Love and scandal are the best sweeteners of tea. —Henry Fielding

29 December 2016

Two Cartoons

Moana was totally delightful. I can't get behind Lin-Manuel Miranda's singing voice, but when he has time to polish his rhymes, he cranks out some great stuff – a highlight for me was The Rock's song "You're Welcome". I loved all the Polynesian mythology, the animation is fun, and the characters are great. I cried like five times.


















Trolls is asinine. This is a movie based on a doll that used to be popular when I was a kid. What in the actual fuck. Honestly, I didn't mind one bit and thoroughly enjoyed myself. It doesn't take its own rainbows and glitter too seriously, and there is much to recommend by way of fun.

28 December 2016

Fences and Putting Theatre Onscreen

For me, Fences had two strikes against it before I got there. While I love many of Wilson's other plays (Two Trains, Seven Guitars, Piano Lesson) and obviously love the project of the Century Cycle itself, I've always found Fences a fairly clunky play (I don't care if it did win a Pulitzer). Fences, too, is one of Wilson's more realist dramas: his early plays like Fences, Ma Rainey and Jitney just don't have the bold theatricality of some of the later plays (Gem, Joe Turner, Hedley).

I was skeptical, too, of what I saw as Denzel Washington's leisurely, self-indulgent way of playing Fences' protagonist Troy Maxson. I've seen video of Washington onstage, and he took his time with that role. There was a YouTube video going around for awhile that compared the original Troy, James Earl Jones, with Washington scene for scene, and Jones's work is tighter, stronger, and more about the character than the actor; Washington played the part onstage like everyone was there to see him.

[Side note: I almost went to an early screening of this in Florida in early December, but I had stood in line for 90 minutes and then knew I was going to get stuck in the front row of the theatre, so I left without watching the movie. I figured my annoyance with the situation would disallow my enjoyment of the movie, and with the two strikes already against Fences in my head, I figured I shouldn't prejudice myself against this movie.]

But strikes or no strikes, Fences is superb. In fact, I surprised myself by loving it as much as I did. The film's central character, Troy Maxson, is not a likable man. He's difficult and frustrated and frequently ungenerous, and when he started in on his Wilsonian monologues, I felt my impatience rise in my chest, but almost immediately, Denzel Washington's brilliant performance won me over. His work is, honestly, masterful. He is impossible not to love. He is berating his son and causing his wife pain, but he's an extraordinary character. Lovable isn't the right word, but he is compelling, powerful, insistent on his own position in the world, and filled with grief – endless mourning, even – of having been forced to live during Jim Crow. The film takes place in Pittsburgh's Hill District, of course, where all but one of the plays in the Century Cycle are set, but Jim Crow was alive and well in the North, as well, and racist union practices, racist major league baseball restrictions, and racist policing practices have all restricted Troy's life in inexorable ways.

What is so genius about Wilson's work here – and this is on display perfectly in Washington's film – is that even though the play itself (and this is why he chooses realism as his form) is really about how racist circumstances and situations have shaped these men and women, his characters are beautiful, fully draw human beings who attempt to live out their dreams. What I mean to say is that Wilson is primarily interested in a kind of materialist analysis of the effects of racism on the lives of black people in the North, but his characterization is so superb that he also manages beautiful historical portraits of black folkways in the great tradition of Georgia Douglas Johnson and Sterling Brown.

Mr. Hornsby
Just a bit more to say. First off, this is the play made into a film. Washington keeps nearly everything from the stage version. It occasionally feels like a play, but mostly it doesn't. For the most part it feels dynamic and moves nicely. Fences looks less like a play than the most recent Woody Allen movie, for example. This is all due to Washington's directorial point of view, which is studied and smart and much much better than directorial efforts by actors that we have seen in the past (remember The Good Soldier?). Washington is a very good film director. He does not have a relaxed or direct gaze. The work is interesting and moves much more fluidly than films like Doubt and Proof and Into the Woods and that one where Michael Fassbender played Jung to Viggo Mortensen's Freud.

The acting is top notch all around. Washington is superb. Davis is excellent. Russell Hornsby is fantastic. Stephen McKinley Henderson is great. It's a very, very good cast. Expect Oscar nominations for Washington and Davis for sure. (Davis is committing category fraud by running as supporting in what is unquestionably a lead performance.) But this will also be nominated for Best Picture, and, if they're not out of their minds, Best Director, as well.

22 December 2016

Nostalgia for Old Glamor

Hollywood loves itself, and movies about old Hollywood seem to arrive on the scene every year. Last year we had the abysmal Trumbo, but not so long ago, we had The Artist, which was delightful and went on to win Best Picture. And, incidentally, I really liked Hail, Caesar!, this year's Coen Brothers spectacle. This year's winner will be about Hollywood, too, (I'm talking about La La Land, obviously), but it will be a different kind of nostalgia trip that three movies I'm reporting on today were.

First, a movie that is already on DVD, Woody Allen's Café Society. Is this movie about café society in New York? I guess it is. But more importantly this movie is just bad. Jesse Eisenberg plays a young Jewish kid and neurotic Woody Allen surrogate, who falls in love with a woman he can't have. Fine. That part of the film is actually sort of interesting.

The really bad part is Steve Carrell as his movie-mogul uncle. The film is filled with name-dropping absurdities. Carrell informs us that "I'm expecting a call from Ginger Rogers" or some other nondescript idiocy. There are no actors in Kate Hepburn or Hedda Hopper drag, and actually I can't believe that I am about to say this, but I think the film could've been improved by that camp gesture that usually so annoys me. I say this because without actors in drag as famous people, Café Society feels like a hermetically sealed Woody Allen universe that has no attachment to reality in any way. I never for one moment believed Steve Carrell was a movie executive, I never believed he had lunch with Errol Flynn, and I never, for that matter, even believed he lived in Los Angeles.

As I've said before about this period of Woody Allen's career, I feel like Allen can still write a movie – the premise and ending of Café Society are intriguing – but he no longer knows how to direct one (cf. Magic in the Moonlight, Blue Jasmine, To Rome with Love). Café Society feels phony in the extreme, filled with caricatures on movie sets doing things that real people never do and saying words that sound like bad readings of a Woody Allen screenplay. I still feel an attachment to Allen's universes, and that's why I saw this, but if you care about yourself, you will skip this film.

* * *
And then there is Rules Don't Apply, the first film by the great Warren Beatty since 1998's Bulworth. (Honestly, how is that possible???). This is actually a fairly charming little movie, although it does wear out its welcome after awhile.

Ms. Collins and Mr. Ehrenreich
Beatty has said that Rules Don't Apply is not a film about Howard Hughes, but is instead a movie about two young people who get caught up in Hughes's world. The two have been damaged by Christianity so much that they feel like they can't love one another even though they do. All of this is true. the film is about that, but Rules Don't Apply has Howard Hughes in it, and Hughes is too large a character for the film to be about anything else. Rules becomes about Howard's strange peccadilloes, even if it wants to be an old-fashioned love story about two kids overcoming silly Christian mores. 

