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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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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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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WON’T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR: Did Mr. Rogers Fail?

Did Mr. Rogers fail?

This question hangs heavy over Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, a movie that is thankfully less of the hagiography I expected and more an examination of one man’s attempt to make a difference. But did he? I’m not just pulling that out of thin air – very early in the movie one of his friends asks that very same question.

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THE FIRST PURGE: A Searing Howl Of Exploitation Anger

The First Purge is a searingly angry film, a scifi movie whose subtextual messaging is so barely subtextual that the film plays less like an alternate future than a prescient look at the day after tomorrow. The film is a howl of rage not at an imaginary Purge but at the slow and deliberate genocide being visited upon black and brown families in our country today, right now, a genocide carried out by cops and ICE and broken social service systems that not only devalue black and brown suffering, but possibly sees it as a perk.

If that’s a big statement to make about the fourth Purge movie, the fourth Purge movie is a big statement. As the blazingly political fourth film in a series, The First Purge is filled with the DNA of Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, a movie that modeled its ape uprising scenes on footage of the Watts Riots. As a die-hard Apes fan this is not a comparison I make lightly; I don’t think The First Purge is as good as Conquest (screenwriter James DeMonaco is definitely no Paul Dehn), but it’s a descendant of that movie, and like Conquest I think The First Purge will play stunningly to future audiences who won’t quite be able to believe a movie this nakedly political and angry was also an exploitation quickie.

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