Barbican Comic Forum
00000000 / Kraken
…and welcome to the London Graphic Novel Network Film Club’s 2018 in Review.
We tried this last year with our Book Club (see: Book Club / 2017 in Review) and it seemed to work pretty well so we thought we’d try it with our Film Club and see how it works…
The basic idea is: you can pretty much write whatever you want. 🙂
Here’s the ground rules:
1. Yep. You can talk about any film you like
It doesn’t need to have come out this year. It doesn’t even have to be something that you liked. If there was a film that you really hated then you can talk about that. Or maybe you felt massively lukewarm about it. The only real requirement is that it’s something that you’ve seen in this past year and there’s something you want to say about it. (You’re also welcome to lobby for any particular film that you feel like the LGNN Film Club should do in the future if you feel like it…).
2. Name the film in bold at the start of what you write
That way if someone wants to see it and they don’t wanna get spoiled then they can just skip over it with no harm done. (Also if you can find some images from the film and include them – then that would be cool too).
3. Please don’t just recount the plot / tell us what you think
Instead of just writing a synopsis (yawn) try this – Talk about what you liked (or didn’t like) about it. But grabbed you / what left you cold. What it did well / what it could have done better. How it made you feel. What kind of things it made you think about. All that good stuff. 🙂
4. If someone else has already mentioned a film then don’t worry – that’s ok
This isn’t a first come / first served thing. If someone else has mentioned a film then it’s not off the table – you can still write about it all you want. Ideally we don’t just want lots of solipsistic thoughts floating separately from each other so yeah – if someone mentions a film and you have a differing view please feel free to share (just you know obviously – try to play nice).
5. If you want to talk about a film that the LGNN Film Club has already done then that’s cool too
I’ve often been told that three weeks is never long enough. So if we talked about a film this year and you felt like there was stuff you wanted to say about it that you didn’t get a chance to say – then now’s the time… Go crazy.
So. I think that’s it. Hopefully should be fun and interesting. If you’re still unsure then just take a quick look at the one we did last year to get an idea of how it works and well yeah – the rest is up to you…
Here’s a few to get us started…
Directed by Panos Cosmatos
I have a pet theory that the best films are those which are just a series of outlandish images all knotted together with a story that takes you there in a way that makes sense. Faces dissolving into each other? Tigers being released from their cages? A demon in a gimp suit standing in front of a burning car? A church in the shape of a KKK hood lit from purple light? A chainsaw fight to the death? Nicolas Cage half screaming / half sobbing the line: “Crazy… Evil“?
This feels a little like a cheat seeing how I only just watched it last night but well yeah – what a trip. Altho it feels like the core audience is more hardcore metal fans and people into really gnarly messed up stuff: fantasy paperback covers from the 80s – demons and axes and goblins and stuff: synths and heavy metal guitars. Which isn’t really stuff that I’m particularly into (I’m more my sci-fi obviously). But yeah wow – even tho it’s not really my particular wheelhouse I’ve gotta admit: this film worked on me which I guess I wasn’t really expecting. I saw Beyond The Black Rainbow (Panos Cosmatos’ first film) back when it first came out and even tho the soundtrack is something I still like to listen to now – the rest of the film just left me cold and felt more like a poorly padded out joke than anything. Lots of lovely images I’ll admit – but all tied to a story that was vague, meandering and uninteresting – like listening to someone else describe their dreams to you.
The trick Mandy pulls off / gets right is that it’s underlying architecture is brutalist and strong. Boy has already met Girl. Look at how happy they are. Then the bad guys come. And then Boy goes out to seek bloody vengeance. It often seems to me that most people think that movies should be complex and intricate like a filmed novel but Mandy realises that there is a a unique power that cinema possesses when it skips higher brain functions and goes straight for the lizard part underneath: lots of super-bold, super-extreme, super-intense images one after another. I watched Kill Bill 1&2 last weekend (it still doesn’t really work for me it seems) and yeah – this might be simplistic maybe but Mandy kinda strikes me as the film that Kill Bill wanted to be: the cover of a VHS tape brought to life – sickening and thrilling in all the ways that you always wanted movies to be in a way that they never quite managed…
Not for everyone I know. But even that feels quite refreshing with all the movies that seem like they have been made for everyone and so in conclusion just feel: bland and tasteless and forgettable. And well… Mandy is none of those things.
