The Red Shoes

Released in 1948, this British classic is well regarded among film lovers for its stunning visuals, but does it hold up?

The Red Shoes is a film I’ve avoided watching for years. It’s one of those film student assignments everybody knows they should watch but usually don’t because it’s reputation looms too large. Like Citizen Kane, the weight if it’s reputation can diminish the viewing experience.

However, due to an excellent video essay by Royal Ocean Film Society and my resurgent interest in expressionistic filmmaking, I decided to finally give this one a look. I wasn’t disappointed, but I know it won’t be for everyone.

The story follows the Ballet Lermontov a renowned ballet company run by the meticulous and demanding Boris Lermontov played by Anton Walbrook. The young ballerina Victoria Page played by the stunning Moira Shearer, joins the company and becomes a star with the production of their latest ballet The Red Shoes based on the Hans Christian Andersen story of the same name. When the new star Victoria page falls in love with the young composer Julian Craster, played by Marius Goring, a jealous Lermontov forces her to choose between her career and her love.

The film is often described as being about Moira Shearer’s character, and she is the standout. But the movie is really about the ballet company itself. It is about the artistic process. Conceiving a show, designing the production, dance rehearsals and all the personalities that collide in that act of artistic expression.

The film is not constructed in the modern fashion of following one character to the exclusion of all others. There are really three main characters who all have complete arcs and full stories. It doesn’t pick it’s lane and charge through to the end. It builds its story slowly. It adds layer upon layer until it’s ultimate story is revealed in its final moments.

Modern films try to immerse us in one characters perspective and make the experience as realistic as possible. This movie paints with a much broader brush. It incorporates multiple characters perspectives and it goes as wild and impressionistic as possible.

The centerpiece of the film is The Ballet of the red Shoes performed in surreal fashion in front of vivid impressionistic backgrounds. If you know anything about The Red shoes you know that it is beautifully shot. It was filmed with Technicolor’s three strip process which essentially involved exposing three strips of film and dying each one a different primary color. This created the incredible colors seen in old Hollywood films. Technicolor is the reason the yellow brick road is so yellow in The Wizard of Oz and why the red shoes are so startling red in this film.

The colors here are stunning and produce a dreamy effect. Every frame is a painting here with colors and composition combining to form a deeply expressionistic experience. The skin tones are heightened the set pieces look like something out of a half remembered dream. The entire film feels like a dark fairy tale.

The acting here is superb especially from Anton Walbrook and Moira Shearer. Her dancing is especially exquisite. The movie walks an interesting line between hammy and naturalistic. Some moments feel contemporary as when Victoria is congratulated by the choreographer after her big performance while other moments feel like dated melodrama. Marius Goring in particular feels over the top as Crastor.

The big question though is of course is the film worth watching? For film students? Yes. Watch it and take notes. I wish I had watched it sooner. For film lovers and lovers of film history? Yes 1,000%. It is a really fun really entertaining ride. It deserves its place in the pantheon of film greats. For the average viewer looking to have a good time this weekend? No. I think it’s surrealist style is going to be off putting for someone just cruising through HBO Max looking for something fun. I think if you want something very different. If you’re tired of gritty realism and predictable story structure this will be breath of fresh air.

I loved it, but I know it won’t be everyone’s cup of tea. Don’t let it’s reputation as one of “the greats” put you off the film. There’s a lot to love here. It’s my cup of tea. A

This is the video essay by Royal Ocean Film Society definitely worth your time.

Army of the Dead

There’s more color in this poster than in the entire movie.

This movie has a good opening, and a strong first act. But it gets worse the longer it goes on, and it goes on for a long time. By then end I was just so glad it was finally over.

The movie is the latest big budget Netflix offering. Written, directed, produced, and shot by Zack Snyder fresh off his justice League Snyder Cut a movie so long it might still be playing for all we know. Snyder is a fan of excess in his movies and this particular movie is pure excess. There is too much of everything in this movie and it just wears me down.

In the film a military convoy carrying patient zero crashes outside Las Vegas leading to a zombie outbreak and the entire city being quarantined and cut off. After a few years, the president decides to nuke the city eradicating the threat. Before the big one drops however, Mr. Tanaka played by the great Hiroyuki Sanada assembled a team to enter Vegas and break into a massive vault containing hundreds of millions of dollars. It turns out Scott Ward, played by the mountain of a man Dave Bautista, is just the man for the job. He assembles his team of zombie killing thieves to infiltrate the city, break into the vault, and steal the millions.

It could be a classic genre mashup. A heist movie in a zombie film. For the first half of the movie, there is a lot of fun to be had. The opening montage feels satirical in its slow motion excess. There’s a claustrophobic scene of real tension as our thieves must walk through a dark hotel kitchen full of hibernating zombies that could wake up at any moment. It has a great “assembling the team” sequence that culminates in an awesome scene for Tig Notaro. She plays a pilot so bored with her life that flying a helicopter through a city full of zombies sounds like a great time.