The storytelling here is charming, though. Lily Collins, Alden Ehrenreich, Beatty himself, Annette Bening, Matthew Broderick, Candice Bergen, and the other (numerous) actors who appear in the film are all absolutely delightful. And the whole thing has a delightful whimsy that didn't wear thin for me, even though the Rules as a whole feels fairly shallow. 

Perhaps most disappointing about Rules is that it isn't going to get any Oscar nominations. Or... well, actually, I actually think the song "The Rules Don't Apply" actually deserves a nomination, and may garner the film its only one. It's just not a deep enough movie, glamorous and cute as it was.

* * *
Last but certainly not least is Jackie from Chilean director Pablo Larraín, who has had three movies released in the U.S. in 2016 (The Club was earlier in the year and Neruda is in theatres now). 

Jackie is an intense character study of Jacqueline Kennedy from just before the president is shot and killed to the end of his funeral procession. The form of the film is odd, though, and this is most clearly marked by Mica Levi's dissonant horror-film score, which either makes or breaks the film, depending on your perspective. But Jackie is not Jackie without this score. Levi's music is overwhelming, insistent, and always troubling. As Jackie interacts with Robert Kennedy, with Rose Kennedy, with Jack Valenti, with Lyndon Johnson, one has a constant sense of disturbance, disruption, even terror. It's a very jarring effect.

I thought Jackie was a weird movie. I rather appreciated what it was trying to do, but I can't say that I enjoyed it. I liked its version of character study – one that takes stock of a person in crisis and then makes judgments about her based on the decisions she made during this very difficult time. Jackie has a great deal of affection for its central figure, but is also deeply suspicious of her, sees her as fundamentally flawed, ambitious, vindictive, perhaps even shallow. This makes the whole thing complicated and interesting, certainly, but... well it just isn't all that pleasurable. I found myself growing impatient with Mrs. Kennedy, with her tics and her wealth and her pretensions ("I don't smoke", she tells a reporter, though she has been chainsmoking throughout the entire film).

Jackie is going to get a single Oscar nomination for Natalie Portman (and maybe could net one more for Costume Design), but I can't see this picture connecting with audiences in a big way.

In fairness to Larraín's movie, I will say that my central thought while watching the pageantry of Jack Kennedy's funeral was about how classy it all was. Say what you want about Jackie Kennedy, she had class. How far we have fallen! We are about to install the most vulgar, classless president in American history into the White House, and the new First Lady won't even be moving into the house where Jackie, Caroline, and John Jr. lived. It is very hard not to think about President-Elect Trump while watching Jackie, and it may be that, finally, that makes the movie difficult to watch.

More movies to come! I'm seeing lots of them.

17 December 2016

Morris from America

This comedy from Chad Hartigan was disappointing. All of the best bits were in the trailer.

14 December 2016

X-men: Apocalypse

I'm officially done watching these X-men: Origins movies. I totally want to see the new Logan movie that comes out in March, so I am not swearing off of the franchise altogether, but I'll be damned if I'm gonna sit through another narrative where a group of young mutants whom I barely know decide between the good mutant (James McAvoy) who wants to protect all of the humans from the random evil besetting the world and the the bad mutant (Michael Fassbender) who also wants to protect all of the humans from the random evil besetting the world.

The thing that really sucks about these stupid Origins movies, though, are the performances. They're just embarrassing. Jennifer Lawrence and James McAvoy have spent the majority of each one of these movies just weeping. Now, I know J-Law only knows how to look sullen in movies, but I am used to McAvoy being a bit more engaging. I don't know what happened to him with this franchise, but he seems only able to cry and tell Michael Fassbender that he loves him. (Not that I blame him for the latter.)

As for what this movie was about. I don't think I can even remember. Ancient Egypt. Apocalypse. End of the world. Tye Sheridan (love him even though this movie is dumb). Something something the secret to it all is actually Jean Grey something something. Wolverine cameo. Lachrymose actors. Crisis averted. World returns to normal. McAvoy and Fassbender say goodbye with some difficulty, while McAvoy looks smugly condescending and Fassbender looks bored.

Days of X-men past:
The Last Stand
Days of Future Past
The Wolverine

I'm not doing it again, I tell you.

13 December 2016

Summing Up 2016

1. What did you do in 2016 that you'd never done before?
Visited the Mayan temples at Cobá and Tulúm.
Went to Savannah to try to see some haunts.

2. Did you keep your new year's resolutions, and will you make more for next year?
I had three resolutions last year: to finish writing my book, to cook through Ottolenghi's  Jerusalem, and to have noticeably bigger arms. I kept the first one. I mostly finished the second one. The third... well, although I did Insanity every day during the Summer, as soon as Fall rolled around I started slacking again. The job I have takes up an enormous amount of my time, and working out every day means not doing any of my own research. The arms, in other words, are not noticeably bigger. Maybe in the Spring I will figure out a better plan?
I'll probably make some resolutions for next year, but I need to think about it more.

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?
Yes! Carlos and Danis had their son Owen. And Aaron and Kristen welcomed little Caleb.
And Mike and Brandee brought home baby Poet.
(After this was posted, my friends Rick and Jill welcomed their daughter Maura Alessandra.)

4. Did anyone close to you die?
No. But I am keenly feeling the loss of bisexual adult film star Alexander Gustavo, who took his own life on December 17th. [NSFW link to this story here.] And George Michael died on Christmas Day. I will, perhaps, write something more about these two deaths, which have really saddened me.

5. What countries did you visit?
México. Three friends and I went to Tulúm in the state of Quintana Roo for Spring Break. I saw many Mayan ruins. I laid on the beach. I did a Temazcal ceremony. I ate lots of ceviche. It was lovely.

6. What would you like to have in 2017 that you lacked in 2016?
A contract for book #1.

7. What dates from 2016 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?
As much as I'd like to, it's going to be pretty difficult to forget election day of 2016, November 8th – the day we found out that a lot of people have decided to give up on liberalism in the U.S.
June 12th, too, is going to stick in my memory for a long time. The Pulse shooting, where 49 people (mostly queer people) lost their lives to a homophobic American terrorist, happened only 9 miles from my apartment. I had had a really fun weekend with my friend Adam, but woke up to horror on the news.
Also March 11th, the night before my birthday this year, was amazing. More on that below.

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?
Finishing the first draft of The Violate Man this summer.
Doing the Insanity program again at age 35.
But let's be real with one another: 2016 has been a garbage fire of a year. Everyone agrees. Simply surviving it without going totally nuts is an achievement worth acknowledging.

9. What was your biggest failure?
I fail, frequently, to be patient with others. I have also failed, in many cases, to communicate to my friends how much I love them. It is easy for me to disappear into solitude. I need to be better about this.

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?
I didn't. I had a little tiny flare-up of the diverticulitis, but I went directly to my doctor, got on antibiotics, and we think it went away.

11. What was the best thing you bought?
I bought a beautiful new table.

12. Whose behavior merited celebration?
The heroic men and women who stood up against our government's plan for the Dakota Access Pipeline.
Senator Bernie Sanders.
Seth Meyers.
President Obama.

13. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?
American Democrats, who decided, as a group, to run a candidate far to the right of their supposed values. I am not trying to be a Monday morning quarterback, just noting that I was disappointed in the values of these Democrats.
American Republicans, who decided, more as a group than anyone thought, to elect a man whom everyone agrees is totally unqualified to run our government. It seems that many of these voters hate Hillary Clinton beyond all reason, or they are simply so tired of the American experiment that they wish to burn it all down. Fair enough, but to have chosen to elect this man is irresponsible in the extreme.
President-elect Donald Trump, who proved himself a racist, fascist demagogue incapable of leadership, sense, and even basic politeness.
The Christian Right, who apparently care only about fetuses, and care nothing for the lives of men, women, and children who are already alive. Honestly, the fact that American Christians have not moved boldly behind movements like Black Lives Matter as a group is astounding to me. I find it indefensible, in fact, and void of any logic whatsoever. How can potential lives matter more than actual ones? And I'm certainly not suggesting that this political group needs to choose between the two. What should shock us all is that they have.

14. Where did most of your money go?
Travel, actually, which, when I think about it, is a pretty good decision.

15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?
ASTR 2016
Summer! Actually, I think the answer to this question is: the end of the school term.

16. What song will always remind you of 2016?
Frank Ocean's "Solo" was definitely the song I listened to most this year.
And although this song came out in 2009, the song that will probably remind me most of 2016 is RuPaul's "Cover Girl".

17. Compared to this time last year, are you:
a) happier or sadder? Happier
b) thinner or fatter? Fatter
c) richer or poorer? Richer. But that's saying nothing.

18. What do you wish you'd done more of?
Hiking. Hanging out with friends. Reading.

19. What do you wish you'd done less of?
Teaching. I like it and all, but boy do I sure spend a lot of time doing it.

20. How will you be spending Christmas?
I'll be in Los Angeles. I can't wait.

21. Did you fall in love in 2016?
Uh... no.

22. How many one-night stands?
Every year I forget to keep track of this. I think that's probably because I think keeping track is sort of sex-negative. At least 3 – an improvement on last year!

23. What was your favorite TV program?
I watched way more television this year than I have in the last decade. I watched season two of American Crime for work (it was good!), but more importantly, 2016 was the year that I got hooked on RuPaul's Drag Race. A student sent me a video of an episode of the All Stars 2 season, and it was totally compelling. Now I'm watching my way backwards. I've seen seasons 8, 7, and most of 6. I am honestly not that interested in the cattiness of the queens, and I think the worst part of the show is the judges' completely inane puns during the runway sequences. But I love watching these gay men interact with one another and tell their stories. It's really beautiful.

24. Do you hate anyone now that you didn't hate this time last year?
Last year I was like "Who has time to hate people?" but this year has brought out a lot of bullshit. I still don't think I hate anyone. But I have definitely run across one or two folks in the course of my job whom I find completely unbearable.

25. What was the best book you read?
Nick Salvato's Obstruction is a beautifully written book about writing and the work and blockages involved in creativity.
I fell in love with a couple of great plays, too: Jackie Sibblies Drury's We Are Proud to Present a Presentation about the Herero of Namibia, Formerly Known as Southwest Africa, from the German Südwestafrika, between the Years 1884–1915 and Chantal Bilodeau's Sila.
I have been disappointed in many of the contemporary novels I've read recently, but not disappointed at all with Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's Americanah.
And as for classics, I loved Invisible Cities and 2001: a Space Odyssey.
Oh! One more. Maggie Nelson's The Argonauts. It's surprising and beautiful.

26. What was your greatest musical discovery?
James Vincent McMorrow. (Thanks, Kody!)

27. What was the best piece of theatre you saw?
I saw very little good theatre this year, but at Orlando Fringe I saw a little piece called Darlings by a group called Animal Engine that I really loved.

28. What did you want and get?
Attention from a publisher.
A new album from Frank Ocean.
A new movie from Pedro Almodóvar.
Oscar nominations for Charlotte Rampling and David Lang.
An Oscar for Son of Saul.
Legalization of marijuana in several states.

29. What did you want and not get?
The dismantling of American prisons.
I mean, look, I'd like a lot of things – increased police accountability, an end to violent American colonialism, an attempted mitigation of the destruction we are causing to the planet, more liberty for individuals in this country. I understand that these things are not priorities for many USAmericans. So I try to keep my desires in check.

30. What was your favorite film of this year?
It's still early December, but so far it is Embrace of the Serpent.

31. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?
I turned 35 and spent the day in Tulúm, México. Three friends and I joined four strangers for a Temazcal sweat-lodge ceremony the night before my birthday, and we sweated and sweated in a room filled with red-hot stones. The Temazcal is supposed to be a way of connecting with the earth and connecting with the elements. It is designed, as well, for the participants to get rid of things they no longer wish to carry and then restrengthen themselves before joining the outside world again. The ceremony took almost everything out of me, and I needed help standing as I got out of the lodge. My friends and I all had similarly powerful experiences, and we realized we were all too frail to go back to town immediately, so we walked out onto the beach at night and sat on the sand quietly feeling the wind and the surf. It was a powerful way to ring in thirty-five.

32. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?
Someone with whom to share it.
But then again, maybe not. I am very used to living alone, at this point. I'm not sure I could manage another person taking up space here.

33. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2016?
Terrible. I don't think I went shopping once.

34. What kept you sane?
Travel. This year I traveled much more than I usually do. It always makes me anxious, still, but my trips to México, to Chicago, to Minneapolis, to Ft. Lauderdale, and to Savannah this year were all so necessary to my well being. Living far away from friends means that one needs to pack a bag and go see them every once in a while. I did not go to Virginia this year, even though I usually spend much of my summer there, and instead I went to lots of other places. I am sure it was the right decision.
And group chats. I have one on facebook with my friends Alex, Ryan, and Patrick. It definitely keeps me sane. Those three help me navigate the absurdity of academic listservs, job market woes, and publishing anxiety with generosity and grace. I love them. But I have 2 group chats via SMS as well: a group of high school friends who share jokes and ridiculous products for sale, and one called "Firing on All Six Cylinders" with a group of roommates from grad school. I need all of them in order to keep an even keel.

35. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?
 Colin Kaepernick

Alden Ehrenreich

 Danell Leyva

36. What political issue stirred you the most?
Black lives matter. Say it. And keep saying it. And if you can't say it, or don't want to say it, let's talk about why that is.

37. Whom did you miss?
More than anyone else, my colleagues in the Northeast.

38. Who was the best new person you met?
Deborah Hartranft

39. Tell us a valuable life-lesson you learned in 2016:
Stop volunteering for things! You have enough to do on your own; you don't need to go making more work for yourself by trying to help people out. It is nice to be a nice person, but really you need to protect yourself.

40. Share an important quote from 2016:
"Regard everything that lies around you like the luggage in a hotel room. You must move on. You came in at nature's behest, and you are going back the same way. You are not allowed to take out more than you brought in, or rather, the main part of what you brought in with you into life must be laid aside."
Seneca the Younger, Letters on Ethics 102.24-25.

