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Serenity not to be confused with the "Firefly" spin-off movie, is a bizarre and enthralling experience. For every great new entry into the McConaissance, our favorite naked bongo-playing actor has to give us an equally bad flick from the shadow realm to maintain balance in the universe. In the same few months he gave us Moondog in Harmony Korine's The Beach Bum, Matthew McConaughey must have still been vacationing in the Bahama's where he ran into Steven Knight and said "alright, alright, alright" to whatever the director pitched to him in a tequila/prozac-induced stupor.
Get a load of this. McConaughey is trying to catch a large tuna fish named "Justice", but he can hear his son talking to him in his head. Then his ex-wife, Anne Hathaway, asks him to kill Jason Clarke (because who doesn't want him dead, amirite? he sucks, and he's in everything). A whole bunch of questionable stuff happens, then McConaughey finds out that his life is weird because he's a video game character. Then he breaks out of the matrix, and I'm not sure but I think he's actually a ghost in the afterlife which is a fishing RPG his son made to deal with his death. The boy codes his abusive stepfather into the game to get McConaughey to kill him so that the boy can get up the courage to actually kill his stepfather in real life. And they do, I think, or something. We live in a society.
I have many questions, like, since it's a video game, did the boy code his father's character to be a gigolo for Diane Lane so he can pay his fishing employee? Did the boy make his mom a NPC so Clarke could beat her naked with a belt? Did the boy code his father's character to get naked and jump off a cliff so he could reenact the album cover of Nirvana's "Nevermind"? Did he code his father to bang his mom from behind while she cries? I guess recontextualizing a neo-noir as a metanarrative that bends the rules of time, space, and consciousness can get messy quick, but at least it makes more sense than "Lost".
I would highly recommend this one if you love the bizarre movie making missteps of Collateral Beauty or The Book of Henry. It's like "tonal insanity" is a film-genre at this point. I doubt the Coen brothers could even write a line as fitfully absurd as, "You fish for one tuna, man. It's a tuna that's only in your head." Pure Gold.
Every once in awhile, even your favorite directors are bound to put out a dud. Jarmusch has had a few from my perspective. I wasn't much a fan of The Limits of Control, and even Paterson underwhelmed me. But this is the guy who gave us Down by Law and Only Lovers Left Alive, so I know that he has the capacity to do better. The Dead Don't Die is more of a disappointing movie than a bad one. Individual elements like Tilda Swinton as a katana-wielding Scottish mortician or Iggy Pop grunting for coffee in full zombie regalia really make this blasé Romero riff watchable and, at times, amusing. But make no mistake, any social commentary is toothless, the plotting is lazy, and this existential zombie hang-out is just a little too despondent to sit alongside more quick-witted zom-edy films like Shaun of the Dead or Zombieland. Which begs the question, was he trying to make a movie this dumb, or is this just what gets made when Jarmusch goes on vacation with his favorite character actors?
The biggest sin here is that Bill Murray and Adam Driver don't seem as fully committed to being small town cops reacting to a zombie epidemic as much as Steve Buscemi is to being a one-dimensional Trumpster fire. The periphery is more interesting, and there's not nearly enough of it. Instead, we get post-career-renaissance Murray breaking the fourth wall, almost in protest to how boring everything is. One can meander and still have fun with this premise, but the environmentalist fantasy politics and "old hipster who doesn't like phone tech" perspective shits the whole bed. It's like Jarmusch is acknowledging the political subtexts of (his overt focus of homage) George Romero's ...of the Dead series by using them either as a simplistic preachy flavor or a post-modernist punchline, and I'm not sure which one is more off-putting. Better luck next time, Jim. Like I said, it's worth a watch - it's just not a good movie.
I thought everyone already decided Hilary Duff isn't allowed to act anymore? It's only natural that the mouseketeer eventually escapes the horrors of the Disney channel for greener pastures, like portraying famous murder victim Sharon Tate. The Tate murders were 50 years ago this August, and independent filmmakers have been making the most of the tragedy with several films over the last year. Besides Quentin Tarantino's Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, we had one of Mark Kermode's least favorite films of last year Wolves at the Door, Charlie Says with Dr. Who as Charlie Manson, and then this unnecessary thing called The Haunting of Sharon Tate. If Blumhouse productions wanted to option a sensationalized depiction of the Tate murders complete with idiotic jump scares, I doubt it would be as inventively boneheaded as this one.
One would think the biggest problem is that it takes this tragedy and turns it into a popcorn flick, but it also takes a somewhat poignant look at Tate's wistful optimism and burgeoning career then tries to turn it all into a sPoOkY gHoSt StOrY. This could be an interesting experiment in tone, but then they decide to literally go into an alternate dimension of poor taste where Tate and her fellow victims escape captivity and brutally kill the Manson cult assailants, and everyone is happy in the end. I mean, there's exploitation, and then there's just shitting all over the memory of the deceased, and this movie definitely crosses that line. It would be totally egregious if it were made long ago, but I guess they thought 50 years was enough wait to capitalize on the tragedy. Just baffling. Anyway, it somehow won best director, best actress, and best horror movie at the Hollywood Reel Independent Film Festival. I'm guessing there weren't any other movies in competition this year.
Leaving the ninth feature film of every turn of the century junior high boy's favorite director, Quentin Tarantino, I felt as I did after watching his last several films. It was fun and well done mostly because it reminded me of all the films that influenced him. The director is always one to proudly display how much of a film nerd he is, and this time around he has passed up the grind-house stylings to pay homage to more mainstream fare. It's a refinement hinted at in Inglourius Basterds and expounded on in The Hateful Eight that I think he's reached some sort of stasis with finally. That, and he's just unabashedly displaying his foot-fetish at this point.
As you would expect, it's all an excuse for him to make fake trailers, commercials, insert modern actors into old films, and insert himself back into the world of his childhood. As he was six when his mother and he moved to Los Angeles, his earliest memories would be infused with the mise-en-scene of this movie's setting, making it, possibly, his most personal film world and work to date. His hauntological prerogative has been consuming his output since he began making films, which is fine in my book as I don't think the man has much to say, philosophically speaking. Coming in as his most understated effort since Jackie Brown, this was closer to a hangout than a structured narrative. If there is one thing you can get out of the film, it is total period immersion, which, if we're being completely honest, is not terribly interesting if you are looking for something to happen.
