Tag Archives: Terrible

Beauty and the Beast (2017): Monstrously Arrogant and Terribly Overrated

“Tale that’s dulled with time…Lame as it can be…Barely just begun, it made me want to run, and its praise baffles me!”

Go see the stage musical and pretend that Hermione is in place of whoever is Belle. It’s more worth your time and money to do that than to go see this live-action remake.

This is the only one so far that I would not consider buying. And spoilers below, so be warned. I respect every other Disney remake way more than this movie, and I might even go so far as to say that even the cringe-inducing Disney sequels tried harder than this did.

This remake is Diet Animated Beauty and the Beast. I’m honestly appalled that it’s getting as much critical praise as it is (not even audience praise; honest-to-goodness cristcs calling it a masterpiece), because it tries so hard to not just live up to its namesake, but be it as well, and it can’t possibly do so. It just doesn’t understand what made that movie work, even on the most basic, fundamental level.

The music is noticeably over-polished and poorly mixed. It’s the opposite problem of Anne Hathaway in Les Miserables; it’s not raw and emotional enough. It sounds like it was just made to sell the soundtrack as close to the “pop” section as it could get.

We (meaning my boyfriend and I) checked to see if it was just our cheap movie theatre that was behind the bad mixing, but no, there are plenty of problems still present in the music itself. Emma Watson and Dan Stevens sound as great as they possibly can, but only the latter has any raw emotion in his voice, and both definitely sound like they’re singing in a studio, rather than in the actual movie. And the in-song dialogue is stripped of all emotion, as the producers were clearly more interested in making everyone sound “pretty” than giving them any semblance of character.

 

Notice how Belle gets really pissed off at the beginning, almost yelling? Imagine in this scene that she has a British accent, and then picture she’s in a chair at the salon casually complaining to her girl friends. That’s essentially how powerful and compelling it is; mild annoyance vs actual shocked outrage.

Yeah, the animators actually put effort into that so-called kids’ film.

Also, Gaston doesn’t get humiliated with a wedding fiasco. Belle shuts a door in his face, and then the next time we see him, he’s mildly disappointed at the tavern. How does this fuel the fire of his depraved ego, making him into the true monster of the movie? What leads him to make the drastic jump of deciding to throw Belle’s father into a mental institution? I have no clue. It was in the original, so let’s put it in here too, I guess!

Incidentally, Gaston becoming a truly crappy human being is paced weirdly, and the seemingly simple catalysts of “I want to marry the hot girl” and “if I can’t have her, no one can” have no backing behind them. It really feels like it only happens here because something similar happened in the original version. Character and morivation are only very loosely connected.

The actors (all good people clearly trying to do their best with crap direction) almost never seem like real people, except Belle’s dad. Belle herself seems less terrified and more put-out most of the time, and otherwise, she’s smiling blandly. I think Watson was trying to be more confident in an effort to seem stronger, willful, and more independent than the original Belle, but it just comes across like she’s not a real human being dealing with a terrifying and stressful situation. She’s not quite at Anakin Skywalker levels of bland, but still not very compelling, which is a damn shame.

 

The original Belle, voiced by Paige O’Hara, was a likeable character who also managed to be human, if a bit more forgiving and kind than most of us would be in her situation. But hey, it’s a fairytale, not an in-depth procedural manual for how to live your actual, real-world life.

Emma Watson has very little charm or character, provided you can take off the rose-colored, lightning scar-shaped glasses. The film keeps telling me she’s odd and different and awesome, like the previous Belle, but she doesn’t show it unless she’s directly speaking, and even then, there’s no genuine emotion or commitment behind the dialogue. There’s a lot of tell, don’t show that happens here, and it’s not just because it’s a musical. The original was a musical as well, practically virtually identical to this one, but even during moments where the characters were silent, a lot of personality comes through in their designs and the “cartoon-ish” animation.

For example, when Gaston comes a-calling with a whole impromptu wedding party, Belle’s eye roll upon seeing him through her peephole is incredibly pronounced, even maybe overexaggerated. But it shows what she’s feeling perfectly and its relatable, which is incredibly important.

That said, Watson does look the part. She is gorgeous and I will always love her, even when her performance is sadly kind of bland and lackluster.

The story is too much retreading of old material (word-for-word dialogue and essentially shot-for-shot scenes), to the point where you can’t help but compare it to the original animated feature. Some things are changed completely, while others are changed not nearly enough, and there is far more of the latter than the former, too much more for my liking.

This isn’t “recapturing the spirit of the original, with some new twists to make it fresh.” This is riding the original’s coat tails and throwing in a few scraps of difference to try to throw us off their scent. This does to the first movie what The Hobbit movies did for The Lord of the Rings: nothing but cheap lip service and inadvertently making you appreciate the early movie even more.

 

The visuals are over-gilded and painful to my eyes; I had to look away for most of the Be Our Guest number, it was so hideous, overcrowded, and just overdone. I don’t care if it’s period-accurate; it’s a Disney movie. Historical accuracy has always been regarded as optional.

The castle never feels lonely, ominous, or terrifying in any way, demonstrated best by the fact that Belle shows up at it during the day, in brilliant sunshine. Sooo dramatic!

But don’t worry. God will still send that out-of-nowhere thunderstorm to the climax for dramatic effect. Some Disney tropes never die, after all.

The wardrobe is hideous and makes no sense. Most of the other objects I can tolerate, but she was too much, with her haphazardly flailing curtains and utter lack of a face. Her actress/singer was totally wasted in this role.

The pacing is whack. I was checking my watch all through the first half, and then, to my surprise, numerous scenes in the second half went speeding by like the Road Runner.

For example, the moment when Beast gets angry about Belle trying to touch his enchanted rose isn’t literally a minute, but it feels like it might as well have been. There’s virtually no drama behind it; Belle barely touches the case, Beast appears and says “Don’t do that,” and then she leaves, looking like the Beast just told her to go to the kitchen and make him a sandwich. I have no idea why she’s running or why she just up and decides to leave after this; the look on her face is minor frustration, and nothing more.

She doesn’t even look all that scared staring down a pack of angry wolves that are about to eat her face off.