Mission: Impossible – Fallout
Directed by Christopher McQuarrie
I think this is the only film in the last five years that I’ve paid money to go watch in the cinema twice. (Reckon the one before that was: Gravity so erm yeah). Basically I’m of the opinion that this is a perfect movie. Every part of it engineered to deliver the optimum amount of entertainment and excitement. I mean – fuck – even the camera angles and specific shots feel like they’ve been calculated to be as engrossing as possible (example that springs to mind: when Sean Harris is escorted off the helicopter – which could so easily have just been a standard medium shot that you’ve already seen a thousand million times before – Christopher McQuarrie makes it artistic: at one point even shooting below the stairs as the guards and stuff walk overhead). I mean: I saw this movie back in the summer but there’s so many bits of it that have stuck in my head in a way that I think speaks to it’s quality: every part of it feels purposeful and laboured over and thought about and yeah – I loved it.
Plus well yeah – it’s kinda messed up but also kinda beautiful to see a major tentpole Hollywood movie like this take such a principled ethical stance and make the case that every human life is sacred. Ethan’s refusal to sacrifice Luther over the plutonium cores (holy shit) at the time kinda feels like a miscalculation (wouldn’t you choose the life of one person over that of millions?) but in setting up Ethan Hunt’s morality versus Henry Cavill Agent Walker’s pragmatic / anything for the greater good style semi-nihilism actually results in one of the few action movies I’ve even where I unapologetically found myself rooting for the good guys. Maybe because they seemed like one of the very rare instances of a group worthy of the name.
Avengers: Infinity War
Directed by Anthony and Joe Russo
The films that I have enjoyed writing about the most in the Film Club are the ones that have haunted me. The decade long chase for Laputa; the Shelly Duvall expression in the long shot over Jack’s shoulder in the Shining; the problematic one liners in Fight Club. Certain things take up valuable real estate in my head and in the last few months Infinity War keeps nagging at me like a million piece jigsaw.
In many ways it’s a ridiculous film, but then Joel asked at the start of this blog for people to talk about their favourite films and I realised that my list changes daily and many of the films are far from perfect. Sleepy Hollow for example is an excellent movie but thinking about it the clincher is the cinematography and just checking IMDb oh look it’s the cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki who has a trillion Oscars. In that movie the plot is good, the cast is great but I just want to walk around in that world, preferably followed by a choir singing hauntingly behind me.
But that’s not why I like Infinity War. I like it because they realised the threat they promised so well. After a series of unconvincing villains Thanos takes down a spaceship full of gods and slaps the Hulk around at the beginning of the movie! It’s just amazing how they have managed to ratchet up the consequences so fast I am still genuinely grieving for Spider-Man even though the trailer for his new movie comes out in 5 days.
I used to watch a lot of Chinese films and the set up is “powerless heroine faces both institutional misogyny and a spiteful antagonist who makes their life a misery. As a glimmer of hope appears how will she break free? She doesn’t. She goes mad as she realises she lives in a prison inside a prison and her spirit is ground to dust by a system that callously destroys everything she holds dear.” This is basically the arc for every Avenger in Infinity War, but because these heroes have been so cosseted for so long it’s like Hannibal Lector showing up in Neighbours. Even the almost completely jeopardy free Ant Man and Wasp hammers this point home in the mid-credits sequence.
The brutal ramifications of this is that the MCU is now temporarily a sort of anarchy, and not the good News From Nowhere anarchy. Your life could be snuffed out with a click and not only could you not do anything about it, but even all the king’s horses and all the king’s men and all the kings personal all-female elite body-guard can’t do a thing about it. Oh and the King will also die. Thanos reports to no authority and not only can he do what he likes but he does something so utterly awful that I just can’t let it go. All credit to the filmmakers for earning this triumph and for making me give a shit about Captain Marvel.
Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse
Directed by Bon Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, and Rodney Rothman
One of the weird things about being super-busy all the time is that you end up in ridiculous situations like going to see Spider-Man and Sorry to Bother You on the same day. I was hoping it would be like a sort of appetiser then main course situation. It was not…
Because Spider-Man was so fucking good. I’m not gonna do a review and I’m not even gonna talk about how animation receives waay too little respect, and Spiderverse is like the World Cup of animation with several different styles competing for attention and yet somehow working together to create a solid coherent erm… Multiverse.
I want to draw attention (in spoiler free way) to the glorious Fourth Wall breaking bordering on vandalism in this film. This takes place on multiple layers with comic flourishes like onomatopoeia sound effects and text boxes; the characters narrating; the nods to previous episodes in the Spider-Man franchise; the Spider merchandise and restaurant franchise; but mainly the merciless expectation that you love Spider-Man. The film toys with the Lore like they’ve entered the god mode cheat and are free to roam the whole franchise, no, the whole concept with giddy abandon.
