Alita: Battle Angel

My interest in seeing this film was less than zero and less than Less Than Zero—the grimy and unlikely screen version of Brett Easton Ellis’ novel with Andrew McCarthy, Jami Gertz and Robert Downey, Jr. I mean, the poster presents the most generic-looking CGI manga-inspired female action hero with freaky-big eyes doing fighty stuff in a blandly porridge-y 2019 way. And the fact that it was directed by Robert Rodriguez (when I discovered that) made it even worse to my mind: Rodriguez is often cheesy, but seldom bland.

Kinda freaky for kidflick, tho'.

Say what you will about this “Spy Kids” makeup, it’s not bland.

Item the first: Weird critical/audience split. Rotten Tomatoes having gone completely into shill territory with Captain Marvel, I’m tentatively trying out Metacritic, but both show “Critics hate it, audiences like or love it.” OK, well, audiences a lot of time like bland action schlock so that’s not super strong—but the split was, at the time, over 30 points, which puts it in the territory of a film containing positive references to Jesus.

Item the second: Word of mouth is consistent and insistent. People like this movie, and fairly insistent that the CGI does not hit you with the uncanny valley effect.

Enough people on the movie thread and Twitter recommended it to me where I decided to take the plunge. The Flower was out, of course, since her taste falls to classics and movies of spiritual interest. The Boy was okay about it, but the way he picked his girlfriend over any actual showing of the film (and who could blame him), I realized it was one of those movies I would never get to if I waited for him. The Barbarienne is up for whatever, usually, but she was against it due to changes made from the manga (which she has not read, but the Internet will happily and angrily inform her of).

So, I, a father of four went alone to Alita: Battle Angel, which probably gets me on an FBI list, or should, anyway.


“My daughter, beware most of all of men who like your manga.”

Irony of ironies: This is basically a YA movie in the vein of Hunger Games or The Giver which, as yaboi Zack points out, probably would’ve felt a lot fresher 25 years ago when it actually ended it’s 5 year manga run. That said, I ended up liking it overall, and it’s definitely worthy of an examination for what it does right.

The story is this: In a dystopic (of course) future world, the peons live on the ground in subservience to the floating sky city Zalem—the last floating city since a war 300 years previous which resulted in all the other floating cities collapsing. Zalem takes the goods that Iron City produces through these giant tubes that look like they’re tethering the thing down, and then dumps its trash out of a big hole in the middle around which the city is congregated. A kind-hearted cyborg repair doctor discovers the remnants of a cyborg in the dump with a still functioning heart and brain, and takes it home to put it in a mechanical body he had made for his own daughter years before.

When she wakes up, she has no memory (natch), and struggles (a little) to adapt to her new surroundings while dealing with flashes of memory and bouts of super-combat-skills. Then we get bounty hunters (good and bad), serial killers, a game called roller—er, motorball, the winner of which supposedly gets to go to Zalem, roving gangs of punks stealing cyborg attachments, a love story, betrayals, an ex-wife redemption arc, interplanetary war backstory, Jeff Fahey with a team of robot dogs, gratuitous Edward Norton and Michelle Rodriguez, and the specifically allowed one instance of the F-word for PG-13 movies.

Also, he got cybernetic implants.

Jackie Earle Haley trained for six months to bulk up for this role!

There’s a lot of story, is what I’m getting at, and I’m sure I’ve left some major points out, as did (wisely) Rodriguez when he trimmed down James Cameron’s script to two hours. Honestly, all that stuff and the story arc is as generic as you’d expect a 30-year-old story from an increasingly over-mined genre to be.

But from go, the filmmakers invest in Alita as a teenage girl. There’s no “is she human or not?” nonsense. She is. She has normal teen reactions despite her brain having been in a junkyard for 300 years. She’s unsure, excitable, emotional, effusive, enthusiastic and quick to jump to the wrong conclusions. And she has freakishly large eyes.

