CAPTAIN MARVEL Never Quite Takes Off

At some point in Captain Marvel it dawned on me: this movie is set in the 90s. Maybe it was when Carol Danvers stood in front of a wall plastered with posters for Smashing Pumpkins, Bush and PJ Harvey. Maybe it was when she wore a Nine Inch Nails shirt and Nick Fury told her the grunge look was good on her. Maybe it was when every song that played in the movie was a well-worn 90s track. Maybe it was when everybody sat around comically waiting for a CD-ROM to load. Maybe it was when Carol looked up info on Alta Vista. Maybe it was when the movie had a close-up of a record player playing Nevermind.

The movie’s brutal reliance on 90s references could be just an irritating tic, but I think it actually gets at the fundamental problem that lies under the surface of Captain Marvel – this is a movie more constructed than crafted, and those needle drops feel like part of the construction, a knowing attempt to get in on the ‘90s kid’ generation and their desire to have their own childhood chewed up and spit back into their faces. Big parts of this movie feel inorganic and airdropped in, and those big parts are especially frustrating because Captain Marvel is peppered with small moments of absolutely organic beauty and charm.

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APOLLO 11: Audacious, Triumphant And Necessary

Early in Apollo 11 there is this impossibly clear, incredibly close-up shot of the Saturn booster rocket taking off, lifting the Apollo 11 mission towards space. In this shot you can see the enormous nozzles which funnel the thunderous fire created in the main cylinder of the rocket, and the clarity of this shot lets you see every rivet, every overlapping plate, every spot where human hands had to touch and manipulate this metal to create the miracle you’re seeing before you.

It’s an overpowering moment, especially in IMAX. The screen is so huge that you almost get a sense of the scale of the thing (almost – it’s clear that these rockets are so big and the thrust so immense that even the IMAX screen shrinks them down), and the sound is so intense that the deep bass rumble almost disrupts your atoms. But it isn’t just the physical scale of it all that is overpowering; what makes Apollo 11 a brilliant film is how it captures both the material achievement of the mission and the spiritual achievement. In moments like that we are not only in awe of the size and fury of the rocket, we are overwhelmed with the knowledge that humans came together to do this thing, and to do it well.

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HORROR NOIRE Does What All Great Film Docs Do: Make You Want To Watch Movies

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.

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THE KID WHO WOULD BE KING Is Not Quite Royal

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:

Mostly harmless.*

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.

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Now On Patreon: INFERNO (1980) Review

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.

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GLASS Is The Worst Kind of Bad M Night Movie – The Boring Kind

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.

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VICE: How We Amused Ourselves Into An Eternal War On Terror

“In a free society some are guilty, all are responsible.” – Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

You have to face your role in the problems in your life. That’s a hard lesson to learn, because the instinct is to always blame others for your problems. But the reality is that you can’t control others, you can only control yourself, and so you need to look back at all the fucked up stuff in your life and say “What was my role in that?” By doing this you can move forward without making that same mistake again – whether it’s trusting someone you shouldn’t trust, staying in a relationship you shouldn’t stay in, or not taking part in the political process for a solid decade and change.

See, that’s a big part of what Adam McKay’s Vice is about – the way that all of us, out here amusing ourselves to death, let the Phantom of the Neocons slide into power and totally knock the Earth off its axis, creating the century of chaos in which we now live. It’s not an easy message – and maybe it’s coming at us with a little too much force by the end of the movie, a little too much finger pointing – but it’s a vital message for us all to internalize if we have any hope of saving the world at all.

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INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE Gives Spider-Man To Everyone

You can’t be Batman. People like to say you could be, but Bruce Wayne was a billionaire who had the ability to dedicate his life to training and self-improvement. You can’t be Superman – he was born that way. You probably can’t even be Captain America; sure, Steve Rogers was a scrawny dweeb before the Super Soldier Serum, but he always had a kind of intense heroic decency to which most of us only aspire.

But Spider-Man? Yeah, you could be him. Peter Parker was an angry nerd in the right place and at the right time, and when he got super powers he immediately behaved selfishly with them. He totally fucked up, got his uncle killed. And from that point on Peter never quite made the most of his powers; he was always poor, he was always harried in his personal life, and he was always hated by the police and media. Peter Parker was, and is, a schmuck. Just like you. Just like me.

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BLACK MIRROR: BANDERSNATCH And The Illusion Of Free Will

This contains minor spoilers for Netflix’s Black Mirror: Bandersnatch.

I’m in the minority on Black Mirror’s Bandersnatch interactive episode – I find Charlie Brooker’s anti-humanism increasingly tiresome, and out of place in a world that desperately needs positivity*, and I also think that the meta-within-meta concept is student-level stuff and not half as clever as it thinks it is – but I was intrigued by the way the episode approaches the concept of free will. Free will is one of the underpinnings of our modern society – we all operate under the assumption that we have it, after all – but it’s less clear cut than that.

The usual free will debates are free will vs destiny, which fall into the theistic realm – destiny is a supernatural concept that requires some kind of a guiding force. But for the past few decades the real debate has shifted inward, to the self, rather than outward to God or the Fates or whatever. It’s possible that we don’t have free will because we are, essentially, robots whose programming allows us to justify the actions we are forced to take as choices we make.

You see this in Bandersnatch, as Stefan becomes slowly aware that he’s not the one making the choices in his life. In the context of the show this is a fourth wall break, but it read to me as being quite close to some of the stuff I’ve been learning about the human mind in the past couple of years, and that is quite close to research that has changed the way we look at the world and our place in it.

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Review: THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO SAINT MATTHEW (1964)

Pier Paolo Pasolini was a homosexual and a Marxist, an atheist and an artistic lightning rod. When he turned his attention to the life of Christ in 1964, many were shocked, especially coming on the heels of his latest short, which had drawn fire for being blasphemous. And yet his film The Gospel According to Saint Matthew is not a rebuke of Christianity or the Church, but rather is a profoundly simple celebration of the radical aspects of Christ’s teachings. Rather than a deconstruction, The Gospel According to Saint Matthew is a reconstruction of Christ, recapturing from the grips of the greedy and the powerful the peasant laborer who would become a prophet and Messiah.

Pasolini is one of my great cinematic gaps. As a fan of extreme cinema I have of course seen Salo, but that’s it – I have no other Pasolini in my eyes. This week I decided that with Christmas on the horizon and a desire to watch something meaningful (with work being as busy as it is I only get out to blockbusters lately), I would give Pasolini’s account of Christ my time. I am beyond glad I did.

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