Of course I could just as easily be talking about Deadpool where the conversation with the audience is possibly the best thing in those movies. [smooth criminals down under] but Deadpool was FOR grown ups long jaded by countless Marvel movies. The whole joke was “you’re tired of this shit so let’s rejoice in mocking it’s tropes” it so self referential it closes down possibilities rather than new horizons for the genre.
Spiderverse’s combination of childlike delight with innocent sincerity means it can skip through the Spider-Man toyshop but with serious consequences for the story. The reviewing cliche is the film doesn’t talk down to the audience, but this film feels like it talks up to the audience, from people who want you to like Spider-Man much as much as they do.
Go and see it now or you might as well turn in your key to the London Graphic Novel Network’s secret underground lair!
Solo: A Star Wars Story
Directed by Phil Lord/ Chris Miller and Ron Howard
So I figured while I’m here I’d talk about Solo. Now it is not a “good” film but it’s definitely hard to hate. Not only does it have a lot to recommend it in terms of performances but it has this line:
It’s a simple aside thats lifted at least in part from Tangled but here’s the thing. It’s my favourite joke ever. There’s something about the genuine appreciation for what is clearly a hideous monster reverse-suplex of anti-sarcasm it employs that makes me wish I could deliver that line, but sadly I am incapable of expressing sincere emotion.
I’m trying to think of other examples and the only obvious one Adam’s Family: “Gomez, last night, you were unhinged. You were like some desperate, howling demon. You frightened me. [pause] Do it again!” But the entire film is based around that joke so it feels unearned.
The polar opposite is Rimmer’s immortal leaving speech… “over the years, I’ve come to regard you as… people… I… met.” which is also a thing of beauty but is almost default now. It’s the new “take my wife… please.” A dated relic of 90s snark which now plays out in the sort of centrist “they’re all as bad each other” political malaise which has killed mainstream satire stone dead.
Anyway yes that’s pretty much all I have to say about Solo, a film that had it’s moments but ultimately failed to deliver a thing literally no one asked for. Bah humbug.
Lots of people recommended this to me. Maybe because it was directed by Paul Verhoeven – who obviously I kinda love because how can you not? Robocop, Total Recall and Starship Troopers being one of the best loose film trilogies of all time… (see also: John Carpenter’s Apocalypse Trilogy) blah blah blah. But yeah obviously Elle is a very different creature to all of those – it’s more classy, more French, more art house.
I have this kinda – I don’t know – guilty conscious that we haven’t done more kinda art house stuff in the Film Club so far. Instead mostly going for more kinda Comic Book Movies. But then your typical art house kinda movie for me is one of those things that it’s kinda hard to actually make myself set down and watch. Elle was one my “To Watch” list for aaaaaaages but it seems like it’s never quite the time to want to sit down and watch a movie where the only thing you really know about it is – oh yeah: someone being raped. Which erm sorry / not sorry – isn’t really my idea of entertainment?
What’s funny is that about 40 minutes into it I was completely hooked. It was like being in a warm bath with lots of luxury soap. Isabelle Huppert doing lots of acting. All these different subplots bouncing around each other. She works for a video games company. Her son has hooked up with a woman she doesn’t like. She’s having an affair. Her neighbour is a bit dishy. Her ex-husband is seeing a new woman… Where’s this all going to go? What’s it’s all leading up to? (Grabs a fistful of popcorn). It’s like a proper grown-up movie for grown-up people.
Except… oh. By the time it ended it had kinda changed from this galloping thing into something limping instead… Like I thought it was pretty audacious when it kinda lifted the hood on one of it’s major mysteries about halfway through but then after that… meh. I mean the way that her relationship with her neighbor got darker and more messed up was… well… pretty interesting but then whoops – bish bash bosh in a way that just kinda felt like a contrivance than anything else and then that was pretty much it. Of course I realise that I’m leaving myself wide open here to anyone coming in and saying “oh yeah well you just don’t get all of the subtleties or whatever” but I don’t know – it just felt like such a typical kinda art house / foreign cinema type thing you know? Lots of people well-to-do people sitting around and talking in various locations. This kinda sense of unease spread over things because you didn’t really know what was going on – and lots of stuff that didn’t really add up to anything…
(Is it just me? But it really reminded me of Caché).