That said….the added songs were nice. And some of the jokes were pretty damn funny. And Maurice’s actor is great. Gaston and LeFou were passable. Some of the added scenes were interesting, if superfluous or largely irrelevant.

Why did Belle’s mother getting the Plague matter? I could have sworn they were leading up to some Sweeney Todd-style rape ambush; you know, maybe something related to the fact that she was apparently a weirdo like Belle and her father, and people ganged up on her…?

 

As far as I can tell, nothing was added to Belle and the Beast’s relationship other than her telling him about her family a little bit…Cool? Belle didn’t even know her mother, and was a baby when she died, so I’m not sure why she remembers much or why this is so important to her.

Yeah, I was pretty much right in my pre-movie fears. But even before that, I should have started having misgivings once it was mentioned that they were going to be using the original songs and score. There is taking inspiration and changing context, and then there is copy-pasting in someone else’s work instead of doing your own.

But hey, that’s how the film basically pays for itself. Who needs creative marketing when you have simple brand name recognition?

I tried so very hard to go into this and be fair and objective, but the movie begs so much to be compared to its predecessor, and in that light, it fails miserably. I’d rank it below Maleficent, and it didn’t even have the gall to do the “here is the true version of this story, lost to time and retellings” bullcrap. At least Maleficent was working from an already fairly flawed movie, and tried to switch the sympathy to the villain.

It just feels so lazy. I was of half a mind to go back to the cashier and ask for my money back before we had even reached the halfway point, and not because I was all that angry.
I was bored. I’d seen this all before. It was like going to the stage musical without the novelty of it being live, and after a short time, I stopped wondering how they were going to handle the scenes from the original movie differently. The CG was just so fake and hideous…I almost stopped caring until the “Days in the Sun” scene.

The stage musical, at the very least, had some intrigue. What props will they use? How will they set up and work with the stage? The “movie magic” on the screen isn’t true movie magic anymore. It’s all done with computers. That’s the answer.

The Beast isn’t scary or even all that intimidating. The household objects are confirmed to be frozen in their forms once the last petal falls (left ambiguous in the original movie, but a major plot point in the Broadway musical), and it is needlessly sad, even for Disney. Someone told me to bring tissues, but I wasn’t even crying. And guys, I cry at everything! I cried when Ash got turned to stone in Pokemon: The First Movie, for Pete’s sake!

Honestly, that was the darkest thing about the entire movie, and doesn’t it make the Beast so much more likable that he screwed them over, just for a hot girl?

 

I’m sorry, petrification is one of the most universally scary things ever. Being frozen alive, but aware for the rest of your life sounds absolutely horrible and torturous. Waaaaay worse than being a Beast who can travel anywhere in the world on a whim (the Enchantress gave him a magic book for some reason), and yet this guy just lets Belle go knowing this is going to happen to his servants?!!!! 

If I were one of them, I’d probably beat him with the hardest, sharpest part of myself right up until the very end. Yeesh…and people call the original Beast a jerk.

 

Let me be clear: I don’t have a problem with the scene in theory. I have a problem with how unearned and out-of-place it feels in this virtually charmless, wooden movie.

Oh, also, Disney took a page from the original story, in that Belle’s father takes a rose from the garden and that’s what pisses the Beast off initially…lame. It’s not like Maurice went after the enchanted rose or anything. Hell, he took food from the Beast’s table, but no, Maurice. You picked a flower, you heartless thief! How dare you?!

If there anything that the original movie did right, it was picking and choosing what to adapt out of the source material. Maurice trespassing pisses off the Beast, and the Beast only cares about the rose (not a random rose from his garden) because its wilting is tied to his curse. His despair leads him to act more like the animal he had become, and guess what? Animals are territorial. It makes sense on a simple, but also brilliant, level, when you think about it.

What was the point of her father’s taking one leading him to be locked in a dungeon? Also, why is it randomly snowing in Beast land?

 

New Beast still seems too human, but ironically he also doesn’t emote very well, and his voice is princely but not remotely beastly. It’s a wonder that anyone can take him seriously.

There is so much to complain about in this movie that I can hardly keep focused. LeFou is officially gay now, and I’m surprised more people are pleased by that portrayal. I mean, he knows Gaston is doing bad things the whole time, and he seems genuinely regretful,  but LeFou stands by and lets things happen (a near brutal mauling and false imprionsment in a horrible, explicit snake pit insane asylum, need I remind you?) just because he’s got a crush on Gaston.

Once again, I must say, “Wow! How likeable!

 

In the end, Gaston snubs him pretty casually and pointlessly, and that’s all it takes to get him to be a full-on good guy. Not that it amounts to anything. LeFou talks to Mrs. Potts, and then a few scenes later, he appears again with dancing with a new guy….Cool? I guess it pays to be an obvious walking-stereotype that compromises his morals for a hot person and then gives up being a bad guy immediately.

No sir, nothing questionable or poorly-thought-out there…

But hey, I can’t tell people what they should or shouldn’t find insulting. Visibility is still visibility, after all, and the “women scorned” trope can probably work just as well on a man…who didn’t seem all that committed in the first place. Last minute redemption, anyone?

I just think it’s weird to praise it simply because it’s Disney. There is a much better LGBT victory AND first from Disney that we should be talking more about, in my opinion…

 

Gaston is okay, but like LeFou, he’s not nearly as despicable as his animated counterpart. His scene at the tavern is probably the best thing in the whole movie, but again, I’d personally rather be watching it live, on a stage. The script tries to make him cartoonishly, unambiguously evil, but it’s more funny than damning.

I’d still rank his acting higher than just about anyone else in the film.

The Enchantress appears very obviously throughout, especially at the end, but we never get her thought process on the terms and conditions of this curse she’s evidentially so proud of. Never once does anyone think to question her about her actions, even when she’s standing right next to them. Mrs. Potts handwaves a short explanation that she and her fellow servants let the king brainwash his son, turning him into a fellow scumbag, but that’s the only indication we ever get of what the Beast’s father was like.

Oh, and if we’re going for realism here, the servants were probably a step up from property, so what choice would they have really had, movie? You want to elaborate on that one a little bit more?