The funny thing is, the eyes largely works to keep you out of the uncanny valley. For me, I know it didn’t completely work because I kept thinking about it—but it worked better than most CGI humanoids. And I think it’s because the big eyes tell your brain that there’s no effort to actually fool you. Meanwhile there are a lot of imperfections and human touches, along with some very good motion capture and voice acting by Rosa Salazar which makes for a compelling heroine.

Betrayal ensues.

At one point, she literally gives her boyfriend her heart.

Chris Waltz is great and does the main emotional heavy lifting apart from Salazar, and their father-daughter dynamic gives you something to really care about. Jennifer Connelly has a less well-developed maternal role to play, but she works it well. Keean Johnson threads the needle as the guy who’s smitten with a girl who can tear him limb-from-limb. In fact, all the characters are nicely drawn, probably because they were developed over six books. Jeff Fahey as the dog-themed bounty hunter and Jackie Earle Haley as the biggest baddie were inspired choices for cool characters.

You can tell that there’s a lot more story behind most of the characters. Besides Connelly, The Iron City boss played by Mahershala Ali and quite a few of the bounty hunters would’ve benefitted from more screen time. But I sincerely, deeply appreciated Rodriguez keeping this tight and giving us an ending that doesn’t feel like a middle finger. It doesn’t tie up all the loose ends, but it’s satisfying enough to not make you feel ripped off.

There are a few hiccups. Sometimes the actors aren’t looking in quite the right place when interacting with Alita, e.g., and occasionally the seams on the CGI show, which didn’t bother me because I feel like Rodriguez (like a lot of Asian filmmakers) is less interested in “looks real” than “looks cool”. (On the other hand, my understanding is this film cost somewhere between $175-$200M, and Cameron’s all about the “real”, but hey, not my money.) Rodriguez also really knows space, which means even his goofiest CGI-tacular affairs tend not to be disorienting, and in this case imbues Iron City with life you didn’t feel in (e.g.) Coruscant. The too-much-for-me-CGI of the motorball game is salvaged by a good sense of space and weight.

So, if you’re like me and have only heard enthusiastic things about this, I’ll temper that somewhat. I liked it, there was much to commend, and I had good feelings about it—but unless you’re in that demo, it’s probably not going to knock your socks off.

But not for long.

Jeff Fahey celebrates National Puppy Day.


Blazing Saddles (1974)

I did not actually see this when it came out.* Because I was not actually Mel Brooks fan. Partly a prejudice inherited from my parents, but largely because his style of humor is very, very broad. In fact, 20 years ago, my oldest buddy—who had seen it at seven—was shocked I hadn’t and purchased a copy for me so we could all view it at home. About a half-hour in (at the campfire/beans scene), we turned it off because literally none of us were laughing.

What a weird, censorious world we live in.

We didn’t want the n—- to get it!

But a funny thing happened over the subsequent decades: Blazing Saddles became increasingly transgressive. With its good-natured, casual racism and less good-natured misanthropy and cynicism regarding government, I began to think the kids would never see it screen publicly in their lifetimes. Then, last year a local theater played it—but against a Marilyn Monroe double-feature—so we missed our chance. But only for a few months, as it turned out. This seems like kind of a big deal to me, that this movie can still be shown—and to a packed laughing house of, yes, millenials in, yes, one of the leftier enclaves of one of the leftiest towns.

I still wasn’t expecting to enjoy it much, and I’m happy to report that I did. We all did, in fact, though curiously, we all rank Mel’s big three (The Producers and Young Frankenstein being the other two) in different orders and none of us with this movie at the top.

The premise is classic: A town is targeted by the greedy Hedley Lamar (Harvey Korman) who wants to buy up the land before the train comes through, and the unsuspecting town needs a sheriff to defend from his evil minions. The twist, of course, is that the sheriff is sent by Lamar to drive them away—not by virtue of any bad action, but by virtue of being black. On the one hand, Walter Moses Burton might have something to say about the likelihood of this, but if there were black sheriffs in the Old West, there weren’t any in the movies about the Old West which this is parodying.

There are worse.