11 December 2016

Christine

Antonio Campos's Christine is not an easy film. It follows a very depressed young professional who is working as a television news reporter in Sarasota, Florida, a very small television market where she reports on things like strawberry festivals and local chickens and crises related to county-line disputes. The depressed Christine can't seem to gain any kind of traction with her difficult boss, and she is also consistently saying the wrong thing in confrontations with him, making things even more difficult for her then they already are.

I watched Christine last Thursday night in a theatre completely empty of other patrons, and I couldn't quite blame audiences for not showing up for this movie. As I say, it is not easy to watch. In fact, much of it is downright uncomfortable. Rebecca Hall's fierce performance as the eponymous Christine never gets bogged down with trying to make the audience love her. Instead she pushes the awkwardness to the extreme. Christine is difficult to watch because Christine herself is so unbearable. She's rude and unlovable, nasty to her competitors and over-compensatingly abrupt with the people she likes. This is a portrait of a woman going through a breakdown, something she finds insanely difficult to master.

As the film's third act began, though, I started to wonder but where is this all headed? How does one end a film like this? I am an idiot and did not realize that the story of Christine is the true story of reporter Christine Chubbuck, whose story became household knowledge in 1974. In any case, the film follows the story of the real Christine, and the film ended in a way that I found completely surprising and totally justified. (Incidentally the film's denouement is pretty near perfect.)

But the standout here is not the difficult subject matter of Christine, but the skill with which Rebecca Hall plays this fascinating character. Hall's performance is extraordinary; she tears into the part remorselessly, and refuses to pity Christine, even as she sympathizes with her and loves her. It is one of the best performances of the year, and the picture is worth seeing just for her. If, however, my lack of companions at the theatre last Thursday night is any indication, don't look for Hall to garner her first Oscar nomination come January. Christine's complex and difficult subject matter is not going to find audiences queuing up to see it.

06 December 2016

The Handmaiden

Park Chan-wook's The Handmaiden (아가씨) is sexy and surprising and mysterious. It is also beautifully composed and gorgeously directed, while also managing to be quite funny on occasion. This is an erotic lesbian thriller with many nods to the Marquis de Sade that also stars the gorgeous (and brilliant) Ha Jung-woo. It is a mystery film that changes genre at least once and still revealed secrets all the way up to its great ending. Absolutely not to be missed!
Ha Jung-woo

03 December 2016

The Riot Club

Distasteful. This is supposed to be a portrait of masculinity run amok, corruption, and the absolute contempt of the wealthy for those classed lower than themselves. It is certainly that. What the film doesn't do is actually tell us anything we do not already know. Worse yet, either director Lone Scherfig expects us to enjoy all of this pathetic masculinity or it wishes us to love hating it. This is entertainment? I just hated it.

23 November 2016

Gett: the Trial of Viviane Amsalem

Ronit and Shlomi Elkabetz's movie Gett: the Trial of Viviane Amsalem (גט - המשפט של ויויאן אמסלם) is mesmerizing, challenging, difficult, and finally pretty damning. I liked it very, very much, and Ronit Elkabetz is fantastic in the lead role.


20 November 2016

The Witch: a New-England Folk Tale

 
Well that was super fucked up and interesting. I was really into this. The Witch is not a horror movie, though, it should be noted. Robert Eggers' film is a character study about desire and religion. There are definitely horrifying things in this, and The Witch is certainly suspenseful and occasionally scary. But its subject matter is all too real. I had a great time watching this.

13 November 2016

The Dressmaker

Truly awful. How was this even greenlit?

I went to this picture thinking it might get a Costume Design nomination at the Academy Awards. I left angry at how bad of a movie this was. My companion and I went immediately to the bar and drank.

I feel fairly certain this will be the worst movie I see in 2016.

Les Chevaliers

A vicious portrait of contemporary masculinity.

But the thing is, it's also a comedy, and so Chevalier often settles for easy and obvious critiques rather than actual analysis. It is very easily to laugh at men who take masculinity so seriously, and (worse still) at men who can't achieve the masculinity they so desire to achieve.

Don't get me wrong, Chevalier is funny – but who is allowed to do the laughing? Is it funny because masculinity itself is stupid and because we all know it is impossible ever to achieve in any kind of fixed way? Or are these men funny because they simply can't hack something that they should actually be able to manage?

12 November 2016

Moonlight

Moonlight, the new film by Barry Jenkins, was written by Jenkins himself, but is based on a play by Tarrell Alvin McCraney, and although it is structured like a good play – there are even clear act breaks – Moonlight looks and moves like a film, and a very good one at that. McCraney is known for telling stories about queer black folks, and Moonlight is no exception, following a young boy who everyone understands is "soft".

Mr. Rhodes
Chiron, the character central to the film, lives with his mother, a crack-user in Miami, and develops a relationship with Juan, a much older man who takes care of him occasionally. This is a simple movie about a very complicated young man who doesn't like to talk or doesn't have the words for the things he's thinking. Little Chiron just sits there, too terrified to talk about what he wants.


Moonlight is also unapologetically an art film. Barry Jenkins is primarily looking to Wong Kar-Wai for inspiration. The film uses music, light, movement, structure, and silence like In the Mood for Love more than anything else, and indeed Moonlight's subject matter – forbidden but real love – makes Wong a perfect model.

Mr. Ali
The acting is beautiful. Naomie Harris is superb, particularly in act one, as Little Chiron's mom. And although Chiron himself is played by three different actors, each doing excellent work, Trevante Rhodes, who plays Chiron as an adult, is an absolute standout. His performance is stunning – rich, layered, and almost unbearably heartbreaking. In fact, the film is nicely bookended by superb performances: Mahershala Ali, who plays Chiron's mentor in the first act of the movie, gives a similarly nuanced and complex performance. Both actors are phenomenal.

I loved this movie... but to my mind it is not quite perfect. The whole thing feels a little too relaxed for my taste. It is a film brimming with sexual tension, but the final act of the film is not as scary as I wanted it to be. Throughout, I think the stakes of the movie are a bit too low. A part of the Wong influence, I think, is that Moonlight is loving and generous with its characters. This means that we watch them from the point of view of kind observers, and the movie is allowed to be more painterly, ever-so-slightly distanced. What the film doesn't do so well is allow us into the terror felt by teenage Chiron. We watch him, and we love him, but the speed of Moonlight, its leisurely pace, doesn't let us get really scared for the boy, and so the film (in both acts two and three) is more relaxed than I wanted it to be.


But my gripes are small. This is one of the best movies of 2016. You've probably already seen it, since it came to Orlando three weeks later than it was released most places. (This is a pretend city.) But if you haven't seen it yet, go. You're gonna love it.

01 November 2016

The Innocents

Anne Fontaine's Les Innocentes is a superb film in French and Russian and Polish. It is about a young French doctor working for the Red Cross in Poland after World War II who finds her way to a convent where she is asked to treat a group of nuns who have been raped by Soviet soldiers. Several of the nuns are now many months pregnant, and the film follows the doctor as she negotiates her position with her superiors, the doctor with whom she is having an affair, the many complex personalities in the convent, and the ever-present sexual threat of the Soviet soldiers.