The film centers on the career trajectory of Rick Dalton (Leo DiCaprio) and his working friendship with stunt double Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) as they go about their day-to-day responsibilities in and around Hollywood. Their characters bring to mind many leading men of the time, forced to adapt to the changing fashions and whims of the industry to stay relevant after the golden years of TV cowboys and war films gave way to spaghetti westerns and biker flicks. Dalton's neighbor is Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie), and as we all know what happened to her, most of the tension rests on whether or not the infamous Charles Manson family will get involved with our characters or not. Since I don't want to give away any of the later act events, I will simply say that the movie isn't really about that historical incident so much as it is about actors and acting.
As Dalton struggles to find a future in the industry and wrestles with his mid-life crisis, Booth wanders about the periphery of LA, languishing in the scenery. Aside from being a right-hand man, the irony of his character is that he's a bit of a real-life cowboy in any situation he enters, walking the walk where Dalton must be coddled and assured by others of his worth. Then on the other side of town, we have Tate, the proto-pixie dream girl traversing the town, carefree, and wide-eyed. We get to see her casually going to see one of her latest roles in a theater as she hasn't fully risen to wild stardom, and she gets to see the people she entertains. It's a subtle and surprisingly touching sequence that many have called a love letter to the late actress, and it's certainly more tastefully done than that abysmal Hillary Duff film The Haunting of Sharon Tate.
As there's still some flourishes of extreme violence, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is an unmistakably Tarantino film. Whether you can dig that is entirely up to your specific tastes, but be warned this isn't a politically progressive film or profound in any sense. It's basically a celebration of the past and, as the title suggests, a fairy tale about a dirty, florid, and sometimes glamorous time since come and gone. Now let's just get that Tarantino Star Trek movie up and going, huh?
Somewhere between The Wicker Man and Zardoz sits Midsommar, Ari Aster's follow up to his acclaimed horror breakout success Hereditary. While the introductory sequence suggested Midsommar would be as oppressively miserable as its predecessor, I was pleased to find that Aster managed to balance the darkness with plenty humor, absurdity, and some gorgeous visuals. In fact, it's almost as if he took my major criticisms of Hereditary and actively worked to ameliorate them. Chief of those criticisms was that the supernatural elements usurped the drama, elements that are here left ambiguous or explainable by natural events. Also some of the odd, stilted performances that gave me flashbacks to any of Shyamalan's dreck are no longer present or at least couched in language barriers and communal isolation.
Any review of this film will have a problem with spoilers as it's hard not to mention the movies I name dropped at the beginning. Anyone who has seen Robin Hardy's original The Wicker Man (much less Cannibal Holocaust or any other horror film) will not be surprised by much of the plot. A group of collegiates go to a remote commune populated by a nature cult and get picked off one by one as they naively assume their little anthropology trip is a completely benevolent setup. At the surface level there's some creepy things happening, some decent practical gore effects, and people hyperventilating and screaming like it's The Devils or Possession. It even surpasses Climax in hallucinatory simulation with a hefty helping of magic mushroom-infused warping effects. Much like Zardoz, usage of alien-like cult behavior and eye-popping visual design add to the already disturbing and sometimes confusing (if you live under a rock and have never seen any sort of magic/religious ritual) proceedings.
However, away at this remote commune in the Swedish countryside, the movie's characters are dealing with a lot more than being assimilated into a hive mind or eating pubic hair pies. Florence Pugh plays a young woman, Dani, whose entire immediate family has recently and suddenly died. Her boyfriend Christian, played by Jack Raynor, is emotionally absent and mostly self-centered, reluctantly bringing her along on this trip to Sweden, more than anything, out of guilt about her loss. As the trip progresses, their relationship reveals itself to be toxic and one-sided as Dani often suffers from panic attacks due to triggering events. She withdraws and internalizes these problems and blames herself when confronting Christian about his lack of mindfulness between them. Of all the brutal sequences in the film, this is probably the most disturbingly accurate portrayal of such a relationship as I've seen lately. It's hard to watch, and it eggs us on into celebrating Christian's demise and Dani's self-actualization.
This is another one of those clever things that make Aster's films stand out from most Blumhouse productions and other cheap horror fare. There's some real exploration of what it is to suffer and feel helpless, especially around those who you're supposed to trust and be loved by. Dani is asked, "When Christian holds you, do you feel as if you are home?" It's a difficult thing to deny when your life revolves around this other person. At the same time, the fate that befalls Christian isn't warranted, and it holds up a mirror to the audience. If we gleefully accept the film's violence as justified retribution for emotional failures and wrongdoing in relationships, we have failed to glean any sort of meaningful lessons from a movie that is fundamentally about the relative nature of empathy and the harmonious balance between all life that humans should be striving towards.
There's also some really goofy WTF moments, and whether you're looking for a weird trippy movie, or a slow-burn 70's style horror, or a deep look at how to be better humans, there's something there for everyone. Everyone, that is, except for morons who think creepy little dolls and loud noises are scary.
When I first saw Sienna Miller as Edie Sedgwick in Factory Girl, I thought "Man, that gal can act, too bad she's playing the junkie equivalent of a Barbie doll." In American Woman, we are presented with a richly textured example of Miller's dynamic range. Perhaps an even bigger surprise is that one of Ridley Scott's kids has actually directed a good film, a first for any of the Scott household in years if All the Money in the World and Morgan are the low hurdles to jump in this argument. And no I didn't like The Martian either. Leave it to Jake, the kid who cut his teeth on 90's alt-rock music videos to give us something poignant and precise for once in a long while.
The film concerns a woman named Deborah Callahan (Miller) who lives and loves and loses in small-town Pennsylvania. Not since David Mackenzie's Hell or Highwater have I seen such a brutally accurate depiction of small-town life set to the screen. All the plights of working-class households, broken homes, and the bad decisions that travel between the two are laid out in their hapless glory. Deb's arc is a non-stop tour through the pitfalls of early parenthood, single life, infidelity, and tragedy that can devastate an entire community. When her daughter Bridget (Sky Ferriera), a young, single mother as well, goes missing, it sends ripples of grief, wrath, and the promise of change through the Callahan family, giving Miller the perfect scenario to showcase how much manic energy she can infuse into each scene.
