As a White Dude with a full deck of privilege and a shitload of unlearning to do when it comes to an effort at anti-racism, I acknowledge that there’s always going to be imperfection, at best, in my understanding of the Black Experience. Too many people like me use that as an excuse to not even try, of course, preferring the comfort of a bubble in which ignoring racism is hardly ever recognized in and of itself as a racist act. As a White Dude, part of me resides inextricably in this bubble regardless of my physical location. There’s quite an echo in here. And while I do recognize that ignoring racism is itself a contribution to racism — of course it is — I’m still undoubtedly one of those unthinking contributors. And admitting this puts me no closer to our aforementioned understanding. Nine out of ten attempts to place myself outside of the bubble are too weak to even perforate it, and the tenth is a noble failure.
Amongst those measures of not-enough is the discovery, experience, discussion and championing of Black Art. This is too easy and not impactful enough to be considered “putting in the work” for us White Dudes, or to count as allyship in any meaningful sense. So I’m gonna sound really, really desperate to make a grand point here when I turn heel to assert that it’s also not nothing, because not nothing is hardly the bar we should be striving to clear. But when discovering, experiencing, discussing and championing something as vital as Mangrove, even this most passive engagement can result in challenging questions of the sort that are typically drowned out in the din of the benighted bubble.
Continue reading Small Axe: Mangrove (2020)
97% of Steve Jobs is nearly perfect. Much like the products borne of the man’s unparalleled creative vision, everything in his latest biographical film is optimized, streamlined, rounded when the edge should be rounded, sharp when the edge should be sharp, forward-thinking, life-changing, and pitched to be perfect. The performances are subtle and explosive, depending on which character you’re dealing with. The drama is heavy-duty; the comedy is excitingly witty. The pacing of the whole film is breathless. And the writing — whew, the writing — Aaron Sorkin has probably never been this good or done this much with a film script. This is ostensibly The Social Network 2.0, a story about a genius/jerk who defined the times for the rest of us, except Steve Jobs has a richer character in the driver’s seat.
And in comparing the two, that leftover 3% only becomes all the more glaring. The structure of the film is unique, built over three days in history: the launch of the Macintosh in 1984, the launch of the NeXT computer in 1988, and the launch of the iMac in 1998. The aforementioned breathlessness of the film is derived from setting each episode immediately before these launches, as that’s probably the most stressful and nerve-wracking collection of hours in any product launcher’s life. No different in Steve Jobs. Jobs needs everything to be perfect, every address to start exactly on time, every personal grievance from his staff and family (of which there are many, and between which the words staff and family mean less and less) to be voiced and dealt with. “It seems like five minutes before every launch, people go to a bar and get drunk and decide to air their grievances,” says Jobs.
Continue reading Steve Jobs (2015)
It’s just a shame that this film wasn’t a bit better. I’m not saying I hated or even disliked Shame, but it had the potential to be a great film that handles an issue that is rarely discussed and is entirely taboo. One thing, for sure, that impressed me about Shame was the way that it made me actually feel the shame and remorse and immense self-loathing that Brandon experienced on an hourly basis. That was powerful, and I mainly attribute that to the sheer talent of one of my favorite actors, Michael Fassbender. In his second collaboration with the talented Steve McQueen, Fassbender is almost frightening. When he attacks his visiting sister in nothing but a bath towel (one that is starting to fall down, at that) and begins screaming in her face, I genuinely felt like he might have lost his mind. His rage, which clearly stems from his own unimaginably great disappointment in and repulsion of himself, is fairly constant and, while far less intense than that of his later performance as a plantation owner in McQueen’s follow-up film 12 Years A Slave, is shocking.
