The Western, that forlorn, mystical genre that formed the girders of the American cinematic imagination, has been a boomin’ over the past decade. After a long quarter century no man’s land for the genre, something got in the air in the mid-’00s and the genre was popular again. We had the grisly tone poem The Proposition that found the historical and ideological connection between American and Australian history. We had the trio of stupendous 2007 efforts, No Country for Old Men, There Will Be Blood, and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, which interpreted the Western through the lens of the 1980s, the early 1900s, and the classic period, respectively. We had Tommy Lee Jones provide two deeply classical studies in anti-classicism in The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada and The Homesman, both infatuated with and critical of the violent “proper” masculinity of American society. The Western has become, as it always was in film, a prismatic, malleable creature prone to variations and styles and impulses that fitted it to the needs of the nation and the passions of the cast and film crew. Continue reading
David Cronenberg is and probably always will be at his most passionate when flesh is falling off the bone and limbs are no longer limbs. That much is certain, and it is a shame that he’s spent the past decade wallowing away in prestige picture land, something never more true than in his 2011 would-be biopic A Dangerous Method. Good God, it is a turn of the century costume drama when all is said and done. And the absolute last thing we need is David Cronenberg making costume dramas. Continue reading
Watching Prometheus provokes more of a shrug than anything, but it’s not an entirely hopeless shrug. It misses the mark, but it’s reasonably entertaining in doing so, has at least one terrifying scene, and ponders big questions about the nature of the world and the relationship between science and religion. Thankfully, it doesn’t give easy answers either, but that comes off more as a result of not addressing the questions as much as it could have.
The narrative, as it is, plays kind-of like a remake of Ridley Scott’s first Alien film even though it insists on its prequel status. Essentially, a bunch of characters venturing to a far-off alien land meet the neighbors before everything goes awry. The film is, thankfully, sufficiently meaty and fleshy to earn its semi-horror stamp, but it’s more interested in pondering things like science vs. religion and man’s ego and “what is man?” and all those tried-and-true sci-fi ideas that, to be honest, used to be a whole lot more interesting before they were pummeled to death. A bigger problem, however, is that the film feels like a weird off-the-wall mixture of body-horror and kind-of incoherent, esoteric sci-fi musings about “the state of things”. I’m all for a game attempt at style-bending, but this one bounces from evisceration to idea to evisceration to idea and it’s awfully easy to walk away waving your hands up in confusion and never really being able to put them down. The film tries a lot and doesn’t succeed especially well at any one thing, but at least it is trying a lot in the first place. Continue reading
Update 2018: I was skeptical of this film when it was released, but after having read the phenomenally astute political Molotov of a comic book of the same name, with its observations on state privatization and racial incarceration all folded into a 1981 critique of neo-conservatism and neoliberalism as fascism, the movie’s neutralized, domesticated politics and thoroughly un-transgressive social observations feel all the more banal and negligent.
Final paragraph edited for clarity’s sake
X-Men: Days of Future Past is an ambitious project, attempting to bridge two timelines, a boatload of characters and numerous political positions and wrap them all up in a cohesive, action-packed whole. Furthermore, the film seems to realize how ambitious it is. It’s all fairly confusing, but it at least rightfully understands it really doesn’t need to, and in fact shouldn’t, get involved with logical loopholes. Explaining things, as Professor X does in an early scene, often makes things worse, dragging down and only opening up more questions the film inevitably won’t have time to answer. It’s better to keep things simple and streamlined in films like this, lest everything get too self-important. Continue reading
As a history major in college, I’ve taken numerous classes specializing on slavery in the US. I thought I could understand something of the history, the pain, the suffering, the anguish. I thought, to whatever extent it was possible for a white kid in the early 21st century to know, I knew. I was wrong. Sitting in the theater watching 12 Years a Slave, I felt the inescapable grasp of history around my neck, and I couldn’t do anything about it. Never before have I felt so clearly and achingly the tragedies upon which America is built. I felt helpless. My reaction was visceral; I gritted my teeth, I began to shake uncontrollably, all the more so when I realized how, even with 12 Years a Slave, I still couldn’t “know” fully. 12 Years a Slave is the best “Oscar” film in the better part of a decade. But it isn’t just a great film, it’s a necessary one, and it is all the more so because it is painfully aware of what it leaves out of the story and what we may never know. As a story, it plays out in insinuating gazes and implicating glances, all fissures into history that demand that we confront the film not as an objective portal into the past but as a subjective interpretation of it. Continue reading