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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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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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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BLACKkKLANSMAN Is The Year’s Most Important Work Of Film Criticism

The first image in Spike Lee’s Blackkklansman is a scene from Gone With the Wind. The last is a memorial to Heather Heyer, murdered one year ago while protesting racism in Charlottesville. In between is a movie that, as much as it is telling a true story, is also meditating on the ways that the images we consume of ourselves and of others impacts us. Blackkklansman is not just a great piece of filmmaking from one of America’s finest filmmakers, it’s a great piece of film criticism from the man who might be America’s best film critic.

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TEEN TITANS GO! TO THE MOVIES: Disrespecting DC, And It Works

Here’s the great yin and yang of our time: DC’s movies are terrible, while their TV shows tend to be rather delightful. Marvel makes the best movies, but their TV shows lean towards the very bad. Weirdly the only place where this dichotomy is broken is when it comes to animated DC movies – they are actually really great, better than the live action DC movies and stake out their own weird space in the superhero universe.

Lego Batman was a blast, and I think was one of the better Batman movies ever made. It really got to the heart of the character, while also poking a lot of fun at the character. And now Teen Titans Go! To The Movies has arrived and is a better DC Universe movie than any of the live action DC Universe movies, and it accomplishes that while being wildly irreverent and disrespectful… but in a truly loving way.

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CASTLE ROCK Truly Shines

The only way Castle Rock could be more Stephen King-y would be if the lead character were a novelist. In fact, there are no novelists yet introduced on the show, a huge oversight if you ask me. Maine, as I understand from King’s work, is thick with novelists. You can’t run into an ancient curse or a terrifying entity without finding a novelist somehow tied up in the whole thing.

I don’t love writing about TV shows while they’re still airing – they could shit the bed at any moment! – but it feels important for me to tell you that Castle Rock is, three episodes in, quite good. And it’s quite good in a way that feels unique to the King ouvre; this is a show that gets what the experience of reading King is, and unlike almost ALL the adaptations ever attempted of the Master, it captures that experience. Again, Castle Rock could absolutely fall apart this week, but the first three episodes lay such a solid foundation that I could believe the show might be able to recover from a serious episode four stumble.

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Retro Review: THE DARK KNIGHT

In honor of the 10th anniversary of the release of The Dark Knighthere’s my original review, unedited. This review was seen as so negative at the time that I received death threats serious enough to report them to the police.

Someone get the Batman a lozenge.

Of all the improvements that Christopher Nolan has made from Batman Begins
(and there are many), Batman himself (and his stupid, stupid raspy voice) seems to have gone unfixed. If anything, Batman has taken a step back from his center stage role in
the first film and allowed much more interesting characters like The Joker, Harvey Dent and Jim Gordon to claim the spotlight. And in many ways, that’s an improvement in itself.

Nolan’s second Batfilm almost doesn’t even feel like a sequel – it feels like a reboot. Gotham City, presented in Begins as the only major American city ever founded on a soundstage, now has an outdoors. It feels like… a real city, which makes sense, since it was all filmed in Chicago. And that realness extends beyond the exteriors; for the first time in a Batman movie I felt like I understood what being a Gothamite was like, and I felt that the city was a once glorious place in a bad time, as opposed to the almost Boschian depiction in previous films, including Nolan’s first. This is Gotham City by way of The Wire.

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THREE IDENTICAL STRANGERS: Nature, Nurture, Neither, Both

What makes you you? What are the things that create the person you are? Are you created by the sum of your genes? Is there a genetic destiny that exists beyond our control, that will send you down a path no matter the circumstance?

Or are you created by your circumstances? Does the environment in which you were raised have a greater impact? The question, when boiled down, is the familiar head-to-head battle: nature vs. nurture.

A trio of triplets offer a unique look at this question, as each of them was adopted out at six months, and they spent the first 19 years of their lives not knowing they had a sibling, let alone two who were identical at the DNA level. In 1980 two of these three met through strange coincidence; when they appeared in the newspapers their third brother had the shock of seeing himself – twice! – on the front page. Then they were three, and there was an automatic bond. These three identical strangers took to each other, filling gaps in one another they didn’t even realize had been there. You might think that discovering there are two other yous in the world would make you feel less unique, less special, crowded in. But for these three it seemed to be the moment that set them free, that allowed them to be who they should have always been. They soon discovered remarkable similarities about their lives – they were all wrestlers! They all smoked Marlboros! They all liked older women! – and basked in the glow of pre-internet viral fame.

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