Les Innocentes stars Lou de Laâge, who is mesmerizing as the lead, and co-stars Agata Kulesza (from Ida) and Agata Buzek (who gives the movie's standout performance as a sister questioning her faith). Vincent Macaigne is Lou de Laâge's handsome lover.

I cannot recommend this movie enough. It is complex and fascinating, and tells the story of the very difficult positions in which many women of faith were placed after the war. I absolutely loved it.

22 October 2016

The Fits

And in case you are feeling guilty about hating The Birth of a Nation (or if, alternatively, you decided to boycott TBoaN because you have something against Nate Parker), please allow me to recommend The Fits. This film also played at Sundance this year (2016), and it didn't get nearly as much hype as Birth. But The Fits is a superb little film.

Anna Rose Holmer's film (the film was actually written, directed, produced and edited by Holmer, Saela Davis, and Lisa Kjerulff) follows a young tomboy named Toni who mostly hangs out with her brother and his male friends and spends her time boxing in a gym in Cincinnati. She gets excited about auditioning for a girl's dance troupe and starts practicing so that she can join. She begins to make a few friends in the squad, and although she does not fit in very well, she is excited about this dance troupe and so she works hard to make it happen.

But then... the captain of the troupe has a kind of seizure or fit. And no one can explain the cause of this fit.

And then... one of the other girls has a fit. Is it a ghost? Is it something divine? Is it the water? What is happening to these girls?

The Fits is a beautiful, thoughtful, gorgeously composed film about black girl magic, female identity, and what it means to fit in. The eponymous fits are the film's central mystery, certainly, but because The Fits is about fitting in, the title resonates in that way as well.

The central character is sensitively and quizzically played by newcomer Royalty Hightower, and she is supported perfectly by other Cincinnati actors Alexis Neblett and Da'Sean Minor, who all give great performances.

I don't want to say anything more about The Fits since it is intended to work as a puzzle; I wouldn't want to spoil it. This is a short feature (less than 90 minutes) but it is exquisitely realized and is the freshest coming-of-age tale I've seen in a long time. The Fits is easily one of my favorite films of 2016 thus far.

The Misfiring of the New Birth of a Nation

After Sundance this year, everyone was talking about The Birth of a Nation. Sundance happens during Oscar season, and after the Oscar nominations were announced on January 14th and a number of films by black filmmakers were snubbed or otherwise ignored, the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite began to cause the Academy a lot of trouble. The Internet – and especially the Twitterverse – is a fickle, disloyal mob that tends to respond too quickly to things and jump to judgments that it should (it seems to me) consider for more than a couple of seconds or 140 characters. In this case the Internet caused the Academy to make real changes in membership structure, and the culture of the Internet became momentarily excited about black filmmaking.

This momentary excitement about black cinema was not enough, apparently, for audiences to make hits out of films like Mediterraneo, Dope, Chi-Raq, Timbuktu, Concussion, or Girlhood, but only enough to complain that the Academy didn't like them. Enter Nate Parker's The Birth of a Nation, which won the Grand Jury Prize for Drama at Sundance and was greeted by ovations. The film was sold for a whopping $17.5 million to Fox Searchlight, the most money ever paid for a film at Sundance. Everyone else got a taste when the film's teaser-trailer was released to the general public in April, and Birth seemed poised to be this year's answer to the Oscars So White problem. People said Nate Parker was a new director watch, the film seemed ready to win many Oscars, and this was to be a hit in the making. Parker is a fantastically sensitive actor, who gave what should've been a star-making performance in Arbitrage a couple of years ago.

But the Internet giveth and the Internet taketh away. This August when the Birth of a Nation crew should have been promoting their film, the movie became beleaguered by accusations that Parker committed rape in 1999 (he was acquitted in 2001). And suddenly, inexplicably, even, Fox Searchlight and Parker had a real advertising crisis on their hands. Now: none of us knows whether or not Parker committed rape in 1999, so let's not pretend that any of us does, but the Internet mob, which had wanted us all to see and love The Birth of a Nation because it was good black cinema in a market that supposedly had no good black cinema had quickly tried and convicted this filmmaker of rape and wanted us all to boycott Birth.

The film, as it turned out, was a flop at the box-office, recouping only $7 million in its first weekend. It played for two weeks in theatres and now has disappeared. No one went.

I went. And I went expecting it to be a very good film that had been unfairly maligned by the hostile unthinking trolls of the Twitterverse. Well, it was unfairly maligned by the unthinking trolls of the Twitterverse, but it wasn't a good film. And what I think I discovered is that it was, in fact, unfairly, unthinkingly praised by audiences at Sundance. What were they all thinking back there in January?

Far from being an intriguing film about U.S. American history, The Birth of a Nation is a generic film about American slavery that hits all the exact same notes you know it will hit. There is absolutely nothing new here. There is no clever way of looking at things, no novel story, no unique filmmaking style, no newly uncovered historical information, no deeper portrait of American slavery than anything we've seen before. I am not saying we are done with stories about American slavery; I don't think we are. Its legacy is too powerful, and it is important that we keep remembering what this country did and how people managed to survive under American tyranny. But this is a genre film that ticks off the same boxes that any other film about American slavery has done... and with nothing new to make this one stand out.

Mr. Parker
It gets worse. The editing is excruciatingly awkward, and the storytelling moves in stilted ways from plot-point to plot-point without giving us a deep portrait either of Nat Turner, his wife, or the man who legally owned him according to American law. The acting is good all around (except for Roger Guenveur Smith, who I guess I just don't understand), and Parker gives another powerhouse performance. He is a great actor and is always compelling to watch, but this movie doesn't seem to think Nat Turner is either more or less interesting than any other American slave. Maybe I am jaded; any theatre historian who has read a lot of black theatre has read a great many escaped-slave narratives. (Eleanor Traylor argued as early as 1978 that the escape narrative was one of the fundamental black American contributions to American drama.) But The Birth of a Nation is only one more entry into the genre; it hasn't anything new to say. String together a set of sequences from any number of films about American slavery and you could edit your own version of this story.

And then there are the true absurdities in the film. Birth of a Nation seems to think all enslaved Africans in the U.S. came from the same place on the West African coast – that a group of enslaved black folks on a random plantation in Suffolk County, Virginia would all be able to understand the same language and have the same rituals. (The one time, incidentally, we see a faux-African ritual in the movie, it appears to be a ceremony that has no purpose whatsoever, since it is easily interrupted, and the man in charge quickly switches his focus.) And later when Turner's wife is brutally raped and beaten by a group of evil white men (the same evil white men who do all of the bad things in the movie; you'd think there were only three or four truly evil white men in the U.S.) she appears to be recovering in bed for many, many weeks. And at one point she speaks to Turner as though she is on her deathbed, crying and cringing, while Turner decides to put a group of men together to fight. But Mrs. Turner has contracted a movie illness and that is all. Her sickness makes no sense in the world: she has been injured; she isn't ill, it's just that usually in these kinds of movies a very sick woman tells a man that he should go fight and that she'll always be with him, and in the generic version of this narrative, a man needs a sick woman or a child to defend so that he can prove himself. It is probably worth noting, as well, that Parker uses the same trope of the violated female body that Griffith used in his original 1915 Birth of a Nation to justify the violence committed by Turner. In this 2016 Birth, the violated bodies of men and the systematic dehumanization and maltreatment of enslaved people in the South are apparently not enough for Turner to decide upon revolution, but defending the virtue of "our" women turns out to be an excellent justification for violence.