See, the animated movie had its unfortunate or questionable implications, but it didn’t draw attention to them nearly as much as this one does. The remake tries to explain a few things (such as why no one in the surrounding area remembers the cursed ruler of the land and his castle in the nearby woods), but utterly ignores several crucial others.

It DOES answer one very important question right at the end, however…that yes, Belle was very much into the bestiality of the situation.

 

No, seriously. Belle teasingly asks if the Prince-Beast can grow a beard, and he roars at her, making her laugh.

Um….ewwwwww……Thanks for that, Disney. That is one part of the story that I never wanted to seriously ponder.

To cut this disjointed rant short, the new movie is not the worst thing ever. It’s okay. But it is pretty bad and pretty shamelessly just coasting off the love and prestige (duels deserved) of a much better movie. You can argue that all of the Disney remakes, retreads, and sequels do that to some extent, but this film is the live-action iteration that tries the  absolute least, and it’s arguably the one that should least be allowed to get away with that.

Despite their flaws, Cinderella, Maleficent, and The Jungle Book gave me enough that was new and likeable for me to acknowledge their existence. Beauty and the Beast, on the other hand, truly feels like a hollow, whore-ish cash-grab, and given what it’s trying to be, that’s depressing.

But hey, Hermione’s in it, so that automatically makes it good, right?

Not for me, thanks. I think I’ll stick with the original, despite how much it traumatized me as a child. At  least it was well-paced and creatively put together by clearly passionate people.

At least that beast had some bite to it.


*3/10

*Please note: none of the images, songs, or video clips in this article belong to me. They are owned by Disney (except the Medusa one). 

 

 

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Bride Wars and Identity Thief: Setting Womankind, Comedy and Storytelling Back at Least 20 Years Each

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Today we have a double review; two of my least favorite movies ever made and, as the title suggests, giant stains on the film industry and the world of femininity as a whole.

Bride Wars was released in 2009, starring Anne Hathaway and Kate Hudson as best friends Emma and Liv, who end up squabbling because their weddings get scheduled for the same day. It’s a “wacky” chick-flick at heart, but it also tries to present a biting satire of women’s ideals about marriage, which results in a confused but highly mean-spirited tone and a hollow ending message.

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But at least where it failed, Bridesmaids succeeded.

Identity Thief, which hit theatres a mere 4 years later, was aimed at a more diverse audience, but no less confused in its efforts to create comedy. Jason Bateman plays Sandy Patterson, an accountant who gets his identity stolen by a scammer named Diana, played by Melissa McCarthy. To rectify her wrongs, he essentially must hunt her down himself and bring her to justice, and all the while she uses her status as a woman to create misunderstandings with onlookers, and her sob story as a means to garner sympathy and even convert poor Sandy to the dark side.

Griffin The Invisible Man (David Spade), Murray the Mummy (Ceelo Green), Wanda (Molly Shannon), Wayne (Steve Buccemi), Frank (Kevin James) and Mavis (Selena Gomez) in HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA, an animated comedy from Sony Pictures Animation.

As far as I know, nothing has succeed where this movie fails.

Comedians will often say that anything can be humorous, even the most taboo topics we hold as a society. While I agree that nothing should be off-limits, I think that jokers have to strive all the harder to find ways to make these subjects funny. Creativity is the solution, as well as an important element of comedy itself, and in its absence, you might as well be slinging insults on the playground.

Both movies fail in a similar regard, which is why I chose to review them together. They present situations where comedic things can happen, but they don’t, and all you’re left with is stereotypes and unpleasantness.

Let’s look at Bride Wars first.

From the first series of frames, the writers try to convince us that Liv and Emma are best friends. From early childhood days, they played and unhealthily fantasized about marriage together, with Emma being more soft-spoken and taking a backseat to Liv’s antics.

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They then grow up into catty, spoiled, unpleasant young women, with Emma being proposed to by her boyfriend (Sir Barely-Appears-in-this-Film-Except-to-Look-Uninvested) while Liv discovers her ring in the closet and confronts her boyfriend (Sir Pussy-of-Whipped) when she gets impatient.

The only sympathetic things we learn about either woman is that Liv’s parents died early on in her life and Emma has a lower-paying job than Liv. Otherwise, Emma is mousy but cunning and passive-aggressive, and Liv is an aggressive control freak. One of the first scenes we see of them as adults is them snidely remarking that their friend’s wedding isn’t as good as their dream weddings will be, and then the scene fades out as they both prepare to fight for the bouquet.

Charming.

When their other friends hear of their engagements, they give us a few lovely vignettes of depressed women stereotypes, particularly eating unhealthy foods like Ben and Jerry’s.

Also charming. Tell me, writers, am I meant to feel insulted and disgusted when I watch this?

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Liv and Emma seek out a famous wedding planner played by Candice Bergen for both their weddings, and they both schedule at the Plaza Hotel, at opposite ends of June. As you can guess, stupid, implausible shenanigans ensue that force their weddings onto the same day. Are they ecstatic that, as besties, they can share their special day together? If not, does Liv, a lawyer, think of suing Candice Bergen for the (albeit accidental) breach of contract?

No, their first thoughts are to stalk and pester the women who took Emma’s day, but not before threatening Bergen’s fired secretary for her information when Bergen refuses to give it to them.

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The whole situation is stupid for reasons I won’t even go into, but wow. What likeable main characters we have here! I definitely want to keep watching to make sure they get their happily ever afters!

When that plan fails, they attempt to passive-aggressive one another into forfeiting the day. And when that fails, they make rude comments and sabotage each other’s wedding planning, like all best-friends-til-the-end do.

 

Other shenanigans are, but are not limited to:

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…Again, have you ever seen the show Bridezillas? I know it’s a tad old at this point, but the whole reason anyone watched it was to see spoiled prima donnas have massive meltdowns because their gowns are “pearl white instead of off-white!” and other stupid things like that. We are definitely NOT meant to sympathize with them. At best, we should be laughing at the absurdity.