I know I sound like a man obsessed here – but there’s this John Lanchester article about Agatha Christie in the latest London Review of Books where he puzzles over what it is that has made Agatha Christie one of the most widest read novelists of all time… It’s a pretty good article that gets so close to the point but keeps missing it. It ends on this attempt at profundity saying
“Her work is a cocktail of orderly settings and deep malignity, of comfiness and coldness, and at its heart it asks one of the most basic questions of all, modernity’s recurring preoccupation: who are you? “
and at other points speaks about how “formalist” her qualities were:
“Her career amounts to a systematic exploration of formal devices and narrative structures, all through a genre with strictly defined rules and a specified character list… From within this narrow framework, Christie produced a range of formal experiments so extensive that it’s quite difficult to think of an idea she didn’t try, short of setting a Poirot novel in a school for wizards.”
But all of this I think mistakes the trees for the forest in the same way in much the same way that Elle and other films of it’s ilk do (sweeping generalisations ahoy!): the thing that’s important is story. The reason Agatha Christie endures and why people still want to read her (and I’m sure they’ll tell you if you ask them) isn’t because her work asks the basic question of modernity and it isn’t because her work systematical explores formal devices and narrative structures (although I’ll admit that’s often a byproduct) it’s because she tells good stories. And a good story will play with the form and shock you and surprise you and do all sorts of interesting things in order to give you an experience that you can’t get elsewhere.
There’s a Stanley Kubrick quote that William Goldman mentions at the end of his Which Lie Did I Tell? book which goes like this:
A good story is something with an interesting premise that builds logically to a satisfying and surprising conclusion.
As someone that often talks a lot about stories and what makes a good one – I love this quote because it captures something that I’ve often struggled to put into words. And it works as a good cudgel to talk about why Elle (and many films of it’s type) left me feeling… meh. I mean – I’ll allow it in terms of it’s premise but in terms of a conclusion that’s satisfying or surprising it doesn’t really deliver instead it just kinda left me with a feeling of… oh. Is that it? With all of the elements that made me feel so excited at the start – She works for a video games company. Her son has hooked up with a woman she doesn’t like. She’s having an affair. Her neighbour is a bit dishy. Her ex-husband is seeing a new woman – none of it really felt like their built upon each other you know? With all the best stories – every bit is essential and works towards creating the whole and if you take one piece away it basically all goes Jenga. But with Elle – I don’t know… it’s all just bits. And maybe you like the bits and maybe you don’t. But yeah well – watching it didn’t make me feel like a story had been told. Instead it’s more like… reading a novel.
Which I don’t think movies are about (but maybe you disagree?).
Sorry to Bother You
Directed by Boots Riley
In the excellent (but poorly named) podcast Hardcore History, Dan Carlin describes the wars of Ghengis Khan. After going to great pains to explain that there was nothing especially horrible or nasty about the Mongol army and that ALL armies behave this way he goes on to describe a victory feast by the Mongol army in Russia. “The generals and nobility of the Russian army were forced to lie down on the ground. Then a heavy wooden gate was thrown on top of them, chairs and tables were set on top of the gate, and the army sat down for a banquet… They held their victory celebration on top of the still-living bodies of their enemies, eating and drinking while Russian princes were crushed to death beneath their feet.” If this seems like callous disregard for human decency from the distant past, just the other day I saw someone standing on the left-hand side of the escalator at the tube station during rush hour.
The excellent “use your white voice” speech by Danny Glover in Sorry to Bother You is obviously about race, but he goes on to point out it’s not just an impression of white people, it’s about being free from the daily fear that you are one bad day away from being homeless; being imprisoned or shot by the police; being crushed to death under the banqueting table of people who much more vicious and cunning than you. The film’s built on the premjse that civilisation is merely a carefully cultivated illusion created for enough of the 2-5% to act as a buffer for the 1%.
While this point is definitely made, Sorry to Bother You doesn’t get into this nearly enough, preferring to go after the Silicon Valley tech bros. Rather than the creeping temptations of slowly but surely selling out your family, race and even species the choices for the main characters are very stark and abrupt letting down the film’s carefully constructed class struggle. That being said if the contrast is with the geological levels of rage and anguish in something like I, Daniel Blake or the self satisfied decadence of Wolf of Wall Street then I think it threaded the needle fairly well. I assume it makes me a terrible person but I’m not queuing up to see bleak tragedy endlesslycascading over helpless victims, especially when Croydon is just a few miles down the road.