A vision of a better film
Where the film really falls down is a great missed opportunity – one that was promised by the film's trailer. The real Nat Turner saw visions and these were visions related to his faith in Christianity. So when, in the trailer, we saw images of Parker covered in white, it seemed that the film was going to have a kind of strange, visionary aesthetic that surprised us by rethinking not only how Christianity was understood by some enslaved Africans but giving us images that were uncannily surprising and beautiful. Interpretations of Christianity differ widely, of course, and the real Nat Turner heard crazy sounds and he claimed to have heard the voice of the god speaking to him in a kind of King Jams Version English – saying things like the Serpent hath been loosed among ye. I thought we were going to spend some cinematic time inside of these visions, but alas there was no voice of a god in this film, and there were no serpents. This Nat Turner's cosmology is as boring as our own. The Birth of a Nation's biggest missed opportunity is the way that it flattens Turner's own legacy, forming it into an uninspired rehash of a slave narrative we've heard before instead of attempting the real story of Turner's own outlandishness. (For the record, the great play Insurrection: Holding History by Robert O'Hara tries to do precisely what Parker does not do.)

Mr. Domingo gives the film's best performance
The Birth of a Nation isn't totally without merit; it boasts some excellent performances, including Parker's own. It is also always good to see Dwight Henry, who was so great as the father in Beasts of the Southern Wild, and Colman Domingo who gives my favorite of the film's performances and is really superb. Armie Hammer and Jackie Earl Haley are also very good in their roles. None of this, however, is enough to make this film interesting. It's just boring moviemaking.

So what were they thinking at Sundance? I am wagering that the reasons everyone liked the film in January were similar to the reasons everyone hated this film in August – which is to say that they had nothing to do with the film itself. In January the Internet's politics aligned to make Birth of a Nation the film to see. By August the Internet's politics had realigned to make Birth of a Nation a flop. None of this was about the movie itself. When Internet hype creates a movie – Ghostbusters, Suicide Squad – the audiences simply don't appear in the way predictors think they will. The Twitterverse, it seems, is not the same thing as the real world. Do Twitter-users actually go to the movies? I have yet to see Twitter make or break a movie, but The Birth of a Nation is the third flop this summer that the Internet predicted would be a hit.

The Twitterverse speaks in too few characters to do real film criticism, that's for sure, but we have seen this summer that it isn't even good at spotting trends or predicting what people are actually going to go out and see. The Birth of a Nation was never a good movie, and Twitter was like an over-excited parent, building up the ego of its only moderately talented child just to watch him choke the first time he performed.

19 October 2016

How to Win at Checkers (Every Time)

Josh Kim's How to Win at Checkers (Every Time) (พี่ชาย My Hero) is sweet but very slight. As usual, I am also bored by films that tell their stories from the perspective of children. This is sold as a Thai gay love story, and that is its B-plot, but that story is told through one of the young men's younger brothers. This makes for a perspective on the relationship that does not actually bring that relationship into focus.

18 October 2016

The Evil Queen's Not-Quite-So-Evil Frozen Sister

Once upon a time...

Actually it was four years ago. My dear friend Julie and I got drunk and watched Snow White and the Huntsman. We watched it because we like to watch bad movies together, but ended up really loving some of the film's aspects.

Obviously this meant we needed to watch the sequel. So, here is our conversation while watching The Huntsman: Winter's War.
* * * * *

Aaron: Who is doing this narration? Is this Liam Neeson? Why is Aslan in this film?
Julie: What is this gold ball? That is not a mirror.
Aaron: Julie, what are you drinking? Priorities.
Julie: I would like to note that I am not drinking. So this is either going to be the best or the worst time we've ever done this. (I am not pregnant.)
Aaron: Ok. I might get really drunk on this rosé.
Julie: I support you. I had three beers earlier and I am too old to have any more.

 

Aaron: How is Charlize already murdering people?
Julie: That is what a woman does. She is a witch, obviously. (That is Liam Neeson. Love him.)
Aaron: These costumes are going to be just as good as the last ones.
Julie: That headpiece!! Stunning.
Aaron: Stunning.




Julie: I know I'm not drunk, but who is Emily in relation to Charlize? I wasn't listening.
Aaron: She is her sister, Freya, apparently. Why is Emily Blunt in this?
Julie: Because Emily appreciates camp as much as Charlize.
Aaron: Ok. Fair. Like, I want to be Charlize, too. That seems like a good goal for Emily Blunt.
Julie: I would like to note that this is written and directed by men. This movie full of women. Let's see how this goes.
Aaron: We know how that usually goes. Who are the other women in this?
Julie: Jessica!
One more of this headdress.
Aaron: K-Stew is not, right? Oh my god, is this child burned up like a cinder?
Julie: Correct. OMG she’s Elsa!
Aaron: Oooo Emily Blunt is totally Elsa.
Julie: She just froze that shit!
Aaron: I told you this was going to be about Frozen.
Julie: And her hair turned white!
Aaron: Let it gooooo, Julie.

Julie: Ugh. I am over it. We always fear what's different, blah blah.
Aaron: Is Aslan going to narrate this whole film?
Julie: A barren woman is a dangerous woman, blah blah.
Aaron: "If she could not raise a child, then she would raise an army." Shut the fuck up.
Julie: Jesus, this is legit The Snow Queen. AHHHHH ICE QUEEEEEEEEN.
Aaron: The art direction is a lot better in this one.
Julie: You remember the other one that well? Lies.
Aaron: Who wrote that Snow Queen? Andersen?
Julie: Yessir.
Aaron: She is fabulous!
Julie: Neat gown! Does Emily sing? It's time for a power ballad. [Note: She does sing.]

Julie: A child of color! We are already doing better than the last film. Do you think they read our critique of its racism?
Aaron: If the Snow Queen learns how to love by the end of this movie I will be so mad.
Julie: Love is a sin, A-ron. She will not commit sin.
Aaron: This is why snow exists, when women no longer believe in love.
Julie: There is another person of color! I'm keeping count.
Aaron: There is a fucking animatronic owl! I am loving my life.
Julie: I think you are loving rosé.
Aaron: Is this little redhead going to grow up to be Jessica Chastain? And the little pugnacious boy will be the Hemsworth? And there will, apparently be a grown-ass black man as well?
Julie: Yes, that is mini-Jess.

