Is Red She-Hulk a Blatant Ripoff of Purgatori?
This is everything I believe in.
I’m willing to bet the most popular comment you’ve heard about Skyfall so far is that it was “not as good as Casino.”
Perfect though Daniel Craig may be as Bond, at this point he and the franchise appear to be suffering from a condition that may fairly be called the “agony of success.” Since 2005’s incredible Casino Royale, Craig and the pair of subsequent directors he’s been with since have worked in its deservedly intimidating shadow. Casino’s own director, Martin Campbell, himself never recovered. Hailed as an invigorating visionary, he was saddled with impossible projects like making Green Lantern cool and accessible and resurrecting Mel Gibson’s action career with Edge of Darkness. And he failed somewhat miserably at both.
After the lukewarm, convoluted, and strangely forgettable Quantum of Solace disappointed so many, veteran Bond producer Barbara Broccoli (daughter of legendary original Bond producer Albert Broccoli) appears to have encouraged a “back to basics” approach with Skyfall. The plot is trite and familiar, the pacing is relatively leisurely, the characters are easily identifiable, and generally nothing is too confusing (although sometimes left deliberately unclear).
Director Sam Mendes gives us a crisp, impressive, and largely inoffensive action product, coupled with a deliberate but cautiously subdued effort at humanizing and psychologizing James himself. My favorite reviewer, Tom Carson at GQ, really dumped on the idea that James Bond should be written with any measure of emotion:
Who the hell wants James Bond to have a psychology?
…[Bond’s] whole pop-culture function defines the difference between identification and projection. We always wanted to act like him, sure; who wouldn’t? But we never wanted to be him, because there was no “him” to be.
While I find this to be a truly interesting excuse for keeping lowbrow entertainment lowbrow, I think after 22 installments and a half-dozen subtle variations on pure maleness, the need to keep Bond mysterious (read: one-dimensional) has long since evaporated. I’m not suggesting Bond go emo or anything, but there’s nothing wrong with getting a glimpse into who he is, where he came from, and what’s going on behind such an impossibly cool exterior. So I appreciated even the somewhat superficial attempts at depth we get here, like M being kind of a surrogate mother and the climactic violence at the end serving as cathartic release from vague “unresolved childhood trauma.” Or whatever.
The cast is so perfect, one wonders if anything enjoyable about the film would survive without them. Aside from the credible chemistry we see between Craig and Judi Dench, Javier Bardem has the time of his life playing the “malevolent homosexual” villain, and it’s hard to imagine anyone else anyone pulling off something so politically incorrect. Bérénice Marlohe is also excellent, exuding melancholy and reluctant beauty.
The film is competent and fun, and suffers from no shortage of great moments. At the same time, we’re not given even the mere pretense of real franchise/genre innovation here, and none of it feels very fresh. After all, “freshness” was what made everyone love Casino so much. In other words, what you’re hearing is indeed true: Skyfall isn’t half the movie Casino was. But on its own merits, the film is still quite good.
In an interactive chat with some of her more quasi-religious devotees the other day, Lady Gaga said she’s considering splitting her upcoming ARTPOP record into two separate volumes. One volume would be for the “commercial” stuff, and the other volume would be for the “experimental” material.
What an awful idea.
What’s so disappointing about this statement is the implicit suggestion that there is, or should be, any real difference between that which is commercial (the “pop”) and that which is experimental (the “art”). The conceptual poverty of segregating “art” and “pop” is not only the ostensible idea behind the album’s portmanteau title, but it is precisely the false dichotomy that Lady Gaga’s career was always meant to refute:
While Gaga has surely engaged in some creative apportionments in the past (half of The Fame may well have been initially intended as Britney Spears b-sides and the other half could only have come from her), her strength was never versatility per se; it was synthesis. Her music, and more prominently her visual aesthetic, is not compelling for its ability to shift gears between the popular and the avante-garde; it’s compelling for its ability to exploit a duality in the two.
The false dichotomy between “art” and “pop” is not limited to content. It extends to her career as well. Andy Warhol, no less than her essential creative antecedent, said it best:
“Making money is art and working is art and good business is the best art.”