Robyn Hilton had a light movie career consisting entirely of being beautiful and busty.

When sheriff Bart (Cleavon Little) and his drunken gunslinger pal Jim (Gene Wilder) outsmart him, the evil Hedley sends out his secret weapon, Lili Von Shtupp (Madelin Khan) to seduce him. She, of course, is won over by his prowess, making this the one of at least two movies in 1974 where Khan plays a vamp who is tamed by an enormous schwanzstucker.

The humor can be broken down into a few categories. The political satire (the parts with Mel Brooks himself as Governor Lepetomane) is neither subtle nor clever, though it serves the story well enough. The use of racism is hit-and-miss. The physical comedy works best when it’s paired with absurd visuals, such as when a man (and his horse) are being hanged, and least when it’s in the pratfall/conk-on-the-head level. The anachronisms and meta-jokes are kinda cute. When the production literally breaks out of its soundstage and onto the Warner Bros. lot, that is also very hit-and-miss, but nicely winds back on itself. (Unlike, say, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, where you can feel a little cheated because you didn’t get the end of the story.)

But even when I wasn’t laughing, others were. This is the sort of movie that rewards not being easily offended or put off, because there are a lot of good gags, whatever your taste. And for all its heavy-handedness it actually never feels preachy. When your message is “racism is bad” and “politicians are corrupt and lazy”, you really don’t need to spell it out, especially if your subtext is along the line “When you can laugh at things, they’re not really that bad.” There’s also an overarching message of redemption and tolerance, suggesting that we can all live together in peace, even the Irish.

Not at all comfortable!

Madeline Kahn knew how to slip into something more comfortable.

Great performances from Little, Korman, Alex Karras as Mongo, with all the various Johnsons: Jonathan Hillerman (Higgins from “Magnum P.I.”), David Huddleston (the eponymous “Big Lebowski”), Liam Dunn (from Young Frankenstein) as the preacher, and so on. And these people are all dead, as is everyone in this movie except Brooks himself, Burton Gilliam (who still works and went on to be a regular on “Evening Shade”), and the lovely Robyn Hilton, whose last film role (at 44!) had her cavorting around in the most scandalous French maid outfit ever.

Wilder’s performance is outstanding. One of his best, and all done in his lilting soft-spoke voice. He doesn’t shout at all. Madeline Khan is sui generis, of course, as if her performance was never written down and she was just living it on screen for us. I didn’t care for Brooks as the governor, but there was a distinct endearing charm to Brooks as the Indian chief. (Can you say PRAH-BLAH-MATIC?)

At no point in the proceedings do you get the impression that anyone had lost the focus on making an entertaining picture. This movie uses racism (and in some pretty conventional ways) without depending on racism, which is an art lost.

They just did.

These guys had the best chemistry.

*I was also too young to see it but pace Obama, nobody gave a damn in the ’70s if toddlers wandered into R-rated movies.


This was the movie we were going to see when the Russian Tank flick intervened and we ended up having to make a late show in Beverly Hills to get it. But interesting films seem harder and harder to find, even from other countries, and this one had an intriguing, darkly comic premise.

It's all girls in the commercial.

Our hero wearing a costume pilfered from the bugspray commercial he’s doing.

Our hero Hasan is a blacklisted filmmaker who hasn’t been able to make a movie in over two years, relegated to doing bugspray commercials, losing his girlfriend, pissing off his wife (they have an understanding) while a serial killer runs around Iran killing all the great Persian filmmakers.

Hasan is increasingly concerned that he has yet to be targeted while a bunch of hacks are being hacked up (decapitated, specifically) his own genius is going unrecognized. At one point, he has a little breakdown and his mother reassures him that soon the killer will be coming for him. But all this is played out against a social media backdrop that Hasan doesn’t really understand and increasingly views as a hostile entity gunning for him. Ultimately, it becomes his goal to be validated in that consciousness, the Instagram world where random strangers accuse him of the most heinous crimes.

