The Hasslein Curveball and Screwball Capitalist Asians

Friends! Things have been a little slow around here because I’ve been working quite a bit away from the computer. That’s a blessing – to have work and to be able to finally afford a place to live (yes, I got a place to live!) – but it’s also keeping me from my real love, which is yammering on and on about movies and stuff.

I have some stuff in the oven for the main site, but I have recently published two long pieces over at Patreon for subscribers at the $10 level. They’re quite different but I hope each is interesting in its own way.

The first is called “Screwball Capitalist Asians,” and it’s a look at how Crazy Rich Asians retools the screwball comedy for the 21st century, applying the class struggle aspects of those Depression-era films to an increasingly capitalism-averse 2018. Here’s an excerpt:

But the most defining features of the screwball comedies are visible in Crazy Rich Asians. The film, like the best of the Depression-era movies, is about class conflict. In this case it’s Constance Wu’s Rachel who is crossing all sorts of class lines – she’s not only American Chinese, she doesn’t come from a dynastically wealthy family. It’s not as extreme a class divide as the one in My Man Godfrey (a bum gets hired to be a butler and a rich woman falls in love with him), and it’s gender swapped from the usual heiress-falls-for-a-lower-class-rascal template (perfected in It Happened One Night), but the basics are the same.

In true screwball fashion, Rachel discovers that despite all their money the socialites and hyper rich of Singapore can’t make their lives work, and she eventually teaches the upper crust a lesson. That’s a vital part of many Depression-era screwball comedies, where the idle rich get some sort of comeuppance from the lower class person invading their space. The Depression audience liked seeing the rich put in their place (they especially liked stories where the rich could not function without the trappings of their wealth, but where the poor could sneak into high society), but they also wanted to live vicariously through the cinematically wealthy. Yes, all the money and houses and dresses won’t make you good/smart/happy… but they’re awesome to ogle in the meantime.

That’s a lot of what Crazy Rich Asians is doing for modern audiences. Much like Rachel we are both put off and seduced by the debaucherously rich world of the Youngs. They’re all but royalty, and we Americans continue to have a complicated relationship with royalty. We don’t want to kneel to them, but we do want to BE them. We are fascinated by their lives and dramas, and we swoon at their ostentatious displays of wealth and we sneer at their peccadillos and dramas. We’re tempering our envy with our disdain. Or we’re using our disdain to hide our envy.

This, I think, is a key factor in the huge success of Crazy Rich Asians. The underserved demographic aspect cannot be overlooked – from anecdotal evidence I can tell you that this film was playing to huge Asian crowds weeks into its run – but that isn’t enough to have propelled the film to this level of success. It should, in the next week or so, pass Sex and the City to rest just under the top five romantic comedies of all time, box office-wise. The Asian community coming out in force made a difference, but, as with Black Panther, the film needed more diverse audiences to get where it is.

The other piece I published this week looks at Escape From The Planet of the Apes‘ villain, Dr. Hasslein, and explains why he – like Killmonger in Black Panther – was totally correct.

This makes Hasslein dislike the apes, but what really drives him over the edge is the revelation that Zira is pregnant. All of a sudden he’s faced with a predestination paradox – could the future where mankind is experimented on by talking apes be caused by this baby being born? He can’t be sure, and he is driven to stop the birth of the child.

The President isn’t so certain. After all, the future from which Zira and Cornelius arrived is a thousand years off. None of my voters, he reasons, will be around to be mad about it.This isn’t his concern. Someone else can deal with it later.

Hasslein has a little meltdown about this, and he delivers a rant that I love. I love it because he’s absolutely, 100% right.

“That’s what I’m worried about. Later. Later, we’ll do something about pollution. Later, we’ll do something about the population explosion. Later, we’ll do something about the nuclear war! We think we’ve got all the time in the world!! How much time has the world got?!! Somebody has to begin to care!”

Forty five years after Escape from the Planet of the Apes we can see what happens when no one begins to care, or not enough people care. We live in a world where climate change is not a threat but an omnipresent reality. We live in a world – predicted as far back as in the days of Escape from the Planet of the Apes – in which monster storms are routine, where drought and extreme temperatures are annual events, and where the city of Miami has already begun to disappear under the sea. And even with all of this… we think we’ve got all the time in the world.

You can really feel where Hasslein is coming from. Yeah, the ape domination is a thousand years off, but isn’t part of being a grown up doing a little long term planning? If the human race is grown up, it needs to start thinking in terms of the big picture, not just how the stock market is doing this week. All of our problems stems from a species-wide inability to look past the immediate moment and make plans, or to put things into perspective. Everybody I know is very concerned about climate change. Very few people I know actually carpool.