But Bride Wars is not the same. This is a feature-length film that is clearly trying to get us to not only believe that these two girls are best friends, but that they are somewhat identifiable with us, the viewing audience. We are meant to see their positives, which keep us rooting for them even when they are extremely negative.

It doesn’t work when the negative is so overly emphasized that it’s not realistic anymore. Or, you know, when the negative is horribly, irredeemably unlikable.

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Liv’s fiance puts up with her psychopathy while Emma’s actually confronts her. The movie, of course, tries to paint him like a callous douchebag, but I’m sorry, writers; Fletcher (her fiancé’s name, for all two people who care) is perfectly within his rights as a partner to tell her that she’s being stupid and that he doesn’t like this side of her. I’m firmly a believer in the idea that someone who loves you should confront you when you’re going down a self-destructive path or hurting someone else for a petty reason. Love isn’t easy, but theoretically,  it should bring out the best in people and inspire them to make up what they lack as much as they can.

Also, I love how Kate Hudson, the producer of the movie, is set up to get a happy ending with her unrealistically perfect man, while Anne Hathaway is going to get the most negative consequences. They are both equal players in this “war,” but nuh-uh. Can’t ruin the producer’s fantasy, can we?

The plot reaches its pathetic crescendo on the double wedding day, and after a massively mature wrestling match in the aisle of Liv’s room,

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Emma and Fletcher break things off.

At first, the writers give him a few lines to make us think he’s controlling, and after he leaves, Emma answers Liv’s concern with, “If Fletcher and I were meant to be together…we’d be getting married and we’re not.” Um…no. Liv, you pretty definitively played a major role in your best friend’s break-up and the millions of dollars her family wasted on the wedding. And it’s amazing to me how even at this point in the movie, Emma pretty much refuses to take any personal responsibility for this situation. At least Liv has something barely resembling self-reflection.

The ending is utterly meaningless, as Emma gets a tacked-on relationship and off-screen marriage with Liv’s brother, who she shared maybe one conversation with during the entire movie. The writers took the only interesting, different, and actually poignant moment of satire in the whole film and rendered it meaningless within 5 minutes. Yay.

The two women find out they are both pregnant and expected to deliver on the same day, and Candice Bergen gives us some narration about “sometimes the person who knows you sometimes better than you know yourself is the person who’s been standing beside you all along.”

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Wow again, writers. Way to miss the entire point of the movie YOU WROTE! These friends in no way stuck by each other through thick and thin. They purposely set out to make one another miserable! They barely acknowledged their damn fiancées because they were so self-absorbed, and they only made up after taking eons to come to their meager senses!

This film is an insult to women everywhere. It can’t decide what it wants to be, so it flip-flops back and forth between poking fun at an (arguably) common tendency in women getting married and celebrating it with over-the-top, mean-spirited spectacle. Both the leads are unlikable, horrible people who do bad things to others and to themselves, all because they care more about a one-day ceremony than THE ACTUAL PERSON THEY’RE MARRYING.

This could have been a great cautionary tale  if the writers had just gone all out on the characters’ horribleness and the mean-spirited plot, but they probably worried that wouldn’t test as well with their vapid target demographic. Real, lasting, meaningful conflict is too much for their simple minds to deal with, so let’s just slap some “best friends forever” message at the end.

Meanwhile, over in Identity Thief land…

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This movie doesn’t even need a play-by-play with in-depth analysis explaining why it’s so putrid. A criminal does terrible things that ruin people’s lives, but we the audience are supposed to understand and condone her actions when we find out that she was a foster child who still doesn’t even know her real name. Boo-hoo.

The actress and the plot are not even remotely funny enough to overshadow how despicable they are. I’m sorry, but a sob story only gets you so far, and does absolutely nothing at all when you are not even remotely repentant of your actions. Diana (McCarthy) seems to think that how she was treated as a child justifies ruining many innocent lives, possibly lowering them to being in a very similar position that she was, and meanwhile, she is enjoying ill-gotten money and material goods. Sandy (Bateman) is a good if somewhat lame person, and he is constantly punished for simply trying to get his life back in order, because he is daring to oppose Diana.

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I’m not even sure how they could have made this funny. It’s too real and nightmarish for most people. No amount of “feminism” is going to get me to go, “Yeah! You go, girl! Use everything you have at your disposal to abuse the system and carelessly affect others!”

Hell, you would think that Diana, someone who was poor and without home and family, would become a Robin Hood-type and use her “powers” to help someone other than herself. At least then, she could have been more compelling.

But no. Credit cards and merch it is. Once again, empty-headed, shallow woman who I’m meant to identify with.

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Both these movies are lowest-common-denominator comedy garbage with horrible implications and messages that we are meant to find endearing. They do nothing but insult me, and every other lady out there, on every possible level; too serious at times, and not serious enough at others.

Thankfully, they are both highly, rightfully panned.

 

.2/10

 

 

 

 

 

 

Despicable Me: Much Stupider than People Give it Credit For

I’m sure this is way too late for any kind of meaningful, relevent review, but with The Secret Life of Pets theatrical release behind us now, I feel now was as good a time as any to talk about my issues with Illumination Entertainment, as well as its “magnum opus.” Massive air-quotes implied.

Chris Meledandri founded the production company back in 2007, and its first ever film was, you guessed it, Despicable Me.

From the trailers, the plot looked basic enough: Steve Carell plays Gru, an evil mastermind intent on being, well, despicable. He has a bunch of little minions who look like mutant Kellogg’s Corn Pops, and he likes to steal things for the hell of it.

I went to go see the film particularly after the raving reviews from friends, family, and critics. “It taps into your inner child,” people said. “It was so much fun,” they said. “The littlest girl screams, ‘It’s so fluffy, I’m going to die!’ and isn’t that just adorable?” they said.

Well, with the exception of that last one, I fervently disagree.

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While I can accept that something like My Neighbor Totoro is a great film and just isn’t my personal taste, I genuinely don’t understand why anyone loves Despicable Me.

There is nothing despicable about the character of Gru. His character makes virtually no sense, and the only impression I got of him was that he’s too awkward to function. This is probably Steve Carell’s flattest, least funny delivery; for me, he’s either really awkward funny or just really stiffly awkward, and here, it was most definitely the latter.