He has a stalker, too. A friend of his daughter wants to be in his movies and at least feigns attraction to him. (He’s not interested, though you can sorta see the wheels turning on that one.) But even that story is diverted by the power of social media.

Even Iran has millennials..

This girl maybe thinks HE’s the killer—but gotta get that all-important selfie.

The opening sequence has girls in hijabs running down the sidewalk taking Instagram selfies. Iran is weird. The presence of tyranny results in a kind of inchoate fear (as in Hasan’s inability to get a movie made for pissing off some cleric somewhere, presumably) mixes with the general incompetence of the oppressors and the irrepressibly modern Persian spirit and creates a sense of surrealism whether presented in a grim way or a comic one.

Despite the heavy-handed satire, director Mani Haghighi leans more toward the slapstick than the pretentious even when dabbling in a moment of cinematic surrealism: Hasan is arrested on suspicion of the murders—in Iran when you are arrested, they apparently don’t just handcuff you, they blindfold you—and then thrown in to solitary confinement for an undetermined period of time. Hasan is a big heavy metal fan—his wardrobe seems to consist entirely of shorts and heavy-metal-themed t-shirts—and begins to hallucinate being a guitarist, on stage, performing a song with full band and backup singers.

This is broken by guards letting him out of his cell, and dumping him out in the desert. Apparently because when you’re released in Iran, regardless of being cleared, they drop you off in the middle of nowhere. Later, this turns out to have been a dream, though Hasan holds it against the relatively fair-minded detective on his case for the rest of the movie.

Not for long, tho'.

The girl who throws him over for a bigger part with a working director.

Much like 50 Kilos, this movie veers between near-slapstick level comedy to grim (in this case very black) humor, and if never quite reaches the sublime level, it’s still a fun, rollicking way to spend 1:40. We were glad we saw it.


To Dust

A Hasidic cantor with two sons loses his wife and becomes obsessed with her transition back “to dust”. His obsession leads him to a community college biology professor who joins him on his unorthodox journey to grasp death and its meanings.

This is the sort of film that The Boy and I used to live off in the pre-Trump/pre-SJW era. It’s an odd, low-key, funny and sensitive character study with Géza Röhrig (Saul in Son of Saul) as Shmuel, the widower and Matthew Broderick as Albert, the middle-aged teacher living an aimless, lonely life.


Shmuel is skeptical.

The freshman feature from writer/director Shawn Snyder, I began to wonder early on if it was perhaps inspired by a personal experience (whether by him or co-writer Jason Begue). The year is not fixed but I would guess it to be the early ’80s, and Shmuel’s pre-pubescent sons are enduring his madness by coming up with interesting explanations for his late night adventures—namely, he’s been possessed by the dybbuk of his late wife. That whole subplot felt very authentic.

The story begins when, after the funeral, Shmuel begins visualizing his wife’s corpse rotting. He sees her toe split and then blossom like a rose. This is a little disturbing to see, and probably off-putting to some audiences, but helps us understand what Shmuel is going through.

He ends up interrogating Albert on the state of body decomposition. This is another sign of the early ’80s, because Albert doesn’t really know much about it, and today anybody who’s ever seen an episode of “CSI” is an expert. He teaches biology and, y’know, the circle of life and all that, but he’s never really dug into the nitty gritty.

It gets weird.

Shmuel tries to explain things by taking his boys out on a boat and it’s almost as awkward as the Godfather II.

Shmuel’s not thinking all that clearly, and his misunderstanding leads him to bury a pig in the woods. Albert then chides him for doing it all wrong, since he got the pig from a Chinese restaurant and it had already been cleaned.

All this stuff that Shmuel does, by the way, is a sin in his Hasidic world. He becomes increasingly troubled as a result.

Albert’s journey is a different one: As a classic “modern guy”, divorced, in a dead-end job teaching dumb students stuff they don’t want to know, he first finds some meaning in being an authority to the hapless Shmuel. But by the end of the movie—a bold attempt to get into Dr. Bass’ Body Farm—it’s become more personal. The two are friends, even if that friendship is unusual by both their communities’ standards.