From there it’s just a slog of problems. It starts for me with the cinematography. This is an ugly movie. It’s hard to look at. Snyder employs extremely shallow depth of field and soft focus throughout. This means that most scenes are out of focus and blurry. I don’t think there’s a single scene in this movie that is in clear sharp focus. The color palette is all muted grayish khaki. So everything looks like a white tshirt that got thrown in the wash with a load of brown clothes. I spent the first half checking my glasses to make sure they weren’t smudged and the second half thinking I was going blind.

My other big issue is how mean the movie is. It is needlessly cruel to a lot of its characters. Women get harassed and assaulted. A man is tortured by zombies. A main character gets beaten half to death. A man is mauled for about ten minutes by a zombie tiger. The cruelty in itself isn’t the problem. Watching a villain get his comeuppance can be satisfying. The problem is how long we have to linger on the pain and torment being endured. A main character is beaten senselessly for an extended period of time. The man mauled by a tiger is shown in horrendous detail. We get out noses rubbed in his pain. It’s not fun or entertaining or horrifying. It’s just unpleasant.

There’s one good scene that gets spoiled by the filmmaking. It involves Scott trying to reconnect with his daughter Kate played by Ella Purnell. It’s an interesting scene, and the writing adds layers to both characters. The problem is the editing rhythm is so wrong that instead of building the relationship it undercuts the revelations and emotional impact. It could have been a home run of a scene, but it just left me frustrated.

I can actually pinpoint the moment where the movie lost me. It involves spoilers so beware. Skip this paragraph if you want to remain unspoiled. The first friend Scott recruits is Maria, played by Ana de la Reguera. After helping Scott assemble the team, she pretty much disappears from the movie until about an hour and a half into the runtime when she randomly pulls Scott aside. She expresses her frustration about him ignoring her. She implies that they had a relationship and that she still wants him. Scott is receptive to her advances. Then the zombies break in and snap her neck. Her bloody spinal column juts out grotesquely from her neck. Then the shooting starts and doesn’t stop for the next hour. They do this kind of thing for the rest of the movie. They give each character a moment then immediately kill them. They get to be a hero then die. It doesn’t matter how stupid the moment is or how little it has to do with their character. They get a moment then are destroyed in increasingly horrible ways. If I’m going to spend two and a half hours with these characters I want more than lip service and a slow mo bloody destruction. It feels cheap and nihilistic. Nothing matters. Everyone is basically already dead.

I can deal with cruelty. I can sit through an excessive runtime. Ugly cinematography sucks but I can put up with it. What I can’t tolerate is when characters are disregarded. There is no value placed on telling a story with these characters. They’re just used as vessels for violent destruction.

I know this movie will work really well for some people. I know the nihilism, the excess, the endless cruelty and zombie headshots will be exactly what some people are looking for. If that’s you, then this is your movie. It’s in theaters and streaming on Netflix. If this doesn’t sound like your movie skip it. you won’t regret skipping it.

Not my cup of tea. C

Those Who Wish me Dead

This thriller gets an A+ for execution and a C for theme amounting to a masterpiece of execution without much else.

The film follows a boy named Connor played by Finn Little who goes on the run with his father after two ruthlessly efficient assassins come after him. Once he gets to Montana he encounters a Sheriff’s deputy played by the always excellent Jon Bernthal, and a smoke jumper played by Angelina Jolie. Young Connor must contend with assassins, lightning storms, and a massive forest fire in order to… talk to the media about what his dad uncovered. It’s a lackluster goal considering the extreme peril he’s put in throughout the film.

Before I get too lost in the weeds of my issues with the film. I need to offer up some praise. This movie is well deserving of a lot of praise. Starting with the writer director Taylor Sheridan.

Sheridan is one of the best screenwriters working today. His scripts are powerful, efficient, and speak volumes while saying few words. His characters behave in believable ways and make realistic decisions in the situations he concocts for them. He is a great writer, and growing into a good director. This is his second feature behind the camera. His mastery of tone and his ability to work with actors is on full display here.

Those performances come from some great actors. I love Jon Bernthal. He does great work here as a cop in over his head. Finn Little captures the trauma of a kid dealing with forces far bigger than himself. Nicolas Hoult and Aden Gillen are equally terrifying and relatable as cold blooded killers who are also brothers. They clearly care deeply about each other while killing everyone in their path. Angelina Jolie is fine. I’ve never been a fan of hers, and here she is fine. She’s solid. Sometimes I like her in movies. Sometimes I find her performance distracting. I think she’s good here. Not great not bad.

