endured, Call Me Lucky manages to be an uplifting and hopeful film. This should come as no surprise for those who have seen Goldthwait’s other films that, although fictional, manage to find the right balance between hope and darkness. It is hopeful that although this film features a formerly volatile subject it brings hope to those who see it and an added familiarity to the subject.

5 out of 5 stars

Nina Forever

Rob (Cian Barry) is starting to move on from the death of his girlfriend, Nina (Fiona O’Shaughnessy), and decides to hook up with his co-worker from the grocery store, Holly (Abigail Hardingham). Unfortunately, Nina has developed a habit of coming back to life in the middle of Rob and Holly’s sex, violently appearing as a bloody figure through the sheets and bed. To complicate this, Nina usually makes some quip after interrupting the sex.

Nina Forever should work and be a great film, in theory. But it struggles to find the right tone as there is something inherently bizarre and humorous about a wise-cracking girlfriend emerging from a bed mid-coitus with glass shards sticking out of her face, which contradicts the rather thoughtful examination of love, loss and being in a relationship aware of the history a significant other has. The tones are at odds with each other, which is unfortunate because had the film picked one tone and ran with it, it could have been a fantastic film.

This does not detract from the fantastic visuals and imagery in the movie, including make-up causing Holly to appear to have sunken in eyes and the repeated motif of Nina’s parents drinking red wine. The three lead actors give fantastic performances, particularly Barry who is torn between wanting to be with Holly and having to put up with Nina occasionally popping up in the middle of sex.

3 out of 5 stars

Milwaukee Film Festival: “The Russian Woodpecker” and “Wisconsin’s Own”

The Russian Woodpecker
A woodpecker sound was detected over radio waves in the 1970s. The sound originated from the Soviet’s over-the-horizon radar system, Duga. Duga consisted of three radars, one of is located in Chernobyl. Chad Gracia’s debut film follows Fedor Alexandrovich’s investigation into the cause of the Chernobyl disaster, one he survived but was affected by as a child. As he walks the ruins of the worker’s village in Chernobyl, sometimes wrapped in plastic wrap while carrying a torch, his search leads him to the looming antennas of Duga, sitting there haunting the irradiated countryside.

The journey leads to questioning former Chernobyl and Soviet officials, making the safety of Alexandrovich and the film’s crew increasingly precarious. Although the film yields a rather convincing argument surrounding the Chernobyl disaster, it may seem far-fetched for some viewers.

This does not detract from the success of the film as Gracia has created a documentary that plays like a mystery-thriller with a magnetic personality at its center. While the film tackles Duga, Chernobyl, the rising tensions between Russian and the Ukraine and Fedor’s dreams of him naked, wrapped in plastic wrap and carrying a torch–it’s oddly less weird when you see it–it manages to handle all of these threads while making a well-paced, engrossing film. Throughout the entire thing is the theme of the USSR rearing its ugly head again as we see the problems that arose from the Soviets in the 1980s.

Even if the film doesn’t convince audience members the theory presented is true, it manages to suck you into the paranoia of post-USSR Ukraine while showing why it’s important to question the past in order to prepare for the future.

4.5 out of 5 stars

Wisconsin’s Own

Old Fashioned: The Story of the Wisconsin Supper Club

The supper club is a Wisconsin institution I admit to have not participated in yet, but Holly L. De Ruyter’s documentary on supper clubs is a thorough and delightful look at the family-owned restaurants. The film has interviews with supper club owners and patrons, as well as historians to explain what makes supper clubs an endearing part of Wisconsin dining culture.

De Ruyter’s documentary, although short, feels as though it covers all of bases on the topics while coming across some interesting characters, such as a particular supper club patron who has some interesting insight into why she enjoys supper clubs. The film features great graphics, including one explaining how the brandy old fashioned sweet is made, and an amazing opening title sequence. Knowing De Ruyter had edited out some of the interview makes one wonder if there’s uncovered territory, but on the other hand she avoids the problem of having a movie that goes on too long and feels over stuffed.

4 out of 5 stars

Tale of the Spotted Cow

The New Glarus Brewering Company has gained a reputation for producing delicious beer only for sale in Wisconsin. The documentary, directed by Bill Roach and written by Curry Kirkpatrick, tells about how Daniel and Deb Carey started and continue to run the brewery in what is essentially the ideal story of the American Dream. Deb Carey had a hard childhood and money for them was tight, but they took a risk and started the brewery one year in the 1990s. The brewery took off and started to grow before Carey made the decision to have it sold only in Wisconsin. It has continued to grow with Spotted Cow being the number one draft beer in Wisconsin.

