The Jellicle Criticism Manifesto

The reading of films is a difficult matter

It isn’t just one of your holiday games

You may think at first I’m as mad as a hatter

When I tell you a film must have three different reads

First of all there’s the reading the people use daily

Such as “funny,” “moving,” “trite,” or “too long”

Such as “thrilling” or “sweet,” “a bore” or “mundane,”

All of them sensible everyday reads

 

There are fancier readings if you think they sound sweeter,

Some for emotion and some for the brain,

Such as “marxist,” “platonic,” “escatological,” “theater”

All of them sensible everyday reads.

 

But I tell you a film needs a read that’s particular

A read that’s peculiar and more dignified

Else how can the critic keep themselves quite so singular

Or spread through their memories, or cherish their pride?

 

Critics of this kind, I can give you a quorum

Fans of films like Alita, or Zardoz or Cats

Such as Speed Racer, or else Jupe Ascending

Readers cherishing feelings owed to solely one film

 

But above and beyond there’s still one lens left over

And that is the read that you never will guess

The reading no human research can discover

But the film itself knows and will never confess

 

When you notice a film in obscure exaltation

The reason, I tell you, is always the same

The film is engaged in a rapt contemplation

Of the thought, of the thought, of the thought of this lens

Its ineffable, effable, effanineffable

Deep and inscrutable singular read

 

Read, read, read, read, read, read

Rutger Hauer (1944-2019)

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I’ve been working on cyberpunk fiction with my closest friends for the better part of three years. It started as one concept, borne out of the summer of 2016, in a conversation between my podcast cohost Stephen and I. We wanted to give the megacorporations “battle idols” that would sell the private military to the public – combine warfare and theater to make a war economy sexy. It started out directly political, likely out of our frustration with rising fascism and stodgy liberalism.

After bringing in a few more bodies, we’ve expanded the concept. It’s gotten more anime, more about experimental technology and what it means to have a weaponized body, less about how even warhawk Hillary was too docile to stop the Nazis. We’ve built a Soup Street that isn’t getting its food deliveries on time, arcologies of bioengineers (and their menial laborers,) and mecha that are too much responsibility for their pilots.

But center to the stories we’ve told is the human bodies under oppression and watching their psyches crack under pressure. In the world we made, things are bad. Some people are better at getting by than others. And some are better at getting by while still keeping some love in their hearts.

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Rutger Hauer’s Roy Batty is an icon of that love to me. Batty is a broken man in a world that did not deserve him, and so he lashes out against it – but he never stops asking why he is no longer allowed to share in its time. When I’ve thought of stories to tell in that setting, Batty has remained in my memory as the soul either devoured or shining. The resignation in his final ad-libbed monologue remains one of the most profound filmed moments in history.

Hauer shared excited two years ago about a script he had wanted to direct titled RAIN DOGS. He was shopping at that time for a producer. It is hard not to feel he was cut short too soon himself.

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Hauer has given so many heroic performances – those more well versed in his career will honor those. All I can do is try to honor that Hauer defines the stories I’ve poured my soul into these past years, and to mark this date so that his memory is not lost or forgotten like tears in rain.

Holding Infinity In The Pocket of Your Shorts

Well, here we are again.

It has been three years, eleven months, and four days since my last confession. And again I confess – I’m playing Desert Golfing.

Do you know that people make lists on the internet? Sorry, I don’t mean to be pedantic. Of course you know there are lists on the internet.

You’ve seen them on Buzzfeed, Bustle, Pottermore, BusinessInsider, and Epicurious. If you play games, you see them on IGN, Polygon, and Kotaku Dot Com.

I don’t mean the kind of lists someone pays you to make or the kind of lists someone makes to “generate clicks,” though. I don’t even just mean that the internet is flooded with lists. Letterboxd is a website where the libertarian right and the queer left primarily engage in discourse in the comments section of lists of movies. I used to write for a website whose sole purpose was to help its user make a ranked list of favorite movies. BestEverAlbums is a site where almost the only interaction you can have is to contribute your own list. These lists reflect the phenomenon of the lists people make on the internet.

But no, not just those lists. Because then there are the lists that never necessarily are meant to be shared. Sometimes those lists are basically wishlists or to-do lists of movies to watch, recipes to try, etc.

But then there are the private lists that half of the supreme art dorks have of their top fives (and tens and twenties and hundreds) of…everything. Guitarists. Coffee brands. Studio Ghibli movies. Dog breeds. They’re kept in a google doc or a spreadsheet, updated constantly.

