Can't Stop the Movies - No One Can Stop The Movies
Can't Stop the Movies
18Feb/190

Halloween (2018)

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Laurie Strode's waited over forty years for the moment her brother, Michael, might come slashing his way back into her life. With Halloween again on the horizon she waits while her disbelieving daughter and sympathetic granddaughter struggle to understand what she's going through. They'll know soon enough. David Gordon Green directs Halloween, with the screenplay written by David Gordon Green, Jeff Fradley, and Danny McBride, and stars Jamie Lee Curtis, Judy Greer, and Andi Matichak.

David Gordon Green, the once consistently now sporadically poetic director who seemed the heir to Terrence Malick, is at first blush an odd choice to helm the latest Halloween. Dig a bit deeper into Green's career and you'll find Undertow, Green's oozing with Southern Gothic take on the fantastic classic The Night of the Hunter.  Green can do seemingly invincible monsters with murder on their minds and he can do it with aplomb. But that was before the stoner comedies, the inconsistent creative input of co-screenwriter Danny McBride, and before our culture continued its exodus away from sincerity.

So the quality of this Halloween is suitably volatile considering the series' tumultuous production history with Green's effort frustratingly close to something great. The biggest problem is that Green's Halloween is trying to fit the inconsistent tone of the series into a single film. Green's Halloween is trapped between the traumatized caricatures of Rob Zombie's films (and I write that with love, no one does caricature like Rob Zombie), the cracked out 4 through 6 installments, making a space for the surviving Laurie Strode of John Carpenter's original, and the bit-too-goofy self-awareness of Green's work with McBride.

13Feb/190

Green Book (2018)

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Don Shirley is looking for an escort through the American south, and might have found more than he bargained for in the loose-lipped and quick with his fists Tony Lip. Peter Farrelly directs Green Book, with the screenplay written by Farrelly, Nick Vallelonga, and Brian Hayes Currie, and stars Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali.

The defining point of my experience watching Green Book came a bit over halfway through when, despite all my internal resistance, I felt it work just a bit. I liked watching Tony Lip (Viggo Mortensen) and Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali) spitball ideas for love letters to Tony's wife Dolores (Linda Cardellini). It was nice watching two people who spent so much time talking over each other finding a way to connect and the punctuation mark of Mortensen cautiously speaking through each line was adorable.  Then barely a beat later and Tony's yelling about being blacker than Don and I want to die of secondhand shame for everyone involved in Green Book since they didn't have the decency to destroy the film stock themselves.

That brief bit of charm cannot overcome what a colossally ill-conceived venture Green Book is. No, we do not need white men explaining black culture to black men in any film of 2018 (let alone since cinema began). We just aren't that advanced as a society, haven't been able to even begin the process of reconciling our ongoing oppression of black Americans, and it's certainly not going to happen in a Peter Farrelly film that opens with the largest assemblage of Italian stereotypes this side of a poor Goodfellas cosplay session yelling, "Oh, hey, Ima yellin' the lines here, this is whata the Italians do right? Letsa scream at the baseball. Pasta Italiano wife-o makea me a plate-o." It will not shock you to learn those aren't direct quotes from the dialogue but if it was in any way annoying to read I assure you hearing it was worse.

11Feb/190

Roma (2018)

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As the tumult builds in Mexico City, Cleo works to keep her employers happy and needs fulfilled. Alfonso Cuarón wrote the screenplay for and directs Roma, which stars Yalitza Aparicio.

Over the course of two hours and some change, Roma drip-feeds us a steady intake of gorgeous poison. The patient cinematography, courtesy of director Alfonso Cuarón, pans repeatedly with an impassive eye as Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio) navigates rooms with sturdy beams keeping each dweller in their own universe. She's little more than a pet to the family that employs her as each resident has motivations as separate and sturdy as the pillars that keep the home up. Across the rooftop there's another servant doing the same, and the camera pans more to reveal another, and another, and another. All trapped in the same cycle of servitude and pain.

This reads cynical but Cuarón's carer is peppered with cynicism. Roma, for all its beauty, takes place in a world no less apocalyptic than the one Cuarón created in Children of Men. There, at least, was a film that suffocated us in despair until a single cry from one baby is enough to stop a war that's been boiling under the surface. With Roma a baby is just another baby, not worth stopping the world over, and the machinations of privilege that keep Cleo from living a safe and happy life continue on after the credits have dropped. Here is reality with no savior within sight.

10Jan/191

Bandersnatch (2018)

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The Black Mirror shatters, and aspiring game developer Stefan struggles to make sense of the pieces. As he celebrates the opportunity of a lifetime his world becomes tinged with deja vu, and the world he lives in may be one of many where happiness is a long shot. Charlie Brooker writes Bandersnatch, directed by David Slade, and stars Fionn Whitehead and Will Poulter.

