[2012] Lincoln

lincoln_2012_teaser_posterSteven Spielberg’s Lincoln is a boring movie.

It moves incredibly slow, but it isn’t paced badly. Daniel Day-Lewis and Tommy Lee Jones act with aplomb, and their performances are memorable, as are the real-life characters they portray. Lincoln doesn’t linger on the 16th President’s death so much as the war he fought against the Confederate insurgents. It does spend its whole running time counting beans and exploring the actions of those who would support or oppose the 13th Amendment, freeing the slaves permanently, after the insurgent South sued for peace. Lincoln supposes that Congressmen and Senators from the 1860s spoke solely in soliloquy. On and on Daniel Day-Lewis does justice to Abraham Lincoln, the politico, and has his audience swimming in the deep end policy consideration. This movie spends time poring over a piece of parchment. It is a boring movie and it took me four sittings to get through it.

Lincoln is also fantastic and should be celebrated. Continue reading “[2012] Lincoln”

[1987] Fatal Attraction

fatal_attraction_posterAlternatively, Fatal Attraction ended with Dan in jail. This ending, however, did not fuse climax and catharsis well enough, did not test well enough with audiences, and did not demonstrate a logic consistent with its smart world building. So the director rewrote, refilmed, and recut a version of Fatal Attraction that ended with everything in its right place: unwell Alex dead and philandering Dan without consequence. It didn’t even seem like he grew from his near miss. The blame, alternatively, has been cast onto Alex, poor, crazy Alex as the holder of bad fortune and loser of minds. Contemporary Dan is the embodiment of clueless, white, male privilege.

Well enough, Alex Forrest as a character has gotten a fair share of criticism and a few dozen thinkpieces denouncing her trope as anti-woman, anti-feminist, and wholly modernist. Unable to cope with — something — Alex descends from a career-minded single woman into total hysterical madness; over a weekend fling? When peeled back, alternatively, this characterization doesn’t hold up to immediate scrutiny. While thrilling, this type of surface-level character making, is as deep as she is manic. It means that Fatal Attraction is an expensive thrill with a character assassination at the expense of the white, male viewers whose “marriages were saved after watching this movie!” as if any of these hysterical men had any sort of gumption in the first place.

No, it means this: Fatal Attraction‘s writers trapped their perception of a woman scorned and broken bad into Alex, with every other character playing coy. That word, hysterical, is loaded with etymology related to the uterus and is taken to mean “at the whim of an emotional female,” or, anti-logical, because for millennia or more, female meant baby-bearing, illogical, subservient being. Alternatively, it means that watching Fatal Attraction thirty years later leaves a puzzling reconstruction of what it means to eschew a discussion of mental health. Alex originally kills herself, but in the theatrical cut, Dan’s wife Beth, somehow not hysterical, helps Alex kill herself. Continue reading “[1987] Fatal Attraction”

[1941] Sergeant York

sergeant-york-belgian-movie-posterHyperreal violence plays a role in postmodern American culture. It continues to be the defining moment in each day chronicled and it is glorified in stone in film and television. Fast, clear, and present danger is always under the next shag rug; the grass will kill you; and we better be ready for the imminent, always imminent, rise of the autonomy of things. First our cars will drive us, and then they will drive us off a cliff.

But ocean red, the hue that resonates the blood-shot reflection of a dead solider, will always be the cornerstone of American fascination with War. The Patriotic film demonstrates the hellish torment of battle, with corporeal guts and bones the ultimate sacrifice. This message is simple and meaningful and, when overdone, can be visually stunning and worthwhile as a statement, or just a way for a production studio to run the world a little dryer of #ff0000. But before color ubiquity in media, directors needed to dig a little deeper to represent the horrifics of war and death. Before it becomes unfashionable, the ultimate sacrifice is and was for of Our Lord the Christian God. Gary Cooper as Alvin York, in the titular Sergeant York, answers the call to demonstrate the harsh brutality of what it means to die in the arms of the ethereal. Continue reading “[1941] Sergeant York”

[2012] Zero Dark Thirty

zerodarkthirty2012posterHumans have found a way, compressed to virtual 1s and 0s, to make the world “flat.” That obstacles like time and space once prevented information from traveling from New York to New Jersey the long way round seems, now, and soon to our children’s children, ancient. That every human doesn’t have access to his virtual, visceral surroundings is a tragedy, to some, though the very ones that can’t know where the nearest coffee shop is have no access to the raw good two hectares away. In a way, we’ve never been further apart.

Add in narrators, who explain the event all (some) (very few) of us are seeing along with them, in misleading detail. They don’t mean to mislead, of course, but can’t help focusing an event, that for all intents and purposes, is happening through their own personal experience, the experience and profit/information motive of their employer, and the legal directive from anywhere else. Rip these bits up, reassemble them, and remove much of the original source, and you have a sheeny Zero Dark Thirty.

