Blonde is weird. Like really, really weird. Probably the weirdest movie of the year. It’s extremely ambitious, grandiose, and intricately crafted, but at the same time, it’s terrible, bloated, and boring. Jumping over the line between artful and pretentious every single moment in its nearly 3-hour runtime, Blonde barely functions as a biopic about Marilyn Monroe and more as a demented portrait of the idea of her that we all have of her culturally. In concept that could be an interesting angle to take, but that does not feel like the intention of the film. It feels closer to a more polished version of David Lynch’s Inland Empire than an actual story about a real-life person, somehow feeling even uglier than that movie.
Andrew Dominik is a director that has made many critically acclaimed movies in the past, but his direction in Blonde feels like it’s insisting upon its own importance, feeling more haphazard and pretentious than like a cohesive experience. Ana de Armas as Norma Jeane aka Marilyn Monroe wasn’t bad, but the script gives her very little to work with, making her character and performance come across extremely one-note and monotonous, making the 167 minutes spent with her feel even longer. The movie attempts to show the hardships and abuse she suffered in her life, but that is all the movie bothers to show, throwing nothing but constant torment at the character for 3 hours as if attempting to guilt the viewer into feeling sympathy.
While movies about historical figures obviously cannot be completely historically accurate, nor do I think they must attempt to be, the subject matter at hand in Blonde requires more care and empathy than was given, making the whole project ironic and kind of gross.
X, the first installment in Ti West’s trilogy of horror movies starring Mia Goth, came out earlier this year. Wearing its influences on its sleeve, X is a throwback to the grindhouse horror movies of the 1970s. Right from the premise, you know what is going to happen if you have ever seen a movie before in your life, particularly The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, but usually I am able to overlook a plot setup that has been done before if the movie has its own unique spin on the concept and X kind of does. Almost.
As a straightforward horror movie, X is by far the worst thing you could watch; it’s pretty well-shot, the story is fairly well-paced, there’s plenty of memorable and well-done VFX, shocking gore imagery, and enough nudity and sexual content to make Midsommar look tame, but something is lacking from the core of the movie, that part of the movie that was pivotal in making X its own thing. The movie is stuck between a rock and a hard place. On one hand, it wants to be a smart movie that critiques showbusiness, the societal fear of aging, the conventions of the genre, and the moral panic around porn and horror movies. On the other hand, it wants to be a slasher movie, and when it’s time to become a slasher movie, X comes across like a dumb movie trying its best to be a smart one.
Ti West’s follow-up to X, an origin story following the previous film’s villain in the 1910s as a young woman fell even flatter for me than its predecessor. Something that had me excited early on in the film is that, unlike X, Pearl has a sheen of whimsy and lightheartedness akin to something like The Wizard of Oz, but the movie felt too tame for that contrast between the aesthetics and the horror elements to be emphasized.
Remember those direct-to-DVD sequels to Disney movies like Aladdin and The Lion King that came out in the 90s and early 2000s? That’s what Pearl feels like as a companion piece to X, not necessarily in terms of quality but in terms of how justified it feels as a continuation of the story. Pearl takes a more character-driven approach to its story rather than a straight horror movie, and as a character study it feels shallow. It hits every box on the checklist of movies about crazy people: Protagonist has ambitions greater than their talent? Check. Has an overbearing mother? Check. A romantic interest that goes array? Check. The protagonist has to care for someone with a medical disability despite being mentally unfit themselves? Check. For such an ambitious project, it never feels like it strives to be anything other than a side project to X.
Bodies Bodies Bodies
Following a group of rich, backstabbing twenty-somethings as they bumble their way through a horror scenario, Bodies Bodies Bodies offers some of the most amusing portrayals of Gen-Z culture. Where characters making dumb decisions and getting killed often feels like a transparent way to move the plot forward (cough X, cough) it is a perfectly logical way to develop the story in Bodies Bodies Bodies because the characters are paranoid, petty, and fueled by hard liquor and cocaine. The movie never has to take away the characters agency to get to the next kill scene since each ridiculous move the characters make feels natural for what has been established.
Great script and balancing of horror and humorous tones aside, Bodies Bodies Bodies is extremely well put-together. The movie never feels like it is leaning on one particular aspect of itself as a crutch to make up for aspects of the film that are lacking. The direction, cinematography and editing coming together with the tone and story to create one of the most impressive, memorable and funny horror movies of the year.
Don’t Worry Darling
The controversies and drama surrounding the making of this movie were a lot more interesting than the movie itself, I regret to report. The film is full of commentary about gender roles, and the choice that Don’t Worry Darling had to make was to go the fully ambiguous and allegorical route, or the literal, grounded in reality route, and it chose the latter. The decision to keep the story literal instead of as ambiguous as possible did not do the movie any favors because once you start picking apart the logic of what is happening in the plot, it falls apart like pulling a thread from a sweater.
Like I said with X, I can similarly forgive some muddled logic, themes and commentary if the movie brings more to the table, but nothing about this movie’s presentation or story stood out as being anything terribly exceptional. Aside from Florence Pugh, who is trying her absolute best, the acting isn’t great, the way its shot and edited is entry-level at best, the use of licensed music is uninspired and the story is predictable, feeling like if one of the lesser episodes of Black Mirror was 2 hours long. The commentary about gender roles is really all that this movie has going for it, and since the commentary isn’t conveyed in a way that is particularly satisfying, the whole thing feels like a wasted opportunity.
The Munsters is Rob Zombie’s first film since the pandemic began, and the limitations that were brought to it honestly aided in the film’s overall aesthetic. Despite clear limitations put on the production, Zombie was able to do a lot with a little with the production value of the film. The movie feels appropriately corny and cheap, and the silly editing and camera-work feels right at home in an homage to a 1960s comedy show about a family of monsters.
Unfortunately, The Munsters is more interesting as an oddity in Rob Zombie’s filmmaking and musical career than it is as a movie on its own merits. While lots of care was put into the camera-work and editing to make it feel like an update as well as a natural extension of the 1960s show, there is not much else to attach to in the film if you are not already a fan of the show. Only a handful of jokes landed for me, and the plot is extremely thin, essentially functioning as an origin story for the family of monsters, with little conflict or development outside of getting the family to where they are in the show, making the runtime feel much longer than it actually was. It may be a fun Halloween-themed movie for kids, but it’s most interesting as a novelty for a director who typically makes very graphic and explicit R-rated horror movies, seeing him branch out into the realm of children’s movies is a neat change of pace since it is clearly a passion-project of his, but aside from that I didn’t get a whole lot from it.