There’s more to it, and just because Hasslein was right doesn’t mean what he does is correct – and therein, I think, lies the intriguing moral nuance.

If these pique your interest, please consider becoming a patron at Patreon. I hope that the content alone is worth your subscription, but if it makes any difference you should also know that the Patreon has become a major source of support for me. I am working three jobs besides this blog (I consider this blog a job as well, so I have four jobs!), but the Patreon is the key that allows me to know I will not starve month to month and that I will be able to keep a roof over my head. As the Patreon grows I hope to be able to shed one or two of these jobs and focus more energy here.

Besides these longer pieces I also publish weekly recommendations at the Patreon page, some of which actually run fairly long as well. But even if you can’t support on Patreon at the higher levels, just a dollar a month is very meaningful and a way of saying that you appreciate the writing that I’m sharing.

Thanks again for all your support thus far. I’m moving at the end of the month and like I said, I have three other jobs at the moment, but I’m dedicated to carving out the time to focus more energy here in the coming weeks. Your patience is appreciated.

 

 

CASTLE ROCK Blew The Ending

I need to learn the most valuable lesson about writing TV criticism: don’t do it until the season is over. Maybe wait until the whole darn show is over. Again and again I’ve gotten really excited about a show and recommended it, only to see the show sink into a morass as soon as I’ve pledged allegiance. My timing is bad.

The latest show to fit into this pattern? Hulu’s Castle Rockwhich had an extraordinary first actI was really smitten with the show, and at the beginning it seemed to be setting up an exciting world and great characters, tying lightly into the Stephen King megaverse but mostly getting the King flavor absolutely right. So what the hell happened?

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The End Of The DCEU Phase Zero

Marvel set up their cinematic universe in phases. The first phase was leading up to The Avengersthe financing deal the then-fledgling studio got would allow them to make The Avengers pretty much no matter what, although they had contingency plans in case the solo movies bombed (there had been talk of releasing the movie as an Iron Man sequel, for instance).

Since then the phases have been largely delineated by the Avengers movies, with the solo films swirling around and leading into the next team-up movie. It has, to put it mildly, worked. The planning has not been impeccable, but it has been strong enough so far to overcome director changes and the vagaries of public interest.

The DCEU (DC Extended Universe, what the fans call the DC Comics Movieverse) has not been so lucky. The DCEU has seemed like a cinematic encapsulation of the phrase “Man plans, God laughs.” Looking to compete with the MCU, DC’s parent company Warner Bros in 2014 announced an ambitious slate of superhero films… and the wheels started falling off almost immediately. Two of the films from that slate – Justice League, Part Two and Cyborg, are functionally gone. Another, The Flash, is supposedly happening, but has been plagued with the kind of director turnover that can only be attributable to the production office being built on a cursed burial ground. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice was savaged by critics and came up short at the box office. Justice League was destroyed by critics and audiences, and was essentially a bomb, not only failing to crack the gold standard one billion dollars worldwide, but actually earning less than every previous DCEU film.

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Elon Musk Is On A One-Man Mission To Prove Money Doesn’t Make You Happy

If I were rich, I would be happy.

This thought came to me more than once this week while cleaning up trash and swabbing out toilets at my day job. But once I confronted the thought it melted away; two years ago today I was making about 400% more money and was about 200% unhappier. I wasn’t even that much more comfortable, to be honest. Somehow I managed to spend all of that extra money and had basically nothing to show for it.

“Money can’t buy you happiness” feels, when you’re poor, like one of the nastiest lies that rich people feed to you. It sounds like a maxim designed to keep you down, to make you stay satisfied with your wretched lot in life, to keep you from encroaching on their hallowed halls of aristocracy.

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SEARCHING: This Gripping Thriller Overcomes Its Gimmick

Can you really ever know anyone? That’s the main concept with which Searching plays, and while it never quite gets to the thematic meat behind that question, you almost don’t mind. After all, the film is gripping and tense, and it is filled with such extraordinary craft that just the act of WATCHING this movie is a blast for anyone who cares about the movies and cinematic language.

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Burt Reynolds Was My Friend

With the passing of Burt Reynolds another age of Hollywood comes to an end. I had the chance to see Reynolds in person earlier this year, at the Egyptian Theater during a double feature of his masterpieces Smokey and the Bandit and Hooper, and at 82 he had the same kind of charm and warmth that made him such a great movie star.