His minions are obnoxious. They just chatter and say random words with no rhyme or reason to them (which, contrary to popular belief, is not automatically funny), and they are a fairly obvious rip-off of the Toy Story aliens. This is especially bitterly funny today, given that The Secret Life of Pets looks to be a straightforward rip-off of Toy Story as a whole. The only appreciable difference is that it involved pets, rather than toys.

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Literally; a dog gets replaced by what he assumes his owner thinks is a better dog, here to ruin his perfect life. Shenanigans ensue when said new pet gets him into trouble and takes him far from home.

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Yes! Yes it f@&%ing is! That was the first thing I thought when I first saw the damn trailer!

Pixar should totally sue over this. I’m not even kidding.

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Anyway, Jason Segel plays Gru’s….rival? – I guess that’s what he is – named Victor/Vector, an obnoxious, pandering “cool kid” who’s more of a dork than he realizes. Take a drink every time a character from Illumination Entertainment films air guitars or acts like a stupid hipster douchebag. It’s not funny, and it’s definitely not endearing; it’s just annoying.

He’s also virtually identical to their Captain Planet villain in The Lorax, and even to their version of the Onceler.

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The little girls are probably the best part of the movie, although I don’t know why they have old lady names. I guess that’s the joke, that the orphanage cares so little about them that they gave them names that most kids would probably make fun of them over, but if that’s so, it’s not communicated very well. It’s just a pointless quirk, really.

Agnes is adorable and Margo is understandably jaded by the system in which she has to live, but Edith? Outside of the generic “rebellious” attitude, she has no character to speak of. She’s simply “there” to fill a slot, I guess.

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Poor middle children. You never catch a break, am I right?

Gru ends up adopting the girls to help with his scheme of…stealing the moon, but then starts begrudgingly falling in love with them.

I’m not opposed to a “type” of story like this; after all, parental love doesn’t get a ton of focus in kid and family movies. It’s just that everything about Gru is forced, from his awkward fliting with Ms. Hattie to the way he says “liiiiiiiiiightbulb” every time he gets an idea. If he was charmingly awkward, this might work better, but I think the writer just wanted to make him as weird as possible.

Also, we never address his issue with parental neglect, or the real reason why he’s chosen to be so tepidly despicable. We’re just shown the scenes and then…nothing.

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That may make sense on some level, but it’s not the strongest or most compelling motivation. I sympathized more with the tortured serial killer from Red Dragon than I did with this droning, walking Eastern European stereotype.

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The weakest part of the film has to be when Gru’s sidekick, Dr. Nefario, who barely shows up at all, finally decides to try to get the orphanage to come take the girls back. Gru has been warming up to them so much, and seems to have no real reason to fight his emotions, and yet, as the girls are upset and begging him not to send them back, he just…stands there. He doesn’t even seem to be hesitant so much as he seems to have just gone brain-dead. It’s not really clear why he’s doing and saying nothing because, again, he’s a really weak character. The girls have every right to hate and not trust him for this, because at least they seem emotionally and intelligently competent on some level.

But everything is resolved. Happy ending, whoop-de-fricken-doo.

I kind of hate this movie.

I don’t hate it as much as The Lorax adaptation, which devotes precisely 5 minutes to the original book’s story and message before spiraling into grandiose stupidity, chock full of celebrity-voice, stereotyping, and ironically moronic evil corporation bullshit. That was an insult to its source material, so it is far more egregious and odious in comparison to this film personification of white-bread, crust-cut toast.

But it still highlights a trend that I would like people to acknowledge: Illumination Entertainment is lazy. They leap-frog off the shoulders of more talented writers and studios in order to pander and reap the full rewards.

For evidence, look at The Lorax. Look at the minions themselves, who got a whole movie despite being unable to hold it up on their own, strictly because they were so popular in the marketing.

Two things that make The Lorax even more hateful: the swami swans, humming fish, and bar-ba-loots are basically just the minions with a texture swap; and all of the stupid, detrimental, hilariously ironic marketing for The Lorax – indeed, the very reason for its existence – was to raise enough money to fund Despicable Me 2 and Minions.

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If you like these movies, I can’t fault you. I don’t understand the appeal of Despicable Me AT ALL, but if it makes you happy, or you get something out of it that I don’t, that’s great. And of course, when I have kids, I would never keep them from watching something unless it is total garbage that I’m sure is actively making them stupider.

*cough* Lorax *cough cough*

I’m also not crazy about the animation style they use, but maybe I just associate it with their ridiculous, insipid writing.

…And I feel the need to point out that pandering isn’t always a terrible thing.

But this production company is a poser. Even their new logo card, with the minion squeeing and shouting “Illumination! Illuminatioooooooooooon!” is so obviously pandering and thoughtless. It’s like they really think that’s what everyone is thinking anyway. “Oh look, minions! Let’s buy everything with their faces on it! OH MY GOD!”

 

They are certainly no Disney or Pixar. I barely respect Blue Sky Studios and their abject refusal to let Ice Age die after a decade or so, but even they are not so mediocre yet inexplicably successful as Illumination Entertainment.

And I say this completely ignorant of any charity or other good work they do. I’m not judging them based on any moral grounds, but strictly by their work as an animation studio.

Only time will tell if they stop being lazy and actually come into their own. They have a few Dr. Seuss titles in development, and I can only shudder with dread to think of how they will mutilate those beloved works. But then again, the live action movies are pretty terrible, so they can only do so much worse than those.

...Still....this is an atrocity to the name of Dr. Seuss and the human race in general.
…Still….this is an atrocity to the name of Dr. Seuss and the human race in general.

 

All I can do is roll my eyes at all of the praise critics and audiences alike give their works. Even before The Secret Life of Pets came out, many t.v. shows and news outlets were already stroking its ego, and I think that is all thanks to people having this strange, reverent regard for Despicable Me. As if it’s anywhere near as groundbreaking as Frozen, or even Toy Story, the movie that this latest “romp” is so shamelessly copying…twenty years later.