While the main plot-line centers around the daughter's disappearance, life must go on for Deb and her family. Moments of hilarity sneak in from time to time (bouyed by the warm presence of Will Sasso and Christina Hendrix) as the family bickers and Deb gets her life on track. It is the story of a girl forced into adulthood too soon to develop healthy coping mechanisms for the tragedies that lie ahead, but when the harsh facts of reality quite literally hit her, Miller's Deborah emerges from them violent but sure each subsequent time. You see her scars, and you see her harden. However, it's empowering and indicative of her maturity and clarity over a tumultuous span of 11 years, a time that can break many people with less affliction.
Of course, it's all just a movie, a story to tell ourselves to make us feel a little better about the world around us and the problems we face. If you know the premise or have read a review, you probably won't be terribly surprised by what happens to the characters. But I don't think that that is because American Woman is a derivative or manipulative work, rather, the characters just feel and act so true to life. The familial strife, the grudges, the pain of infidelity, and the profound sense of grief is a sledgehammer to the gut because we have (barring folks who've lived in some privileged, upper-class malaise) probably all been somewhere in this film at some point in our experiences. This is working class drama for real people, and its impact isn't contingent on being depressing or dark or saccharine. It's a lens peering into the triumph after the tragedy of day to day living.
Teen Spirit is a mediocre, underwhelming cinematic experience. Absent Elle Fanning and the list of prominent auto-tuned teen idols that pop-ulate the soundtrack, there would be no justification for this bland, pedestrian retread of the "rags to riches" story of a hard-working, poor young singer finding near overnight success in the music industry with her innate/inane talent and a little guidance by a wizened master. She somehow rises above minimal adversity to deliver an electrifying performance that resonates deeply with her family, peers, and community to become a Starâ¢. I don't think it's an unreasonably elitist stance to say that music with the emotional depth of a hairspray ad jingle hardly justifies watching a feature-length reiteration of the first 20 minutes of any episode of VH1's "Behind the Music".
That could suffice for a review of the film, but I don't think I would have even brought up that I've seen Teen Spirit if my viewing hadn't been contextualized by the film I watched immediately after, the long awaited documentary of Aretha Franklin's jaw-dropping live performance at New Temple Missionary Baptist Church, Amazing Grace. One doesn't need to have any particular religious fervor or sentiment to appreciate the outpouring of spirit and soul from Reverend James Cleveland, the choir, and the audience, all beside Aretha erupting with vibrant joy and exultation from behind the pulpit. So with both of these films in mind, I would like to point out two of the most essential ingredients it takes to fully realize a quality music-centric film, whether it be biopic, musical, concert film, or musical drama.
First of all, music is, at its core, an art form that more than any other exists within the realm of emotion. Sound itself is a physical and invasive experience that, sans serious technological impediments or physical abnormalities, is completely unavoidable, and as we grow and experience the sounds around us, we associate each vibration within a matrix of moods and emotions. The more one delves into the world of music, the more connections one makes with their memories and associations, and however intangible, ephemeral, and indescribable those experiences are, they nevertheless serve as guideposts to our emotional state before, during, and after. Perhaps this feeds into why subjective musical taste is always personally valued yet completely irrelevant to communicating the value of a tune, rhythm, noise, or ambiance because we are all on our own journey, and what we value today might be more or less emotionally potent tomorrow.
Emotion is essential in anything that has to do with music (and experience in general), but to inform that emotion in any artificial context, and I might be going out on a limb here, we crave or at least have certain standards by which to verify the authenticity of that emotion. Now I'm not saying some of us can't just go with the flow, but I know for myself and many others, there is a brief moment of disconnect between the external experience and the internal dialogue when we watch a movie or hear a song, we don't immediately drop everything we are thinking and feeling to simply live in a moment that consumes us. To verify whether something is still worth our time we do checks on the authenticity of the experience and the place from which the art proceeds. Am I dreaming? Is someone putting me on? How much time do I have left, and should I spend it here, watching Elle mope and do Carly Rae Jepsen karaoke?
So Fanning is a Polish farm girl on the Isle of Wight, living in a broken home, and pining for a bright future of wearing cute clothes and singing angsty, millenial synth-pop songs on the tele. Aside from the fact that I'm not the target market for this film, there should be some deeper human experience roping me in to seeing Fanning as anything other than a Hollywood It-girl who really wants to audition for Tegan & Sara. Oh there's emotion there alright, but the authenticity of it has about as much soul as the deodorant of the film's namesake. Then I look at Aretha Franklin, an actual young woman from a broken home who had risen from a tumultuous time in society to use her success to shed light on and celebrate her real community, surrounded by the family and friends who gave what they could to help her along the way, and a beacon of hope for a people who had been disenfranchised for centuries with the only respite to help them through near-insurmountable years of discrimination, hardship, and hatred the very music that they communed that evening to sing.
I know, it's apples to oranges. It's a work of fiction versus documented reality, and who am I to pit the two against each other? I just think it's the perfect demonstration of what causes the bile to rise in my throat when I see mediocrity rewarded while true beauty falls to the way side time and again. Real beauty is sweaty and sometimes hard to watch, but it's always worth sitting through to the end. While Amazing Grace tore my heart out with zealous triumph, Teen Spirit was just hard to watch.
As I was driving home from seeing Avengers: Endgame I was passed by someone I recognized as a co-worker. On the back of his car was an "infowars.com" bumper sticker, and I wondered if he talks about fluoride turning frogs gay and reptilian humanoids drinking the pineal glands of newborn infants with the other bus mechanics. I imagine that would be a little bit embarrassing to actually converse about, almost as embarrassing as I might feel when discussing superhero movies at work. But why should I feel ashamed of it? When people I work with talk about movies, it's never about Barry Jenkins' latest rumination on the trials and tribulations of Black America or what won the Palme d'Or that year. No, it's always capeshit, and when they talk about it they usually don't say anything beyond whether they liked it or not. I never hear if they can see parallels to current international politics in Iron Man's authoritarian leanings or the Malthusian roots of Thanos' murderous motives. It's more "I liked it when character X fought character Y, and character Z made a quip that amused me."