Punctuated with nice comedic and dramatic moments, like the boys trying to exorcise the dybbuk from their father’s big toe, and a reticent but resonant interview with the demure midwestern widow Shprintzel (a nice little piece for the actress Isabelle Phillips’ reel), it’s classic movie making: A story about people, flawed for sure, but basically good, struggling to make sense out of life.

You might have a chance to see this. Although it’s only in a couple dozen theaters nationwide, it does seem to have legs so it may travel around for awhile rather than just disappearing.

The Flower, The Boy and I all liked it.

Mmmm. Ham.

Pig enthusiasts may object to some scenes.


We were hyped up to see this Iranian movie, Pig, but competing against it at the same time was a movie about Russian tank drivers in WWII. One showing only so off we went. (We would hit a late showing of Pig the next week.) One of our theater pals told us that they had received a few angry phone calls threatening protests if they dared show this Russian Propaganda! They went ahead and showed it, and we live in very silly times.

I mean, they’ve been showing Russian films there off-and-on for years and nobody has ever cared before but I guess in the era of Trump! and Collusion! it’s now an issue.

Often! But not always.

Tanks don’t always mean freedom.

But The Boy and I were glad to catch this fun Russian version of Fury, though it does grow wearying that every country in the world gets to be patriotic but ours. The Soviets, who treated their own troops (and everyone else’s) like fodder, don’t feel the need to insert that little datum into their WWII movies. It’s all “glory-to-mother-Russia, tovarisch” and “yay for us, we killed the Nazis” without so much as a mention of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact.

I’m just gonna reiterate that: Even the Russians who allied with the Nazis until the Nazis turned on them don’t feel the need to drag out all their dirty laundry for a fun war movie.

And it is fun. Our hero is a Russian tank team captain who beats the odds by taking out six German tanks on his first day, but who ends up being captured with his team and sent to a POW camp where, a few years later, he’s recruited to drive the new T-34 Russian tank in war games to train German Panzer crews how to fight against them better.

Preposterous, of course, and not the least surprising that the Russians outsmart their German captors to destroy the opposing tanks and flee across country to safety. It’s a fairytale but it’s a patriotic one, and Russians have a right to it, even if parts of it (the Communist-heavy parts) make me a little queasy.

Tank humor.

“Tanks are so dumb! I can’t ev—they’re right behind me, aren’t they.”

Setting aside nationalism for good and bad, this whole thing works thanks to writer/director Alexy Sidorov’s light touch, and deft hand at communicating the intricacies of tank battle in a convincing fashion. We get to learn about our tank team, and we get to see them bond as buds in a manly fashion. This is presented unreservedly and unabashedly as is the decidedly (lightweight, to be sure) heterosexual romance.

I mean, we don’t really ask for much. We’re not hard to please. If I want to be critical, I guess I could say that the romance is very lightweight, which you can attribute to the fact that the two principles are in a POW/concentration camp on the one hand, but on the other hand is also done completely sincerely. It’s a very WWII-era thing, the war-time romance is. I’m not gonna knock it.

The CGI reminded me of that seen in Chinese movies: It doesn’t seem to be overly obsessed with “realism” but more about reading properly. The set pieces of the film are, naturally, tank battles, and these are made exciting by panning out to give a sense of the physical space that the action is happening again. Although it occasionally reminds me of the classic Atari “Tank Wars” game, overall it creates a feel like a modern version of the old “I’m traveling, as you can see by the line moving on this map” effect.

In other words, you know what’s going on, and you can see the danger, so you’re less concerned about whether it looks “real”.

It would look good on a motivational poster.

And you thought YOU were having a bad day!

Another thing that was done was slo-mo tank shots. In this case, the point was generally to make clear the trajectories of the shells which would otherwise NOT be clear. The Boy regarded this CGI favorably and felt that it was probably well researched: Like tank shells probably did bounce off the ground sometimes and come up underneath; or they probably did occasionally scrape by each other in mid-air. Can’t swear that any of it happened, but it felt real enough.