Hell, people were angry when Pharrell William’s upbeat but extremely generic song “Happy” was beaten by “Let It Go” at the Oscars! It’s the perfect metaphor for the first Despicable Me movie: sugary, feel-good, but ultimately devoid of any real substance or creativity.

I try not to ruin Despicable Me for the people I have met in person who like it, but it’s not just that I don’t see what the big deal is. I feel like I’m in Oz, and somehow, I’m one of the only people who sees that man behind the curtain.

And when I try to point it out to someone, they just shrug or say, “But I love the illusion! It’s soooooo pretty!”

I can only sigh.

….at least Sing looks decently original, I guess. But I liked The Secret Life of Pets better when it was called Toy Story, and not just because I was growing up with Andy, Woody, and Buzz when the films came out. There was something there that The Secret Life of Pets doesn’t have: a greater message about growing up and the passage of time. It’s about enjoying the present, and acknowledging and honoring your childhood without holding onto it too tightly.

…wait….

 

4/10

*None of the pictures belong to me. You figure out who they belong to, because I am loathe to give any sort of real credit to these coat-tail riders.

Why Titanic is Terrible and Moulin Rouge! is Better

Elegant title, ain’t it?

I warn you that this will be an angry rant at times, but stick with me here. I promise this has nothing to do with Leo hate or any other such petty nitpicking.

This is both a review of Titanic and Moulin Rouge!; an endorsement of the latter, and an argument that, hopefully, will change how some people view the former. As always, you are free to draw your own conclusions.

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The plot is virtually the same between these two movies; a boy (too idealistic to yet be called a man) on one rung of the social ladder meets a girl on a different rung of said ladder. They fall in love while a cartoonishly evil and jealous rich man tries his best to drive them apart, wanting the lady all to himself. The only real difference is that one story takes place in a performance venue and the other takes place on a boat…that sinks…

Both stories are a pretty basic retelling of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, but Titanic seems to get a pass and even praise from a lot of people because of history. Never mind that it shows a palpable contempt for history; for just one example, look at the portrayal of First Officer William Murdoch. Just compare the man he was to the man they showed on screen.

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Also never mind that if someone tried to make a tragic, fictionalized romance that takes place in, say, the Twin Towers, I guarantee you that the public would not stand for it.

I guess time heals all wounds…and makes fools of us all.

Titanic annoys me on multiple levels (nonsensical plot things, like why Cal and presumably the other contemptible rich snobs would assume that a bribe automatically gets them a seat on a lifeboat, when everyone could very well be dead in the next hour), but a lot of it has to do with, again, historical accuracy.

To his credit, James Cameron never pretended this was going to be a documentary, but it’s still frustrating when the real-world compelling and heroic characters on the RMS Titanic seem to speed by in the background, ignored in favor of the boring, tension-less love story. And fictionalized or not, there is something insulting about painting virtually all of the rich people on the ship as snooty, misanthropic assholes and virtually all of the poor people as innocent lambs to be sacrificed and trod on by said rich people, all for the sake of petty drama.

Why do you even need to stir up drama, Cameron? Is the boat rapidly sinking into the icy water not enough?

Way to objectify both groups and make them so pointlessly one-dimensional.

Some third-class passengers did get stuck below deck and drowned, but that had more to do with the ship being massive and not having enough translators and staff to direct people to relative safety. And there were areas that separated first-class and third-class passengers, but that didn’t mean they were restricted from coming above deck.

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In the movie, they are literally locked behind a grate, as if even the sailors decided that their lives were worthless. To which I ask: what point does that serve? We know half of these people will die regardless, and the real tension should be coming from the sinking ship. The plot does not need stupid, douchey people doing counter-intuitive things to both the lovers and the poor people.

Now, if we got a scene of Cal or some other evil person bribing the workers to seal off the lower class areas so that he and his rich friends could snag all of the lifeboats, maybe that would have made some sense. It would still be utterly batshit stupid and pointless, but it might have been better than no explanation at all.

Titanic hyper-focuses on two fictional characters, Jack and Rose, and sets everything up like it’s a James Bond-esque scheme to separate them. As Billy Zane’s henchman watches over a hand-cuffed Jack, he even says, “You know, I think this ship may sink.”

As if he set it up that way. As if he doesn’t give a shit about any of the other passengers (which isn’t that surprising, I guess), or has any concern that he himself will make it out okay.

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Seriously, think about how ridiculous that is. Regardless of the context, that’s not just laughably baffling; it’s straight-up insulting.

The characters are so by-the-numbers that every other line out of Jack’s mouth is just reaffirming his one-dimensional character traits. You could just replace everything with, “I’m a free-spirited poor artist.”

As for Rose, I would empathize more with being trapped in a fancy-prison-but-prison-nonetheless if the ship weren’t about to sink into the sea. When the audience knows a major plot element so far in advance, it’s hard to get really invested in the vaguely-explained problems of a white-bread priviliged rich girl.

Contrast this with Moulin Rouge. We know from the offset that Satine is going to die by the end, making this a tragic love story, but we don’t know at first how, if at all, this will affect the Moulin Rouge or its other performers. For all we know, nothing more important is going on in the background.

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Romeo and Juliet kept the settings intimate and the extraneous characters limited; it didn’t go into intricate detail about why their families hate each other. That makes the relegating of other characters to the background less problematic and distracting. They only come in when something they do is going to affect Romeo and Juliet’s relationship, and you can easily accept that as a viewer without thought or question.

You can make a good story where a romance is the main focus, but seeing as our quest for “One True Love” doesn’t tend to take priority in real life, the storyteller must tread a bit cautiously.

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The only things I praise Titanic for are its visuals and unique perspective. Because of limited technology, it was near impossible to show a realistic and terrifying sinking scene, so a lot of films and documentaries had to work around that limitation. That had its strengths because you could focus more on story and character, but it was lacking an important piece of the puzzle; something to make the story more whole.

Titanic goes into enormous detail, both pre and post sinking, and while I admire the fantastic visuals, it’s the scene where the Titanic recovery team is going over the sinking that really impresses me. Bill Paxton’s buddy, Mr. Skeptic Smiley Shirt seen below, goes over the technical side of how the ship sank, complete with a cg model on a computer and emotional detachment bordering on disrespect, and after a somewhat haunted look while observing the presentation, old Rose remarks that being aboard the ship during that moment was quite different.