Although this is a story that should be told, Roach and Kirkpatrick were not the people to tell it. The film has a very amateurish feel starting with the use of rolling dark clouds when going back in time to discuss Deb Carey’s troubled childhood. The film’s biggest problem is the use of a narrator who has a distinctive accent that is not one of a Wisconsinite. It becomes a distraction during the film about something that is unique to Wisconsin, causing the film to lack authority.

The script for the narration is riddled with cliches and hackneyed lines, including one at the end quoting St. Francis of Assisi and connecting it to New Glarus’ beer. The film only really works when it focuses on the interviews with the Careys–which thankfully makes up a lot of this film–who are both vibrant personalities behind a Wisconsin legend. Had this film, which is only a little more than half an hour in length, focused on them with b-roll from both the brewery and the town and archival photos from the subjects, it would have possibly worked. Unfortunately, the film lacks the polish to tell this story as well as it could have.

Two out of five stars

I Can’t Believe I Just Watched This!: “Loverboy”

Occasionally I’ll watch a movie and afterwards wonder if I was too harsh on other movies. Yes, Divergent, Mrs. Doubtfire and Myra Breckinridge are that bad, but Loverboy is such a bad film, best lost to time since it is so heavily dated, it makes Catch Hell look like Casablanca.

Randy Bodek (Patrick Dempsey) is a college student who has a girlfriend, Jenny (Nancy Valen), but is often distracted by partying and other stuff. As it turns out, he’s failed nearly every class and his father, Joe (Robert Ginty), is sick of paying for college. Randy turns to delivering pizza for a Mexican-themed pizza restaurant, but is invited to have sex with an older women, Alex (Barbara Carrera). After telling her his woes, she starts paying him for sex, so Randy becomes a gigolo. Meanwhile, his father thinks he’s gay and his mother thinks her husband is cheating on her.

Patrick Dempsey is a great actor and I’ve enjoyed what I’ve seen of his acting on Grey’s Anatomy. The thing is in this film, which he was 23-years-old when it was released, he looks way too young for this film to not be gross. After you watch this movie, you will definitely need to take a shower. And the thing is, it’s not just he has an affair with an older woman. He is paid to have sex with older women and he unwillingly becomes a prostitute because the number for the pizza place gets passed around. And no where is there a scene where someone is reaching for a condom, not even a hilarious scene where Randy is carrying a massive amount of condom boxes, some falling to the floor as he walks.

The film is also rated PG-13 and there’s a part of me that feels like if it was rated R and more explicit about the sex, it would be more enjoyable, but I also think then you would feel the desire to burn your DVD player because of how gross you’d feel after watching this film. All that’s shown that’s sexual is post-coital cuddling and licking and some heavily obscured scissoring. Everything else we’re told happens while Randy dances with women and feeds them ice cream. (I really wish I was making up everything I just typed, but I’m not.)

There’s also the rampant gay panic in the film, which makes sense given when this film was released. It was released in 1989 and at that time we were still thinking of AIDS, which was fairly new at this time, as being a “gay disease.” This is similar to the attitudes expressed in Myra Breckinridge and Mrs. Doubtfire. The problem is this feels more like a bad farce plot point with a mistaken identity since Randy tells his dad he’s staying over with a guy and a Italian man drops off a suit for Randy with a note from Alex. This then leads to Joe talking to Harry Bruckner (Vic Tayback, who I mistook for Robert Loggia) about how his son couldn’t be a “fruit”–the film’s word, not mine–because just look at these pictures of his son playing sports. In fact, this film does have this idea that gay men can’t be interested in sports because later Joe asks Randy if he wants to toss the ball around.

In fact the film in general feels like a bad farce. There’s a lot of sneaking around, mistaken identities, misunderstood comments–such as Diane (Kate Jackson) thinking Joe is having an affair because she hears some noise and her husband simply tells her, “Oh those are just some hookers.” There’s a huge climax where the husbands of the women hiring Randy try to find him, only to beat up Randy’s pimp because the man actually being hired by their wives couldn’t be the guy they’re looking for because Harry has been told he’s gay. This, by the way, happens around the time Randy almost has sex with his mom, who has gotten her son’s number from her doctor (Kirstie Alley), who hired him.

