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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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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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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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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HALLOWEEN 2018: The Shape Of Trauma

This contains full spoilers for the 2018 Halloween.

In the original Halloween II there was an elaborate, soap opera-y reason for Michael Myers to come after Laurie Strode yet again – she was his secret sister, and just as he had killed Judith, he wanted to kill Laurie. This kind of explanation was needed to franchise the characters; if you were going to have Laurie and Michael face off again and again you needed to have a reason. As John McClane once wondered, “How can the same shit happen to the same guy twice?” The answer, for decades, was that Michael Myers cared deeply about Laurie.

What Halloween 2018 asks is… what if he didn’t? What if Michael Myers did not care about Laurie Strode at all, but rather Laurie Strode cared so much about Michael Myers that she couldn’t let him go, couldn’t leave him behind, and as such she ends up in the middle of his 40th anniversary prison break, once again being stalked by The Shape who, in other circumstances, would have been happy to just keep killing strangers.

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FIRST MAN: Neil Armstrong Is Trapped In A Glass Case Of Emotion

This contains spoilers for First Man (by which I mean bigger spoilers than “They get to the Moon”).

Ryan Gosling has given many performances that are the equivalent of a glass of water that had some fruit briefly dunked in it – he is so stoic and blank that he just gives you the hint of an idea of the concept of an emotion. Often, as in Drive, these performances have left me cold. But in First Man Gosling – playing one of America’s most iconically emotionally distant men – finds another place to go within that stoicism. As Neil Armstrong Gosling lets us get beyond that stoic exterior and gives us the fragile, live wire trauma that is hiding just beneath the surface.

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VENOM: Tom Hardy Knew This Was Stupid When He Made It

Now on Patreon for $10 subscribers: my review of VenomHere’s an excerpt:

Venom is terrible. The script is an atrocity, from clanging dialogue to dim-witted motivations to terrible structure to characters who are lucky to have one dimension, let alone three. It’s a stupid movie, a listless and pointless movie. It has no momentum, nobody accomplishes anything and I’m not even sure what most of the characters even WANT.

I loved almost every minute of it.

This isn’t a ‘so bad it’s good’ kind of movie. It’s just a bad movie. But Venom has at its center a Tom Hardy performance so excellent that he makes the entire movie about two or three hundred percent better. Hardy is watchable in Venom in a way that few movie stars are anymore, completely magnetic while also being completely unhinged. It’s a performance for the ages.

Hardy gets it – he knows what movie he’s making. He understands the tonal line he has to walk to make this work, and he never takes Eddie Brock too seriously… yet he never tells us that he’s anything but serious. It’s brilliant, a totally straight-faced slapstick performance. It feels like a muted Evil Dead 2 era Bruce Campbell, a very straight take on a very ridiculous character doing and saying very ridiculous things. But he’s never broad; I love Campbell, but he’s winking in all his best roles, playing to the back of the theater. In Venom Hardy takes that broadness but crushes it down into a mumbly, naturalistic form. It’s extraordinary – a performance full of emotional resonance springing from a script utterly devoid of emotional resonance. Hardy’s Brock is absolutely non-dualistic – he is at once real and phony, serious and ludicrous, played straight and played as a gag. There’s no daylight between these opposing concepts; Hardy is both things at once.

To read the whole thing, become a $10 patron at Patreon.

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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