The use of “whiteness” as a sort of super power is a great premise building on the furious satire of recent classics Get Out, and Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation, but feels a bit like the cinematic version of the Banksy art it references – bringing good helpings of comedy and moral outrage, while ultimately remaining superficial.
Barbican Comic Forum
00000000 / Kraken
Fair warning: I’m gonna spoil the fuck out of this film. But if you haven’t seen it at this point you probably never will. So yeah…
I was never really all that interested in seeing Passengers. The trailers made it look like schmaltzy nonsense. And the design of the space ship and all of the interiors made it seem like no real thought had been made: just blandness on top of blandness: yet another example of the overall aesthetic sense of this decade is basically… what? White light and curved lines all adding up to something that could be best described as “generic.” Like someone thought that Tron needed more beige.
Having now watched it – the most egregious example is the bar where android Michael Sheen hangs out. I mean: in terms of the framing and how Chris Pratt’s character is like a more metrosexual Jack Torrance without the family (or at least – a guy trying to stop himself becoming Jack Torrance) and Michael Sheen is basically a sci-fi version Lloyd: you’d think that maybe they would have studied the Shining a little more rather than just nabbing all of the (wrong) superficial details. Yes. They made the bar old-fashioned and fancy. Yes. They even decked it all out in gold.
But tell me – which setting best conveys the feeling of loneliness?
Or this one:
I mean: I know this is ironic to say about a film that’s set on spaceship – but it’s not rocket science guys. Just have lots of empty tables in the background and make the space just a little bit too large the rest kind of takes care of itself… Compare and contrast the image and angle of shopping mall above with this one:
I know which one makes me feel more creeped out.
Of course at this point if you haven’t seen Passangers you may be wondering what on earth I’m talking about. Isn’t this the film with Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence? I thought it was like a light and breezy romantic science-fiction flavoured thing? Like a Jojo Moyes thing only set in space.
Well yeah – but also no. Because here’s the thing that kinda blew my tiny little mind when I first started watching it: the first 30 minutes of the movie is basically about Chris Pratt spiraling down into suicidal depression and basically ends up looking like Kurt Russell’s miserable son…
How does this happen? Well – basically there’s this spaceship that’s going from Earth to some far-flung world and it’s going to take like 150 years to get there. The ship is full of people in hibernation pods programmed to be revived when they get to the new planet. Only – whoops – there’s an accident and Chris Pratt’s pod malfunctions and he’s woken up too early when there’s still like 90 years to go until they reach their destination and there’s no way he can go back into hibernation (don’t you hate it when that happens?). So basically – he’s all alone on a spaceship that he can’t control and he’s going to die alone and there’s nothing he can do.
I don’t know about you – but to me this is proper nightmare fuel (and one I wish the set design had done more to emphasize – but whatever I guess).
And basically happy Mr Chris “America’s Beefcake Sweetheart” Pratt gets more and more despondent and depressed (thus the beard) until we get to the point where he’s standing inside an airlock not wearing a spacesuit finger almost pressing the button to open up the door and send himself flying into the cold comforting vacuum of outer space because – well – could you spend the rest of your life alone?
It then it gets even darker.
Because then Chris sees Jennifer Lawrence’s hibernation pod and ends up falling for her. He finds the video she recorded before she got put to sleep. It turns out she’s a writer so he reads her stuff. Etc etc. Chris is smitten.
And this is when the movie gets seriously hardcore. As Chris realises he’s in the middle of quite a little ethical pickle which he talks about at length with Michael Sheen – the android bartender. Should he:
1. Commit a monstrous act and wake Jennifer Lawrence from her hibernation pod – thereby condemning her to the same fate as his? 90 years on a shapeship with no other humans (altho actually at this point it’s been a year since he’s been up: so it’s only 89 years now – but gosh that’s not much difference now is it?).
2. Do the right thing and not wake her up – but thereby commit himself to a lifetime of and depression and loneliness that will almost certainty end with him killing himself because he can’t take it anymore.
At this point I had to admit that I coloured myself impressed with the movie. I mean: I can’t remember the last time I watched something that gave the protagonist a hard moral choice where both options were both as bad as each other. Just thinking about it makes me feel a little bit sick. Do you save yourself at the expense of someone else? Or do you just let yourself die? By my lights there’s no real answer to that question: almost literally – you’re damned if you and damned if you don’t. And well yeah – what a pickle.