But none of this is enjoyable partly because it has a really young Patrick Dempsey who looks barely legal in the lead role. Even if you bumped up the age, it would be a slog because a huge part of it is made up of montages of Randy dancing and doing things that aren’t having sex. At least Catch Hell, which had some problematic issues, was made enjoyable by watching Ian Barford chew scenery. Even Myra Breckinridge is more enjoyable than this because Myra Breckinridge is like watching two cars hit each other, leading to a pile up before being hit by a train.

This is an inherently disgusting concept at almost all areas. The only way this could possibly be worth watch is if it was a guy in his 20s or 30s and does not look like he just hit the age of consent, who becomes a gigolo voluntarily after his girlfriend leaves him and he learns how to be a better lover in the process, but I pretty much just described the film My Awkward Sexual Adventure, except for the male sex worker part. (Also, My Awkward Sexual Adventure is a much better movie.) With the rest of the movies I’ve written about, I can see why they were released, but I don’t know who thought this movie was a good idea.

And I really could have used that condom scene.

I Can’t Believe I Just Watched This!: “Mrs. Doubtfire”

“Mrs. Doubtfire” is one of those movies my generation probably feels nostalgic for. It’s a Robin Williams comedy with three adorable children he’s fighting to keep. It’s one of those movie you have to rewatch for a nostalgia check, like a Disney cartoon you loved or “History of the World, Part One.” And, like movies you often watch for a nostalgia check, it doesn’t hold up to the fond memories.

Daniel Hillard (Williams) is a irresponsible father whose behavior has been continually annoying his wife, Miranda (Sally Field), until a raucous birthday party for their son, Chris (Matthew Lawrence), is the last straw. They divorce and Miranda is granted full custody of Chris, Lydia (Lisa Jakub) and Natalie (Mara Wilson). Daniel, desperate to spend more time with the kids, decides to answer an ad for a housekeeper and pose as kindly English lady Mrs. Doubtfire, with help from his brother, Frank (Harvey Fierstein). Meanwhile, Miranda reconnects with old friend Stuart (Pierce Brosnan), whom Daniel despises because he’s not over Miranda.

There are very clear problems with the comedy and jokes made in the script, largely because they haven’t aged well and are, quite frankly, very offensive. But the two biggest problems are with the protagonist, Daniel, and the length of the film.

First I’ll get to the length of the film. “Mrs. Doubtfire” is more than two hours long and there’s a lot that could have been cut out. At this point I want to already penalize any film longer than “Myra Breckinridge” because one of the few things that film has going for it is it’s only 94 minutes long. There are giant portions of the film that exist for very trivial reasons. There’s an overly long bit of the film where Williams does a bunch of voices for a social worker. There’s a montage of Williams doing things as Mrs. Doubtfire with the kids, set to “Dude Looks Like a Lady” that feels unnecessary. There’s an entire scene with the social worker that plays like a bad farce that goes on for too long and feels horribly contrived. If you cut those scenes out, I feel fairly confident the film would be under two hours in length.

It also suffers from odd pacing. Although it’s understandable the film needs to set up the ending, everything in this film takes place in the last 45 minutes. Ultimately, very little happens in the first 75 minutes other than a lot of shenanigans with the occasional plot point. As a result the film is a slog until this sudden shot of frantic energy is injected right at the end for the climax.

But really, the core problem with this film is Daniel Hillard. It is entirely likely I will not watch a film for “I Can’t Believe I Just Watch This!” with a character as eminently punchable as Daniel Hillard. Tris was boring, Ryan Phillippe Regan Pierce a sad-sack, Riddick a fascinating mercernary and Myra Breckinridge an over-the-top caricature in a performance where more scenery is chewed than Ian Barford in “Catch Hell.” Daniel Hillard is a jag bag who is thoroughly unlikable. He takes advantage of so many people in the movie, including his brother, the make-up artist, who helps him get the mask and look of Mrs. Doubtfire, but they first have to do a crazy montage–which could have also been cut–even though Daniel has already established Mrs. Doubtfire will be a kindly, elderly British woman. He becomes belligerent to his wife and then wonders why she doesn’t want him spending time with the kids. And then, after it is revealed he has been posing as Mrs. Doubtfire, he gets mad at Miranda for him having to do supervised visits with the kids, once a week. You just committed fraud, broke the custody agreement and almost killed an old friend of Miranda’s. Do you wonder why you have to do supervised visits?