My mom used to keep her movie list in OneNote before I showed her Flickchart. Maybe she still does – some of the other Flickchart writers I knew kept their spreadsheets intact and updated.

And these lists never see the light of day except in conversation with other list keepers. Then they may battle their lists for list supremacy, a sort of Pokemon Battling over whether or not Life During Wartime is a top ten Talking Heads song, or they will add blindspots “to the list.”

It is a scrivening privacy, often the very definition of mental masturbation. It operates like an ethereal university of blind academics, wandering the halls and working on solipsism, until they collide into one another.

So, anyway, my friends and I are making a list, and Desert Golfing is on the list of things we’re eventually going to narrow down to make a shorter list.

My partner asked me for good iPhone games and with Desert Golfing back on my brain, I told her to download Desert Golfing. I watched her play the first hundred or so holes.

I booted up Desert Golfing, wondering if after transitioning my SIM card to a new phone and downloading the game again it would have my progress.

Happily, it did.

I can’t say what it would have felt like to play Desert Golfing again if I had been alone, in my own home, wondering if anyone would have been willing to talk about Desert Golfing with me.

Instead, I was playing next to my partner. At first, I didn’t want to spoil the scope of the game for her and tried to play furtively, my phone turned away from hers.

She started to get very frustrated on a hole; it took something like ten shots. I decided it would be funnier to show her the hole I was on, and that even having all but mastered the game, sometimes a hole takes forty five.

A minute or two later, my ball bounced on a wall in such a unique way that it lodged into it. The sand held it on a perfect vertical slope. I screenshotted it and sent it to my list-making friends. One of them laughed. The other was worried I’d actually gotten stuck – I hadn’t, this was an easy three-stroke hole.

The other then shared a screenshot from the beginning of Getting Over It with Bennett Foddy – he joked that someone should tell the developer that he should fix the controls. (five comedy points, steve.)

This was about a week and a half ago, and I’ve been booting in here and there, enjoying pulling back on the ball (“exactly the way you would pull a red bird to fire at a piggy,” i think i said in 2014.) I’ve loved relearning the way the sand catches the ball, how to climb a slope, how to use its dampening quality to deaden a bounce off a wall into a hole rather than over it.

It is lonelier without someone sitting next to me playing along. It feels a little like walking blind down the hallways of some ethereal university.

And then, this morning, before my coffee and after my medication, I found myself chatting online about a different game on a different list with a different friend. I remarked that I like big, beautiful messes. The clean elegance of an idea well expressed is wonderful, to be sure. But I love the sprawl of elaboration and tangent, too. Blame the academics and writers who taught me that the Whale Encyclopedia chapters of Moby-Dick were “totally the best ones.”

I joked that the only form of “containment” I liked was that of Mark Rothko. I love Rothko, he’s usually my go-to favorite artist. His color work is so soothing to me. The joke wasn’t about Rothko. I went to google a Rothko in case my friend didn’t have a 20th century art history education.

And then I wrote this.

Ocarina Of

The game hangs in sounds easily remembered and in feelings of genuine shock. In piano tinkling out of a band practice room, in murmurings about what lives at the bottom of the well, in a tattoo of the golden Triforce. Other Zeldas can lay claim to some of this ferocious energy, but until Breath of the Wild stole Olympian fire, no other Zelda would ever conquer a Reader’s Poll but Ocarina of Time.

Today is its 20th anniversary. Two decades gone. We have come back full circle. The most beloved games of 2018 all openly wear its colors. God of War is now an environmental puzzler with lock-on behind the back combat. Red Dead Redemption 2 officially turns the series outward toward digging through cranny and nook as its most ardent fans drop off the main storyline one by one. All that keeps Monster Hunter World from carrying the Zelda costumes presented in Monster Hunter Generations Ultimate is its lack of a Switch release.

I have been grappling with Ocarina of Time since its release. I have experienced envy, fury, pride, dejection, frustration, abandonment, and, eventually, acceptance with Kokiri Forest and the Hyrule that it calls home. Once the height of imagination and grandiosity, it sits now like an empty dollhouse, the furniture gathering dust.

In the past, I’ve wantonly made public my apostate perspective of Ocarina as “the worst 3D one.” I cite the obtuse adventure-game logic of its occasional difficult puzzles (find the sword in a hole in the wall behind the sword training center, a place useful for non-sword owners; use gravity to fall on web one and only one time – an environmental object’s ability to bear your weight will not return as a mechanic,) the simplicity of the rest, the ugly emptiness of its dungeons, and the resistance of beautiful weirdness.