At the same time, Fassbender is also wise to portray Brandon thoroughly enjoying the acts that ultimately lead to his frustration. This is vital to his performance because it is clear that the film is attempting to show that sex addiction is, in fact, an addiction. It is an affliction, much like alcoholism or drug addiction. Brandon is not a freak, he’s not a pervert…he is suffering. But, as all addicts do, Brandon enjoys doing these acts while he is doing them. Just because a cocaine addict might desperately want to stop using the drug, this doesn’t mean that he will suddenly no longer enjoy cocaine when he does use it. In order to achieve the goal that this film is trying to accomplish, Fassbender needs to be as dead-on as possible. He nails it.
Continue reading Shame (2011)
- EW released a few new pictures from Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, featuring Jesse Eisenberg as a hairy Lex Luthor and Gal Gadot as socialite Diana Prince. Oh, and Batman and Superman.
- This weekend is San Diego Comic-Con, and even though some of the usual suspects aren’t participating this year (like Marvel Studios) it’s still going to be a heck of a lot of fun. Unless you’re not attending, of course. Ah, well. You can still sit on your couch and catch glimpses online of Batman v. Superman, Warcraft, Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight and — fingers crossed — Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
- Paul Thomas Anderson is rumored to be considering directing a live-action Pinocchio with Robert Downey Jr. attached to star, because nothing else makes sense as a follow-up to the marijuana-fueled Inherent Vice besides a Disney flick.
Continue reading Film & TV News: July 5
These days, Westerns seem to either be smaller art-house fare or destined box-office flops. Michael Agresta’s phenomenal article “How the Western Was Lost (and Why It Matters)” touches on a few reasons why — see The Lone Ranger, Cowboys & Aliens, Jonah Hex, or don’t see them — and a few reasons the erosion of the genre marks a sad day for American Cinema. Agresta is mainly writing about the public perception of the Western and not necessarily about whether Jonah Hex is any good or not (it’s not), and so the commentary on the smaller art-house stuff is limited. He’d agree, though, I think, that the more limited platform of independent and small-studio filmmaking is where the majority of “good” Westerns are being produced these days.
And Slow West is somewhat of an interesting film to consider in the larger context of The American Western, a long-standing genre with a hugely important but slightly malleable history as outlined by Agresta. Starring Kodi Smit-McPhee as the young dreamer Jay and Michael Fassbender as the mysterious drifter Silas, Slow West is an undeniably style-heavy piece that takes full advantage of the fact that it’s not a big-budget tentpole. In doing so, the film retains a self-awareness that manages to be less wink-wink than you might expect.
Continue reading Slow West (2015)
- The limited revival of The X-Files begins shooting this coming week. A strange casting announcement came in the form of Joel McHale, who will apparently be playing a popular news anchor in a guest role. I’m a fan of X-Files and I’m a fan of McHale, but I’m finding it hard to imagine how they’d taste in the same recipe.
- Stephen King’s The Stand is set for an eight-part miniseries at Showtime followed by a feature film, which at this point is really only dredging up the heretofore-repressed memory of the abysmal 1994 Molly Ringwald version. Thanks, Showtime!
- The second season of Daredevil is allegedly courting Jason Statham for the role of the assassin Bullseye, which is one of the most perfect comic book casting rumors I’ve heard in a while.
- Speaking of comic book films, James Wan has been officially announced as the director for DC’s Aquaman.
Continue reading Film & TV News: June 7
- The Cannes Film Festival is well under way, and buzz is strong on a lot of the films screened thus far. Yorgos Lanthimos presented The Lobster (Colin Farrell, Rachel Weisz), Woody Allen presented Irrational Man (Joaquin Phoenix, Emma Stone) and Stéphane Brizé presented La loi du marché (with Vincent Lindon of La mustache), all of which played favorably. On the other end of the spectrum is Gus Van Sant’s Sea of Trees (Matthew McConaughey, Ken Watanabe), which was met with a sea of boos.
- Jude Law has joined the tentatively-titled The Young Pope, a speculative HBO series about an American pope. That premise would be only vaguely interesting were it not for the presence of director Paolo Sorrentino, helmer of 2013’s The Great Beauty, as Pope‘s showrunner.
