Skip to main content

Trust me, bud, you do not like fun.

The Mitchells vs. the Machines

(SPOILERS) “The Mitchells have always been weird, and that’s what makes us great.” Actually, no. The Mitchells represent your standardised, homogenised, Hollywood approximation of the family, one comprising the aspergic son (cause unknown, but if you suggest one, be prepared to lose your medical licence), LGBTQ+ gender-fluid daughter (visually coded, but only obliquely referenced, yet sufficient to pounce on as a progressive and ground-breaking triumph), wise mom (with a preference to revealing her as hero figure because female) and remote, decontextualised father (because irrelevant white male authority figure who needs to learn his place). The question shouldn’t so much be who will win The Mitchells vs. the Machines, as The Mitchells are the Machines.

It’s abundantly evident from the opening titles on that this Netflix animation – actually Sony, planned for a 2020 release as Connected, but snapped up due to the coof – is cursed with the upbeat, sugar-rush infusion typical of Phil Lord and Chris Miller’s family-fare output. Remember how The Lego Movie was really quite good until it drowned in a sea of its own live-action vomit during the later stages? Somehow, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse escaped the gamut of shallow self-validation afflicting The Mitchells vs. the Machines at every turn, but I wouldn’t count on the Across the Spider-Verse sequels being as fortunate. The Mitchells vs. the Machines’ brand of individualism is one fashioned by committee and progressive bean counting. So naturally, it was one of Empire magazine’s Top 10 of the year.

At the centre of the movie – well, aside from the centre that is the benign father-daughter tension – is Katie (Abbi Jacobson) going to UCLA, and the opportunity to connect with others on her wavelength. Dad is understandably dubious about her creative skills, as we are privy to her appalling animation apps and horrid approximations of home movies that somehow earned her a place (maybe she just told them she was woke). The subjective screen is daubed with snapchat filters, memes, skits with her pet pooch – in affirmation of the meme-y video app salad dressing, it appears Monchi’s utterances are those of social media legend Doug the Pug – and “Kate-Vision”, the subjective eye of the “artiste”.

Many clearly find this endearingly “individual” but it’s about as appealing as a jotter covered in snot and doodles. And the less said about the screaming gibbon monkey YouTube memes the better. This is the moviemakers projecting themselves on their material in the most wretched and unearned manner: “The movies were always there for me”. It doesn’t help any that the protagonist’s look appears to be based on Mamie Gummer.

The opening statement “Every family has its challenges” is an invitation to a round of homilies, pat lessons and signposted messages. Every note of discord between Abbi and Rick (Danny McBride) is overindulged and underfuelled. The themes of generational divide are emphasised on a creative and technological level, but the suggestion that “It’s about the balance between a guy who doesn't believe in technology and the girl who really does and having them meet each other in the middle” is rather disingenuous. It isn’t as if they have to go and live in the woods as validation of Rick’s survivalist skills (in which regard, he actually seems resolutely inept, or persistently unlucky). No, it’s through Rick accepting the need to adapt to computers that a meeting of minds is wrought.

It shouldn’t be a surprise that a movie hewn from pixels should be in favour of tech, so any warnings of the same unchecked here are soft volleys. It’s only out-of-control advances that are scary, and certainly not your friendly iPhone (“I was the most important thing in your life, and you threw me away”). Lord and Miller at their best flourish an infectious irreverence, and that’s here in spots – “Who would have thought a tech company wouldn’t have our best interests at heart?”; “It’s almost like stealing people’s data and giving it to a hyper-intelligent AI as a part of an unregulated tech monopoly was a bad thing” – but this robot plan is one about disposing of humans, not quite the ultimate destination of the transhumanist agenda. There are thus subtle pro-transhumanist clues here, such as malfunctioning robots Eric and Deborahbot, who accept Linda (Maya Rudolph) as their parent (“Thank you, mother. We are now your beautiful baby boys”). It’s like that Ridley Scott series, but in reverse.

The most resistible aspect of The Mitchells vs. The Machines, though, is its immersion in happy gushy feely emotive pap (Ren Hoek would convulse). This ranges from Pixar-appropriate, nostalgic home movies to a decidedly unthreatening tech apocalypse; director Mike Rianda discussed how the project went from “a little too dark” to “happy music and bubble wrap popping sounds when the lasers capture someone”. Thus, the “happy” median is empty-calorie validation. When you have a grossly manipulative line like “Did you know, ninety percent of calls from mums are ignored?”, it’s no surprise to learn Rianda fielded a call with “Mom, I can’t talk to you right now. I’m really busy making a film about how much I love you”. Which is quite ghastly, when you think about it.