Really, there's no harm in that. These movies do have some degree of political and philosophical subtext, but they aren't rich pieces of illustrated literature that warrant some voluminous dissection. Most people who have followed along with Kevin Feige's grand-sweeping film empire have done so not to expand their realm of experience and perception but to get their dose of mindless spectacle. The reason why it's embarrassing for me to talk about these films in any serious way is because it says a lot of a person who would sit three hours for something they obviously dislike. I could have rewatched Barry Lyndon or La Dolce Vita, but any self-respect I might have had is out the window after willingly subjecting myself to it all knowing full well I'm probably going to dislike it. It's amazing also that general audiences can get through the first hour alone with its glacial pace and weepy dreariness. Just like the first two episodes of the final season of "Game of Thrones" it is comprised of people standing around and droopily talking to each other about how hopeless everything is, then the weepy music perks up when all the people you forgot were still alive meet each other again. Huzzah, m'lady!
I would argue this sort of dynamic works well for HBO's flagship fantasy series because a) there's a palpable mise-en-scène while the endless glut of characters don't just unceremoniously emerge and disappear from the background like whack-a-mole, and b) the show is comprised of hour long episodes so the start/stop momentum of broader narrative arcs is excusable. I think I might have really enjoyed the Marvel "Cinematic" Universe if it had stayed where it belongs: on television. When it slows down it's pure tedium, and when it speeds up it's like a cartoon chipmunk hitting me in the nuts with a clown hammer. I could see myself loving it if it were a farce, but the tone is entirely dependent on which character inhabits the frame. It doesn't seem that bad while watching because we're conditioned to accept this scattershot melee of ideas after 20 movies of Ritalin-snorting chaos. Granted, it's a tighter wrapped package than the new Star Wars or the live-action Disney remakes, but that's a pretty low bar in the first place.
What we're left here with is space-"Bonanza". Broadly painted American ideals like faith in authoritarian power structures, "the good guys have the greater good at heart", a nuclear family is the most fulfilling ideal possible, etc. are the implied hope of all character arcs. Then there's a checklist of one-off progressive ideals - the movie's only gay character is casually accepted in conversation during his lone scene, a white man relinquishes his power and privilege to a black woman, and, despite 85% of the action occurring between buff, Caucasian dudes, there's that one sequence where every female character happens to be on screen together. "You go girls! Even you, jade vagina-egg-peddling Iron Woman!" None of these shoe-horned, faux-gressive add-ons are inherently bad, their presence just seems so ham-fisted since it's obviously an afterthought and entirely beside the point. Well, these are all totally different issues that could be unpacked at a different time, but that's what I mean when I talk about a clown hammer to my nuts.
Maybe I should be thankful that a major studio has the audacity to test the limits of good faith with its audience. Maybe I should be thankful that this is (hopefully) the consummate end of another era of blockbuster bombast. I'm still bitter that this movie eats up box office receipts while independent cinema languishes in obscurity in failing art-houses barely populated by retirees and the idle intelligentsia. "But movies like this are HELPING those small markets" blah blah blah. Ask Kansas City's historic Tivoli theater about how much help the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been for them. That's right, you can't because they closed, and there's no time traveling deus ex machina to resurrect that one.
In conclusion, I'm embarrassed I saw this movie, and one of my co-workers thinks that Sandy Hook was a hoax.
While I'm hesitant to say it outright stinks, Her Smell is fairly pungent and may cause some allergic reactions. In an alternate reality where Hole is inexplicably more popular than Nirvana and Kurt Cobain is a responsible (and quite less dead) father, Courtney Love is still an interminable disaster of a person. Her analog comes in the character of Becky Something (Elisabeth Moss) a narcissistic drug addict, mystical matron of music, and our "protagonist". The main attraction of the film is watching the bipolar abuse and hysteria Becky heaps upon everyone around her. We get it in spades as Moss channels Gena Rowlands by way of Robin Williams by way of Isabelle Adjani. Her performance is fascinating, hilarious, and occasionally very, very obnoxious.
As for nearly every other aspect of the film, let's just say it couldn't end quick enough. Far be it from me to criticize the authenticity of this movie's rendition of femme punk as I am neither female nor a person who adorns themselves with Urban Outfitters clothing to signal my anti-authoritarian sentiments, but the music was poser bullshit. And I don't mean the score that seems to have been played completely through a low pass filter. I mean the god-awful ersatz-Liz Phair stage pieces. I know I'm no aficionado of L7 or The Slits, but I worship PJ Harvey, and I grew up on a steady diet of The Breeders and Sleater-Kinney. You'd have better luck at getting me to sit through an album by The Donnas than another minute of the original songs in this film, and I'll go G.G. Allin on anybody who would force me to listen to The Donnas again if that's any indication of my disdain for one of the cringiest soundtracks this side of The Apple.
In the already disproportionately low amount of decent musical dramas that succeed in exhibiting fresh, inspired, or even timeless music, the songs in them, almost without fail, came from the ground up and weren't just reverse engineered to fill in the gaps in the script. The compositions found herein are poorly constructed, ill-timed, anti-climactic, and actively undercut Becky's credibility. So much of the character dynamic hinges on how everyone sees her as this songwriting savant, a musical icon that they must cater to, yet every time she shows out it's like a heroin junkie reciting teenage Xanga posts over two chords (if that). Maybe all the characters just have horrible music taste and the drugs are making them sappy? I get that punk aesthetic eschews sophistication and ability at the altar of attitude, but even by those standards the music is underwhelming.
Director Alex Ross Perry stated "I wanted to make the movie where the people that think 'women in rock ends in the ‘70s' would look at this and go, ‘Oh, well, this is filth, I hate this kind of music, I hate these kinds of mean, vulgar young musicians who can't carry a tune.'" I guess that includes me, even though I don't hate that kind of music or young musicians - I just think the music here is forgettable trash. Compare it to Brady Corbett's Vox Lux which has a thematic Venn diagram with Her Smell closely resembling an Oreo cookie. By the time we've reached the end performance with Natalie Portman's character, we have seen how virtually all of the tragedy and vice in her life has calcified her into this vapid electro-peacock, mindlessly gasping out banal pop music amidst laser lights and aerobics, completely divorced from reality, and a shell of who she was - deader than if she had died all those many years ago in her school shooting - yet she is a capitalist symbol of success.
