Darkest Hour: Reasoning With A Tiger

If you’re looking for a thrilling character piece on one of the most influential and controversial leaders of the 20th Century portrayed by one of the most gifted and oft overlooked actors of this generation, Darkest Hour is going to do it for you. It’s a pretty by-the-numbers example of Oscar bait but not at all in a bad way, the performances all around are worth the price of admission but if you happen to be, as I am, a kind of WWII enthusiast that absorbs every thing from historical record to anecdotal testimony at every chance this film may leave you, as it did me, with an odd sense of disappointment in its finale. Not that it wasn’t powerful and well earned, but within the context of the rest of history it struck an odd note that wasn’t perhaps off-key as much as…a little bit too Hollywood for how grave the situation would continue to be for years after. But I’ll get into that later, first the good bits.

I was initially very skeptical of the prosthetics that went into turning a narrow jawed, sleek Gary Oldman into the famously jowly, overweight British Bulldog but genuine praise needs to go to both the makeup department and of course to the man himself, who disappears so convincingly into the role you forget who you’re watching on-screen. So effective is his performance that an Academy Award almost seems like an afterthought at this point and if I were any other potential nominee I’d already be looking for my next project. In terms of the history of the events portrayed Darkest Hour is admittedly not my favorite depiction of that timeline, there are two original HBO films The Gathering Storm and Into the Storm that provide a better, almost mini-series like approach to the bigger picture, however this new film is hands down the best character depiction of Churchill that’s been made yet, all credit due to Albert Finney and Brendan Gleeson.

It’s a good biopic that illuminates the character and flaws of a great historical figure but it’s a great one that also manages to provide an arc and in this it’s Churchill’s innate detachment from the common man, his inability to relate to the everyday people exemplified by an early offhand comment, “You know, I’ve never ridden a bus before. Ever.” This is a capable bit of foreshadowing of an idea, one that is firmly rooted in the ideals of the very country that they are trying to defend and antithetical to the coming fascist invasion: the concept that the common people’s voices can and should be heard, that nobility is not a quality exclusive to nobility, and that, frankly, in dire times, we’re all in this together.

Darkest Hour is primarily about the divisions and bureaucracy that continue to take place even as the world is burning down to its foundations. It’s simultaneously depressing and inspiring in the way it portrays not necessarily cowards as much as journeymen in history, men who served a function to other greater figures. Churchill was, by all means and measures and his own estimation, a failure up until his election to Prime Minister in the most troubling time for Western Europe in the last, or really any century. He was also a power alcoholic and an extremely divisive figure, only elected, as the film would portray, as a sandbagging tactic by his own party in an attempt make capitulation a more appealing option in the face of Nazi aggression and in this his foes failed miserably. Because in those trying times, when a demagogue had seized control of a world power, England elected an orator, a man who weaponized words in a way that didn’t inspire fear or resentment or hatred, rather, his words were eloquence. He wrote and spoke in a way that evoked a different feeling in his people, a way separate from the atavistic badgering of a madman stoking the worst instincts of a frustrated people. Instead of appealing to weakness, he suggested courage. He inspired dignity. He expressed hope. In his “Blood, Toil, Tears, and Sweat” address, he didn’t ask those things of the people, he offered them from himself.

My problem with the finale of Darkest Hour is that it is a triumphant shouting of Churchills famous “We Shall Fight On the Beaches” speech to a newly energized and supportive Parliament. It’s a rabble-rousing, shake-the-rafters moment where the English people decide to reject potential subjugation by the Nazi regime and Gary Oldman’s Winston struts off gallantly, cue the ending cards, roll credits. But. This didn’t sit right for me. It’s possible that my recent rewatch of Chris Nolan’s Dunkirk skewed my opinion but, to me, the elegant, subdued recitation of the same speech by a young soldier fresh from surviving hell on earth was exponentially more affecting in its framing. This speech was not a football coach reinvigorating his team at half time or a dramatic charge into the breech, dear friend. This was about resolve. It was about hold fast. It was about this far, no further. And the celebratory nature of the ending, while cinematically necessary to a casual audience, rings a few too many major chords, incongruous with the long, difficult, uncertain path ahead.

Darkest Hour is a fine film and I’ll admit to splitting some hairs with regard to tone but that issue I have with the ending is a recurring one, a shouting of things as opposed to a delivery and this is fine. We’re talking, again, about an actor who can make an entire scene with one single word (EVERYONE!) so see it for the performance alone but if an HBO GO profile is available, I’d look into those other depictions as well because while Winston Churchill’s leadership and character were polarizing and much debated, he was in nearly every interpretation absolutely as fascinating as advertised.