Seeing how Jennifer Lawrence’s name is on the poster and even tho she’s a fine actress I’m not sure that even she could pull off a whole film being asleep in a pod – Chris decides to wake up. And then well – blah blah blah – the rest of the movie isn’t really as interesting after that. I mean – yeah he decides whether or not to tell her but can’t work out how (“Oh by the way – I’m condemned you to death.”) they do the whole falling in love thing. Then Jennifer finds out and gets… very cross. And then at the end Chris does the heroic sacrifice thing to make up for it (spoiler: he survives and they live happily ever after).
I mean: if it had been me I would have doubled-down on the Black Mirror-ness of it all and have had Jennifer Lawrence not quite match up to the image that Chris had of her in his head when she woke up: and see how he dealt with that wrinkle. (Sacrificing yourself for your true love is easy – what happens if it’s for someone that you don’t really like – but that you’re still obligated towards?). Or maybe when Jennifer finds out – she decides that she’s had enough of Chris and decides to wake up someone that she has a crush on? (Or whoops – maybe that’s too much? I don’t know).
But yeah anyway: all that is not what I wanted to talk about. No – because the thing that I found really interesting (as per usual) was the internet response…
So this here is a good example: Let’s Talk About the Ethics of Passengers’ Big Twist (altho there’s a whole bunch more that I stumbled across which come from the same place). The general gist of things (if you didn’t already know hearing it already) is that: Chris Pratt is a terrible terrible terrible person for waking up Jennifer Lawrence. Which I don’t totally disagree with – but kinda leaves out the impossibility of the choice he had to make. And this is the very interesting thing: in all of the write-ups and hot takes I’ve read – none of them mention the fact that his character is basically on the cusp of suicide…
Let’s start with the basics of the situation: After being woken up from his pod due to a mysterious technical malfunction, Jim spends a year alone on the luxury starliner Avalon, descending into total loneliness. He knows he is going to die on the ship, probably alone. He sees Aurora in her sleep pod, watches her preflight interviews, and decides that she is the one for him. After much hemming, hawing, and consulting with Michael Sheen’s robot bartender, he decides to wake her up. He immediately regrets this, so he lies to Aurora about what woke her up, and hey, what do you know, they end up falling in love.
There’s also this from The Wrap
Yes, in one fell swoop, Passengers turns a likable guy into a mild stalker, then a de facto long-game murderer (think about it), and since Jim doesn’t disabuse Aurora of the assumption that her awakening is a malfunction like his, we can add spineless kidnapper to Jim’s list of violations as well.
This from The Insider
After about a year of living it up on the spaceship, Jim falls in love with Jennifer Lawrence’s character Aurora Lane (yes, Aurora like Sleeping Beauty — very on the nose) who is a beautiful writer. He watches her safely sleeping in her pod and becomes creepily obsessed with her.
He watches her pre-boarding interviews, reads her past work, and stares at her frequently. And then he decides to intentionally disable her suspended animation pod, essentially dooming her to be stuck on the spaceship alone with him for the rest of her life.
etc etc etc
I mean: what is this? Because I find it seriously weird – is it the case that people don’t know how to understand a scene unless someone says something to describe it? When Chris Pratt was standing in the airlock did he need to say “I’m going to kill myself” so that people could get it?
But the scarier thing is that – (and stop me if this seems too much) but it kinda seems like people – erm – don’t really know how to empathise. Which is just all kinds of messed up. I mean – the first 30 minutes or so is basically like Wall-e only instead of just Wall-e – it’s just Chris Pratt. And you follow his emotional journey from waking up fresh-faced and happy, to his horror at the situation, to his slow sinking into despair and suicidal hopelessness. Like – maybe you can’t relate completely (I tend to stay away from spaceships myself) but – can you not even see things from his point of view?
And this isn’t to say that things aren’t also bad for Jennifer Lawrence. Because yeah – of course of course. But erm: at the the risk of sounding like a crazy person – I was kinda brought up to not think of morality as being a zero sum kind of game? Yes Chris Pratt does a terrible to her – but the position he was in was also terrible: and maybe it would help to have a worldview that would be able to encompass that?
Because (and maybe this is wrong) but the feeling I can’t escape from these reviews and hot takes is that – if Chris Pratt had decided not to wake Jennifer Lawrence up and instead decided to blast himself into space then erm…. that would have been a happy ending? WTF?
I don’t know – I get that maybe I’m reading too much into this and the opinion of idiots but still – it’s actually more chilling than anything in any film when there’s a critical consensus that can’t or won’t take into account – how should I say this? – basic empathy?
And so yeah – even if the film isn’t that much to write home about – all this stuff around it kept it swimming in my head for far longer after it ended.