My real issue with the film is the ending. It’s not what happened at the end it’s why. There was no satisfying meaning or theme behind the conclusion.

The story is macguffin driven. A macguffin was defined by Alfred Hitchcock as the thing which everyone in the movie cares about very much. It is the driving force behind the action on screen. Here the macguffin is the information that Connors dad uncovered, but the movie never tells us what he uncovered or whom he uncovered it about. Connor’s goal is to get the information out to the world, but we don’t know what good of any that will do. On a literal level we don’t really know what the movie is about.

On a thematic level we don’t really know what it’s about either. The movie doesn’t draw a thematic line through its macguffin. You could say it’s about exposing corruption, but it’s unclear if that’s what Connors secret is. It could be about revealing evil institutions, but no evil institutions are revealed. If we ditch the macguffin and look at each character the main theme seems to be survival. But the movie doesn’t say much about survival. Some people live others don’t. There isn’t much rhyme or reason as to why. If that’s what they’re trying to say “life’s tough, sometimes people die” then that’s not enough for me.

I’m left disappointed. I have a feeling of being let down after watching the movie. With a production this good, and execution this strong I wish it had a better story. As it is it is a week made movie that feels hollow.

Maybe you’ll get more out of it thematically than I did. I can recommend so much if this movie, but for me it didn’t quite make it across the finish line. If you want to check it out, it is in theaters and streaming on HBO Max.

It’s half a cup of tea. B

The Woman in the Window

If you’re looking for a beautiful looking film with great performances and a pulpy crime story, this is a great choice even if it is a little over-baked.

There’s no getting around it, the film is essentially a remake of Alfred Hitchcock’s classic, Rear Window from 1954. The story follows Amy Adams as a woman with agoraphobia who becomes obsessed with her new neighbors across the street. She meets their son, who seems to need her help. She begins watching them through their big open windows and believes he witnesses the murder of his mother. But due to the medications she’s on to help with her phobia she may not have seen what she thinks she saw. She is mentally unstable and unable to leave her house even as evil closes in on her.

Amy Adams is fantastic. She gives a wonderful and full performance. It’s a role that asks a lot of her emotionally. She runs the gauntlet of highs and lows here. From dealing with a frustrating psychologist, to the terror of what she may have seen, to the desperation to be believed, she is giving it her all here. It’s also a role that demands a lack of vanity. She looks rather unattractive in many scenes as a woman drinking wine on her couch wearing a ratty robe and pajamas. She goes all in on this aspect of the role and never once lets her movie star quality betray the authenticity of the role.

The film is directed by Joe Wright, a British director most well known for the exquisitely shot Pride and Prejudice from 2005, and most recently for the WWII drama Darkest Hour. He is a master at crafting beautiful images. Here he fills the frame with a stunning use of color and shadow to isolate Amy Adams’ character. She lives in a vast empty house and the darkness that surrounds her is stunningly moody. The splashes of color he employs really go a long way to convey meaning and imply a lot of subtext about the characters that come in and out of the house. Play attention to his use of reds.

For me the story is fun until the ending. It gets a little too twisty for its own good. It tells a compelling psychological story about a damaged woman, then it jumps into pulp territory a little too far. I don’t buy the final reveal. That’s my real problem. There are a couple of twists in the movie, and a couple of them really don’t work for me. I don’t believe them, and it causes the movie to suffer. There are some choices made that diminish the work as a whole for me. I don’t want to give anything away. I just wasn’t able to go all the way with the movie. It bent the narrative reality of the film too far and broke for me.

That said, I think there’s a lot to recommend here, and there’s so much worthwhile in this movie. I can still recommend it. Just because it didn’t work for me doesn’t mean it won’t work for you. I think it’s a flawed but fun movie experience. It’s streaming on Netflix and it’s worth checking out.

It’s my cup of tea. B

Top 5 Good Bad Movies

This week we’re doing something a little different. We’ve had a lot of questions about good bad movies and our favorites, so we decided to make lists of our top five good bad movies for you.

These are our current favorites. Movies so bad they’re actually good. Check out our lists and share some of your favorites with us. Click the link below to give us a listen.

The Platform

This film is brutal and visceral and one of the best commentaries I’ve seen. It’s worth checking out if you have the stomach for it.

This Spanish language film follows Goreng a prisoner in the most inhuman prison imaginable. It’s called the pit by the inmates and a “Vertical Self-Management Center” by those who run it. It’s a massive tower made up of cells.

Goreng wakes up in a simple concrete cell with two beds and a large square hole in the middle of the floor. His cell mate, named Trimagasi, informs him that every day a platform will lower from the floors above containing food. They must eat all they can before it continues down to the level below them. Those below can only eat from what those above leave behinThey are on level 48. This is a good level. By the time the platform reaches the lowest levels there is no food left. The prisoners below must resort to whatever means necessary to survive.