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Star Wars: The Last Jedi – A Space Oddity

Oh, what a time we live in. When I was a sprat the news that George Lucas was going to revisit the Star Wars franchise blew everyone’s minds. We were so ecstatic and grateful to get another look at that universe that it took weeks, almost months to realize how awful they were. Such is the effect of spectacle, which is the man’s real gift: the ability to make a thing that causes an audience to go “ooh” but then the feeling passes. And when the prequels came out it was mostly people like me with far too much disposable time on their hands who kept talking about the films after everyone else had gone on with their lives and significant others or whatever, instead we dissected and complained ad nauseam amongst ourselves. And 20 years later, in the no-longer-nascent era of the Internet, a film’s quality can be debated and debunked within seconds of walking out of a theater. Enter Star Wars: The Last Jedi, the latest entry into the series, that has polarized the fanbase almost instantaneously and in a way that brings a kind of evil smile to my face for a couple of reasons. For one, I am a Star Trek guy at heart, I have nothing against the Wars, they just never appealed to me the way the science and imagination of Gene Roddenberry’s creation does. And I’ve been watching his vision being steadily disassembled and destroyed for years now, ever since JJ “I never watched Star Trek growing up because it was too cerebral for me” Abrams got his big stupid hands on the franchise. So watching something I love die is an experience I’m familiar with and the fact that a lot of die hard fans of Lucas’ universe seemed to be experiencing that same sense of alienation from the The Last Jedi, well, amuses me. If that’s a little dark, well, shrug, at least Luke didn’t show up riding a fucking dirt bike for no particular reason.

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Anyway, it also makes me smile because the die hard fans, while not wrong in the sense that writer-director Rian Johnson disregarded every fan theory they had going into Episode 8, had such a level of entitlement and expectation that there was no way they wouldn’t be disappointed. It was an odd choice to go from Abrams and The Force Awakens with its reliance on what he refers to as a Mystery Box approach, i.e. the method of only telling one half of the story as a technique to get your audience invested, to a Rian Johnson, who is a gifted storyteller in an entirely different way, in that he actually tells a complete story and this presents a massive departure in style and approach. If the first works better for you, the open ended questions in The Force Awakens were probably enthralling and you had some expectation of resolution which is, sorry to say, entirely your fault. You probably also expected Lost to actually be going somewhere after six seasons but if you didn’t figure out after they got that hatch open that they were going to keep fucking with you to no end, you deserve what you got. My point is, The Force Awakens, regardless of your feelings about Rey or Snoke or Han Solo’s fate, is purely a fan-service movie.

I don’t believe you’re wrong if you enjoy it anyway, that’s what movies are for, so go nuts, but the fact that it is a paean to the Original Trilogy with a plot that is 100 percent recycled from A New Hope is beyond debate at this point. And if you went into The Last Jedi expecting the same tropes, some reveal about Rey’s parentage being somehow tied into the Skywalker clan, or Snoke being some kind of mutant holdover from an earlier trilogy, or really any of the same catering to the wants and needs of the Memberberries generation, I entirely understand your disappointment. Rian Johnson, much like Luke at the beginning of this movie with his lightsaber, hucked those fan theories and the desperate affection for nostalgia over his shoulder and made a movie that is admittedly incongruous with the rest of the Star Wars canon, which I am entirely cool with.

Now, I’m going to say some nice things about The Last Jedi because I unapologetically enjoyed it but I’ll also be the first to admit that it’s far from a perfect film. It somehow managed to feel both really long and really short at the same time. A lot happens in what is really only a few hours of time within the film’s context. Some of the subplots both felt and were entirely pointless except to pad the running time or to make an entirely unnecessary social/political statement. And most importantly, the two most important characters in the saga, Luke and Leia, felt badly mishandled. The former fell short of what should have been a by-the-numbers bad ass moment and the latter had the perfect opportunity to exit the story in a powerful sequence that was, inexplicably, immediately undone for no clear reason. These felt like tremendous missteps and are just a few of some issues that can be raised in all fairness.

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But those things aside where the film excelled, to me, was developing it’s new characters. Poe Dameron is by far the strongest of the bunch and doesn’t feel like the two dimensional dashing fighter pilot who only fighter pilots and dashes. Instead, he has something that Abrams will have to Google: an arc. The dynamic between Rey and Kylo was genuinely compelling and added some much needed depth to both of their motivations. Both are struggling to figure out a sense of identity and purpose. Both have been, in different ways, misled and deceived by parental figures and both will have to move out from under those shadows in the next installment. Although I’m sure the reveal about Rey’s parentage probably infuriated a lot of people, I found it to be deeply satisfying and even, to a degree, antithetical to the whole idiotic Midichlorian explanation from the prequels. This concept that the Force can come from anywhere and anyone, that anyone can be a part of this great power that surrounds everything is a lovely concept and reminded me of what was so special about the very first Star Wars. That before the big twist in Empire Strikes Back, even a poor, lowly farmhand from some backwater desert planet can stand up against an evil empire and make a difference.