- David Lynch does another 180° and says the Twin Peaks revival is happening after all. At this point we’ll believe it when we see it, and even then we might not care.
Continue reading Film & TV News: May 18
- May the Fourth be with you! A bunch of Star Wars news dropped this week, including the arrival of the first season of Star Wars Rebels online and the departure of director Josh Trank from the upcoming “anthology” film. Both are good!
- Collider has the first pictures from David Ayer’s Suicide Squad, which the director tweeted last night. If you’re wondering what in the hell is going on with some of these costumes, you’re not alone. Killer Croc needs a touchup. Badly. But the solo portrait of Will Smith’s Deadshot is promising, even if he’s still a weird choice for the role.
- CSI, one of the longest-running cable television shows in history, has been officially cancelled by CBS. The question is now whether a farewell season is in order, or whether that last season finale is actually the series finale, or whether anyone actually gives a shit about CSI anymore.
Continue reading Film & TV News: May 4
Although I feel like it cannot be, I have to suppose that it is just a coincidence that this film, entitled Hunger, completely lacks any meat whatsoever. This film had me quite excited to see it; I am a total Fassbender fan and it had garnered a strong 82 Metascore. I thought it was going to be one of those slightly dull, but really fantastically unique and emotional films with great writing and better acting. Well, I got the acting out of Fassbender, but literally every other single aspect of this film fell heavily flat for me. Which did come as a surprise considering who the director is: the great Steve McQueen. With 12 Years A Slave, McQueen, in my genuine opinion, made one of the greatest movies of the twenty-first century. Everything just worked so well, from the otherworldly penmanship to the astounding, Oscar-winning performances. The Wolf of Wall Street was my favorite in 2013, but 12 Years was undoubtedly the best.
The biggest gripe I have with Hunger is probably the fact that it refuses to settle on a protagonist until about thirty minutes in. Inexplicably, the film starts with, and carries on with, the tale of two characters who ultimately become totally irrelevant. Granted, they do set up the scene; their situation portrays how terrible the conditions were for those imprisoned men. That does not change the fact that the exact same effect could have been as, if not more, easily achieved focusing instead on Fassbender’s character, Bobby Sands (the ultimate protagonist). The two initial characters essentially share a few lines of dialogue, smear their shit all over the walls of their cell, and grow long hair and beards.
Continue reading Hunger (2008)
Starred Up played this week at the tail end of the Fall Focus presented by Independent Film Festival Boston. Though technically a 2013 release, the British prison drama has yet to really come out stateside and remains very much a movie of interest. Part of this is due to the recent emergence of Jack O’Connell on the international stage – he carried the little-seen ’71 and will carry the likely-to-be-widely-seen Unbroken, and he’s even in the Oscar conversation for the latter. O’Connell’s been in a bunch of stuff prior to the last few years, and his young role in the comparatively weak Michael Fassbender film Eden Lake probably foreshadows what’s to come most effectively. But if you want top-notch O’Connell in a nearly-top-notch film, Starred Up is the one to check out.
The prison genre is a storied one in film. Starred Up is a very different movie than Bronson – one of the most brilliant entries in the genre in recent memory – but it still recalls the 2008 Tom Hardy flick a little too heavily at times. This might be an inescapable element of the genre – it’s a prison movie, what did you expect? – but it might also be because O’Connell’s Eric Love simply seems to want the incredible amount of violence swirling around his little stone cell. Bronson and Love seem to share that from the outset – there is a scene in both films in which guards pile up outside the cell door in full riot gear as the gleeful prisoner, be it the hulking Bronson or the roguish Love, douses himself in oil and and prepares for the fight. The fight seems ritualistic, and for Bronson it certainly is. It’s sport. But this is where Starred Up and Eric Love diverge, and while it’s not necessarily a better film it’s certainly a more grounded, realistic genre entry.
Continue reading Starred Up (2014)