Another very realistic-feeling thing was the impact of shells on the armor of the tank. It wouldn’t hurt the tank, but it would hurt the guys inside the tank a great deal. Their ears would be ringing for minutes afterward. At one point, the impact was so great that it seemed to knock some of them out. Again, that seems realistic, and if it’s not, well, at least it’s exciting.

So, if it was silly on some level, it was for trying to tell a kind of upbeat, patriotic story—I wanna emphasize again that this is a Russian movie. Russians must battle out with Finns for the most morose of Caucasian cultures, right? Even outright Russian propaganda films tend to be kind of dark, like Sergei Eisenstein or, hell, Stalker. This movie eschews death for heroic invulnerability, and I’m okay with all of that.

I say if the Russians can do it, so can we. Let’s get on this, America!


We can do anything except make those earflap hats look cool. Only Russians can do that.

My Fair Lady (1964)

I was a little surprised to discover that the running time for My Fair Lady was nearly three hours, and while that had no impact on my determination to see it, I had a slight concern about The Boy and The Flower. Slight, but not much, since they embraced Gone With The Wind, and when The Boy and I saw Lawrence of Arabia we both agreed we could turn around and see that again. (The latter film is coming around again this year—I don’t know what the contrived anniversary is, maybe Claude Rains’ 130th birthday?—and I imagine we’ll all see and enjoy it again.) But while I’ve seen this movie once thirty years ago on a 20″ TV, it became an instant favorite and the music is largely seared—seared!—into my memory.

Go figger.

Except for the bath scene struck me as kind of awful.

Watching it this time, I got why: The most iconic songs are very simple, sometimes with only two verses that are repeated over and over (“Wouldn’t It Be Loverly?”), but always with a catchy hook (“Get Me To The Church On Time”, “With A Little Bit Of Luck”). I remembered a whole lot given how long ago I last saw it. There’s probably a lesson there for aspiring show-tune writers.

There’s a kind of odd frustration for me here: I love Rex Harrison’s performance but I feel like we’re missing out on some great melodies because he speak-sings them all. And I have mixed feelings about Marni Nixon dubbing Audrey Hepburn. I think it makes sense, probably, but I’d take an alternate track on a DVD where Audrey’s singing is there just for the experience. (She recorded all or most of the songs before they called in Marni.) Audrey (35) is too old for the role, and Rex (58) is positively ancient, but none of that matters. (The Flower pointed out that Audrey looking a bit older helps bridge the gap, because Rex would look like 20-year-old Hepburn’s grandfather.)

This, if you don’t know, is the story of a linguist who takes a common flower girl and, by the power of changing her accent, passes her off as a lady at the highest circles.


Step one in turning a flower girl into a lady: Find the flower girl who is Audrey Hepburn.

Henry Higgins (Harrison) is pretty much a monster throughout this movie. He’s arrogant in the extreme, and cold, though when it comes to it he’s actually sort of offended if anyone responds to him in kind. At the end of the movie, he’s slightly less awful, but not a lot.

This is a recurring theme we’ve noticed lately: Characters are flawed, but rather than being destroyed or shunned, people reach out to them. It’s not a thing in modern movies. This is one of the more extreme examples. Higgins is not mildly disrespectful of poor Eliza Doolittle, he refers to her as a “creature”—he very much objectifies her. And about all you can say for him is that he kind of does it with everyone, to varying degrees. The ending is oddly optimistic: You know Higgins is going to be a bastard but he’ll bad and make it up to her, eventually.

The Flower said, “Wow, between this and The Music Man, ‘The Family Guy’ ripped off everything.” It’s true. Stewie’s actually based on Rex Harrison. I think a mix of him and Hannibal Lecter.

It's a good mix.

The Flower approved of the ’60s fashions being channeled into the classier costumes of the gilded age.