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That is great build-up and foreshadowing, and it preps both the audience and the recovery crew in-story for the notion that there is a difference between understanding how it happened and respecting, truly appreciating, what the experience must have been like for the poor souls trapped onboard. The looks on that dismissive guy’s face as Rose progresses through the story are truly satisfying, but not in a vindictive way. Sure, he was being kind of a dick earlier, but not irredeemably so. Instead, you feel glad that he’s been humbled.

It is said that history must be understood if it’s not to be repeated, but sadly, the more distant in time we are from certain events, people will slowly but surely lose connection and fail to appreciate them in their entirety.

But as I said, the build up is great, and so are the moments when Cameron actually focuses on someone other than Jack, Rose, or Rose’s awful family. Like the ship’s officers actually being competent and efficient, rather than blindly panicking, when trying to avoid the ice burg.

Or Molly Brown. Note that she is not “old money”, so she’s pretty much the only nice one.

Everything else is unintentionally hilarious at best and insulting at worst.

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Back to Moulin Rouge!, a lot of people complain that the style and cinematography are really jarring, and that’s a fair opinion. If it’s not your taste, that’s fine, but I will tell you that it is that way for a reason. You could probably guess that yourself, but can you guess what the reason is?

The story is being told from the point of view of Christian, a young, naïve boy on a cusp of manhood who admits, “(he’s) never been in love.” He sees the world, particularly the Moulin Rouge itself, like it’s a candy store ripe with opportunity, and the abundance of color and quick cuts in time with the music serve to highlight this view.

The good is emphasized and the bad/seedy/less savory is glanced over with explosive color, quick cutaways, and fast-paced musical numbers.

“But the songs are so distracting!” you cry.

Look, hypothetical person I’m talking at: Baz Luhrmann was trying to convey to us, a modern audience, what the Moulin Rouge would have looked and sounded like to the people of the time: new, exciting, and bombastic. And jukebox musicals are a thing, so it’s not that weird in the grand scheme of things.

If you don’t like that, cool. It wasn’t really my thing at first either.

“But Moulin Rouge takes place at a real place, just like Titanic!”

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Yeah, it’s an iconic location, but a) it’s a musical, and b) the story doesn’t follow a real-world tragedy, thereby overshadowing the real event in the greater public consciousness. People can think of the Moulin Rouge the actual place without automatically saying, “Oh yeah! That’s that one place from that one movie!”

Pearl Harbor didn’t overshadow the real event in our minds, but that was because Pearl Harbor is still in recent memory (and a sore spot for a lot of still-living people), and Michael Bay is an incompetent hack.

“But the characters are so stock and bland!”

Well, they can’t be any more so than they were in Titanic, but hey, young Ewan McGregor just isn’t as hot and marketable as young Leonardo DiCaprio. I get that; his fangirls were pretty rabid for a while.

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But on that statement, I have to really disagree. Christian is young and naïve, while Satine is experienced and somewhat jaded. Satine has to choose between her dream of working her way up to being a legit performer at a legit establishment, and committing to Christian. As the film goes on, we learn that the consequences of choosing the latter may put her friends at the Moulin Rouge, as well as Christian himself, in danger. The threats to her and those she cares about are clear, as well as understandable.

By contrast, how old is Rose? Could she and Jack not just elope when the ship made port?

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What I don’t understand is why Rose feels she owes anything to her abusive, manipulating mother, who states at one point that all she really cares about is her material goods and her reputation. The scene only serves to make us hate her more, much like the Cal table-flipping scene, but why did we need to hate her more?

More importantly, what is the real harm if Rose chooses Jack over Cal? Sure, admittedly he’s shown to be a violent asshole, but as long as Rose is of age and the police still exist in this universe, I’m not seeing any grand implied threat. This happens while she’s still under his and her mother’s thumbs.

And what connection, if any, keeps Rose somewhat loyal to her mother? We don’t ever see a positive side to her character, so maybe it’s just that Rose is an abuse victim who feels she can’t leave.

You see? All we get are vague hints. We don’t get Rose really contemplating what it means to give up the world she’s always known for a world of uncertainty-yet-true-love. And as much as I hate filmmakers spelling everything out to the backrow, some elaboration is needed. Whether it’s implied, non-verbal, verbal, or explicit doesn’t really matter so long as it isn’t distracting and doesn’t feel unnatural.

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Furthermore, Cameron sure loves to tell us that Rose is unhappy and chokingly restrained, but he doesn’t really tell us much else about her character. I assume she’d be happy to do literally anything else than sit around being rich, drinking tea with her scumbag fiancé, but that doesn’t necessarily make her compelling.

Other than her breakdown moment – where she runs to the stern to try and kill herself in a moment of last-straw-snapping, primal screaming insanity – I feel like she’s a Bella Swan character; a portable cardboard standee whose sole purpose is to be easily squinted away in favor of the female audience members. It’s not hard when all you have to go on is “nice and attractive.”

Again, I argue that’s worse than the Disney princesses, but I digress.

At least Disney princesses typically get a well-established “I Want” song. Rose wants freedom, but what does that mean? What would she do with it, if she could?

And this is a question I ask before she meets Jack. After she meets him, I guess she wants fun and spontaneity? I honestly don’t know, Movie. You’re using so much visual shorthand, which would be good if you didn’t try to cram so much of it in there.

But back to my point: where is the tension? Other than the obviously more important, it’s-the-goddamn-title-of-the-movie dilemma?

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Even if you somehow missed that the boat is going to sink, what keeps you invested in the romance and the thwarting of Cal and his James Bond patsy? Cal could threaten to kill Jack like the Duke does with Christian, but he doesn’t really do that while Rose debates with herself. He only tries to kill him himself after his renegade fiancé clearly establishes her choice. At the worst-possible and least believable time, I might add.

