I’m not writing about Star Trek Discovery week to week because I disapprove of approaching serialized shows that way, but something keeps bugging me. It’s about the hologram communication systems on the ship and whether or not they break canon, and how the show had Captain Pike handwave them away with one line this season. But more than that, it’s about how technology is used in science fiction.Continue reading “FaceTime Sucks, or, Beyond STAR TREK’s Controversial Holograms”
People say being a movie critic is difficult, but there is a misunderstanding as to why. It is not difficult because it is hard to sit in a dark movie theater and watch a movie, or to go home and write your opinions about that movie. It is difficult because it is hard to keep our mind pure and our criticism pure in its fundamental sense. Film criticism developed in many ways after the advent of the internet, but at the same time, it became more and more impure. But I do not want to talk about Rotten Tomatoes or the blurbing of random Twitter handles. I am interested in helping you keep your criticism from becoming impure.
Okay, I could keep going, rephrasing the first chapter of Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, the Buddhist masterpiece by Shunryu Suzuki, to fit into a discussion of film criticism, but I don’t think anybody would get it. I will however keep lifting concepts and ideas from this seminal work, which is mostly about zazen – Zen meditation – but that is also about how to live and create with a beautiful clarity and fluidity by getting back to a beginner’s mind.
Which brings me to the films of John Carpenter.
I know a guy who lies. All the time. About really big stuff, about his past and his job and his schooling and the famous actress who hit on him last night. He’s egregious about it, spinning the kinds of yarns that almost dare you to look him in the eye and say “You’re full of shit.”
This article in the New Yorker about suspense writer Dan Mallory reminded me of this dude I know. Mallory tells the same kinds of lies that this guy tells, the big sweeping kind. About cancer and dead parents, about personal heroism and personal sacrifice. Liars like these are destabilizing, because they call into question everything you know about them. I would sit across from this guy at lunch and he would tell me about things that were happening in his life and I wouldn’t know if he was shoveling shit or not. Some people can deal with that – I have to imagine that by now everybody he knows is aware he’s a liar on a pathological level – but I can’t. It’s too disorienting, and that was before he told some whoppers about me.
This year’s Academy Awards ceremony looks to be especially troubled, and it’s coming as no surprise. We’ve seen the writing on the wall as the Academy first toyed with doing a “Best Popular Film” category, and then through the mishigoss that has led to a year without a host. Then the Academy decided to do away with the tradition of last year’s winner announcing this year’s winner in the gender-opposite category, likely due to a fear of a repeat of the Casey Affleck situation. We also got word that the show would be presenting performances for only a couple of the Best Song nominees, kneecapping one of the more delightful (and often weird) parts of the night.
Now the Academy has come to the ‘insult to injury’ stage of it all, announcing that four categories will be presented during the commercial breaks. And they won’t be minor categories, at least not to film lovers – they include cinematography and editing. Editing, I shouldn’t have to tell you, is literally the foundational discipline of what makes cinema cinema. Without editing you don’t have the art of the movies. And without cinematography you have radio plays.
Disclosure: I know one of the producers of this film.
One of the more gratifying things over the past few years has been seeing so many places online come to understand that politics and entertainment are inextricably linked. Years ago, when my career was at its peak, I would be told to keep the politics out of my writing, often by colleagues whose entire sites are now given over to social justice content. But there’s no way to write about entertainment without writing about the world that produced the entertainment; our most basic assumptions about what makes a person heroic are inherently political.
That doesn’t mean everything needs to be a fucking drag. You can talk about the cultural and political ground out of which entertainment grew without making it a polemic. Horror Noire: A History of Black Horror gets it absolutely, 100% right, investigating the connections between the American Black experience while also having fun with some wild, crazy and even brilliant horror movies.
In Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy the Earth is blown up to make way for an interstellar highway. But the insult to that injury is that the titular guidebook – intended to help joyriding aliens to find their way around the cosmos – has a very short entry for the planet before it is evaporated. It simply says:
Those two words, sadly, describe how I feel about The Kid Who Would Be King, Joe Cornish’s Arthurian young person’s adventure movie. Not quite bad enough to dislike, but also missing any of the energy or magic that Cornish brought to Attack the Block, The Kid Who Would Be King is simply mostly harmless. It’s a largely forgettable film with great creature design and one terrific performance.
I have a little dog. He’s a barrel-chested, bow-legged little white weirdo with an Orc-like underbite and a wonderful, friendly demeanor. He’s a rescue; he was found on the streets of the San Gabriel Valley wandering alone, and I adopted him from the good and kind people at Good Dog-Dog Talk. I named him Oliver Reed because he sort of looks like the Werewolf of London, and also because he drinks a lot and gets into these unstoppable humping fits.