This is why I believe the movie succeeds and I found it inspiring in that way, with it’s recurring themes of hope and a final sequence that sent chills down my spine. While it definitely has plot holes and unanswered question throughout, so did the Original Trilogy. So do the prequels. So does The Force Awakens. Random Twitter user: “ the closing minutes of Rogue One with Vader in the hallway is a million times better than this entire movie.” This guy right here makes my point. A lot of fans, in a lot a ways justifiably, really just want to see their favorite toys smashing up against each other on screen. And that’s cool. I understand you didn’t get that this weekend. Instead, we got a movie by a different auteur director, a movie about hope and identity, about new characters taking over an old franchise and while I’ll never blaspheme to the point of comparing it to Empire Strikes Back, a lot of people didn’t like that one when it came out either. You know what we loved right awayThe Phantom Menace. I’d be willing to bet with a little time and perspective some of this vitriol is going to die down and it can be appreciated sincerely for what it does right and if it doesn’t, well, at least JJ is coming back to save/recycle the day for the die-hards.

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Dunkirk: The Blood-Dimmed Tide

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That it's taken me almost a full week to process my reaction to Dunkirk should say a lot about the effect of the film. I'll usually watch a movie like this twice, once for the experience, a second time for the craft but my first thoughts after exiting the theater was that it was going to be a long time before I am prepared for that repeat viewing. No, I went in thinking this was going to be another war flick, another Nolan vehicle with some clever structure or idea that would engage my brain but about a third of the way into the story a thought surfaced like an enemy submarine in my mind: I am not prepared for this. And then it got worse. This is not to say it's bad or torturous, just that it's the most mature, relentless, grueling film that Chris Nolan has made so far, it fully establishes him as one of the preeminent writer/directors working today and if it doesn't snag him his Oscar in one of the two big categories I'm burning the whole building down to the ground.

Part of the reason I wasn't prepared for Dunkirk is that it's been a long time since I went to the theater to see an actual film film, as opposed to a Marvel movie or a popcorn summer comedy blah blah blah. I watch the heavier stuff at home where I can pause and control the pace or take a minute to distance myself from the ending of, let's say, Okja, that had me blubbering like a small child whose balloon had floated away. Instead, Nolan takes one of his greatest skills, building and compounding tension until it reaches some breathless, seemingly unending stress test, that he normally reserves for the second or third act of his movies and just does that from frame one of Dunkirk. The entire movie is an escalation of suspense that is a little difficult to watch at times as the existential nightmare relentlessly closes in on these laconic, defeated soldiers waiting on the beaches of France. Stylistically, this is going to be called a minimalist masterpiece in visual storytelling, deservedly so, but the real literal unseen champion of the film is also in the sound design which is fucking terrifying.

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The other thing that left me unprepared was my familiarity with both the history of the event and with war films in general. How much suspense could a movie create if you already know how it's going to end? A lot, it turns out. Particularly if there is no grand or epic score from James Horner or John Williams to tell you what to feel and when. Dunkirk is unique in that sense, it hits none of the normal beats that a war movie will do. No one is in charge, not really. There's no funny guy, or tough guy, or a hero type. To be completely honest, there really is very little actual combat that takes place outside of the aerial dogfights and nary a word of exposition or personal history from any of the principle characters. We never actually see the German army, which I found incredibly refreshing, too many WWII films turn into Nazi fetishism. Instead, the audience is left with the grim realities of the world coming apart at the seams. Something I like to keep in mind whenever I start a new book or a show on the subject, is that we view the second World War from the perspective of the victors. But, at the time, success, and as in Dunkirk, even survival, was far from certain. Before the events of The Miracle of Dunkirk, as Nolan points out, it was truly the darkest hour of Western Civilization to this point in history. If a killing blow had been struck, as it almost certainly was about to be, England and the rest of the United Kingdom have no standing army to defend against invasion. If England falls there is no need for legitimate defenses on the Western Front and Nazi Germany turns the full brunt of its forces on Russia and, instead of being stopped within sight of Moscow's towers, rolls on through, potentially knocking their last remaining foe out of the fight, thus completely securing Fortress Europa. This is assuming the North African campaign takes on a lower priority since the oil fields needed by the Reich would be supplemented by the Caucuses regions in….

