AVENGERS ENDGAME: More Event Than Movie

This contains spoilers for Avengers Endgame.

When is a movie not movie? This isn’t some kind of riddle, but rather an attempt to figure out how to approach a film like Avengers Endgame, which feels not quite like a motion picture as we define them and more like an event. It’s an experience first and foremost, a movie second… and I wonder how much that matters. How much does it matter that the ending works more as fan service than as logic? How much does it matter that the movie completely betrays Steve Rogers’ character to get to a teary-eyed smile at the end?

Thinking about Endgame I find myself thinking about It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad World, the epic blockbuster comedy from Stanley Kramer. It’s stuffed to the gills with superstars, and it was originally bladder-shatteringly long (197 minutes! A comedy!). In terms of things like ‘plot’ and ‘structure’ it isn’t strong, but it makes up for all of that with the charm of Milton Berle and Buddy Hackett and Ethel Merman and Phil Silver. It features a stunning parade of cameos, including Jack Benny, ZaSu Pitts and Buster Keaton It’s not nuanced or subtle, and it’s hugeness and broadness is part of the point; it’s a big screen comedy released at a time when the movies were feeling TV nipping at their heels. 

It’s all really familiar. 

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Now On Patreon: THE BEACH BUM Takes Us On The Road Of Excess

“I’m a reverse paranoid. I believe the world is conspiring to make me happy.”

– Moondog, The Beach Bum

This review contains full spoilers for The Beach Bum.

That a new Harmony Korine movie should be morally disagreeable, juvenile and more than occasionally offensive is no surprise. That it should it be joyfully wise, subversively kind and the single most anti-materialistic work of a moment in time steeped in bourgeois socialism is actually very surprising, and The Beach Bum is perhaps one of the most wonderfully and uniquely meaningful movies of the moment, which is also a profound surprise. 

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GAME OF THRONES And The Perils Of Self-Betterment

This week’s Game of Thrones was one of the best of the whole series (I’d put it up there with the best of TV in the 21st century, tbh), and it was only possible because the show has lasted eight seasons. On paper the episode is a slow one, a bit of a stall before the big battle next week – billed as the biggest battle scene ever filmed for television – but in reality it was the beautiful payoff of eight seasons worth of story and character. What we got this week was an episode where almost all of our main characters showed us just how far they’ve come since the first episode (or their first appearance). 

When GOT started it seemed like it was a show that would be about deconstructing heroism and chivalry; Ned Stark’s death was the real battle cry for this, and the way that the bad guys won again and again hammered it home. The Stark children have either been killed – RIP Robb, and remember Rickon? – or become incredibly hardened to survive in this difficult world. Arya is a killer, Bran is a humorless mystic and Sansa is an iron lady who takes absolutely no shit. 

But there’s been another track happening – bad characters have, slowly but surely, been redeemed. In fact some of the show’s worst people – characters who, in the first season seemed absolutely like villains – have become some of the most honorable, decent and caring characters remaining. 

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Can GAME OF THRONES Give Us A Happy Ending?

This includes mild spoilers for the first episode of Game of Thrones season 8.

When Game of Thrones premiered – way back in the FIRST Obama term! – its season-ending refutation of heroic tropes was groundbreaking. Ned Stark being executed, despite being the hero and being noble and seemingly the only guy in Westeros who wasn’t a piece of shit, hit like a hammer. George RR Martin’s novels had eviscerated the hopefulness of heroic fantasy years earlier, but his cynicism coming to television was revolutionary, even post-Sopranos (there’s a difference between rooting for bad guys and rooting for heroes who get roundly defeated at every turn).

But the world of 2019, in which Game of Thrones is ending, is vastly different from the world of 2011. Everything has changed in the past eight years, from sexual norms to our very national character; we went from a hopeful and oblivious nation to one that has memorized the warning signs of fascist takeover. The thrills we got from seeing the good guys get kicked in the teeth are gone, and more than gone watching the good guys get kicked in the teeth feels too much like the real world outside our doors. So how can Game of Thrones end in a way that feels true to its story and themes while not leaving us in nihilistic despair?

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Last Week’s DISCO Gave Us An All-Time Great STAR TREK Moment

There are great moments of heroism and personal sacrifice in the history of Star Trek, moments that illustrate the best of humanity in the worst of situations. From Kirk allowing Edith Keeler to die in order to save history, Picard holding firm that there are four lights, or Spock quietly getting out of his chair and heading to engineering at the end of Wrath of Khan, these moments are some of the most beloved in the almost 700 hours of Trek canon.

Not every Trek gets a moment as good as these, but last week Star Trek Discovery got its own – and it was a moment that I think ranks high in the pantheon of great Trek. If you’ve been watching the show this season it might come as no surprise that the moment centers around Christopher Pike, new captain of the Disco, who has been such a wonderful and invigorating addition to the show that fans have taken to Change.org to start petitions demanding actor Anson Mount get his own spinoff series.

See, Pike would need a spinoff, he can’t stay on the show, since he’s a character deeply embedded in Star Trek lore, and his future is well-known to fans. It’s a dark one.