Aaron: Emily has a great wig. But if this is going to be about Emily Blunt and not Charlize, then I am going to be sad.
Julie: There will be one adult man of color according to iMDB. I think Charlize is passing on the crown, so to speak.
Aaron: This is a shame.
Julie: There he is! The one black man.
Aaron: Already an improvement on the last film. Jessica Chastain is seriously in this? What in the hell.
Julie: I legit don't understand the timeline for this film. When are we in relation to K-Stew's character?
Aaron: My ex-boyfriend said that this is a prequel and a sequel. So maybe it is happening simultaneously?
Julie: So, like, Charlize is Anna, and Emily is Elsa? And we just didn't see Elsa the last time?
Aaron: Yeah, I guess so. Anna but, like, a murderous one.
Julie: This is dumb. Then who is Jess? Olaf?
Aaron: I think I don't remember Frozen as well as you do, Julie.
Julie: Olaf is the snowman, A-ron. Best part of the film.

Aaron: So far the problem is that we are spending time with the good guys instead of with Charlize eating the hearts of dead birds. I don't care about these white people making out.
Julie: No one cares about white people making out. Oooo that dress! It's like chain mail!!
Aaron: Didn't Sarah Palin wear that dress to endorse Trump? Emily Blunt doesn't know how to do this part. Why is she having so many feelings. Be the ice queen!
Julie: She's letting it go. It's a process.
Aaron: Haha.
Julie: The ice is not as fun as the black, oily goo from the last film.
Aaron: Not at all.
Julie: Oh noooooo! J-Chas!!!!!
Aaron: Oh my god, wait. Is J-Chas already dead? It's barely been 20 minutes. Jessica, we hardly knew ye!
Julie: Also, did they just make the one man of color the bad guy? Liam says love cannot last. He is correct.
Aaron: The one man of color will get his redemption.
Julie: I hope so.
Aaron: Oh now we've jumped forward to after the other movie.
Julie: Back to Charlize?!?
Aaron: Well no, now Charlize is dead, right? Because Snow White is queen now. I need more rosé. This is stupid.
Julie: Jesus, none of this make sense.
Aaron: Do they think we remember that movie?
Julie: Apparently they do. He just killed your animatronic owl.
Aaron: This owl that watches him is fun. I am sorry it just got killed. I love owls.
Julie: There'll be more where he came from, I'm sure.
Aaron: This dwarf comedy bit is not good.
Julie: No. Using them for comic relief is not cute. Nor is it funny.
Aaron: This bit is straight out of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.
Julie: I will take your word for it. Does that dwarf have a man bun?
Aaron: The other one has a mohawk.
Julie: And the other has a mohawk. What is happening?
Aaron: Julie, nothing's happening.
Julie: ZzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzZzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz. At least you are drinking.

Aaron: Wait, can Chris Hemsworth, like, sense the auras of dead people?
Julie: According to this film, yes.
Aaron: Now this movie is a mystery movie. It is jumping genre a bit too fast for me.
Julie: The only mystery is why we're watching it.
Aaron: Nothing is happening! What is this?
Julie: Where are the women? They killed off two at the start and now Emily is MIA. This sucks. I don't care about Chris and his dwarves.
Aaron: Maybe I'd be a little more interested in this fight sequence if I had any idea what the sides were. Like, who are these soldiers? And whose side is Chris Hemsworth on?
Julie: They are huntsmen. I don't understand the stakes. Or the plot, for that matter.
Aaron: Maybe Jessica Chastain is really alive.
Julie: J-Chas?!?!? Please for the love of Jesus let it be her.
Aaron: That legitimately makes no sense, but I hope it is true.
Julie: Nothing about this makes sense. Yay I win!

Aaron: Ok this makes sense now. But it is just as boring as before. This is just tired sentiment.
Julie: Let her have the mirror then. At least things would be interesting then.
Aaron: This shit is so slow.
Julie: That's because this stupid movie is about "love". ZzzzZzzzzzz.
Goblin-ape!
Aaron: And literally the plot is: will this man and this woman get back together? Like, fucking duh. How are we supposed to get invested in something so obvious?
Julie: I miss K-Stew.

Julie: Remember how the first film didn't have a sense of humor? I miss that.
Aaron: Goblins!
Julie: We are only halfway through this shit. OMG.
Aaron: I wish there were more to make fun of. But this is just sentimental schlock.
Julie: I legit might fall asleep.
Aaron: Where is Aslan? Liam Neeson's narration could speed us right through this.
Julie: I wish he would enter the movie, all Taken-style. That would spice things up.
Aaron: The goblins! Maybe they'll have cool make-up? Let's do the rest of our chat in pirate voices. I'm gonna finish this bottle of wine and hope this gets better.
Julie: Hahaha how? Just put "argh" after everything? There's the blasted mirror.
Aaron: Arrrr. I think Charlize might be coming back! Oooo!!!!This goblin is badass!
Julie: Is that a goblin?!
Aaron: Maybe not…? Maybe he is, like, from the mirror itself.
Julie: He looks like he belongs in the Planet of the Apes movies.
Aaron: I love him. He’s the best this film has offered us so far. Aside from Charlize's headdress.
Julie: That is not a goblin. Is it? Look at that Matrix flip he just did!
Aaron: This is the scene in The Fellowship of the Ring when Boromir dies. I think he's a goblin. Yeah, here's some more of them.
Julie: He's a freakin' ape.
Aaron: They're mean guys. Look at that river of molten gold! I want it. This director loves Peter Jackson a lot. Goblin blood is pyrotechnic or something? This aspect of goblin lore was unknown to me.

Hemsworth wonders why we're still watching.
Aaron: See, and here is another bullshit scene. It is impossible to cry about someone dying when it is manifestly obvious that he is not dead.
Julie: These effects suck.
Aaron: The last movie's effects got an Oscar nomination, Julie.
Julie: They did. This one will not receive that distinction.
Aaron: No it will not.
Julie: And there's Tinker Bell. WTF.
Aaron: But there are tortoises covered in moss behind these fools.
Julie: I thought that was a porcupine.
Aaron: There was one of those, too.
Julie: This is terrible.
Aaron: I know. I have no idea why I should care or what we are fighting about.
Julie: Why is she angry? I do not understand what's going on.
Aaron: Well, like, she thought he left her. And so she has been hating him for 7 years.
Julie: She needs to moveon.org.
Aaron: But, who cares? She's gonna get over it in like 10 seconds and take his clothes off as quickly as possible. And.... now they're having sex. But ten bucks says that mirror is gone.

Julie: OMG is Charlize whispering through the mirror? Why the fuck would she be true to him when she thought he left her? That is some patriarchal shit.
Aaron: Look! It is the ice army!
Julie: Aw shit. She's a badass.
Aaron: Jessica Chastain don't care; she's in a tank top. Emily Blunt is riding a  … giant arctic wolf?
Julie: Haha it looks like it.
Aaron: It's just like in The Hobbit. When all of those characters rode on weird animals.
Julie: Correct.
Aaron: Jessica Chastain is having feelings.
Julie: Naw. She's cold as ice, just like Em.
Aaron: Did that fucking arrow hit the necklace he always wears? "She never misses." Predicted it.
Julie: I wish he had died.
Aaron: I do too. This is so bad. And now, like in a Peter Jackson film, these fools are going to ride on giant elk. To the North Kingdoms or wherever Emily Blunt is. I wish you were drinking, but I can't say that alcohol is making this any better.
Julie: I hate this. I want Charlize back!!!!!! Nothing could make this better.
Aaron: Peter Jackson shot! I need to stop taking note of things that are exactly like Peter Jackson.
Julie: This whole movie is a rip-off of every fantasy film ever made.