Calling Bandersnatch experimental is a generous stretch of the term I'm not inclined to grant. It's not even experimental for Netflix as they released a choose-your-own-adventure edit of Telltale's Minecraft: Story Mode game as an interactive film. While Minecraft: Story Mode ended up highlighting the shortcomings of Telltale's offering as a videogame by showing just how little player interaction mattered, Bandersnatch takes things into a further pit of by not even having the courage of adhering to its own conceit.

I played the part of Bartleby the Scrivener and called Bandersnatch's bluff about its choose-your-own-adventure structure by refusing to choose. It took only two minutes for the heavily advertised choice to mean nothing. In the first of multiple bludgeoning explanations about choosing, the narrator explained that I needed to click on an option. I declined, and the narrator once again told me to click. When the timer ran out Bandersnatch had its first and only chance to let me know it meant business by closing itself. After all, if I didn't want to play along there's no reason they needed to cater to me. Instead Bandersnatch began and about two boring hours later it finally came to a limp close.

Filed under: 2018, Dislike Continue reading
1Jan/190

2018 in review: how do we leave the shimmer?

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Much of 2018 challenged how I consume art and whether criticism matters a lick of damn. It started because of Annihilation, a film that so thoroughly represented my depression that it felt all other experiences I could have in the theater would have to compare to Natalie Portman's face against the shimmer. That ended up being prophetic as other films came and went but I felt the same drag back toward the abyss that takes human shape in Annihilation's penultimate chapter. Enjoyment was sparse and, aside from the working class joy of Logan Lucky and the bizarre Proud Mary, I accepted no other film would measure up.

Then came the defining struggle of 2018 that challenged one of my positions in my Annihilation review - the confirmation hearings of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court of the United States. It was a brutal affair over a monster's choice for a monster who gets to serve the rest of his life on the only branch of government that seems to be able to make any change anymore. The confirmation hearings sparked conversation and confrontation among those who doubt the testimonies of women while granting leeway to powerful men. What shocked me, and immediately rebuked my previously held experience that my mental health never needed to be explained to women, was how many white women rushed forward to Kavanaugh's defense. I found myself angry with women who did not understand, or more accurately did not care to understand, how victims of abuse and sexual assault are pressured into silence.

What good does it do if I can see something touching and painfully true about trauma in Annihilation but fail to communicate the same about my reality to people who doubt it? I touched on some of this helplessness during my conversation with Tevis Thompson about Night in the Woods. I foolishly thought that collaboration, as rich and rewarding as it turned out to be, would be the trigger to get me out of this depression and back toward being productive. In the words of Rob Thomas during his time with Matchbox 20, "It's me, and I can't get myself to go away." There is no one project or piece that is going to make everything snap together and, with barely a week to go in 2018, I identified my complacency in writing as one major source of depression. The work is the work and I have been lazy in the work.

So I must challenge the work and my perceptions of the work. That led me to a phenomenal criticism of Nanette, which I still rank among the greater experiences of 2018, that scaffolds artistic and political points so effectively that Yasmin Nair revitalized my faith in criticism. The same also led me to continue exploring why I loathed Black Panther, a film where the common reaction among white liberals was to pat themselves on the back for patronizingly helping a black superhero "arrive".  Better to read criticisms by Chris LeBron ("Why should I accept the idea of black American disposability from a man in a suit, whose name is synonymous with radical uplift but whose actions question the very notion that black lives matter?"), Kimberle Crenshaw ("Like remembering a drunken night thru a hangover haze, I kept wondering how I'd come to dance on the table for the CIA?"), and Armond White ("Rather than any account of that hopeful, aggrieved, inspiring, yet violent and always controversial social-activist group, we get the story of a monarchy.")

Before Black Panther was the considerably more interesting Proud Mary, and afterward Ava DuVernay's A Wrinkle in Time. Those two films barely made a dent compared to Black Panther's box office while all three have been largely abandoned in immediate cultural conversation. Maybe it's time to have those conversations about why white liberals congratulated themselves on buying tickets to Black Panther while ignoring the others when the CIA proudly coopts what feeble criticism Black Panther mustered, American imperialism gets reduced to a punchline, and the pastiest of pasty white boys gets to model a "Wakanda Forever" sweater. I need to direct my rage against this self-congratulatory commodification of urgent problems instead of self-destructing.

Easier written than done but this gives me a plan of how to escape the shimmer that began overtaking me early 2018. As I continue to work, here's a breakdown with links (when applicable) to the artistic experiences that shaped my year:

The Best

Great

Good

Zone of Indifference

Bad

 

Wretched

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