In this instance, Becky's arc turns her from a narcissistic trash diva into a slightly more grateful and humbled trash diva, and it's great for her career. If you want to take this post-modernist reading, it would overtly follow that you have to be a boisterous self-serving dumpster fire to garner public accolade and be a successful musician. If that's the point, they're leaving out the part where you have to work diligently, know the right people, and get incredibly lucky - none of which seems to have been necessary for Becky's rise to stardom. If the point is not to comment on the nature of success and just to focus on the human element behind prominent artistry, the movie does a damn good job of leaving out how to empathize with Becky as a human. Sure we can sympathize with her character for the obstacles that she encountered on her journey through the music industry and the personal subterfuge created by stardom, but at the end of the day she's still this crazy, violent, irresponsible, and self-serving hack. I don't know about you, but I have a hard time relating or caring at the end of such a wretched train wreck, especially knowing she's probably going to slide right back down into the gutter sooner or later.
If Perry had thought to truncate every scene by about 30% it would have been much more worth the watch, but it just goes on forever at a drunkard's pace. Then there's an outburst, and a quiet moment, and Moss starts squeaking another emo song out, and everyone stares in poignant silence. And speaking of bad timing, for the film being such a nonchalant female-centric film, it's terribly ironic that the most contemplative (and easily strongest) music performance in the film is a stripped bare rendition of a song by none other than that bastion of female empowerment himself - Bryan Adams. You can't make this shit up! Unless, of course, you're Alex Ross Perry, and you're making Her Smell. I wonder if he purposely named it that so that every time he referred to production he could say "I'm currently making Her Smell, and it's getting me really excited. Once you've experienced Her Smell you'll wonder where Elisabeth Moss has been all this time. Her Smell will not easily be forgotten. I'm sure some of the critics will turn up their noses at Her Smell, but I'm making Her Smell for all the right reasons."
About four years ago on a lazy afternoon I stopped into a local bar for a pint, and I was the only person there besides the lone bartender. Naturally we struck up a conversation, and as I'm not one for forcing small talk I broached the topic of cinema. It turns out this fellow was an adjunct professor of English and taught a few film studies courses at the University in our town. When I pressed him for some of his recent favorites, he brought up David Robert Mitchell's It Follows, a movie that I thought was almost hilariously bad, so I asked him what he found so compelling about it.
He explained to me that while most people think the horror mechanism was just a metaphor for sexually transmitted disease, there is a deeper socio-political subtext to the film that explains some of the questionable decisions made by the characters. Since the movie was set in Detroit, there is all of the history of the city's race relations to take into consideration. Just as "It" follows around Maika Monroe and her promiscuous cohorts, so too did racial integration encroach on the white establishments of post-WWII Detroit. A series of violent outbreaks punctuated those tense years following attempts by the white city officials (some of whom were involved with the KKK) to renovate the Paradise Valley and Black Bottom, densely populated areas where Black families and culture had congregated and established themselves. The renovations were aimed at dispersing the Black population under the guise of "urban renewal", and newly desegregated public spaces became battlegrounds for violent brawls and rioting.
The main reason for the movie's odd climactic showdown at the municipal pool is in reference to public bathing areas that served as a microcosm of the city's white paranoia over sharing an intimate space, especially one where bodily fluids commingled not just across gender lines but racial lines as well. To avoid the influx of Black swimmers on public pools, many whites began building private pools and exclusive swimming areas in the suburbs as they migrated from the inner city. After the famous riots and burnings in the summer of 1967, the city's population shrunk by almost 2/3rds within the span of just a few years. In this self-made ghost town, the collective guilt of racial oppression underlies the sexual indiscretions that haunt the characters of It Follows.
After he finished I asked him, "Do you really think there's enough going on in the margins to signal that interpretive context? It's a fascinating take, but it seems a bit esoteric to me." To which he responded, "I think you've had enough to drink, and I'm cutting you off." So I smashed my pint glass into the side of his face to prove my point. My memory of the event might be a little hazy, but I'm pretty sure I was in the right. But however much I disagreed with him about his interpretation, it made me realize a few days ago that we should remember to take into account the subtle historical and socio-political underpinnings of a film, especially one like Jordan Peele's latest horror Us.
The story is set in and around the beautiful tourist destination of Santa Cruz, California filled with vibrant culture and beautiful beaches and parks. Santa Cruz was also popularly dubbed the "Murder Capital of the World" in 1973 after several bodies were discovered in one the parks, and it consistently suffers from the highest violent crime and property crime rates in California and one of the highest homeless rates in the country. The film opens with a commercial for "Hands Across America" a benefit movement centered around raising money to fight homelessness, hunger, and poverty. So it's safe to say that the nation's dispossessed and the violence that surrounds them plays a vital role in the various thematic threads of the film.
When I first saw the title, I thought it was called U.S., but how fitting it is that Lupita Nyong'o's doppelganger outright says "We are America". After all, the broken and forgotten people of our society are repulsive to the bourgeoisie because they are valueless leeches, and indeed they are repulsive to the working class because we are just a bounced rent check, jail sentence, or work injury away from becoming one of them. So this is what happens to a country when we are quicker to blame someone beneath us for our problems rather than those who control us or, worse yet, our own inaction. If we follow this white rabbit through the looking glass, what will we see? And will we accept responsibility if it's nothing more than our own reflection?
When you respond in anger, you will be met in kind. Demonize and dehumanize others until you have become an animal yourself. And the more apathetic you become, the harder that violence will hit you when it eventuates. Soon we will all stand together soulless, violent clones of ourselves, united in our mutual hatred, bathed in blood, and a spectacle for the world to gape at in horror and awe.
In the end, I rest easy knowing that I assaulted that man while he was doing his job. He had it coming for having a different perspective than me. Anyway, Us is a solid watch, and I'll probably be going back to see it again soon.
The Beach Bum is my shit. Layers of idiocy, trash, chemicals, undulating bodies, and pure, unfettered joy. I understand if you aren't up for the debauchery, but John Waters would be proud. You may be like one of those people up north of the beach, toiling away in the safe confines of your habituation, annoyed at anyone who disturbs your peaceful boredom, and sneering at any sort of immodesty. I'm kind of like that too. After all, I judge everything with my nose turned up looking out the window of my own insulated little world. And my world is insulated because I'm not rich enough to completely disregard my responsibilities to the rest of my small reality, to free myself and explore it in all of its bizarre splendor. Excuses, excuses - thankfully, there's wish fulfillment for that.