Anyway. After a few days I changed my mind, I will be seeing Dunkirk again in the near future, specifically, in the theater because that's what the movie is designed for. Nolan is a film purist, a snob in the right kind of way who is keeping the actual medium (as opposed to digital) alive, and who rails against Netflix's distribution model or lack thereof. His theater is a sacred place and this is perfectly true of his latest. It feels important and it was difficult trying to start a review of a movie that just needs to be experienced, because that's what it was, an experience. Afterwards, I felt like I'd been through some shit, as opposed to having just sat in a comfortable chair eating a soft baked pretzel with a beer. The best description and compliment I can give Dunkirk is that after a good movie, I can talk about it freely, I like selling people on something that deserves to be seen. A really good movie will make me think and I'll compose some pretentious think piece on the themes and concepts explored. But this film left me speechless. I was sobbing a little with all kinds of emotions while I tried to remember where I parked my car and I made it about five minutes up the road before I broke down into an ugly cry. And what followed was that remarkable release of emotions, of, again, that tension, and it was as cathartic of a feeling as I've had at the theater in a long time. After years of being coddled and tickled by summer blockbuster fare and tentpole franchises, it feels good to be reminded what cinema and Christopher Nolan are capable of. Is this my favorite film of his? No. I probably won't throw it on in the background while I fold laundry or nurse a hangover some day. Is this his best film so far? Almost certainly, and that's saying quite a bit. Just. Be prepared.

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Spider-Man: Homecoming- Feels Like Summer

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This is going to be a less popular opinion than most and I usually don’t like taking a superior position to mainstream reviews but Spider-Man: Homecoming, in its perfectly safe, Marvel-approved, inoffensive, and un-challenging little package, feels much closer to a big budget special series of Agents of SHIELD than an actual addition to the Cinematic Universe. In fact, Spidey feels completely relegated to the JV squad throughout and, for an OG fan from back in the day, this is enormously disappointing. There are major issues with both of the previous film incarnations but one thing that they both did very well, that I now realize was taken for granted, is depict that sense of independence, ingenuity, and self-reliance Peter Parker has always had in the face of adversity and in Homecoming all those things are removed. Instead, this is once again Tony Stark’s world and we’re all just living in it and for Spider-Man to practically require permission and approval from Iron Man to be a superhero on a constant basis was massively frustrating. That aside, Tom Holland is more than capable and a real joy to watch and I get they are trying to reboot the character from scratch but this literal Marvel fanboy, this bumbling, insecure goof, this ain’t my Spider-Man.

Holy Blogpost McBloggington is this movie meta. Like. So meta. There are shots at all kinds of things from the previous Spider-Man movies to the unusual new hotness of Aunt May to Ferris Bueller (?!) to Donald Glover being…. weird Donald Glover. It’s self-aware to the point that I was starting to worry the post-credits sequence would just be a camera view from inside the theater just behind our heads. But this also allows the filmmakers and all six of the credited screenwriters to really have fun with the material which translates really well to the audience Marvel is aiming for: the casual summer blockbuster crowd. More devoted fans of the franchise (i.e. nerds and geeks and me) are going to call out Homecoming for being a big glowing pastiche of what has worked 17 or so times before, minus the stakes. To reference it again, the unfairly maligned Agents of SHIELD has plotlines that easily outmatch this film in terms of scale and scope and the final battle that takes place could have easily been lifted from the small screen. To put a finer point on it, nothing that happens in Spider-Man: Homecoming was an experience unique to the character in particular. To put an even finer point on it, any of the B-List heroes in the Marvel oeuvre could have substituted for Spider-Man at any point in this story and it wouldn’t have mattered. In fact, his actual powers, when not absent entirely, are occasionally inadequate or mocked throughout the movie which brings me to another complaint.

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At some point RDJ is going to bow out of the role and although I will certainly miss the actor’s undeniable charm and wit, my goodness, is Iron Man becoming the deus ex machina of the MCU. He really has turned into the Marvel equivalent of Superman crossed with a Swiss Army Knife where the question becomes, “Why bother have any other superheros show up, Tony Stark probably has an Iron Man suit that can handle it.” His suit is now some combination of Inspector Gadget and the original ’66 Batman utility belt which, luckily, has shark-repellent spray equipped because of course it does. When there are no restrictions on a character’s abilities there is no sense of suspense, no tension and Iron Man has become the screenwriter’s foil; it’s a lazy way to resolve any situation and making Peter Parker basically dependent on one of those suits to do everything is tragic beyond description. Okay, maybe not that bad, but this, again, ain’t my Spider-Man. This also presents the opportunity to make the same AI jokes all over again with a female version of JARVIS, this time voiced by Jennifer Connelly who is, in real life, married to Paul Bettany who voiced the actual JARVIS and is now Vision because META.