Sorry to Bother You
Directed by Boots Riley
Whoops – Jonathan already mentioned this one huh? Oh well – no matter, no matter.
I could go back and check but I’m pretty certain that of all the films that were released this year – this was the one I was looking forward to the most…
I’ve gotta admit that I’d never previously heard of Boots Riley or The Coup (the hip hop group he used to be in) but everything about this movie made me go “YEAH!” Lakeith Stanfield is one of the very actors out there that makes me smile everytime he’s on the screen. I was going thru a bottom-of-the-barrel Netflix binge earlier on the screen and – fuck! – he kept showing up in all of these very random movies – Snowden, Death Note, War Machine?! And every time he appeared on screen you could feel things get better and more interesting. I watched the first season of Atlanta when it first appeared and even tho I wasn’t a major fan of it (if I said that I think that Donald Glover is a little over-rated do I lose all of my internet privileges forever?) Lakeith Stanfield as Darius was always of the highest possible quality (chef kissing fingers noises). And plus well yeah – a left-wing odyssey through a science-fiction tinted reality where the hero is a minimum wage call center worker and (judging from the trailer) it’s full of Michel Gondry-style craziness? Holy fucking wow – it’s like someone reached into my brain and pulled out all of my favourite things? It’s like ice-cream on top of ice-cream on top of ice-cream! (AND I LOVE ICE CREAM!)
But erm yeah – I didn’t really like it / it just wasn’t really that good was it?
The quickest way I can sum up all the reasons why Sorry to Bother You left me cold is via the original cover of The Coup’s fourth album Party Music. That was (ahem) “originally scheduled to be released in early September 2001.” Let’s see if you can figure out why that didn’t happen….
To be fair to them – they originally created the cover in June 2001 and so it’s just a case of… bad timing. But still.
Boots Riley: “There’s been a whitewash in the media over the past couple days over what the U.S.’s role in the world is, and the fact that they kill hundreds of thousands of people per year to protect profit. Now how can I get to the point where I could be saying that on the world stage, and interrupt the lies that CBS, CNN, NBC, and everyone is saying? In my view, that [would be] by keeping the cover. Not because I think by looking at the cover you get all of this message that I’m telling you, but as a way to have a platform to interrupt the stream of lies that are being told right now”
This may surprise you – but I also find this cover to be incredibly offensive: altho maybe not for the same reasons as most people. Like: the whole 9/11 thing or whatever I don’t even care about – it’s just the fact that the whole album looks so goddamn hideously ugly. Every time I look at it every single one of my aesthetic senses recoil in utter disgust. I mean – god – just look at the font choice. And the way they’ve positioned the party music on it’s side when really it would have worked best underneath “The Coup” (altho the font for The Coup is ugly as hell too). And the explosions on the World Trade Center looks as fake as hell (are those cracksunderneath the fireball? Good grief). And there’s all this negative space near the top – like: why not make the tower bigger so they stand out more?
I mean – I could go on – but you get the point. It’s not very good.
And yeah the message behind it and all the stuff Boots Riley said is all good and that and stuff I agree with but – I’m sorry – I need more you know?
Which is basically my problem with Sorry to Bother You. Yes all the politics are correct. And I agree with all the stuff the film is saying. But goddamnit – I need more. I know it’s his first film and they probably didn’t have any money or whatever. But – yuk – you can tell. And the whole thing is just so… shoddily put together. And not just because of the money thing: but just in terms of how the story plays out…. In that there’s just all of these deadends and things that just don’t really go anywhere…
Jonathan mentioned the whole “white voice” thing and yeah – it’s cool and meaningful and you can unpack it in interesting ways and whatever. But in terms of how it’s used in the film – I dunno – it just sort of sits there. Lakeith puts on the white voice. And it’s funny. And then he’s told he needs to use it more and more. And then he starts using it with his girlfriend accidentally and then… erm… that’s it. There’s no pay off. I mean: maybe I was expecting too much… But there’s a pretty cool 1989 film called How to Get Ahead in Advertising that I’m not going to spoil (seriously you should just go and watch it) that does kinda the same kinda thing – but then pushes it a lot further to the point where it has a point. Sorry to Bother You just kinda does stuff that makes a political point that you can go away and think about – but has not real point in terms of being in the story: there’s never any narrative pay-off.