Would you go to see a movie about pot-smoking, bongo-playing, half-nude Matthew McConaughey playing a half-nude, pot-smoking, bongo-playing celebrity? It hearkens back to the roots of theater to gape in awe at the petty machinations of the aristocracy writhing in idle wealth. In that sense director Harmony Korine has finally hit a primal nerve in the cinematic experience, one that he's only toyed with in his previous efforts. Spring Breakers, the genetic precursor to this and a divisive masterpiece in its own right managed to encapsulate the grotesque, manic world of the privileged upper middle-class youth. Bored with morality, they enact the fantastic world of extremes promised by late 90s pop and hip-hop songs. It's not a cautionary tale so much as it is an exercise in hedonism, but The Beach Bum is hedonism as an ethos at its fullest fruition.
At the risk of sounding like a Marxist, this movie is a cautionary tale of unchecked capitalism. Every moment revels in the luxuries afforded to those who are so steeped in their own material advantage that they are oblivious to consequences of their actions - and they are constantly rewarded for doing so! Moondog (McConaughey) parties to the limits of his being, high on a mediocre poetry career that somehow proves to be visionary despite how inane and puerile it is in substance. His life is a parable to prove that you must "fake it 'til you make it" yet he has forgotten that it was fake in the first place. Doesn't that make it the realest of all? *wink* Even in the face of a life-changing tragedy that sets into motion his need to write the "Next Great American Novel", his main priority remains his liquid wealth and the transient thrills it will afford him.
But Korine plays it so straight, demanding that McConaughey always remain relatable and a bastion of the American dream in all of his basest desires. If hedonism is the new morality, the clear virtue of the film is good vibes. What could play out as a very self-serious social critique ends up as a hodge-podge of Cheech and Chong stoner comedy on a VH1 "Behind the Music" redemption arc. It's so tongue-in-cheek that it comes off in earnest, and the movie makes itself available to multiple moods and readings depending on who you are. Like Spring Breakers it will piss off anyone who tries to take it at face value. Even in the modest crowd I was with, one comprised of multiple age demographics, there was a lot of laughter: incredulity, shock, punchlines, and just plain happiness, and the best part was that I was laughing harder than I have in public for a loooong time. God bless you, Moondog. Y'know Jesus was the original sinner.
Ah, Marvel Disney - the cinematic equivalent of Wonder Bread and American cheese. They are as consistent in quality as they are bland. When slathered in butter and pan fried, they briefly provide sufficient comfort and sustenance before resting stubbornly in one's intellectual colon until something more substantive and fibrous evacuates it all from the mind's anus. Feel free to call me a shit head for making that analogy as, for some strange reason, I've come to expect the worst backlash from my Marvel movie reviews, but I don't begrudge those who disagree with me. Considering my review for Aunt Man and the White Anglo-Saxon Protestant garnered plenty of unsolicited and redundant responses, many folks seemed to think my negativity was unwarranted or, worse yet, unfounded. It's easy to forget that not everyone is as smart or important as me, so being called "pretentious" over and over really opened my eyes to how I should give the McDonalds of modern film making more critical leniency.
Believe it or not, I'm going to double down on why I pity the cognitive toddlers that scurry up to defile my reviews and inbox every time I offer an unfavorable opinion about their favorite brand of banal brainwash. I would liken their fervor about superhero movies to that of sports fanatics, captivated by the ephemeral spectacle of the event only to leave themselves open to ulterior bombardment by advertisers and, if it's a particularly divisive game, ensuing mass hysteria. Sitting in your Captain America shield/Bat-signal embroidered hoodie, you indignantly type "These movies aren't for you - why do you bother watching them?" By that logic, if this review isn't for you, why bother reading or commenting on it? I watch a lot of things that aren't "for me" if for the sole purpose of making fun of them later.
I think the question above ultimately translates to one of two implications, the generous reading being "Why are you so condescending and smug about something as innocuous as a popular film that is designed for mass appeal and that meets the standards and purposes prescribed to it, all the while indicting and judging people who appreciate it for what it is?" That's a very good question I've vicariously made through me there, and I'm right - people shouldn't feel bad for liking things, even if those things suck. I like a lot of things that suck, but most of them aren't so ubiquitous to the point of invading your sphere of perception. Also, most of them aren't considered cultural landmarks like, for instance, how Black Panther pulled more Academy Awards than, say, There Will Be Blood for no demonstrable reason. Yes, I know making generalizations about a specific group of people is a bad idea in most contexts, but comic book nerds aren't exactly a demographic based on race, gender, or any noteworthy quality. They're closer to ideologues, like Nazis. And the only people who get mad when people make fun of Nazis are Nazis. I'll bet you did not see that coming if you're a stupid comic book nerd.
The other reading could be "I enjoy these movies, you should agree with me, and I'll shitpost anyone who doesn't." I've never really understood this kind of brand loyalty where one feels the need to defend a work of abstract value, especially when they don't have an academic or financial stake in it, but I suppose one of the several million fifth-unit CG artists could have chanced upon my review to only find some self-aggrandizing jerk bitch about how the poor schlub made his rent last month by poorly rendering the comet trail on Evangeline Lilly's spandexed butt. The great irony here is that a bad review can simply be a long-winded shitpost, bereft of any real insight, and designed to provoke. It could be a big waste of your time, dredging up controversy to compensate for an overwhelming lack of initial interest which itself has become a common method of marketing. I'm sure the creators of Captain Marvel wouldn't know anything about that.
Anyway, Carol Danvers (Brie Larson) becomes alien Wonder Woman working with the Skeets to fight the Krulls so the Creoles don't get the important glowing item before the Skoals inevitably will. Some fighting occurs. There's a cat present for humor and plot, and Sam Jackson and fan favorite (?) Agent Coulson say things that bolster the 90's setting while Captain Marginalized pieces together her past and struggles with decisions of moral gravity. Important themes that mirror the political zeitgeist include the refugee crisis, minority representation in media, and mansplaining. The biggest surprise to me was that Ben Mendelsohn breaks his typecast and is an antagonist at first. Also, wait for the mid credits sequence because it is book-ended by several minutes of scrolling white text on a black background. I don't want to end up with my shoe in my mouth, but I'm pretty sure there's going to be a sequel. It all comes out exactly as you expected: a cheesy turd.
Consider me shook. Few modern directors can fill me with the full spectrum of emotion like Gaspar Noe. Like Lars von Trier and Darren Aranofsky, he loves to push buttons, annoy, and manipulate his audience. I've visibly angered some people after exposing them to his films, and I could certainly see why they felt that way. I won't deny that there were a few times in Climax where I was quite put-off, but like any well-rounded trip, the highs get so high that the lows are devastating.
