Despite having studied with actual professors in actual college courses about film history, I also tried to convince at least one that the Fast and Furious series had merit. Feel free to take me as credibly as a Serious Film Person as that warrants.
When I first saw Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, I absolutely adored it. I hadn’t actually dated any human being at this point, like any self-respecting antisocial misanthropic middle/high school mankin, but I fell in and fell in hard with the ethos and romantic message of the film, especially the anti-hero characterization of the titular Scott Pilgrim. Years later, and in the context of the graphic novels and culture as a whole, the film does not appear in such a rosy light.
When I first started this blog, I had one main goal: to talk about films and games in an engaged manner without getting overly academic about it; to remove the artifice of pretension from my writing without sacrificing any observations on deeper meaning. Now, for the most part, this goal has manifested itself in writing about the sometimes profound meaning some action films hold for me. And while I think that’s a worthy pursuit, I also understand how pretentious that can appear. It’s like saying, “Look, you just don’t GET Sylvester Stallone like I do, okay?” So, in the interest of trying a different approach, and just because I can’t get this particular subject out of my damn head, we’re going to look at something far more “high-brow” and written about…
The third season of Twin Peaks. And how its haunting feeling of emotional loss is the core of the entire show.
While he’s received a little renaissance of sorts with the release of Creed and soon Creed II, Stallone has always seemed a little like the sloppy seconds of the ‘80s. There’s The Terminator and then Rambo, True Lies and then Demolition Man, Eraser and, well… Assassins, Stallone’s filmography always playing second fiddle in popularity. This sounds horribly harsh, but this second-hand feeling points to a crucial truth in Stallone’s emotional core as an actor… (and yes, I just said that)…
The fear of being overlooked.
The name, “popcorn flick,” and even to a degree, “Mission: Impossible” itself encourages a passive viewing experience, a What-You-See-Is-What-You-Get contract: the viewer agrees to only look for certain elements and ignore everything else, and the movie agrees to check those boxes. It is a blockbuster compromise—the film accepts a level of derision from the audience, and the audience accepts to like the movie a certain amount for indulging them. This phenomenon is best encapsulated in the phrase, “It was stupid, but it was fun.” We’re going to talk about everything else — specifically, how Mission Impossible is at its heart, a comedy.
Hey, do you guys know there’s a new Star Wars out?
So, in case you haven’t heard, James Cameron, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Linda Hamilton are working together again on a new Terminator film. They’re saying all the right things: they’re returning to the roots of the original two films; they’re resetting the franchise, essentially; they’re pretending the films Terminator 3 onward do not exist. And I was on board. Until they said, “…and we want to make it three movies.”
…and then I was very much off board.
Trying to process Netflix’s new adaptation of Death Note is an exercise in schizophrenia. Adaptation is already one of the most delicate tasks that can be bemoaned from both sides—i.e. being too faithful or not faithful enough—but on top of that, it appears to take influence from several other random sources. Heathers, Final Destination, a slick aesthetic and synth-laden soundtrack all come together on top of an already complicated story. And the sad truth is, the sum of all these pieces (that I love on their own) come together to make something that is merely “eh” and seriously dramatically muddled.
The last proper “war film” I saw was Letters from Iwo Jima (or the rightly praised Band of Brothers if we’re counting television). These stories, and most war films, depend on creating attachments to characters and then throwing them through escalating, harrowing conflicts, leading to a cathartic or bittersweet ending with a message of the author’s choosing. Many of you must realize I’m not just describing war movies—I’m talking about the classic three-act structure of the majority of film. To discuss our mainstream portrayals of war in cinema is to analyze some of the very foundations of the medium. Many of our earliest films deal with war—propaganda, historical re-enactments. When the (short-lived) Yugoslavian filmmaking industry began after the end of World War 2, the majority of their films were Partisan war films. The purpose has both cynical pragmatism and genuine artistic intention. Creating characters we care about in the service of a greater cause or country lets the audience conflate their sympathy with said greater cause. The structure of most war film is rote and uninteresting for a reason—it intrudes on the audience’s viewing in no way whatsoever, stepping aside and letting the message or conflict have center stage. Pauline Kael once wrote that many “classic” films are from the studio era precisely because of their bland, utilitarian technique—anything more forced and they wouldn’t stand the test of time. War films and their story structures are the same way. Most of us don’t want uncertainty in our darkest times—we desire to see heroes of simply, wholly good character face adversity or evil and overcome it. Whatever may happen to the hero’s cause, we are certain at least that their cause will prevail.