Another example – when Lakeith makes the phone calls and crashes into people’s houses (they made a big deal of this in the trailer which I guess is why I was expecting a much more Michel Gondry-style craziness but well yeah – not so much in the finished product). I mean – yes – it’s a very clever thing about how phone calls work and crashing people’s lives and etc: but goddamnit – the film never does anything with it. Like: think of how cool it would have been if towards the end when they were trying to break into Armie Hammer’s mansion and they couldn’t work out a way to do it Lakeith had been like “wait a second – I’ve got an idea – watch this” and then he picks up a phone and – SMASH – they landed on top of him?
Basically I guess my problem was that they didn’t go too far enough.
Like thinking about it: I feel like maybe this is my problem with radical left wing stuff in general? All the politics is always excellent and to the point (and I would define myself as being a radical left wing person). But nine times out of ten it’s always aesthetically rubbish. It’s like because they know they’ve got the politics right they don’t need to concentrate on anything else. The bit where Lakeith does his whole rap thing at the party? Yes it’s funny. And politically on point. And all the rest of it. But erm – why is it in the movie? What value does it add to the story being told? What new information does it give you about Lakeith’s character or those around him? Or is it a thing for the sake of being a thing?
I mean: in terms of politics – I think Zero Dark Thirty is the most politically evil film I’ve ever watched. But in a choice over which one I’d want to watch – I’d choose Zero Dark Thirty over Sorry to Bother You pretty much any day of the week. Because even tho Zero Dark Thirty is pure evil. It’s moving and exciting and interesting and well made. And even tho I realise this puts me in a radically shrinking minority in today’s world: the message of a movie is nowhere near enough to sustain me – you know?
I need more.
By Lin-Manuel Miranda
Breaking the rules and talking about a musical, but it’s an international smash hit and will undoubtedly be a movie one day. The first thing to said is obviously the hype is not for nothing, I don’t care for musicals (although Matilda is also good) but the music in Hamilton is great from the first song, and the story is compelling especially if you aren’t familiar with some of the back story of the America revolution. You could make a whole movie out of the story in the song Satisfied and it’s barely a sideplot. As a production it’s a masterpiece by any measure.
But there are plenty of reasons to be sniffy about it and the main one is the reason so many people love it – it’s a centrist all you can eat buffet.
One of the scourges of modern politics has been centrist politicians, all journalist and political officials LARPing the West Wing, a programme which has poisoned people’s minds into thinking politics was ever about reasonable technocrats simple arguing the best compromise between competing political priorities. This has created the sort of people who will say “oh we’d love universal healthcare but we just can’t afford it” while talking earnestly about the hard-headed wisdom of cutting taxes and raising the military budget, almost incapable of achieving meaningful political change. Hamilton buys into this political outlook so completely it makes you briefly care about the Federalist Papers, which is no mean achievement for a West End musical. There is a song called the Room Where it Happens which celebrates not knowing how down and dirty politics ultimately gets:
“No one really knows how the game is played
The art of the trade
How the sausage gets made
We just assume that it happens
But no one else is in
The room where it happens”
It’s a great song but it’s facepalm levels of ideology. Power is rarely really held by heroes, it’s held by schemers and thieves and the idea that in the 18th century the federal government was anything other than the committee for settling the affairs of property owners is a very generous view of history. I am looking forward to the film Vice portraying Dick Cheney as a cross between human and shark as the much needed antidote (except of course because he is Republican, liberals can applaud along).
There is another branch of centrism (OK it’s the same branch) who seem to fervently believe that if only Michelle Obama were president then all problems would go away fairly rapidly. Leaving aside the fact that Michelle Obama has never knowingly said anything interesting, thinking about this world view there is something perfect about Hamilton using an entirely black cast to gloss over the fact that almost all the characters were slave-owning bourgeois garbage. It’s for all the people who don’t like Donald Trump because he’s rude but happily applauded Obama drone strike after drone strike while saying “at least we got healthcare” are loving Hamilton, and they love because it is so perfect for them it might as well have been designed by a deep-learning algorithm of all the Facebook profiles of people who ever sat in the Daily Show studio audience.
It’s interesting that this strikes almost the opposite note to Joel’s critique of Sorry to Bother You. Hamilton is incredibly well produced with call backs in the music and lyrics which only pay off on the third time of listening. I agree that things don’t have to be ideologically correct to be good nor that things which are right-on automatically deserve attention. I just worry that they feeds a sort of decay in political cinema where all it takes to change things for the better is good people sticking to their guns and pursuading authority of their moral righteousness. Its a supporting a view seemingly held by many that the Harry Potter series is a sturdy and legitimate critique of modern political institutions.
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