There is no doubt that this film was crafted by an auteur at the height of her craft. Director Kathryn Bigelow knows how to make a film with vision, with gumption, and with bite. Her films are visceral and award-worthy: The Hurt Locker won Best Picture just four years before this craft; it was made without the future history of bin Laden’s postmature death, which would happen, according to all available, corroborated evidence, two years later, at a fortified complex in Abbottabad, Pakistan. This is a movie whose premise is so highly contested that it would require wireframing from steel nerves to pass it off as anything more than: before there was bin Laden, and after there wasn’t. But the audience cares about CIA analyst Maya and they care about the piecing together of this narrative, true or not. It cares more about the narrator, unreliable almost by definition, than it does the facts. Zero Dark Thirty is a promise fulfilled to an audience that asked nothing in return. Continue reading “[2012] Zero Dark Thirty”

[2012] Django Unchained

mv5bmjiyntq5njq1ov5bml5banbnxkftztcwodg1mdu4oa-_v1_uy1200_cr9006301200_al_l learned, recently, that Alexandre Dumas was a black man writing white stories in the nineteenth century. Cornerstones in American literature – The Count of Monte Cristo and The Three Musketeers – were written back-to-back in 1844 and 1845 in a post-revolutionary but pre-abolition world. The era is specifically important and places this work into a context not unlike the films we watch today, of yore: representative and reflective. Depending on the reader’s station, she will read Dumas’ work with a particular bent and her life will be further honed because of it. A wealthy white woman in 1855 might understand, through no fault of her own (though, it is very much her fault) The Count of Monte Cristo as a personal attack on the long-aft bourgeoisie, dismantling the wealthy for the betterment of the working and underrepresented classes. A modern black man might read it as a triumph of the wrongly imprisoned over corruption and the consolidation of white power. The very real differences in how people read art makes literature entirely subjective and wholly personal. The same holds true for film.

I learned that Alexandre Dumas was a black man from watching Django Unchained.

That this is true is a testament to how young people are learned and I must read him differently now that I know I know his race, regardless of how I read him before. Does it matter, at all, that I learned this fact from a film? Here are the arguments for both.

No: How a person learns something is irrelevant and that he knows it now is the whole point of education. When building a person, his combination of experiences, truism, faults and values make him who he is and the purpose of education is to ensure that he  has access to as much information as possible. Combined with critical thought these ideas become ritualistic: he will draw upon them to make decisions day-to-day, whether by choice or by subchoice. I happened to choose to watch Django Unchained and by way of this choice I learned a fact about a historically significant figure. I can now make more refined choices about how I think about him, his historical context, his offshoots and literary descendants, and modern application of the Higher point, should I choose to attribute one. For this I thank writer and director (and actor) Quentin Tarantino.

Yes: The question here is why this wasn’t taught to me while in an institute of lower learning. Why were my English teachers, or professors, apt to teach race as contextual clues to enhance the richness of the text. It is not rare that a person’s demography has a circular relationship to his work; in fact by presenting the work of literature as a standalone object, we are doing every aspect involved a disservice. The teacher is teaching nothing; the students are learning next to nothing. Beyond basic reading comprehension, which is necessary and overrated, knowing who Edmond Dantès is and what is struggle is is unimportant. Why did I learn this fact from a movie, in passing? Continue reading “[2012] Django Unchained”

[2001] Gosford Park

gosford_park_movieWe can never know necessarily the true center of anything, really. There is shaky fact that defines a beginning and an end, depending on who you’re asking, their own relationship to the subject, and the motivation as to why one would lie. There is always confusion over whether we care about the spiritual center – a task’s essence – or if we care about its temporal center – a task’s chaos. If each aspect of our lives is governed by an asymmetric sense of place and time, then locating the exact center(s) is good in retrospect, sort of. A post-mortem does us no good until after we’re dead.

If art mimics life in its absurdity only, it can be useful to try to identify an art movement’s center. The creative apex is a reasonable as any point to start a debrief for all those that come after. And still there will be argument, and for good reason. The most methodological way to go about choosing a center-point is to throw a dart at it and hope it sticks; fight away. Film, literature, painting, poetry, sculpture theory will be better for it.

In film it is helpful to talk about eras in terms of technology and we talk about firsts too often, and lasts not often enough. The “western” is a concrete example of this boxing; John Wayne’s mainstay is an obvious and therefore contentious center of the genre. We can think about the timeline imaginatively to organize these thoughts; humans love lists. The more we striate, too, the more nuanced the arguments can become: what about the British period drama?

The spiritual center of 1971’s Upstairs, Downstairs and 2010’s Downton Abbey, is 2001’s Gosford Park. Part Clue, too, Gosford Park captures turn-of-the (last) century class considerations in a haughty, but wholly British way. The landed elite dine and demure in lavish luxury while the working servants and butlers clean and crude in dingy dungeons. The air is of “other,” which, through an omnipotent, omnipresent technique allows the reader to decide who is “better.” We are meant to disparage the wealthy and root for the poor; the most well-written British period dramas also allow for some room to question our presented assumptions: the wealthy, while obnoxious, must churn or burn their wealth or find themselves pariahs, with no outside from whence they may gaze on what was once had.

Do we care about these people anyway?  Continue reading “[2001] Gosford Park”

[2011] The Tree of Life

tumblr_lyn29gp54m1qd4hdlo1_1280Just because something seems obvious, does not make it so, and the straight lines we often associate with time seem to stretch indeterminately depending on individual perspective and the wondering, orthogonal sonder* of others. Yet, vectors do not maketh man; actions do.

Artists, especially ones who seem to operate solely on no trajectory at all defy the hardwired conservatism that demands humans play it safe for the betterment of the species. They often buck the trend of playing it safe to test the boundaries of human experience. Art, then, works as a shared experience because sharing the otherness of experiences is essentially risk-free. They, the reader, don’t experience successes and failures as the artist and because something must be experienced solo, can’t experience the swooping success of completion. When we finish watching a movie, there is no revel in the midst of chaos, but a satisfaction of task exodus. And we move onto the next one immediately, but alone and sometimes together.

The human which defies convention pays the price for organizing chaos. How, then, do we reward the risk? Continue reading “[2011] The Tree of Life”