Aaron: Can Charlize come out of this mirror? I pray that happens.
Julie: I hope she eats someone's heart. Like her big sis. Yayayayaya the mirror goo!
Aaron: Now those are cool effects.
Julie: Well, Terminator did it first, let's recall.


But then the goo turns IN to Charlize!
Aaron: YES CHARLIZE.
Julie: Bitch is BACK. Thank you baby Jesus.
Aaron: Praise be. This makeup is flawless.
Julie: Death doesn't matter to Charlize. She is forever. Her whole ensemble is amaze-balls. And her nail claws! YASS.
Aaron: I love everything about this. Thank goodness for this film's third act.

Julie: But now we're back with the dwarves. I DO NOT CARE ABOUT THESE PEOPLE.
Aaron: Nope. Charlize is back.
Julie: She's changed outfits!
Aaron: With a new crown. And a new gown. This one is fabulous too.
Julie: The girls are out. That braided/snaky hair is fantastic.
Aaron: She is flawless. Julie. This movie is redeemed for me.
Julie: That is the rosé talking.
Aaron: Well maybe not redeemed. I need more rosé.
Julie: Yes. You do. You're drinking for two, after all.
Aaron: Just like any good mother-to-be. More Peter Jackson imagery. For those keeping score.
Julie: I hope there are flying monkeys. This feels a little Wizard of Oz-ending to me. By the way, what happened to our actor of color?
Aaron: He's still around. I saw him when J-Chas came back.
Julie: She is sad about being childless. I hate this trope.
Aaron: Charlize in yet another outfit. All is right with the world.
Julie: Ooooo Charlize energizes this shit. And she has wings, to boot.
Aaron: She's just so much better than everyone in this movie.
Julie: Yes. She's the only one who realizes how to make this not suck. Everyone else is playing it straight. That is a mistake.
Aaron: So true. They're all doing some kind of emotional truth. And Charlize is just being badass. It's really magnificent to watch.
Julie: Well, she has no feelings. She is dead, after all.
Aaron: Her shoes! She just said that too. "I've been dead before."
Julie: I missed the shoes. I'm sad about it.
Aaron: Ok, Julie, but why is it that we can see what makes this movie good, but the filmmaker has no idea what is good about this movie. Man of color. Redemption. What did I tell you? The black oil is back!!!
Julie: Well he didn't know about the last one either, but Charlize was in the entire thing, so it sucked less. Yay, effects!
Aaron: This is amazing.
Julie: That goddamn ice needs to go. It is boring.

Aaron: I am a little sorry that we won't get to see another costume change.
Julie: Is this movie telling us that women are pathetic because they have feelings? I'm not sure of the messaging here.
Aaron: It was Charlize who killed the baby.
Julie: That cape is badass though.
Aaron: I think the message here is that women need to love more. They should be less cold-hearted.
Julie: Men don't like powerful women. They don't have feelings. They don't smile. They are too ambitious. They are Hillary Clinton.
Aaron: This is cool now.
Julie: Sorry. I am getting excited. Powerful women are evil, they ruin everything, blah blah. We must thaw their cold, cold hearts.
Aaron: Charlize gave this movie life. All hail to this evil queen. She also hates "cheap sentiment"! Me too, Charlize! And we got a costume change after all. She was literal gold to this movie. But yes, as you say, this movie sees women just like everyone else does. They are too ambitious. They are too cold. They are too busy not being mothers.
Julie: Fuck, the dwarves are back.
Aaron: This is the last few minutes of this, though. I await Liam Neeson's narration.
Julie: Liam!
Aaron: Even buried under ice and snow, love survives.
Julie: Ugh. Love. Zzzzz. Fuck Liam Neeson for saying that. "None ever truly end." There is going to be a sequel. But without Charlize?
Aaron: Bad grammar. None ever truly ends.
Julie: I mean, I guess we have proven that she can be dead and still be in the movie. I hope they were all paid really well for this.
Aaron: No. Charlize definitely comes back. That's what that gold bird was for.

One more of Charlize before we go!
Aaron: So this song over the credits is all about girl power and how an old man is on a throne saying "I shouldn't be so mean". It's kind of great.
Julie: Oh really? I wasn't listening. Nice.
Aaron: But the film doesn't seem to believe its own message.
Julie: Any parting words?
Aaron: My parting words are that Hollywood is too sentimental for its own good. If it would only just give in to loving evil, it could really succeed.
Julie: No, this film doesn't think much of women. They are either sentimental or evil. There is nothing else.
Aaron: Not true. The movie knows that the reason to watch is Charlize. It just thinks we should all be embarrassed by or ashamed of that. Well I am not.
Julie: Well, that is not true. If it was, she would be in more than twenty minutes of it. I think this would make a neat musical: The Evil Queen starring Charlize. With really fun stage effects. Who is going to make that happen? And by 'this' I don't mean this movie. Obviously. Just the character.
Aaron: Obviously. And the answer is Julie Taymor. Last question. Does this film get a costume nomination?
Julie: I don't think Charlize('s costumes) were in enough of the film. Also, it was so early in the year. So unless it's a dry season: No.
Aaron: I think you're right. Although it may well turn out to be a dry season. I have begun pregaming, for the record, and so I saw The Dressmaker with Kate Winslet (for the costume category) and it was horrifically bad. Be glad you're not pregaming as in days of yore.
Julie: I am glad. I feel so free. Too many men. Too many white men. I would not survive another Oscar season.
Aaron: Let's do this again soon with something more fun.
Julie: Yes. We need another Tonto. Or whatever that mess was. I will keep an eye out. I do so love really awful movies. Thank you for keeping me company tonight. Sleep well. Dream of dead people's auras. G'night!
Aaron: Night!
Sleep well!

16 October 2016

The Program

This movie, with its terrible title – The Program – has a very good central performance by Ben Foster, who I love.

But as it turns out this is just a rather conventional film about a terrible person. The Program is about disgraced Tour de France winner ... actually I've forgotten his name at the moment and I refuse to look it up. You'll remember him, though. He's the U.S. American who did performance-enhancing drugs so that he could win the Tour de France seven consecutive times and then refused to admit he did anything wrong.

Well... the problem with The Program, even though Ben Foster is really great in the movie, is: we know he did it up front, we learn that he was doping all along and just hid it really really well, and he never ever has any remorse about it.

This is sort of hard to swallow, in the sense that there is no one for whom one can root in The Program. We know this criminal will get stripped of his titles. We know he will be caught. And we know he will never admit "defeat", i.e. the fact that he cheated. 

There are a couple of side plots designed to keep us emotionally interested, but none of them really works.

The Program does what it does well enough, but it can't help but be a kind of procedural in which the crime has always already been solved by the intrepid reporter.