Goreng tries to convince those on the floors near him to save food for the lower floors, but no one listens. Every month the prisoners are randomly reassigned to different floors. Those at the top were at the bottom and refuse to save any for the lower levels. “We suffered last month. They can suffer this month. No one helped me why should I help them?” As his first month drags on the optimum Goreng is worn down by the system and begins eating his fill. However at the end of that month he and Trimagasi wake up on the 171st floor. Now they’re in trouble. To what depths of depravity will they stoop to survive?

This movie is absolutely gripping. It is a social commentary on top of a tense thriller. Every scene is wrought with tension. Goreng encounters all manner of prisoners. A woman who rides the platform down everyday looking for her son. A man desperately trying to climb to the top hoping for salvation. To a former administrator trying to come to terms with the system she served. These are fascinating characters all thrown into a pressure cooker that could explode into violence at any moment.

And boy does it explode. When there is violence it is brutal and graphic. It feels so messy and real. It is some of the most upsetting violence I’ve seen.

Speaking of upsetting the film doesn’t shy away from the horrors of what people will do to survive. When a prisoner is starving to death and his cell mate is weak, he starts looking awfully tasty. This is where people might have to turn away, or it might cause people to avoid checking it out at all. I completely understand that response. It’s not an easy movie to watch, but it is incredibly thought provoking.

It is a powerful commentary on human nature and how people behave in unfair systems. Goreng is a good person with a good heart, but when pushed by a bad system he is just as cruel and inhuman as anyone. The systems in place that put artificial limitations on us and bring out our worst impulses while not as extreme as depicted in the film are very real.

When Goreng first wakes up he tries to rally the people above him. Trimagasi informs him that people above don’t listen to those below because they’re beneath them. When Goreng tries to talk to the people below him, Trimagasi tells him not to talk to them because they are beneath him. I found myself thinking these types of artificial traps we fall into in the real world.

This movie is gripping. It’s though provoking. It’s challenging. If you’re looking for that kind of movie it’s currently streaming on Netflix and it’s worth your time. Check it out if you can stomach the rough patches.

It’s my cup of tea. A-

The Mitchells vs The Machines

What happens when a family of odd balls come face to face with a robot uprising while on the worst road trip ever? A heartfelt and frenetic animated movie that I had a lot of fun with.

Katie Mitchell is an aspiring filmmaker who is leaving her quirky family to go to film school. After a dinnertime argument her dad, Rick Mitchell, decides to drive the entire family across the country to deliver Katie to school in a last ditch effort at family bonding. Along with the regular family road trip antics, a robot uprising takes place threatening to destroy not only the Mitchell family but all of humanity.

It took me a few minutes to get into this one. The wild energy and offbeat sense of humor felt a little too hyperactive in the opening minutes. Jokes come flying at you constantly. There are big visual gags that bend the verisimilitude of the film almost to the breaking point. We don’t get enough time establishing the world of the film before they’re already bending it with a constantly stream of gags.

I had to adjust my expectations for the film, but once I did I got totally swept up in the adventure and the rather heartfelt family story at the center of the film. Rick is lamenting the fact that he and Katie have grown apart over the years. Katie is angry that her father seems to make no effort to understand her. She makes all kinds of movies for YouTube and her technophobic father has never watched any of them. It’s a very relatable family dynamic, and the film commits fully to this relationship. It grounds the absurdities that follow. Those absurdities involve an army of robots that attack humanity after a smartphone feels spurned by her creator and decides to destroy all human life.

The movie has a wonderful sense of humor that made me laugh out loud many times. As a tech mogul unveils his army of robots the first thing he says is that they definitely won’t rise up against us just then they rise up against us. There’s a very funny moment where the evil smartphone unleashes her doomsday plan… she turns off the wifi. All over the world we see chaos reign because there is no wifi. My favorite moment involves a heard of Roombas as they ride in to attack, but are thwarted by a flight of stairs. It’s a very bit. The film has a lot of clever moments and genuine laughs.

Where it really succeeds though is the family story. This is a family that is genuinely weird and quirky. They are strongly defined characters and their relationships are really well developed. Their plight is very relatable and is played with deep sincerity. I had a strong emotional reaction to the climax of their story. It really works for me, and I think it will for you too.

Final note, I love the animation style here. It’s a combination of hand drawn and computer generated imagery that creates a unique look. It’s reminiscent of Into the Spiderverse from a few years ago, but it’s cranked up to eleven here.

There’s a lot to love in this goofy movie. I definitely think you and your family will get a lot out of it. There’s fun stuff for the parents and the kids. It is currently streaming on Netflix. Give it a chance.

It’s my cup of tea. A-