Okay, all kvetching aside, where Spider-Man: Homecoming undeniably succeeds is off the clock. The high school setting, this time around with convincing teenage actors as opposed to 30 year old men wearing backpacks, is as much fun as you’re going to have at the theater this summer. The whole cast is a joy, even the bully Flash Thompson, now Guatemalan instead of white and Thor-like, is kind of funny while being a jerk to Penis Peter. A particular surprise was one of my primary objections when the film was first being cast and it’s a complaint that got me in a lot of trouble with some female friends on social media. Up until the announcement of her role, I had never heard of nor did I know what was a ‘Zendaya’ and when I looked her up I recoiled in disbelief. I understand that she is a talented performer and actress, that I get, but my first impression was that she looked like someone had taken a Bratz doll and magically brought it to life. This is not a shot at her to be insulting, she’s undeniably beautiful but she’s also, in my mind, unrealistically beautiful. She’s a product of the fashion world, which is a world that I have no place in or love of, and I could not comprehend her existing alongside Peter Parker, who is destined to be a lowly newspaper photographer struggling to make ends meet. Lo the wrath I took on Facebook for objecting to unrealistic beauty standards. However, I will freely admit to judging a book by its cover, unfairly so, because this ‘Zendaya’ has some comedic timing. She was interesting and weird, if in a Disney Channel kind of way, and I look forward to whatever direction they are going with her, even if we have to wait for the sequel to find out what that is going to be. Plus, Michael Keaton is a national treasure. Seriously, just… be in more movies, dude.

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Is Spider-Man: Homecoming the Spider-Man movie we’ve been waiting for? The one we deserve? The redeemer of the franchise and the character? Sure, if you want it to be. I, however, will be waiting on the rest of the movies to find out. Because, as I’ve said before, this is not my Spider-Man but it’s not really supposed to be. The Web-Head I looked up to was closer to the kind of man that I wanted to be like: funny, independent, maybe a little bit lonely but certain of his responsibility. And seeing this nascent version of that man is okay, I forget that it’s not always my turn. Hopefully, the darker, more mature themes that made the Wallcrawler so compelling will find their way back into this version someday, but until then this will do just fine, in fact, it sincerely is an absolute blast from start to finish and is probably the funniest film in the entire canon. That being said, I really hope that Kevin Feige and company stop painting by numbers at some point and let these characters films grow up. The one thing that kept nagging at me from the beginning was the quaint, solitary SONY logo that appears before the opening sequence of the movie. After the scene plays out the MARVEL fanfare begins with it’s massive logo and hero cutaways and a jaunty version of the 80s Spider-Man theme plays, and you realize who is really in charge. These movies can continue to be a lot of fun without saying anything or taking any chances and if that’s what Marvel wants to keep doing, that’s certainly within their now considerable influence and power. But even though they left the man out with only so much as a passing mention, I remember what a certain someone had to say about great power.

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The Red Pill: Us Versus Them

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I went into The Red Pill, a documentary on the Men’s Right’s Movement directed by self-identifying Feminist Cassie Jaye, fully expecting my eyes to roll right out of the side of my head halfway through as I was largely prepared for the vitriolic, infantile babble that can often be found on Reddit, the comments section of YouTube, Facebook, and elsewhere whenever there is some women only screening of a movie or a female actress cast in a traditionally male role but something odd happened about five minutes in that I did not anticipate and it’s the same thing that seems to have happened to Ms. Jaye herself; I found they were making some interesting and often valid points.

*ducks incoming projectiles*

To be clear, a lot of the metaphors being used by some of the MRAs were inherently flawed, if well-intentioned. The first had to do with lumping all MRAs into the same group being similar to judging a snowdrift by analyzing one individual flake within it. Now. I understand the comparison, there is clearly a broad spectrum within this relatively fringe group and a few of the men interviewed were obviously educated and rational but when they start giving examples of, let’s say, gender inequality within the justice system with regard to custody battles and alimony, they end up using personal and, therefore, anecdotal evidence to describe a very large and complex system (like a snowdrift) that is unarguably flawed. This doesn’t necessarily invalidate their entire argument, as much as it encourages a necessary conversation on how gender biases can create injustices for all parties involved. And this is where Cassie Jaye does the thing that has not, to my knowledge or on a large enough scale, been practiced yet with regard to this movement: she listens. Rather than debate or try to deconstruct the logic of the men (and women) she interviews who identify and support this idea of Men’s Rights, she just sits back and pays attention to what they are trying to say. 