The second act crisis is near archetypal perfection. The plan has been a complete success, everything’s gone off without a hitch, and Eliza is increasingly alienated by Higgins’ self-congratulatory celebrations and failure even to recognize her own contributions to this. So at the height of material success, the movie reaches its emotional nadir. And the forlorn former flower girl wanders around her old haunts realizing she can’t really go back to that way of life and her new way of life is oriented around women who could be little more than trophies. (I’m a little vague on the state of her young suitor. Apparently he has no money of his own, so I guess either he would be disowned for marrying her or he was from one of those lordly descendants who had only family connections and no money.)

He loves her, though. And she would work to support him. Something about this feels disastrously like her fathers’ many relationship but, more importantly, she doesn’t really love him however taken with his kindness she is.

Or women, tbh.

There are not a lot of KIND men in this movie.

The Flower gasped at a few of Audrey Hepburn’s gowns. And the excesses of the ’60s are tempered by the desire to create a “gilded age” impression, so some things work startlingly well, like the very mod-styled Ascot race with all the fancy clothes in black-and-white.

The Flower said she had a little trouble imagining Julie Andrews in the role but of course Andrews made the role…and then ended up winning the Oscar for Mary Poppins that year. I think they were planning for Cary Grant in the Rex Harrison role but he said he wouldn’t even go see the movie if they didn’t use Harrison, at least per Ben Mankiewicz.

Well, no one complained about the length. It’s really a very tight movie, for all that. Everything serves a purpose and shows some aspect of character or plot. And it ends up with a very epic feel for all the intimacy of the story.

Obviously recommended.

But lovable?

The Happy Ending: Higgins is still a class-A jerk.

Mal-Mo-E: The Secret Mission

When The Boy and I walked out of the theater from this one, we had never been more proud to be Koreans.

Which, of course, you know. But the point is, I grew up in an America where patriotism was corny at best and in bad taste at worst. Now it’s considered racism and Nazi-ism. Ironic, I suppose, given America’s role in WWII, but there is a pervasive and persistent meme that has America turning into the bad guys instantly after winning the war. (The Soviets started it and lives a life long after we have buried them.)


Without us, these guy’s’d be speaking Japanese.

It’s not surprising then, that you if you want to see a pro-America movie, it has to come from a different country (like last year’s Detective Chinatown 2). Even if it’s just marketing, people of other countries figure Americans like to hear good things about their own country. Truer than you might think, but less true than you’d hope in a time when a substantial portion of the population seems bent on destroying the country.

Now, Koreans? They got none of that.

Even in a damned historical zombie movie, it’s only Love Of Korea that’s going to carry the day—no matter how weak the the leaders are and how corrupt the government, and no matter how thoroughly under Japan or China’s thumb they are.

There's a lot of it.

They keep the “hentai” in the basement.

We like that. You know, I love that, in America, you can talk about how much you hate America. But it’s way overdone in the arts, and so bad that you can’t even count on the President of the United States being a booster. (The Flower still talks about my “malaise speech” rant.)

In this movie, the Japanese are in their 33rd year of occupying Korea. The situation is so dire, some Koreans think this is the new normal, and Japanese have been carrying out their program of cultural genocide by forbidding schools to teach Korean. Some Korean children have never spoken anything but Japanese. (They are being raised to be imperial cannon fodder in the less cultural part of the genocide.)

Enter into this a brave lexicographer, who runs one of the last allowed Korean language magazines, and who is being pressured by his father to join the Japan-Korea alliance—another front in the war against Korean culture. He and his ragtag group are assembling words from all the many dialects of Korean, and trying to create a “standard Korean” from that. This is difficult given the Japanese are inclined to kill anyone trying to preserve Korean culture.

The unlikely hero of the piece is an illiterate petty thief, who accidentally swipes the unfinished dictionary when he steals our lexicographer’s briefcase. The lexicographer tracks him down and fetches the contents back, but this begins a relationship when it turns out the team’s eldest member knows the thief from a stint he did in jail. Not surprisingly, most of the dictionary team have family members in jail and/or have been there themselves.

And other parts.

He literally saves this guy’s ass.