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SHAZAM! Earns The Exclamation Point

Being a hero is a choice, one that’s never too late to make and that never has to be made alone. That trinity of concepts is the beautiful and emotional throughline that holds together the light, breezy and fun Shazam!, taking this superheroic riff on Big and elevating it to a place that resonates on the same emotional and thematic frequency as Donner’s Superman, a movie as focused on the small humanity of heroism as the big superhumanity of it.

Based on one of the least cool DC characters, a character who was ingested into that universe in a business deal but who has never quite found his place in the pantheon (not for lack of trying or lack of quality comics), Shazam!opts to embrace everything that makes its source material so out of step. It’s a family movie, a funny movie, a loving movie, a hopeful movie, a movie whose hero earnestly says “Holy moly” a couple of times. Most of all it’s a kid’s movie, just as Shazam (or Captain Marvel as he seemingly cannot be legally called in this film) is a kid’s hero. And I don’t mean that in a dismissive or condescending way, but rather that the character represents the positive peak of the wish-fulfillment possibilities of the superhero genre.

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I Met The Wrong Saint

So there’s this woman, Amma the Hugging Saint. A Hindu guru from India, she travels the world hugging people as part of her teachings. This is no dude standing in the Comic-Con lobby with a “Free Hugs” sign; Amma plays to stadiums. You show up and get a number and wait HOURS to get shuffled through and hugged. They’re all-day/all-night events. The hugs are supposed to be amazing and healing – not in the ‘laying on the hands’ sense, but in the emotional/spiritual sense.

And get this: last year my friend Travis saw her, and when she hugged him he felt this intense, overwhelming love… and my face popped into his head. He texted me with excitement after the hug, and I thought the whole thing was strange and beautiful. Even setting aside any possible cosmic/supernatural stuff going on in this energy transfer moment, it was really sweet that he thought of me when he was experiencing a moment of pure love.

Fast forward to a couple of weeks ago, and Facebook serves me up an ad for Amma’s return to Los Angeles. This story has been in my mind, and for the past few months I’ve felt like my spiritual practice had plateaued; with the disgrace of my teacher Noah Levine and the dissolution of my main spiritual community, I had turned into a guy whose entire practice was solitary and book-oriented. I had not been on retreat in a year, I had not sat with a group in six months, I had not listened to wise teachers anyplace outside of my earphones while driving to work. I wanted a shot of something stronger in my spiritual practice – I wanted to meet a holy person.

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US: Face Your Jungian Shadow… And A Bad Ending

This review contains complete spoilers for Us.

When Get Out got to the Coagula my heart sank. The movie had been doing so well and then it got to this explanation for the underlying mind-switching and I was deeply concerned. You can really kill the magic of a story by going here, and too often filmmakers don’t understand that we don’t actually care how the magical stuff in a movie happens, we just want to be assured there is a reason.

Thankfully, Jordan Peele kept Get Out moving at such a clip – and kept the Coagula so weird and so aesthetically connected to the film’s themes – that it was only a bump in the road. The movie didn’t get bogged down in the Coagula, and I didn’t walk out with the logistics of the Coagula itching at my brain.

I wish I could say the same about Us.

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Now On Patreon: FIGHT CLUB Tried To Warn Us

This is a preview of a longer essay available to $10 and above Patrons at the CinemaSangha Patreon.

Fight Club was the “Bin Laden Determined To Strike In US” of this whole MAGA/Proud Boys/GamerGate/MRA/brocialist/dirtbag left moment, a warning cry from the last moments of the 20th century to the 21st, gone unheeded.

More than unheeded it went profoundly misunderstood; the very people it was warning us about took it to heart and saw it less a cautionary tale and more an instruction manual. Like the film’s Space Monkeys they flocked to the cult of Tyler Durden, unaware of his hollowness. It can be no coincidence that two of the most subversive movies of 1999 – Fight Club and The Matrix – spawned memes and trends that appeal to the most toxically masculine, despite neither film coming from the imagination of a cishet man. The Wachowskis, trans women, gave the alt-right and friends the idea of “Red Pilling,” and Chuck Pahlahniuk, gay man, gave the trolls Project Mayhem. We can never actually get to post-irony because we’re so fucking steeped in it.

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JURASSIC PARK Is About Social Media

Jurassic Park used to feel a little retrograde to me. Not in terms of FX, which still dazzle, or story, which remains a classically tight adventure tale, but in terms of the film’s underlying themes. Jurassic Park is a throwback to an older form of movie, the kind that reached peak popularity in the 50s – cautionary tales about science gone amok.

By the time Jurassic Park came out in 1994 we had largely stopped making films like that, and if we were making films like that they were about science in the wrong hands. The nuclear threat that had driven the 50s Atomic Horror films that give us the backbone of the Science Run Amok genre was over, and the environment, which had fueled a resurgence in Nature Run Amok movies, had been relegated to PSAs and polite charitable giving. No, by 1994 we were in the early stages of the home computer revolution and we were in the post-Cold War mood of an unlimited future. History had ended, and technology was going to usher us into a great new world. The dotcom boom waited just around the corner!

Within that mindset, and within the mindset of ‘new is good, tech progress is good’ that permeated our culture for the next 20 or so years, Ian Malcolm’s admonition felt downright old fashioned.

“Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should,” he said.

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