Having grown up with Michael Moore’s “documentary” style and The Daily Show since the Kilborn days, I can’t recall the last time I saw a piece on such a controversial and polarizing subject that was not in any way antagonistic or combative. If that’s the one thing that Cassie Jaye does best and most effectively in The Red Pill she also presents an undeniably skewed perspective that heavily favors the MRA side of the discourse. The men and women on the side of the movement are invariably its most grounded, well-spoken, educated supporters whereas the Feminist movement is represented by its most aggressive, shrill, disruptive agitators, the folks that carry signs to speaking engagements and chant ‘fuck this person’ on public streets and pull fire alarms as an act of civil disobedience. And this is an unfair representation of both sides because not all Feminists are total assholes, as the examples shown absolutely are, and not all MRAs are grounded, well-spoken, and educated; a whole lot of them are exactly as misogynistic, vile, and rape culture-y as they are depicted. But the idea that I think Cassie Jaye is trying to get across, and understand herself over the progress of the documentary, is that this concept of ‘sides’ is the first mistake that everyone is making, in particular with regard to Feminism.

At a later point in the documentary, Cassie interviews a woman who identifies as ‘Big Red’ who is, for all intents and purposes, an offensive caricature of an Angry Feminist/Social Justice Warrior come to life, she’s the embodiment of everything that the movements are known and, often, hated for and there’s a good reason for this: she’s a fucking idiot. Big Red is loud and curses a lot and not in a cool way, in a ‘Will you shut the fuck up while I’m talking again for, like, the billion-jillionth time…‘ (actual quote) and refers to the person she’s debating as a ‘dipshit’ among other things. After she tries to make the case that her Feminism is about gender equality across the board, her defense of why women are disproportionately favored in custody battles regardless of extenuating circumstances consists of, essentially, ‘Well, uhm, women have vaginas so, of course, their going to almost always be the more appropriate choice to be the caregiver.” Which is an argument in support of gender roles.

The point that is trying to be made, and something I am 100 percent guilty of contributing to, is that when the phrase Men’s Rights is used it is immediately perceived as being an attack on everyone who is not a man, it has a inherently aggressive connotation, and when I first heard it I thought the same thing as some of the more intelligible Feminists in The Red Pill. I thought, PATRIARCHY, and ‘men make more money than women’, and ‘oh boo hoo men are getting their feelings hurt’. Which is insensitive and reductive. And while I’m not agreeing with the entire premise of the movement itself, I failed to recognize the simple fact that I was perpetuating the ultimate problem behind, well, pretty much everything wrong with humanity; I was refusing to listen first and then formulate a thought. Because the assumption that I was making is that the MRA movement was somehow about fighting back against rights that were being taken away by the Feminist movement. I assumed that it was an attempt to reverse the progress that has been made to get everyone on equal footing and I incorrectly associated internet trolls with an actual message that was trying to be shared.

That message is just this: gender inequality is bad, period. And some times it swings the other way with regard to domestic violence, false paternity, alimony, child custody, and the odd circumstance where women are always evacuated from a sinking ship first. And that while it’s absolutely important to continue trying to advance equality for both genders it’s not exactly fair to say my issues matter and yours do not. Or more accurately as it is almost always phrased, my issues matter so fuck you, you little crybaby for bringing up your own, how dare you complain at all. The Red Pill also does not explore the darker side of the Men’s Rights Movement, the doxxing, the rape and death threats, the truly misogynistic crazies that misappropriate the entire concept who are sincerely afraid some kind of Amazonian Matriarchy is coming for our video games (absolutely fuck Gamergate while we’re on the subject) and if not acknowledging them was a conscious decision to avoid validating that aspect of it, I understand, however in not doing so the documentary fails to be as illuminating as it could have been. Instead, it feels cherry-picked which is not the worst thing considering how polarizing the subject matter is, it’s not meant to be the definitive article on MRA. Rather, it’s an introduction, the beginning of a conversation, one that I’m surprised to be more interested in and much more prepared for, now that I remembered how to stop trying to win every argument and just listen to what the other side has to say, even if, at first glance, they seem like a bunch of nut jobs. 

Wonder Woman: All The World’s Waiting

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Going into Wonder Woman, as I occasionally do, I was preparing an introduction or opening ahead of time that would address whatever rumors or controversy happened to be affecting a film at the time of its release which, here in Austin anyway, is this bunch of stupidity.  I had some snappy riposte, some witty insult prepared because I absolutely cannot stand this nonsense “Men’s Right’s” movement on the internet, I have nothing but contempt for it and its perpetrators. “Hmm, ….maybe not everything is about me.” – A quote from none of the people protesting a women-only screening of Wonder Woman.