Additionally, there are some days, through no fault of one’s own, one comes across two Olivia Colman movies in quick succession. I had no idea she featured here, and having suffered through The Last Daughter beforehand, I was in a less than receptive mood. Colman’s PAL is the spurned virtual assistant of the tech billionaire saviour – the latter, we learn, is simply misguided. Such an excuse won’t wash in the real world.

There are intermittent laughs in The Mitchells vs. The Machines, but far fewer than I expected: “Dog. Pig. Loaf of bread”; “It’s like a Journey album cover”. Such glaring shortfalls haven’t prevented it becoming Netflix’s most-viewed animation. Its manner assumes you will find it an unbridled delight, but the cloying, insipid, inclusive messaging quickly wears one out. “Behold! The twilight of man” indeed.

Popular posts from this blog

If I do nothing else, I will convince them that Herbert Stempel knows what won the goddam Academy Award for Best goddam Picture of 1955. That’s what I’m going to accomplish.

Quiz Show (1994) (SPOILERS) Quiz Show perfectly encapsulates a certain brand of Best Picture nominee: the staid, respectable, diligent historical episode, a morality tale in response to which the Academy can nod their heads approvingly and discerningly, feeding as it does their own vainglorious self-image about how times and attitudes have changed, in part thanks to their own virtuousness. Robert Redford’s film about the 1950s Twenty-One quiz show scandals is immaculately made, boasts a notable cast and is guided by a strong screenplay from Paul Attanasio (who, on television, had just created the seminal Homicide: Life on the Streets ), but it lacks that something extra that pushes it into truly memorable territory.

Your Mickey Mouse is one big stupid dope!

Enemy Mine (1985) (SPOILERS) The essential dynamic of Enemy Mine – sworn enemies overcome their differences to become firm friends – was a well-ploughed one when it was made, such that it led to TV Tropes assuming, since edited, that it took its title from an existing phrase (Barry Longyear, author of the 1979 novella, made it up, inspired by the 1961 David Niven film The Best of Enemies ). The Film Yearbook Volume 5 opined that that Wolfgang Petersen’s picture “ lacks the gritty sauciness of Hell in the Pacific”; John Boorman’s WWII film stranded Lee Marvin and Toshiro Mifune on a desert island and had them first duking it out before becoming reluctant bedfellows. Perhaps germanely, both movies were box office flops.

Piece by piece, the camel enters the couscous.

The Forgiven (2021) (SPOILERS) By this point, the differences between filmmaker John Michael McDonagh and his younger brother, filmmaker and playwright Martin McDonagh, are fairly clearly established. Both wear badges of irreverence and provocation in their writing, and a willingness to tackle – or take pot-shots – at bigger issues, ones that may find them dangling their toes in hot water. But Martin receives the lion’s share of the critical attention, while John is generally recognised as the slightly lesser light. Sure, some might mistake Seven Psychopaths for a John movie, and Calvary for a Martin one, but there’s a more flagrant sense of attention seeking in John’s work, and concomitantly less substance. The Forgiven is clearly aiming more in the expressly substantial vein of John’s earlier Calvary, but it ultimately bears the same kind of issues in delivery.

No one can be told what the Matrix is. You have to see it for yourself.

The Matrix  (1999) (SPOILERS) Twenty years on, and the articles are on the defining nature of The Matrix are piling up, most of them touching on how its world has become a reality, or maybe always was one. At the time, its premise was engaging enough, but it was the sum total of the package that cast a spell – the bullet time, the fashions, the soundtrack, the comic book-as-live-action framing and styling – not to mention it being probably the first movie to embrace and reflect the burgeoning Internet ( Hackers doesn’t really count), and subsequently to really ride the crest of the DVD boom wave. And now? Now it’s still really, really good.

Twenty dwarves took turns doing handstands on the carpet.