Oh, what I would do for such reassuring feelings right now.
There’s this dog my housemate owns. His name is Charlie, and he’s really a lovely pet. He’s sweet, fluffy, nothing but good intentions. He also has the capacity to be the most annoying Golden Retriever this side of California.
Every time I go to do laundry, there he is. He bounces up to me with a soggy, half-torn chew toy in his mouth, panting expectantly, eyes wide. Clearly, there’s nothing more he’d like than for me to take it, and nothing more I’d like than to take it, except for the small matter of him not letting go of the damn toy, no matter how long I stand there as he whines. It makes every laundry trip an exhibition of existential depression as I have to confront Charlie, who is trying so hard to do one thing and failing, making everyone around him either exasperated or uncomfortable.
Seeing Baby Driver is a lot like visiting Charlie.
Charlize Theron and Helen Mirren star in Fast and Furious 8—two actresses, who, between them, hold 4 Oscar nominations and 2 wins. It is a degree of prestige the Fast films have not seen before, so why does it feel like the beginnings of a last wheeze? In this latest entry in the protracted franchise, Theron plays Cipher, a villainous hacker figure who forces Dominic Toretto (the chronically stoic Vin Diesel) into her service against his own merry band of street-racers-turned-criminals-turned-international-mercenaries. Mirren plays the mother of Deckard Shaw—or, as he will more likely be remembered, Jason Statham—the man who killed Han, one of Diesel’s accomplices, in Furious 7, Furious 6, and, retroactively, The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift. The series sounds like a mess because it is one; until now, though, it has felt rare and lively, something that cannot be said the eighth time around...
The climactic gunfight of John Wick: Chapter Two takes place in a labyrinth of mirrors, an art exhibition in New York. Having been dragged (away from playing fetch with his dog and seeing perfunctory flashbacks of his dead wife) back into a comical underworld of assassins—again—Wick, in a turn of events that will surprise no one, now hunts down the man who brought him back. We see Keanu Reeves as Wick enter, our view of him steady and focused as mirrored doors close behind him, bathed in cold blue light. Opposing mirrors make Wick appear to stretch into infinite (and infinitely diminishing) copies in the background, receding into itself and into insularity. Reeves’ reflections are an infinite number of points in a nerve-rackingly enclosed space. Is this a comment by Chad Stahelski and Derek Kolstad, the director and writer of John Wick: Chapter Two, respectively, on the necessarily diminishing returns of a sequel to such a complete first film? ...
From the very first shots of Force Majeure, we are in an unrelievable tension. After an awkward, prolonged photo shoot of a family on holiday—Tomas, Ebba, and their children Harry and Vera—we are introduced to the ski resort they are staying at. Not with shots of the slopes, however—painting it as a snowy Arcadia—but with the machinery, the human construction, a merely functional slope guide displaying in a cheerfully bright yet authoritative, cold and electronic message, “BIENVENUE.” The hospitality is appreciated, yet somehow one is not inclined to take it to heart...
It starts with a green light in the room. The feeling, or really, for any experienced moviegoer, the certainty that these two, Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling, are not going to be together much longer. After a near-painfully protracted meet-cute spanning a third of the film, and a giddy montage showing just how happy this aspiring actress and jazz pianist are together, we see Mia (Stone), come home to Sebastian (Gosling) playing the piano in an eerie, cold, green light, reminiscent of The Wizard of Oz. He starts to play a longing tune, what has come to be one of “their” songs. She smiles, the green shades draining the color from her light purple dress, and starts to sing. The song is warm, but the light is cold, and we know—it’s about that time in the film for these two to separate, only to come together at the end. Or will they? That feeling, that loss will not only be threatened but truly occur, is the heart of La La Land. For how do we appreciate a memory unless it is in the past? ...