But those thoughts and preparations evaporated from my mind about ten or fifteen minutes into the film for one simple and satisfying reason: I was having too much fun. Who cares what those folks think, the important thing is that DC and Warner Bros. have finally broken their streak of tepid, uninspired, soulless comic book adaptations and discovered the real joy that can be found in these stories and they did it with an unproven lead, an Academy recognized indie director, and a whole lot of moxie.

One of my favorite criticisms of Batman 5 Superman: Decolletage of Jurisprudence that perfectly and effectively cuts to the core problem with that film comes from comic book nerd, podcaster, and occasional filmmaker Kevin Smith, saying, “There seems to be a fundamental lack of understanding of what these characters are about. It’s almost like Zack Snyder didn’t read a bunch of comics, he read one comic once, and it was The Dark Knight Returns, and his favorite part was the last part where Batman and Superman fight.” Not being a particular fan of DC myself,  I was shocked to discover the animated incarnations of the Justice League on Netflix, such as Justice League: War and The Flashpoint Paradox were really fun and entertaining (here’s a lovely moment in the former that is directly lifted by the movie and is not a spoiler). The characters in DC comics actually have personalities and pathos and I wanted to see more. And unlike the Snyder interpretations, I didn’t feel depressed and exhausted after spending time with them. This is where Patty Jenkins, screenwriter Allan Heinberg, and Gal Gadot truly succeed with Wonder Woman: they figured out what makes her tick, what makes her naive optimism incredibly charming without it making her weak or foolish and that, despite being something of a fish out of water, her constitution or agency are in no way affected. She is, in some ways, analogous to Captain America in that way and the same thing I love about him I love about her. In an era of anti-heroes and tragic origin stories it’s incredibly refreshing to find a hero who does the right thing because it’s the right thing, who aren’t essentially trying to save themselves out of some misbegotten guilt complex but rather want to save the world simply because it needs saving.

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There is undeniably an undercurrent of inclusiveness running through Wonder Woman with an ethnically diverse cast that stands out anachronistically the same way as Steve Roger’s troupe did in Captain America: The First Avenger but there is also a casual self-awareness to it. The character Sameer (portrayed by Moroccan actor Saïd Taghmaoui) points out to Diana after her observation about gender roles, “I wanted to be an actor but… I am the wrong color (shrug). Everyone is fighting their own battle.” It also feels like the film wanted to say a lot more on the subject but was streamlined for wide release, which is understandable however I am hoping there will be an extended or Director’s cut that explores these characters in more detail. Ironically, although the inclusion of people of different ethnic and cultural backgrounds is a nice gesture, without taking the time to flesh them out they end up seeming to be exactly what was trying to be avoid: two dimensional stereotypes. Points for the effort, though.

Now for the bad, because make no mistake, there is bad and it’s all in the third act. Anyone familiar with the other films in the series, at this point, is going be able to precisely mark the line of demarcation where the unique, endearing origin story is awkwardly and forcibly shunted into the rest of the DC Cinematic Universe, where Zach Snyder (thoughts and prayers with his family, by the way, all commentary aside) gets his dumb, clumsy hands all over the story and turns it into a murky, smoky, noisy exercise in smashing CGI actors together in front of a green screen. Don’t get me wrong, the heart and soul remain intact but are largely pushed into the background so that the movie can turn into everything that was dull and visually exhausting about the final battle in BvS:DoJ. There is also a completely nonsensical and unexplained head-fake in the final act that really has no place or necessity that I can come up with other than to simply have a twist of the sake of itself. This doesn’t entirely ruin anything since the whole last act feels so incongruous with the rest of the film anyway, but it does somewhat distract from the real emotional impact of the finale during which someone in the theater was inexplicably chopping onions near or around my vicinity. Which was weird, but hey, that’s what Austin is all about, right.

I’m just kidding, I cried like a little boy whose balloon floated away. Because movie. 

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Bottom line, what is good about Wonder Woman more than makes up for its deficiencies, it is without a doubt DC’s best extended universe offering and a sign that Warner and company’s course corrections seem to be in the right direction. There is a real concern for me, however, that the Diana, Princess of the Amazons, the sweet, sincere warrior with the mega-watt smile and an indefatigable sense of duty I found in this film is not going to be the Wonder Woman we get in the upcoming Justice League, that she will be replaced by some grizzled, bitter, steely-eyed grimace in a superhero outfit without any of the charm or personality. And if that’s the case, I’ll be severely disappointed. And then I’ll go back and watch Wonder Woman again because there’s this one part where she FLYING KNEE KICKS THIS DUDE THROUGH A DAMN WALL and it’s like KABLOOOOOM and she goes flying out after him and the music is like BWAOOWEDDDY BWAAAAAAAAOOOOW and you’re like, “HELL, YEAH.” Girl power.

