Retro Grade School: Grease Live and Transgression

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I don’t know what, exactly, my mother was thinking showing me Grease when I was three or four. Next to Bringing Up Baby, it was the single film that I watched the most, playing on a loop for most of my childhood. I know the film as well as well as Jan knows the toothbrush jingle. And that other people have connections to Grease not dissimilar to mine is indicative of the cultural influence the film had, and perhaps of how not-actually transgressive it is. Is it that my/our parents just sort of looked past its discussions of sex and peer pressure in favor of its catchy songs? Or is it because, by the ‘90s, it had nothing interesting to say about the very subject matter it wanted to be “radical” about?

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“Okay, How About This? I Talk Him Into It”: On Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight and Death Proof

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It’s difficult to pinpoint the reasons for Quentin Tarantino’s notoriety for a single thing – as provocateur, as cinephilic filming through a teenaged boy lens, as social commentator through film, as a Baby Mamet — and maybe to do so would be a disservice to his work, and to him as a filmmaker as a whole. Trying to determine his biggest strength’s might be a fool’s errand because they’ve fluctuated from film to film: while his work has been arguably consistent in its quality, the things that stand out, discomfort, inspire has ranged the gamut from his filmmaking craft to his ability to bring postmodernity to mainstream audiences, from his inventive dialogue to his carefully illustrated characters (he’s often highlighted for his female characters).  I’ve looked at his work with admiration, but usually at a distance. This is more on me than it is on him. For all of the feting that Tarantino regularly garners in conversation, I’ve felt at arm’s length with his work less in an experiential way and more post-experience; in the midst of conversation with peers, there’s something jarring to me about the way certain people talk about him, at least in my experience. A fanboyishness, if you will, and a willful desire to not recognize flaws within his work. Read the rest of this entry »

Napoleon’s Complex: Guy Ritchie’s “The Man from UNCLE”

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After the release of Die Another Day (2002), the future of James Bond was in flux. Though the film had become the highest grossing one in the franchise’s history, Die Another Day tapped into a kind of ridiculousness that was, even for a series whose real life veracity was rarely ever of concern, unpleasant for most critics and fans. An invisible car, DNA replacement therapy, Madonna trying to act. In an effort to recall an old fashioned Bond, screenwriters Neal Purvis and Robert Wade began to adapt Ian Fleming’s first novel Casino Royale, and, in the midst of a litany of legal issues regarding the rights to the series between MGM and Sony Pictures, (perhaps) inadvertently imbued Bond with a sense of what critics noted as world weariness. Casino Royale finally saw its release in 2006, and this new Bond colored by misanthropy was an element amplified by Craig’s style of acting, at once brutish and cognizant that the very anger and figiidty was itself a shield for vulnerability. This Bond was a hardened, human Double O, more aware of his sociopolitical climate, and of himself, than he had been before. This kind of disdain for his own iconography would continue to inform the subsequent films, becoming more and bitterer, angrier, and numbed, peaking in Spectre, where you get a sense that Craig (and the writers) don’t sincerely believe that Bond should even exist within a contemporary context.

So, while the evolution of the Bond films has grown grittier, darker (per Roger Deakins), dustier (per Hoyte van Hoytema), and even, if one is to believe the opening text of Spectre, deader, we enter a fantasy version of spying under the guise if “how it used to be”, but whose superficiality and very cleanliness is as indicative of the same sort of cynicism. Opening with a bunch of archival footage splashed in red, it’s not that images of Berlin being bifurcated is indicative of communism, but in sardonicism. It makes its “verisimilitude” stylish in a way that conventional filmmaking declares it shouldn’t be. Guy Ritchie’s adaptation of the 1960s show, also not coincidentally conceived by Ian Fleming, The Man from UNCLE is selling a poisoned love letter to the past and present. (Even the font of its subtitles is funny!) Read the rest of this entry »

If I Had My Way: 2016 Awards

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I’m also reminded of the time I was once invited to play fantasy football. It was with some friends, including Kevin Ketchum and Bryan King, and someone had tweeted that it was going to be “film critics vs film fans”. In my naiveté, I thought that suggested that we would be picking actual film critics and film people to play football against one another. I was imagining Richard Roeper and Peter Travers being pummeled and thinking it would be “warm and likeable” to experience. Signing up to begin playing was kind of how I imagine the shoot for The Revenant to be, if I am to believe the press tour. Arduous, stressful, dirty, and bloody. (I gave myself a papercut.) But, in the spirit of making fantasy picks for things that are as foreign to me as heterosexuality, and also an awards show I just suffered through, here are my ideal picks for awards things. Read the rest of this entry »

My Superlative Year in Film: 2015 Edition

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the-mendHere are some words about how 2015 was a year that impacted me, in both good and bad ways. Here are some introspective thoughts about what that means to me. Here are some words about what I learned over the last year, and what I hope 2016 will hold. Here are some words about the movies I watched. I watched 340 new to me films, and around 120 2015 releases. I’m really happy I got to work with such great people this year and make some strides in my career, so thanks everyone. Read the rest of this entry »

Everything Becomes Pure Want: 15 from 2015

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“You can’t really what it is to want things until you’re at least thirty. And then with each passing year, it gets bigger, because the want is more and the possibility is less. Like how each passing year of your life seems faster because it’s a smaller portion of your total life. Like that, but in reverse. Everything becomes pure want.”

Looking in no particular direction, Brooke (Greta Gerwig) says this to Tracy (Lola Kirke) as her life is falling apart. “Everything is pure want.” Maybe that desire, inexplicable and ineffable and uncontrollable, is the biggest running theme in my list, and to get personal, my life. In the films featured on this list and in my personal life, there’s the want for intimacy, to be validated, to be wanted, to be seen and heard, to find stability, to be human, to ache, to feel pleasure, to transcend or eschew convention. It’s full of flaws, complexities, and nuances. And it’s not that those wants or desired be fulfilled that matters: it’s the articulation that might matter more. It’s not only cinematic, it’s human.

You can also find my list of the year ranked here, the top 10 musical moments, and everything else I’ve written this year. Read the rest of this entry »

Oldish World Order: Star Wars: The Force Awakens

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The familiarity of franchise films that have established and perpetuated a kind of formula that suits the given series of films is paradoxical: at once, comforting, like settling into the warmth of an old blanket found in the attic, as well as frustrating because that blanket smells like must and of failed college trysts. Call me demanding, but I like new blankets, or blankets with similar patchwork but the kind that’s turned on its head. That Spectre, the twenty-fourth James Bond film diverges so heavily from the established James Bond formula is admirable, enticing. That Star Wars: The Force Awakens adheres so closely to the idea of being “a Star Wars movie”, on the other hand, is irksome. Read the rest of this entry »