Bugsy (1991) (SPOILERS) Bugsy is very much a Warren Beatty vanity project (aren’t they all, even the ones that don’t seem that way on the surface?), to the extent of his playing a title character a decade and a half younger than him. As such, it makes sense that producer Warren’s choice of director wouldn’t be inclined to overshadow star Warren, but the effect is to end up with a movie that, for all its considerable merits (including a script from James Toback chock full of incident), never really feels quite focussed, that it’s destined to lead anywhere, even if we know where it’s going.

You ever heard the saying, “Don’t rob the bank across from the diner that has the best donuts in three counties”?

2 Guns (2013) (SPOILERS) Denzel Washington is such a reliable performer, that it can get a bit boring. You end up knowing every gesture or inflection in advance, whether he’s playing a good guy or a bad guy. And his films are generally at least half decent, so you end up seeing them. Even in Flight (or perhaps especially in Flight ; just watch him chugging down that vodka) where he’s giving it his Oscar-nominatable best, he seems too familiar. I think it may be because he’s an actor who is more effective the less he does. In 2 Guns he’s not doing less, but sometimes it seems like it. That’s because the last person I’d ever expect blows him off the screen; Mark Wahlberg.

In a few moments, you will have an experience that will seem completely real. It will be the result of your subconscious fears transformed into your conscious awareness.

Brainstorm (1983) (SPOILERS) Might Brainstorm have been the next big thing – a ground-breaking, game-changing cinematic spectacle that had as far reaching consequences as Star Wars (special effects) or Avatar (3D) – if only Douglas Trumbull had been allowed to persevere with his patented “Showscan” process (70mm film photographed and projected at 60 frames per second)? I suspect not; one only has to look at the not-so-far-removed experiment of Ang Lee with Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk , and how that went down like a bag of cold sick, to doubt that any innovation will necessarily catch on (although Trumbull at least had a narrative hinge on which to turn his “more real than real” imagery, whereas Lee’s pretty much boiled down to “because it was there”). Brainstorm ’s story is, though, like its title, possibly too cerebral, too much concerned with the consciousness and touting too little of the cloyingly affirmative that Bruce Rubin inevitably brings to his screenplays. T

Haven’t you ever heard of the healing power of laughter?

Batman (1989) (SPOILERS) There’s Jaws , there’s Star Wars , and then there’s Batman in terms of defining the modern blockbuster. Jaws ’ success was so profound, it changed the way movies were made and marketed. Batman’s marketing was so profound, it changed the way tentpoles would be perceived: as cash cows. Disney tried to reproduce the effect the following year with Dick Tracy , to markedly less enthusiastic response. None of this places Batman in the company of Jaws as a classic movie sold well, far from it. It just so happened to hit the spot. As Tim Burton put it, it was “ more of a cultural phenomenon than a great movie ”. It’s difficult to disagree with his verdict that the finished product (for that is what it is) is “ mainly boring ”. Now, of course, the Burton bat has been usurped by the Nolan incarnation (and soon the Snyder). They have some things in common. Both take the character seriously and favour a sombre tone, which was much more of shock to the

Tippy-toe! Tippy-toe!

Seinfeld 2.7: The Phone Message The Premise George and Jerry both have dates on the same night. Neither goes quite as planned, and in George’s case it results in him leaving an abusive message on his girlfriend’s answerphone. The only solution is to steal the tape before she plays it. Observational Further evidence of the gaping chasm between George and Jerry’s approaches to the world. George neurotically attacks his problems and makes them worse, while Jerry shrugs and lets them go. It’s nice to see the latter’s anal qualities announcing themselves, however; he’s so bothered that his girlfriend likes a terrible TV advert that he’s mostly relieved when she breaks things off (“ To me the dialogue rings true ”). Neither Gretchen German (as Donna, Jerry’s date) nor Tory Polone (as Carol, George’s) make a huge impression, but German has more screen time and better dialogue. The main attraction is Jerry’s reactions, which include trying to impress her with hi

Say hello to the Scream Extractor.

Monsters, Inc. (2001) (SPOILERS) I was never the greatest fan of Monsters, Inc. , even before charges began to be levelled regarding its “true” subtext. I didn’t much care for the characters, and I particularly didn’t like the way Pixar’s directors injected their own parenting/ childhood nostalgia into their plots. Something that just seems to go on with their fare ad infinitum. Which means the Pixars I preferred tended to be the Brad Bird ones. You know, the alleged objectivist. Now, though, we learn Pixar has always been about the adrenochrome, so there’s no going back…