 

 

 

Twin Peaks: The Return, Parts 1-4

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David Lynch, to the uninitiated, is a big ol’ weirdo in the sense that he’s one of the most brilliant and influential filmmakers of the last thirty years or so who is rarily talked about in the same breath as the other greats to come out of the 70s and 80s. His first film originally took him 7 years to complete and the grotesque experimental steam-punk nightmare Eraserhead immediately caught the eye of several other big name mainstream directors. George Lucas came knocking and offered him Return of the Jedi but Lynch went with the much more bizarre and difficult to adapt science fiction film Dune. He then went on to creep out the film landscape with surrealistic noir-ish thrillers like Blue Velvet and Mulholland Drive however categorizing them in that way does his work a massive disservice. David Lynch is, in reality, a genre all his own, particularly in the sense that a Lynch piece and reality are rarely in the same room together and although most of his films have gone on to achieve a cult-status in one way or another, the most mainstream success that Lynch has ever experienced was Twin Peaks.

How a writer depicts their characters can say a lot about how they interpret the people and the world around them and if this example is to be taken with Lynch it’s that he usually depicts them as either hapless rubes with dark secrets or sadistic monsters hiding in human flesh. There’s a consistent hokiness to each and every one of his innocent characters and normally this might be attributed to a talented technical or artistic director who is not great with actors. But this particular scene in Mulholland Drive refutes that. No, each and every detail means something and is intentional either to the story or, most importantly to Lynch, to create an atmosphere. And it’s this thing that pilots his work, a dream-like quality of impermanence and haunting, often deeply disturbing imagery with no regard for the audience’s well-being or permission that makes him the unique voice that he is.

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That stilted cloying quality that is found in many of the characters in Twin Peaks lends itself to one of his favorite tropes: affectionately depicting every day modern Americana and then stripping it down layer by layer to reveal some macabre underbelly of sexuality and violence. This is exemplified at the beginning of Blue Velvet when two teenage lovers go strolling through a picturesque park on a spring day only to stumble upon a severed human ear laying in the middle of the grass; it’s the juxtaposition of the familiar with the morbid. Twin Peaks, in this way, is more a parody of the popular soap operas in the 80s and 90s as depicted by a master of surrealistic horror and unfortunately the original series doesn’t exactly stand up over time. The ultimate mystery of who killed Laura Palmer is still thrilling and beautifully foreshadowed but there are so many side plots, some of them brutally obnoxious, and so many drawn out sequences of people weeping while holding each other as the maudlin musical score drones on it’s not going to be easy for modern audiences to absorb.

In the new Showtime revival of Twin Peaks much of the fat has been trimmed away and with the restrictions of network television have been lifted the results are much closer to his film work than the original TV series. While this might actually alienate both newcomers and fans of the original the only question that remains is whether or not it can stand alone as its own incarnation and in this it largely succeeds at being David Lynch’s vision. It feels like his universe and his imagination which, is to say, pant-shittingly frightening, indescribably weird, and more than a little funny. More specifically, it looks, feels, and sounds like nothing else out there and if there was any concern that he may have lost some of his edge with age it’s unfounded. As a director and the sound designer, he still so effectively fucks with the viewer at times it’s difficult not feeling like someone put the wrong kind of mushrooms on your pizza.

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As referenced by another publication, Twin Peaks: The Return might be the only show on television right now that can’t be spoiled in the traditional sense. For instance, (minor but obvious spoiler) the series opens with the first obstacle that the audience would expect: Agent Dale Cooper must find a way to escape the Black Lodge. And he does, kind of, but it’s less about the if and more about the how. And it’s just something that has to be experienced personally. Adjectives fail in the same way that someone describing a dream is never interesting because it’s so difficult to encapsulate what that dream really felt like, the familiar strangeness of it. This is the language that Lynch trades in, his canvas is that dreamscape where things sometimes are more sincere and important than what is happening in the real world or rather, his version of it.

It’s a good thing that Showtime is releasing the series in increments rather than all at once, it’s a show that shouldn’t be lumped in with the current binge-watching trend. At the risk of coming off cliche, David Lynch is an artist, not some Johnny Come-Lately with a camera and a dream and his work deserves to be processed, to be dissected in the way that only the internet can. Before there was Lost or The X-Files there was Twin Peaks and although it is way too early in the revival’s run to stake any predictions, Lynch might be the only one of the three capable of a satisfying ending.

HA! Just kidding. What the shit was that talking brain synapse/tree in the Black Lodge. What the hell did Dougie throw up on the ground and who was the eyeless lady who got knocked into space? WHAT WAS WITH THAT FLOATING TALKING FACE?! That was as much of an rational article as I could write without the utter insanity breaking through. More to come when the next part of the series is released….