Since I naturally assume Lady Gaga is a regular reader of my humble blog, I have this message for her: You didn’t divide or hyphenate the title for a good reason, and you shouldn’t do the same thing to the music. Please don’t split ARTPOP in two.
Previously, this blog exposed few and faithful readers out there to Face Vega, the mysterious and prodigious west coast rapper behind Black Lodge Vol. 1. Now comes Gorgeous Children, Vega’s brilliant collaboration with eccentric producer Gila Monster, and trust me: you wanna peep this.
Since I heard Vega’s album back in May, I’ve been legitimately addicted to his brand of creepy, thoughtful, unstoppably swagged out hip hop; and I gotta say, his latest work here has met, and somehow exceeded, my expectations. The lyrical content is as sharply disturbing as ever, and in many places his twisted locutions are even braver than they were on Black Lodge.
Gorgeous Children offers a more cohesive, fun product than Vega’s debut effort, which featured a dozen producers and at times was prone to abrupt stylistic fluctuations. As the record’s sole source of beats, Gila Monster’s menacing and woebegone instrumentals add perfect compliment and character to Vega’s engrossing nihilism. The whole thing feels fleshed out and deliberate, and you can tell these two guys really see eye-to-eye artistically.
Gorgeous Children won’t be for everyone; vague interest in the macabre or avante-garde is somewhat prerequisite. But I want to stress that this is not your average horrorcore shock-rap nonsense. Having practically grown up on that stuff, I can assure you that this isn’t Necro, or Cage, or Jedi Mind Tricks, or Ill Bill, or Odd Future, or any of that stuff.
It’s a unique take on dark rap, with a gully subtlety that sounds like nothing I’ve heard before.
So if you can bring yourself to absorb what’s going on here, I think you’ll agree with me that Face Vega raps at a level that can be fairly called astonishing.
I hope you give his stuff a listen, and buy the record (name your price).
It’s been a while since I contaminated the internet with my vulgarly self-validating pop culture commentary, so I thought I’d take a moment to do just that.
As always, spoiler free.
I wasn’t disappointed, but I wasn’t pleased either. For some reason, it feels hard to form an honest opinion about this movie. Everyone sounds disingenuous when they talk about it, whether they’re gushing with obviously overblown praise or shitting on it with contrarian satisfaction. Somehow, both categories of opinion feel defensive.
The Master is an interesting specimen, insofar as it’s essentially bad movie made by a complete genius. The film is shot-through with PTA’s uncanny filmic talent, and the acting by Joaquin Pheonix is 100% gold. But notable as these strengths appear, they end up only incidental parts of a film that’s just not quite there.
Early on, the “informal processing” scene is admittedly breathtaking, and it’s truly the film’s high water mark. But after that, the film never again approaches such verve and emotion. Instead, it meanders through a series of frequently boring and overambitious devices that seem designed to outsmart and confuse even the most sophisticated (but firmly unpretentious) viewers. None of it is glaringly incompetent, but all of it feels dramatically undeveloped.
I thought Philip Seymour Hoffman was good, but he deserves nowhere near the credit he’s getting for such a straightforward role. Amy Adams on the other hand, of whom I’m generally no fan, was dreadfully miscast.
And I haven’t even seen that first one.
This is time travel sci-fi starring Bruce Willis that still manages to be fresh, thoughtful, and clean, and lord that says a lot. Time travel is a tricky device, because it’s either an anything-goes reduction to the absurd, or a just a cheap storytelling dead end that leaves an audience bored and unsatisfied. Especially if you read comic books, the first hint of time travel is usually the first hint of a deus ex machina.
But Looper is a time travel movie that manages to bring something new to the subgenre, and does so with dopeness. JGL is of course at the top of his game; the makeup makes him look a lot like Bruce Willis, (only he looks kinda like a tranny in like one particular shot). But most of all he sounds like Bruce Willis, and it’s actually kinda mind blowing.
In addition to JGL and Willis, the cast is really great: Emily Blunt is simultaneously tough and emotional, Jeff Bridges is funny and scary, Paul Dano is pathetic, and this kid Piece Gagnon is way too young to be this good at acting.