Oliver is a good guy, and he’s my best friend. He’s the sweetest dog you could hope to meet; I stopped taking him to the dog park because rather than run with the other pups he would cuddle up with the other owners to get and give love. I was taking him there for exercise, not to two-time me! Oliver just wants to get pet and to cuddle up with you. He loves everybody.
But there are some things he just hates. He flips out over certain things – he flips out over bigger dogs, for instance. He loses his mind when motorcycles ride by. And this morning he went fucking berserk on his morning walk when the big street sweeping Zamboni came down my block. He was barking and jumping in the air, almost flipping over as he hit the tension point on the leash. Here’s this little dog (he’s 16 pounds but should be like 12. I know, I’m a bad dad) trying to KILL this one ton metal monstrosity going down the street.Continue reading “My Dog Vs The Street Sweeper”
Did you know I have a Patreon that helps support me and my writing? Patrons at the $10 and above levels get exclusive writing. This week they got a review of Dario Argento’s Inferno,which I’ve excerpted below. If you want to read the whole thing, become a patron at www.patreon.com/cinemasangha!
This does contain spoilers for Inferno.
Almost no one in the US has seen Dario Argento’s Inferno on the big screen, and that is a crime. The sequel to Suspiria, one of Argento’s defining films, Inferno fell between the cracks during a studio restructuring and was released straight to video, getting only a short New York City theatrical run. But Inferno is very much a big screen movie, and I don’t just mean that in terms of visuals; the film plays best when it envelops you in its dream logic, when you’re away from your couch and forced to sink into its surreal and sometimes nonsensical moments. Inferno isn’t just a movie with scary scenes, Inferno is a movie that shows us the world as inherently twisted, skewed and frightening, a place that cannot be understood. The horror here is often exquisitely existential.Continue reading “Now On Patreon: INFERNO (1980) Review”
That M Night Shyamalan should make a bad movie is no surprise. He has made plenty of them. But that he should make a bad movie this stultifying, this tedious, this uninteresting – that’s the surprise. Shyamalan has, over the course of his career, veered from being a budding master of the thriller, a competent exploitation filmmaker and, most excitingly with his bad movies, an outsider artist. But he has rarely been a bore*. Sadly, he is now a bore.
Shyamalan’s bad films have, before Glass, been transcendently bad; they’re like transmissions from an alien mind, barely understandable glimpses into a bizarre universe where logic and meaning are lost. They’re thrilling; to sit through The Happening or Lady in the Water is to be changed on a fundamental level. To watch a critic devoured alive, or to hear a guy give a monologue about hot dogs in the middle of the apocalypse are the kinds of cinematic moments for which I live – incongruous bits of madness that seem like good ideas to one man and one man only. To have the privilege of seeing inside the strangest parts of Shyamalan’s psyche is truly a joy, and I don’t mean this in some kind of ironic, distanced way but rather in the same way that I get joy from watching weird exploitation films from the 70s. These are works of art where you are granted a look inside the weirdness of another person, the kinds of things most of us don’t share with each other. Truly exceptional outsider filmmakers don’t have the right filter; watching a Neil Breen movie, for instance, is glorious because you’re just getting this dude’s unabridged weirdness, and it’s very intimate and very inspiring. The Happening and Lady in the Water had that same frisson. I love those films, and again, not in an ironic way.
This week we all saw the sorry spectacle of a group of MAGAt teen bullies surrounding a Native American elder as he was doing a ritual chant at the Indigenous Peoples March in Washington DC. The kids, decked out their red hats of hate, were surrounding and harassing the man, and the video is a shocking and disturbing look at the worst that is happening to our society today.
It’s worth noting that the story remains in flux, and as I am writing this there is a longer video that shows a group of Black Israelites may have actually riled everybody up in advance. As a New Yorker I am very familiar with how Black Israelites – a religion whose more public, fringe members tend to be anti-Semitic black supremacists – will yell offensive stuff at people as they walk by; this doesn’t let the MAGAts off the hook by any means, but I do think it’s worth noting that the situation was complex and fluid and the result of the collision of a number of forms of hate, in the middle of which Nathan Phillips found himself trying to de-escalate things.
But I’m less interested in talking about what happened before the start of the video we’ve all seen on our feeds non-stop these past few days and more interested in how we reacted to it. This, I think, is where the really instructive stuff happens. After all, we cannot control how other people behave, as much as we wish we could (we’ve all had that thought, “If I ruled the world for just a day things would be much better!”). We can only control how we react to things – or rather how we respond to them. In turn how we respond has a ripple effect that plays out across our social networks, through our families, through the people we encounter every day.