But there was something else to Reynolds that separated him from other stars of his period, and other stars that came before him. You see, Burt Reynolds was my friend. No, I never met him. I never exchanged messages or phone calls with him. I’m not even sure I ever attended the same event that he did, at least until that night at the Egyptian. But he was my friend nonetheless, and that was the quality that made him so endearing to a whole generation.

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This Labor Day Chop Wood And Carry Water

(The image above is Mila Kunis in the some-day cult classic Jupiter Ascending)

If you’ve noticed that I’ve been scarcer than usual here, it’s because I got a day job. A couple of them, actually. One is a work from home part-time thing, but the other is a minimum wage service industry job. It’s very physical and quite menial; I leave work every day bone-tired. Between these two jobs and my Patreon I still don’t make a living wage – the combined income is not enough to even rent a studio apartment in most areas of Los Angeles.

When I got the job I was worried that someone might recognize me as I was cleaning toilets; this isn’t just my enormous ego talking, the job is in a sector that attracts movie fans. On my first day I saw an acquaintance who works on a big TV show; I’m not sure if he saw me, but we didn’t have an interaction. I was grateful for that.

So as you can imagine the kerfuffle about Geoffrey Owens, formerly Elvin on The Cosby Show, has hit home. The actor was spotted – and photographed! – bagging groceries at a Trader Joe’s. What followed was a perfect internet storm, first of people mocking the actor and then people getting mad at the people mocking the actor (and thus spreading the photo farther and wider. The internet is the ultimate home of “This tastes like shit, try it.”). A lot of people spoke up about how hard it is to make a living in the arts, and that having a job – any job – is laudable and honorable.

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MADELINE’S MADELINE: Dizzying Brilliance

The critics’ real job is to act as an interpreter, to give the reader a lens through which to approach the art. This is the highest calling of the critic, not to recommend what’s worth your money this weekend or to lob snark at trash. A critic bridges the gap between the filmmaker and the audience.

Madeline’s Madeline stymies the interpreter in me. Not because there is nothing to interpret – the film is dense with meaning and metaphor and bursting with exciting craft in service of emotion and story – but rather because there’s so little gap. Madeline’s Madeline is the most directly connective movie I have seen in years, a film that is intimate in the ways it is about intimacy. With its often blurry and shaky close-up camerawork, with the astonishing sound mix that eradicates the lines between lead character Madeline’s inner and outer worlds, with its immediate and heartbreaking lead performance by newcomer Helena Howard, Madeline’s Madeline is a film that is in direct communion with your emotions, often bypassing logic and sense to get there.

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BLINDSPOTTING: Being A Felon, A Human, An Optical Illusion

This contains spoilers for Blindspotting.

There’s an optical illusion at the center of Blindspotting, the famous image of a vase that, when viewed with the right perspective, becomes two faces. This optical illusion becomes the driving thematic element of the film, and I think it also becomes the meta thematic element of the film – how you look at Blindspotting, what your perspective is, will dictate what you see in Blindspotting.

For some it will be the gentrification that permeates every block in modern Oakland, transforming the city in which Collin (Daveed Diggs) and Miles (Rafael Casal) grew up, transforming it around them storefront by storefront. For some it will be the constant threat of police violence that hangs over Collin, a black man just trying to walk down his own street, haunted by seeing another black man gunned down while fleeing the cops. For others it will be the ways Miles desperately grabs for identity as he drowns in a sea of anger and resentment, a white man growing up in a black culture in which he can never truly participate, and yet apart from the white gentrifiers invading his community.

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Heal Yourself To Help Others

One of the things I’ve always liked about Buddhism is that it’s based in a ‘check it out for yourself’ attitude. Because the Buddha didn’t talk about a lot of cosmic stuff there’s very little to take on faith; you’re invited to check out the principals and practices and see if they work for you.

John Horgan is a science writer who has been super critical of Buddhism and the modern mindfulness movement, but always at a remove. He doesn’t meditate. I get where he’s coming from – this shit seems ridiculous from an outside vantage point. But friends convinced him to do a 10 day retreat and, even though he half-assed it, he came to the conclusion that there’s something to this meditation business after all. 

But he makes a really common mistake – he thinks that meditation is selfish. He writes:

[S]eeking enlightenment is pretty self-indulgent. The world isn’t all fireflies and goldfinches. It has problems that need fixing, as I was reminded whenever I looked across the Hudson at the West Point Military Academy.

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