I’ve heard a lot of people saying that this is “a time travel movie that isn’t about time travel” or something like that. They’re lying. All of the story’s major plot mechanics rely on temporal manipulation. But I understand what they mean: the movie is so good that the time travel doesn’t feel like absurdity or parlor tricks. Most importantly, it’s not confusing; the flow of the movie makes everything feel credible, even if ultimately the script falls victim to several natural paradoxes.
So at the diner afterwards, when you’re cataloguing the metaphysical details with your friends, don’t get carried away. Some of them just aren’t there.
But Rian Johnson’s movie is designed to make the nerdiest of us feel like that’s OK. Because it’s the movie’s thematic content- the idea that you can be at odds with your own destiny, the cosmic power of motherhood, the dark corners of utilitarian morality - that is truly primary.
So yeah. Loved it.
Between Gone Baby Gone, The Town, and now Argo, I’ve been thinking of a phrase to describe Ben Affleck’s directorial material. I’ve settled on this: Ben Affleck directed movies are ”unusually good.” This is his third feature in a row that counts as unfalteringly solid, and I think it’s safe to say he’s better at directing than half the career directors in Hollywood today.
Although the whole “CIA funded sci-fi movie production rescues American hostages from scary terrorist Iran” thing is pretty high-concept, there’s a sense of dread, sadness, and humanity that permeates and enlivens what might otherwise have been a by-the-numbers spy/action movie. Affleck’s drama is informed by context, momentum, and juxtaposition, and Argo boasts an incredible cast to bring those elements home. Even if you forget Ben Affleck, who everyone loves to deride for no reason, we’ve got Brian Cranston, John Goodman, Alan Arkin (my fav here), and Kyle Chandler (coach from FNL).
The only drawback to the story is that it suffers from a real feeling of inevitability. Even with great pacing and a concerted effort at constructing tense scene after tense scene, it’s just the kind of movie where you know how it all ends. So it’s not giving anything away to say that there’s a distinct moment at the end when all the tension breaks, and I must say it’s just perfect.
This, I think, is Christopher Nolan’s masterpiece.
Rises is a perfectly plotted, epic and satisfying crescendo to the most important and influential superhero trilogy in genre history. I could say this a million different ways, but I won’t embellish: Simply, I love this movie.
Impossibly, Rises was even better than I had imagined throughout all those long years since 2008. Although not quite the runaway “oh SHIT!” train that The Dark Knight was, this film sets a series of complex, engaging pieces moving in the beginning, and the payoff at the end is truly spectacular. Like a magician, Nolan is a master of misdirection, and when his plot threads blossom in the third act, it’s a truly gorgeous example of storytelling. Nearly three hours of film absolutely fly by when structure is this good. The film never drags, not once.
Anne Hathaway and Joseph Gordon Levitt absolutely rock their respective characters, and their performances make one really lament that we won’t see them in these roles again. I think those two steal the show, but Christian Bale is predictably masterful. His Rises Bruce is convincingly hobbled, physically and emotionally. Bruce’s open vulnerability, painfully stark during an emotional falling out with Alfred early on, gives way to picture a delusional, and at times frankly pathetic, aging malcontent. More than ever, the audience itself worries for him and wonders when he’ll stop hurting himself.
Tom Hardy provides a massive, sublime presence, with a demeanor and character backstory that create shocking coldness and distance. The more we see of and find out about Bane, the more we come to realize that we will never understand a thing about him. His life experience is truly, gravely beyond our contemplation, to the point of literal metaphysical estrangement. This detachment haunts and terrifies Bruce. After all, “Batman” itself is an apology for Bruce’s privilege; the primary motivating factor behind his excursion to the far East was his need to “understand.”
But here we are, two movies later, and Bruce is still being reminded that he doesn’t get it -and he never will, without suffering volumes more pain, horror, and despair. Bane’s character is incredibly strong, but I did get the sense that Hardy could have been given a little more to “work with.” The fiasco over the voicing never seems to have been satisfactorily resolved, and his facial expressions are always obscured, couched in the mask. But then again, his performance is one that you can see in his eyes. And he has the scariest line of perhaps the entire trilogy. Placing his hand on a corrupt fatcat’s shoulder, he croaks, “Do you feel in charge?”