Purported to have taken place in France in 1996, the incident performed in the movie is a manic dance party where a troupe of contorted, gyrating euro-trash get an unexpected psychedelic nightmare when someone slips LSD into the sangria bowl. It's an electric kool aid acid test gone terribly wrong. The first half of the film covers the heavenly and joyful peaks with a dynamic series of one shot sequences that groove and fly along with the dancers. The second half is a hellish dreamscape, an assault on the senses, and a disorienting plummet into insanity and degradation. It becomes like a rave culture update to The Exterminating Angel as the dancers collectively devolve into sputtering animals, attacking each other in orgiastic fits of violence and passion.
For a film with such a premise, the biggest surprise to me was that there is no attempt at simulating the hallucinatory experience like other 'head'? films. That's not to say that it isn't trippy as hell, there's just not much superfluous effect added to what's in front of the camera. Cinematographer Benoit Debie's unmistakable camerawork is the demon to Emmanuel Lubezki's angel, and one will pick up strong vibes of Irreversible in the second half. The visual rollercoaster is bolstered by a soundtrack I could have handpicked myself. It's slightly anachronistic for the setting ("Windowlicker'"? came out in ~'99), but I was dancing in my seat, banger after banger. As audio-visual experiences go, it's unrelenting and made me feel dirty, but I liked it.
In a recent interview, Lars von Trier reflected on when he won the Palme d'Or for Dancer in the Dark. He said that when a film is in competition for a prize, there must be consensus among the jury for it to win, so usually the most "middle of the road" entries win. While I have a less glamorous idea of what constitutes a middle of the road film, by Cannes Film Festival quality a more apt descriptor would be "d'Or-bait" for this year's winner, Hirokazu Kore-eda's Shoplifters. That's not really meant as a dig at the movie, it's just that I can see why it won and why I wasn't blown away by it.
Among this year's Academy Award nominees for best foreign picture, Shoplifters has plenty to compete with as well. By most accounts, Roma is a masterpiece of humanism and realism while Cold War is a smoky cool Eastern bloc romance, but outside of cinephile circles I hear a lot grumbling about how they're all boring, overlong, or unengaging. It comes as no surprise that many who appreciate the more energetic side of the movie spectrum have reacted this way, but what was a bit bothersome to me was how underwhelming Shoplifters ultimately proved to be.
Of course it impressed the Frenchies as the film is totally cine-literate. There's a fairly overt reference to the opening scene of Godard's Contempt, and what poverty-stricken family drama doesn't by definition owe a great debt to The 400 Blows? There's plenty of diffused kinetic action and deliberately avoided spectacle to boot. But aside from some smiles, a little laughter, and one particularly touching scene, I couldn't help but feel a little...well...robbed. Here I was expecting a game-changer, and all I got was a well made film. As always, I should have governed my hype better.
The film concerns a makeshift family living in a hovel somewhere in Tokyo. They are grifters, shoplifters, and of ill-repute and they all love each other very much. Each has escaped or been stolen from their real families, in a sense "shoplifted" themselves from abuse, neglect, loveless relationships, and all the negativity that can come with the responsibility and obligations of a dysfunctional family. Much of the run time is dedicated to developing the characters and understanding who they are through their actions as opposed to overtly stating traits and backstory. In this sense it is fully realized and welcomes you in to their lives as they try to get by on their schemes and street smarts. Its substance far outweighs its style, and there's no score whatsoever, which makes for a perplexing watch in my book. Unfortunately, there's just not a lot to be visually enamored with past the performances and script. I can't say I was totally sold on it, but I can respect how it accomplishes its intent. When it inevitably gets released on Criterion in the next year or two I'll still be pining for a decent Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! blu-ray.
Can you divorce the art from the artist? We all have different thresholds of respect for our heroes and idols, and I've learned that it's usually best not to meet them or know too much about them as they are, after all, human and flawed like the rest of us. I don't think I've had to mitigate the gap between great art and the flawed nature of its creators as extremely as I have with Mayhem. By most accounts, including their own, several (if not all) of their members were atrocious human beings, but I'll be damned if I don't think De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas isn't a masterpiece and perhaps one of the greatest albums ever made. I've also seen the surviving members in concert twice, so I'm admittedly a bit of a fan boy. When discussing Jonas Akerlund's adaptation of the exposÃ (C) on the burgeoning days of Norwegian black metal, we have to take into account the mythology and the marketing that surrounds the crimes that took place back then to explain why this movie isn't great (but it's not that bad either).
Told in a hackneyed narration style from the perspective of Oystein "Euronymous" Aarseth (Kieran Culkin) - one cobbled together purely from speculation - we are shown the rise of Deathlike Silence Records, Mayhem, and the Black Circle amidst the infamous church burnings, suicide of original frontman Per "Dead" Ohlin, and the murder of Magne Andreassen. With Aarseth as the primary source of exposition, he is granted a sort of moral clemency for his role in the crimes that surrounded the black metal scene, and this sympathetic light distorts him from someone who I believe was much more culpable than is let on.
The great ironic conceit of the film is that all of these "dark" "evil" "satanic" counter-culturalists were all highly privileged and well-raised children from wealthy families which I think sugarcoats or overly humanizes the fact that these boys were sociopaths steeped in a toxic culture of derelict one-upmanship. The book that Lords of Chaos is based on would suggest that Euronymous was much more concerned with becoming a successful musician than any sort of an ideologue, but it's hard to clear him of ill intentions after his vandalism of Ohlin's death scene. He was certainly no angel.
Leave it to the guy who is mostly known for his music videos to gloss over the grey areas and simplify a story like this with seemingly no goal in sight but for blood, guts, T'n'A, eViL, and METAL!!! But in the end, isn't a travesty of a biopic what those little nihilistic twerps deserve after the real world consequences they inflicted on others? The film is puerile in its edginess and try-hard angst, and the dialogue is so hilariously bad in parts that it could easily be mistaken for parody. The movie is intentionally and unintentionally making a mockery out of the situation, so even when it misses the mark it accomplishes its goal. In that aspect it is a success. It's like if The Boondock Saints was about the Menendez brothers.