And although it’s nice, and honestly still a little progressive, for a film to have a male character who is crazy about the ex instead of a female character, the hatred Daniel feels towards Stuart is bizarre. Stuart is, ultimately, nothing but nice towards Mrs. Doubtfire, even if a comment is made about her accent. Daniel responds by telling his children, while Mrs. Doubtfire, that, oh, Stuart had liposuction. Then Daniel has to do a walk-by fruiting–which would be a great name for a gay street gang–and assault Stuart with a lime. Finally, he tries to sabotage a romantic relationship between Stuart and Miranda by telling Stuart Miranda has crabs and then putting pepper, which Stuart is allergic to, in his jambalaya.

(By the way, this is a film released in the 1993 when people treated allergies as an incredibly serious issue. It’s not like now where you say, “Oh I have a food allergy” and people scoff at you because of pseudoscience blogs saying, “Say you have an allergy so you can avoid this food I told you is evil” and give you food with those ingredients all the time. Why is Daniel shocked by Stuart’s reaction to the pepper?)

The biggest problem with the film is a lot of the humor now feels incredibly dated and very offensive. It’s not just humor you really can’t get away with now–like half of the jokes in “Blazing Saddles”–it’s humor that is in poor taste. The premise of the film involves a man who cross-dresses to be close to his kids. That’s fine. There are plenty of perfectly good movies involving drag and cross-dressing. One of those films even has Robin Williams. But there’s rampant jokes that at worst come off as transphobic, such as one of the fake nannies Williams poses as before calling as Mrs. Doubtfire being a Russian woman saying she doesn’t work with male children because “she used to be [male].” First of all, what the hell is with that line? Is this going back to some bizarre stereotype transgender women are crazed misandrists a la Myra Breckinridge? Second of all, the joke reads as, “Oh, ha ha, someone who used to be male is a woman and would consider being a nanny.” What? It’s cringeworthy and, in a lengthy montage of oddballs Williams creates to answer the ad, is something that would have been better left on the cutting room floor.

There’s also a bunch of other bizarre moments of “Oh, ha ha, a man in a dress” or jokes are made regarding gender expression and identity that simply don’t land. This includes moments like Frank expressing joy when Daniel arrives asking to look like a man, which does feel like a joke and it only really works because of Fierstein’s delivery. The bus driver at one point sees Daniel’s hairy leg under his Mrs. Doubtfire outfit, which leads to a very creepy come-on from a driver. And why don’t any of the passenger’s yell, “Hey bub, I got a kid with a fever and I need to get home. Get moving”? I want to yell that at a bus driver when they wait even 30 seconds before moving from a bus stop.

One scene that has an incredibly uncomfortable feel now is when Chris sees Daniel peeing, standing up, while dressed as Mrs. Doubtfire. He runs into Lydia’s room and tells her to call the police because Mrs. Doubtfire has a penis. At this point, they find out Mrs. Doubtfire is their father, but it’s very uncomfortable to know that today there are thousands of transgender women who could face serious problems if that situation happened in real life. Here it’s meant as a humorous moment, complete with a son horrifically saying, “I saw everything” about his dad’s junk.

The film also features the Standard Butch-Femme ’90s Gay Couple and an odd joke about how many British Pakistanis there are in London, coming in the form of a puppet on the TV show at the end of the film saying people in England speak Pakistani. Normally, I would angrily point out people in Pakistan speak English and Urdu, but this film has managed to drain me of my outrage over art.

What the film has going for it is Chris Columbus did a nice job directing the film. There’s nothing revolutionary about it, but there’s nothing incredibly bad. It’s just nice. What he does manage to do is get fantastic performances from the actors, right down to an adorable Wilson. It keeps the film from being incredibly painful to watch, it just is a film that fails to entertain.

It’s not surprising this is a film that managed to be incredibly successful and a beloved family movie. When it was released it was during the fury of films with transphobia–“Silence of the Lambs,” “The Crying Game,” “Ace Ventura: Pet Detective”–and this has a bittersweet story about family. But unfortunately the film’s most sympathetic characters are Miranda, the bread winner, and Stuart, the rich British man who adores Miranda and her children, taking them away from Daniel. As a result of bad writing and dated gender politics, “Mrs. Doubtfire” is a misfire on many levels, never reaching the level it could be with such a phenomenal cast.

(And I didn’t even get into how implausible this film is and all of the issues with reality. Really, those are minor quibbles compared to everything else in the film.)

Me, watching

Me, watching “Mrs. Doubtfire.”