Initially, I had planned on beginning this review by flatly asserting that The Dark Knight Rises was better than The Dark Knight. But that would be unfair, and not just because it’d be a statement deliberately designed to shock you into reading further.
It would be unfair to say Rises was better, because the second and third installments of our generation’s definitive statement on Batman just aren’t that comparable. They’re so different from each other- thematically, structurally, and visually- that healthy analysis demands they be viewed as distinct compliments to each other. Not competitors. One thing I don’t look forward to over the next few decades is Clerks-style debates over the merits of each film in contradistinction to one another (full disclosure: I champion Jedi over Empire all the time).
Nolan’s trilogy stands out as “more than” just a superhero franchise for all sorts of reasons. For starters, his “story-first” method of filmmaking combines with his sense of socio-gothic aesthetics to make us feel like we’re watching something we don’t have to be embarrassed about. A mature method to storytelling remains inexplicably absent from the other corners of the comic book movie world; as much as I loved The Avengers and all the other Marvel films, they’ll never be the kind of movies you can unblushingly discuss with your boss or your girlfriend’s parents.
But these movies are more than just great stories. Each of Nolan’s installments successfully capture, with expertly broad and inoffensive strokes, themes political and psychological that uncannily resonate with just about everyone. Politically, it’s easy to see pop representations of millennial recession paranoia in Begins, terrorism in Dark Knight and radical populism in Rises. These make for some fun and somewhat stimulating pop dialogues.
But if I had to boil the Nolan trilogy down into just one theme, it’s all psychological. My view is that Nolan’s trilogy works to explore the way fear and anxiety can drive and dominate ambition, and ultimately engender lifestyles tortured and destructive. It’s about when life stops being about dreamt aspirations, and becomes more about hallucinated obligations.
Bruce Wayne is a man deeply hurt by so much in his life, and swaths of pain pile on top of each other like layers of scar tissue. His default emotions are perennially distraught: over his parents, over Rachel and Harvey, over his own unreconciled sense of self worth. Pain is his only true motivation, and like an addict, his lifestyle is concomitantly designed to seek and devour more and more suffering.
The only man who seems to see this cycle clearly is Alfred, who goes to pieces over the sorrow that such behavior inspires. Alfred chokes back tears in virtually every scene we see him in. Michael Caine’s performance is passionate and honest. His monologues are filled with so much love, that it’s almost too much to bear.
That Bruce Wayne is Batman for all the wrong reasons has been a touchstone of Batman characterization at least since Miller. But Nolan’s genius lies in infusing the other major characters with this idea. We see it in Jim Gordon’s naked loneliness, in Selina Kyle’s relentless self-pity, in Bane and the Joker’s acquiescence to a deranged, hideous processes of self-actualization, and in Harvey Dent’s naive sense of personal betrayal and disappointment with the world around him. It’s just stunning how all of these people are radically different, yet fit together like puzzle pieces in sad, psychotic collision.
The standard line on Nolan’s Batman is that it’s good because it’s “realistic.” But don’t delude yourself into swallowing that. It’s a reductive conclusion, and not even all that accurate. These will always be comic book movies, and it’s unbecoming to try and insist otherwise. But unlike every single other superhero movie out there, the Dark Knight triptych reminds us that we probably wouldn’t like living inside a comic book one bit, because we probably couldn’t handle a world any more insane than it already is.
Nolan’s philosophy of the superhero recognizes first, that art is not a mirror, but an impression of humanity. To this end, Nolan committed his work to the idea that metaphors, representations, and even caricatures can garner far more depth than fiction fixated on purportedly “realist” snobbishness. Fans of the genre can (hopefully) stop apologizing for their own enjoyment and belief in this idea. Nolan is the first superhero filmmaker who has helped make this possible.
The Dark Knight Rises fulfills Nolan’s vision, and gives his trilogy the kind of ending it so desperately deserved. Viewed holistically, the experience is an engrossing meditation on the pangs of contemporary existence and a climactically unambiguous affirmation of mankind’s inherent nobility. Like planet Earth today, Nolan’s world is at once apocalyptic and progressive. And alas, that will always be the rub.