Ultimately, one can appreciate it as an exercise in the mythology that surrounds one of the most exciting and novel things to occur in the history of modern music. It's a story that could only come about because of the industry and marketing of shock culture within the context of first world decadence. It's also a testament to the idiocy of youth and the creative fire that it ignites. I doubt that's what Akerlund was going for, but it makes a hell of a lot more sense than whatever Polar was trying to do. Regardless, for a more comprehensive document on this scene and events please defer to Aites and Ewell's documentary Until the Light Takes Us.
In light of Liam Neeson's recent politically incorrect gaffe, it follows suit that Cold Pursuit while visually literate is racially stupid. Having seen director Hans Petter Moland's original Norwegian adaptation In Order of Disappearance, I was intrigued to see how Hollywood-ized his American take on the story would be. This version is more convoluted with too many characters, and it's too long comparatively. Neeson certainly sells the character of a snow plowman turned mob assassin better than Stellan Skarsgard, but the movie suffers nearly every time it cuts away from him to showcase the idiosyncrasies of a million bit characters, many of whom disappear mere minutes after their introductions.
To avenge the murder of his son, Neeson kills several gang members while trying to find who gave the orders, and this provokes a turf war amongst a rival mafia group. In the Norwegian film, the rival gang are Serbians, but unfortunately Moland decided to change those characters to Native Americans here. Much like Martin McDonagh's take on American racial politics in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, Cold Pursuit demonstrates why white European men should leave certain subjects in better qualified hands. There are many ways to approach the legacy of oppressed people in film, but using them as props in your edgy, violent crime dramedy isn't one of them.
It's surprising too that Moland is so oblivious to this as he obviously has a firm grasp on visual storytelling, and there are some very clever moments in the film. There's some really good camera work, and it rarely fails to entertain as the humor is more overt this time around. There is just such a severe lack of focus on the core elements of the film like death as the great equalizer and the transcendent importance of fatherhood that clearly vie to be the central thematic tenets, but I suppose when you spend over half a decade focusing on an adaptation twice it may be understandable to lose perspective on what you're doing.
Little did I suspect that my first official 2019 release would be a strong contender for worst film of the year. What the hell, M. Night?
I very rarely give half-star reviews, so for the sake of civil discourse I'm going to try (and probably fail) to avoid:
- ad hominem
- excessive superlatives
- curse words
- unbridled hatred
Please be warned, this is a *spoiler alert*, though I can't foresee any plot give-aways spoiling an already turgid film that I can't recommend to anyone under any circumstance. So, here we are at the (hopefully) final chapter of the Eastrail 177 Trilogy. After a long spell of movies that ranged from critically derided to painful and hilarious, Shyamalan made the commercially viable decision to return to the well of his Unbreakable IP. Both it and its side-quel Split were anchored by strong performances from James MacAvoy, Samuel L. Jackson, and Bruce Willis whose presences more than doubled the budget and whose absences would have doubtlessly rendered the films unwatchable.
Thrown together in a compulsive, back-engineered attempt at hopping on the Hollywood franchise trend, these celebrated celebrities certainly...um...fill the running time by saying their lines. Jackson is passable because half of the movie he is comatose, Willis is phoning it in so hard they have to lift footage from two decades ago to animate him, and MacAvoy is impressively insufferable with his multiple-personality performance, one that is equal parts morbidly fascinating and obnoxious. "I'm Hedwig", "I'm Patricia", "I'm Kevin", "I'm Dennis" - I'm nonplussed as his role is annotated line by line in order that no audience members get too perplexed by his crazy-man schtick, gagging, laughable accents, and body tics as the plot meanders off to the next scene.
Willis and MacAvoy get in a fight, get captured by the anti-superhero Illuminati, then get put in the same psychiatric institution as Jackson so that Sarah Paulson can "convince them they're normal". And then the Illuminati goes ahead and kills them anyway in order that nobody will know they exist (except the secondary characters and the staff at the institution) thus keeping anyone from assuming they could climb up walls, flip a car, or punch metal really hard (which, believe it or not, some people can do). Ok, why? When the paramount question about the plot is "why is this happening?", the answer should never be "because: the movie". I have to assume that this was all another truncated, garbled metaphor for the director's relationship with the critical community and the film industry as a whole.
Take for instance that the characters mention several dozen times that Mister Glass, The Overseer, and The Horde are "like comic books". Yes, these humans with extreme abilities are just like thin stapled bunches of colored paper containing stories about superheroes. Shyamalan is plainly attempting some sort of metatextual deconstruction of superhero movie tropes while posturing himself as an inspired auteur, a misunderstood genius whose positivity and creativity have been suppressed time and again by the powers that be. THEY just couldn't understand the depth and nuance of his taut screenplays and his hawkish eye behind the camera. Glass is a revolution, a renaissance in not just his career but Hollywood from this day forth.
Of course, "the critics got it all wrong". "I thought it was okay except the end". "Good cinematography". "It subverted my expectations".
No. No. No. No. NO. It's an ugly, dim, pretentious movie, and it's only saving graces are Sam Jackson's purple blazer and the ten minute nap I got halfway through the screening.
I might be the only person on the internet who didn't like Moonlight, but whatever trepidation I may have had about Barry Jenkins has been banished away thanks to his recent adaptation of the James Baldwin novel "If Beale Street Could Talk". In it, KiKi Layne plays a young woman coming to terms with her pregnancy after her boyfriend (Stephan James) has been imprisoned under a false accusation of rape. The core of the story is predominantly focused on their relationship, a pure love born out of mutual respect, honesty, and years of dedication, a love that we rarely see conveyed with such profound depth in even the genre of romance film. At times, the intimacy is incredibly arresting without being lurid or melodramatic.
Equally rare is the way in which 1970's Harlem is presented. Normally a city shown in crime dramas as grey and rainy, soon to be hidden in the shadows of neon lights, Jenkin's Harlem is a sunny and vibrant world if not a bid dilapidated. It is populated by families, brothers and sisters genuinely trying to help and understand one another, but this is often eclipsed by the societal afflictions of deep seated bigotry, police corruption, and the victimization of the working class. One of the most unsettling scenes this year is a character played by Bryan Tyree Henry, another man recently incarcerated after being falsely accused, describing the existential and physical horror of living in prison, how it changes a person and instills fear in your very soul. It's a chilling yang to the romantic yin of Tish and Fonny's relationship, taking on themes that have been handled in a much more bumbling fashion all year in equally socially conscious (yet less refined) films.