Christian doesn’t know the full extent of the Duke’s power and influence. He’s just a rich guy macking on his woman. He also doesn’t know Satine’s personal experiences; how she has come to these conclusions in her life, or the fact that she is, you know, dying. Heck, she doesn’t even know she’s dying at first, and when she does find out, it changes how she plans to proceed.

Much like Romeo, all Christian knows is that he’s in love, and all he needs to do is break down Satine’s walls and get her to see things the way he does, and the two of them are home free. And she is drawn in by his naiveté.

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It’s refreshing and new to her ears, obviously making her feel conflicted.

It’s not just that they’re both hot and unattainable to one another; they create a whirlwind in the other character’s life, weathering away any set-in-stone plans that they had and permanently altering how they will view the world from then on.

There is a reason why the opening song refers to Christian as “a boy,” is all I’m saying. There is some depth here; much more than just “I’m a free-spirited poor artist” and “I’m a discontent young heiress.”

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Now looking at the villains, Billy Zane’s Cal and Richard Roxburgh’s Duke are nearly identical; rich, snobby, dangerously jealous, unlearned and unconcerned with love. But there is a moment that forgives the Duke’s over-the-top performances and one-dimensional evils, at least for me: when a performer reveals that the play he is financing is a parallel of real life, and that he is the evil Maharaja who the courtesan will leave for her true love.

The Duke’s response? Well, paraphrased, it goes like this:

“What, seriously? Why would she choose love, some vague thing I don’t understand, over money and security? How can the sitar player call it love when the best he could offer her is a poor, struggling life?”

Yes, the Duke is told, pretty much to his face, exactly what kind of character he is, and he doesn’t just blindly accept that, or ignore it, and continue on his merry way. It’s almost as though he is turning to the audience and consciously making a case for his side.

Does Cal ever get such a moment? Is he ever challenged, or given a platform to try and make himself relatable in any way?

 

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Nope, because that’s not what kind of movie Titanic is. Nothing about him makes sense outside of his one note (or in this case, two note – Oh Cameron, you spoil us!): “I’m evil/want Rose.”

Titanic is safe and familiar, hiding behind the glittery, gimmicky shroud of a dramatic, real-world setting. It is all of the weakest elements of Romeo and Juliet re-polished for modern tweens and housewives, like Twilight was to Beauty and the Beast and Snow White. If you ported the characters to any other location anywhere, any other ship not named Titanic, the spell would be broken, and you would see how cheap and easy the story really is.

If not for the effects, you may as well be watching any other incarnation of Romeo and Juliet.

You could argue some of the same thing of Moulin Rouge‘s story, but at least it tries new things beyond effects (which are really just an unfair advantage offered by the time). It tries to take a familiar love story and update some of the elements to be interesting and challenging. It is told from the prospective of Romeo, but also in three settings simultaneously: the future, where everything is set in stone; the present, where things can be affected by either the good guys or the bad guys; and the world of the play, which our Romeo basically fashions his ideal ending. The play and the present mirror one another quite a bit, too, as Christian’s views on love and the real world change and becomes more of a man.

I used to think that Romeo and Juliet’s story was weak, because how could their love be so true? Romeo is literally whining to his buddy about his unrequited affection for Rosaline before he sees Juliet and goes, “Wow, she’s a hottie! Rosaline who?”

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Yes, most people might assume that what draws them together is in fact lust, not love; they hardly know a thing about each other. Romeo is obsessed with her looks, while Juliet is clearly just flattered that an attractive guy is paying attention to her.

You can argue that, but you can also argue that just because they have never experienced love as we modern folks understand it – the trials of getting to truly know another person and incorporating their lives and goals into our own – doesn’t mean that it is any less true to them.

Maybe they are just being melodramatic teenagers, and a bit of time apart, age, and perspective would show them that life can offer them more in the long run, but maybe what’s really important is the here and now. When you’re young, the world looks so black and white, and time moves slowly, giving you the illusion that nothing will really drastically change.

Maybe they feel that their feelings give their lives meaning and joy. And maybe that is all that really matters.

That is why Romeo and Juliet is one of the greatest love stories of all time, despite sometimes looking like a parody of love on the surface. That is why it is so frequently lauded and adapted: because it captures a true, compelling, and universal, if illogical, human experience.

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But back to two modern adaptations of it: yes, Moulin Rouge! is a silly sugar high experience, but it never pretends to be more than a dreamy fantasy puff pastry stuffed liberally with creamy melodrama. Meanwhile, there is something inherently disingenuous about a storyteller, even a well-meaning one, who looks at a tragic event and says, “I’m going to use this as a set piece for my bodice-ripper love story.”

Also, I must point out that both movies have the ever-loathed “third-act misunderstanding”, but while Moulin Rouge!‘s makes sense on some level, Titanic‘s is idiotic. Rose just believes the asshole she hates over her two-day lover when he frames him for theft because the plot needed her to.

And now, as I have said, pretty much everyone glosses over the real stories of the Titanic in favor of that popular movie with sexy Leo. This was perhaps best illustrated by the TV show The Talk , when they thought they were doing a good, loving tribute for the Titanic’s anniversary by blasting Celine Dion and waving their arms like ducks in front of a bow prop.

Yes, truly now, all the people who died and gave their lives to help others on the ship will be looking down at us from above, satisfied that their story really meant something to the world.

I realize I’m getting offended on behalf of a bunch of dead people, but again, try picturing this movie taking place on 9/11. Would you not feel like the heroic actions, sacrifices, and even the lives of the victims are somewhat cheapened? Is it not annoying when so-called news stations sensationalize false and unimportant aspects of important stories?

Can we not get so easily distracted by Leo’s dreamy eyes and floppy hair, or Kate Winslet’s exposed…tracks of land?

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A story of hubris being the downfall of man is a pretty good metaphor for the film itself; a director with eyes too big for his stomach, hoping to give us as little newness as possible and milk the proceeds for every last estrogen-soaked drop, so convinced that his ship of a movie could never sink.

…Except that it didn’t sink after all. It’s still hailed as a masterpiece. And Moulin Rouge! is written off as a cheap, soulless, inferior knock-off of a knock-off.

Sometimes I really don’t get people.