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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AQUAMAN: Warner Bros Realizes These Movies Can Be Fun

Attitude is everything. Aquaman has a fairly rotten script, and it is so green screen/stagebound that the few scenes shot on location are actually shocking. It is completely unoriginal, comprised mostly of swipes from other movies, from STAR WARS to CONAN, from the BOURNE films to DUNE, and a million others in between. This Aquaman bears almost no resemblance to the character as he has been depicted in comics and cartoons over the decades.

And yet there’s this attitude about the movie that makes it absolutely irresistible. There’s an enthusiasm that director James Wan brings that is palpable, that has the same energy as a golden retriever puppy that just wants to play with you and be loved by you. That same energy is shared by Jason Momoa, who looks more like Lobo than Arthur Curry, but who has a heart as soft as a jellyfish.

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[Reprint] Saving What We Love: STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI

Star Wars: The Last Jedi came out one year ago today. It quickly became one of the most controversial films in a famously controversial franchise, even as it is the absolute best since the 1980s. A reader recommended I celebrate the anniversary of this great film by reprinting my review, and I liked that idea (thanks, Scott!).

I wrote other things about The Last Jedi – a piece about how Rose Tico’s widely derided quote is the greatest wisdom yet found in Star Wars, a piece about Vice-Admiral Holdo’s smarts and a piece examining the connection between the Jedi and Taoism – but this initial review contains a lot of my thinking on the film, thinking I still hold a year later. 

For Star Wars to live, Star Wars must die. Rian Johnson’s Star Wars: The Last Jedi is a thrilling, layered and goddamned fun meditation on the tension between our need for legends and myths and the ways those legends and myth constrain and reduce us. Star Wars is the film series that popularized the monomyth in the modern era, and Johnson walks right up to old Joe Campbell, kicks him in the nuts… and then gives him a hearty bear hug. The Last Jedi struggles with and embraces the paradoxical duality at the center of the meaning of legends and heroes, leaving thoughtful audiences with more to chew on than any other blockbuster in recent memory.

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MINDING THE GAP: A Beautiful, Emotional Documentary Masterpiece

Of course the best movie of the year is a skateboarding documentary. If that sounds weird to you, you may not know skateboarding culture, a truly unique and consistently revolutionary subculture that has fueled so much else that happens in the larger pop culture for decades.

For one thing, filmmakers come out of skateboarding. That’s because skateboarders are obsessed with capturing their tricks and moves for everyone to see; every gaggle of skaters ahs the one dude who is filming EVERYTHING. Those guys often grow up to get into the movie industry, as did Rockford Illinois’ Bing Liu, director of Minding the Gap.

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BODIED Is The Movie 2018 Needed

Joseph Kahn is a provocateur, a bomb thrower, a shit-stirrer. On Twitter he almost consistently trolls pitbull owners, retweeting and sharing stories of the breed mauling babies and other innocents. But it’s clear that Kahn isn’t just fucking around, he also believes what he’s saying (even if I fundamentally disagree with him on this topic)… although he’s also fucking around. Both of these things are true at once.

If you know that about Kahn, you’ll get Bodied, a movie that is about the battle rap scene but that is also about race and free speech and the consequences of your words. Kahn is capable of coming at a subject from multiple angles at once, and while Bodied may begin like a juvenile exercise in profound verbal offensiveness, it eventually becomes something weightier, more meaningful and more interesting.

What’s more, while the film seems to be on the side of gleeful irreverence and begins almost like a pro-triggering manifesto, by the end it gets way more nuanced. Bodied isn’t telling us anything, it’s asking us things, and in today’s binary woke vs ‘free speech’ online culture that’s absolutely revolutionary. Bodied isn’t walking up to you and making statements of fact, it’s presenting you a lot of different arguments and sometimes pulling the rug out from under you in terms of whose argument it finds most convincing. But in the end the movie gives you the space to come up with your own ideas and beliefs, rather than finish up like an After School Special with a tidy moral lesson.

Kahn is throwing bombs here, but he’s throwing them with tactical accuracy, trying to blow up the barriers behind which we’re all crouched. He’s trying to get a conversation started.

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SUSPIRIA 2018: Death To Duality

This contains spoilers!

To remake Dario Argento’s Suspiria is an act of madness. The original is as much defined by its visuals and its soundtrack as its plot or characters; in fact, as is the case with some of the great Italian master’s films, it’s the filmmaking that makes 1977’s Suspiria as consequential as it is. What’s the point of remaking a movie that so fully is marked by its creator, that is so much the product of one mind, one filmmaking industry, of one time?

The point, Luca Guadagnino contends, is to do the same again – to make a movie whose filmmaking is as consequential as its plot, whose style is as important as its characters, whose soundtrack is a living part of the whole, and whose style is absolutely unique and specific to its new director. Guadagnino’s remake of Suspiria is a masterwork on its own, but it’s also one that approaches Argento’s movie – and his entire Three Mothers mythology – with just the right mixture of reverence and revisionism. I love the 1977 Suspiria, and I love the 2018 version as well, in its own way.

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THE CRIMES OF GRINDELWALD: The Wizarding World Films Get Their Own ATTACK OF THE CLONES

I walked out of Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald with one burning question that I hope to see answered at some point in the next of three more planned film in this Harry Potter prequel franchise:

Why the hell are these movies about Newt Scamander?

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A STAR IS BORN And The Crisis Of Authenticity

What does it mean to be authentic? What even is authenticity? Is it a simple, stripped down identity? Is it who you are when you’re alone, in the dark? Is it in an impossible thing that does not exist because whatever you are doing right now, even if you’re faking it, is authentically you?

Authenticity haunts A Star Is Born, the third remake of a movie starring an actor as a singer and a singer being an actor. Authenticity is what Jackson Maine hungers for, what he strives to embody and, in the end, maybe what kills him. He tries to be authentic in his rootsy, bluesy rock n’ roll, always preaching that you have to have something to say, something meaningful. When his protege and wife, Ally, plays Saturday Night Live he is disgusted by the falseness of her pop persona and the shallow repetitiveness of her lyrics. Where’s the pain, where’s the blood? He looks at her and sees a phony, and later he takes out his anger on her, cruelly tearing her down with words. Are the insults authentic?

More importantly, is Jackson Maine authentic? He believes he is, but the script, by Bradley Cooper & Will Fetters and Eric Roth, gives us hints that Jackson is fundamentally full of shit, that he wouldn’t know an authentic person if she punched a cop in a bar for him. Jackson Maine, played with such crusty greasiness by Cooper that I could smell him from the screen, is presenting a persona that is utterly false, and it’s quite possible that he doesn’t even know who the authentic Jackson Maine even is, or if he does, he hates that person and needs to kill him.

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