As a result our thief ends up helping around the office and learning to read and write. Meanwhile, the pressure is on: The Japanese shut down all the remaining Korean papers, and a raid results in one member of the team being captured and tortured and much work being destroyed, to say nothing of the trust of the team members.

At the same time, the team has to finish ASAP, or they may never finish.

Even our humble thief is getting pressure at home: His son (who’s around 13), desperate for his dad to stay out of jail, doesn’t want to speak Korean at home. (He gets beaten for lapses at school.) He doesn’t want dad to teach his baby sister Korean, either.

Not bad.

Shopping for glasses in occupied WWII-era Korea.

It’s more exciting than you might think a book about putting together a dictionary would be. And in classic Korean style, incompetent bureaucracy and foreign tyrants war with the People Of Korea, who are not limited to the rich, or the middle class, or even non-felons.

And you don’t really know if the dictionary is going to get made (unless you’re more familiar with Korean history than I am) or which characters are going to live or die. I assume most of the liberties were taken with the dramatic aspects. Other Korean movies we’ve seen have offered fanciful takes on well-known (to Koreans) historical events.

We decided we may have enjoyed the comedy cop flick a little better, but there is a value to patriotism, to racial/tribal pride, and even to nationalism, and it’s just not something that can be found in modern American movies.

It’s not that we mind re-watching Frank Capra, Michael Curtiz, et al. But there should be somebody out there now making movies that celebrate our country.

No, it's good, really!

THRILL to the harsh grading of spelling papers!

The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part

In a lot of ways, while the Brothers Warner haven’t been able to cash in on the recent sweet, sweet superhero money, they have done a good job counter-programming against it. In a world where superheroes are grim, pseudo-adult fare, movies like Teen Titans Go! To The MoviesThe Lego Batman Movie and the original Lego Movie manage to poke fun at both the current over-serious genre and the notion that being adult means having to take everything seriously.

That said, like the other films, I wouldn’t have gone to see The Lego Movie 2 if not for the Barbarienne.

It's not THAT bad. But it's bad.

She has the same blank expression I have when I try to remember the first movie.

In this movie, Legoland is devastated by enemies from the Sister System who are trying to hasten the Armapocalypse? Ourmomapocalypse? The end of the world. When all the gritty, grim characters are kidnapped, it’s up to the lovable, happy Emmet to save the day, which venture he approaches by enlisting the help of Rex Dangervest, a gritty, grimy roguish type who teaches him how to be a tough guy.

It’s cute. It’s not nearly as funny as the first one to be sure, but it’s also less frantic feeling. Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, directors of the first movie, are recently more famous for having been pulled off Solo: A Star Wars Story (which I had to type multiple times because it kept coming Soylo: A Soy Wars Soyry) and perhaps for being producers on the Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse, which feels very influenced  by the Lego movies.

It's a girl. That's all I remember.

Who’s behind the mask? Honestly, I’ve already forgotten.

This also maybe suffers a bit because you know going in what the gag is. The Toy Story-ish relationship between the real world and the Lego world is even more tenuous than Toy Story and raises a bunch of questions that the movie glides over quickly, hoping you won’t think about it too long. This also means that the real-world resolution didn’t bite as much as it might’ve. I was, however, touched by the resolution—but then I’m a sap for these sorts of things.

They got new kids for the kids. Maya Rudolph plays mom. Will Ferrell’s voice plays dad. Chris Pratt is Emmet, Elizabeth Banks is Lucy, Will Arnett is Batman, Jason Momoa plays Aquaman (heh), and Bruce Willis does a really poor imitation of…himself. Seriously, I thought they got an imitator. But Die Hard was 30 years ago, maybe he doesn’t remember what he sounded like.

There are worse ways to spend 1:40, especially watching a kidflick. Very little in the way of scatological humor, which was nice. The next one comes out, The Barbarienne will probably be too old to care, so that’s…well, that’ll probably make me cry.

Or just a Bruce Willis movie?

So, I guess “The Lego Movie 2” is a Christmas movie?