This was inspired by a friend I’d suggested play the game as her first Zelda. She loathed the experience. Another friend and I set out to replay the game and found ourselves powerfully critical. What wonder it once held to our child’s eyes was replaced with repulsion. “This” was the game being held above so many we loved, above even those we still loved from that dusty N64?

Yet this rejection too was that immaturity that stops the high school student from seeing the animated films they loved all their childhood. We refused to admit how much of the game was simply bound to our code at that time. We could not imagine fumbling with the controls any longer, now bred into full literacy. We could not feel that pride at mastery we once developed as kids. We could not hear the shop music as anything but a jingle used by YouTubers to entreat the likecommentsubscribebelow.

Twenty years. Two decades gone. Under a blanket, on my partner’s sister’s sofa, I meditate on the little Kokiri shopkeeper. He seems almost casually overfamiliar while also seeming uncaring. Maybe he’s distracted because he can’t stop bouncing to peek over the countertop at his customer. I love this lil’ guy.

Remember how messy the river to Zora’s Domain is? This cavalcade of horrible eel-like geometry that you have to traverse to reach Princess Ruto, the King, Jabu-Jabu?  They would repeatedly veer back and forth on how much of a Mario game should be in a Zelda game since. Geographically, it creates this place where as Din molded the earth into stone, some part of the earth grasped out against her.

I suppose what makes Ocarina of Time so difficult to grapple with is that unlike prior Zelda games, it no longer seems like an abstraction but a world. But unlike later Zelda games, its characters only have the basest desires and no driving ethos. The dollhouse comparison seems apt; it is a populated field with no life. It is a house without a home.

And then there’s the Happy Mask Salesman. The jogging man who just wants a worthy race. King Darunia’s Epic Boogie to Saria’s Song. The yellow-greens of the Lost Woods. That Gerudo Valley flamenco, that race’s uncomfortable fusion of Romani and Arabian culture. Ingo, the Waluigi of Lon Lon Ranch, that insidious younger brother who throws in with King Ganon.

I have been grappling with Ocarina of Time for twenty years. Two decades gone. I do not expect to answer its questions today. But, well. I’ve put its name in my mouth a lot these last eight years. I can take a little more time to put respect on its name.

REMEMBERING ISAO TAKAHATA

when i stop watching movies, the same thing always happens. i get sluggish. i don’t want to text people back. i chat too much on facebook discussion groups with people i don’t really know and probably don’t much like. i start drinking around 4-5 pm toward the end of the spell because i start feeling like enjoying things takes too much effort. i throw myself into the fantasy of my relationship whether the relationship is actual or intended.

and then, often, i show someone a studio ghibli movie and I snap out of it.

if i has to guess, usually, i’m making people watch whisper of the heart. yoshifumi kondo’s sole effort as a studio ghibli director before an unexpected heart attack is one of the studio’s underseen films and is very nearly my favorite. it’s the story of, yes, a teenage girl, but she very much falls in love with the boy this time, and all the magic that happens comes from the art they make together.

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kondo’s film wouldn’t make sense as part of studio ghibli without isao takahata, who passed away last night. when people complain they don’t like anime or animation in general because they’re “kid’s stuff,” they’re almost unilaterally directed toward Takahata’s Grave of the Fireflies. it’s described in hushed tones as the saddest film ever – two siblings are orphaned in an american firebombing of japan, and when their grief is too much for their aunt to bear, they are kicked out and starve to death. the death is not a spoiler, but how the film begins. that they find any joy and kindness in life is takahata’s idea of surprise.

of course, takahata did not invent grave of the fireflies: it’s based on a semi-autobiographical short story, in which the older brother seita survived, written as an apology to the dead sister. the kindness exhibited by seita in the story is the primary fiction: the author, nosoka, viewed seita as having some of the strength he lacked in real life. but takahata reiterated that he found seita interesting primarily because he was not stoic or particularly suited for survival. he saw it as relatable to the young people of the 80s, who he perceived as acting on their whims rather than behaving with the filial piety and sense of duty that would keep them alive in a dire situation. in japan, and to takahata, the moral of grave of the fireflies is not one of the horrors of war, but the reality of immaturity’s punishment. put up with the aunt who won’t respect your grief: stand straight: you have someone who needs you. the anti-war message is an invention of the american audiences who see the crime they inflicted on japan as unreal and unforgivable. japan has a long enough history with war to see famine, orphanage, and what we deem atrocity as a fact of life on earth among the indifference of mankind.

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takahata does not always access this cynical view. fireflies almost seems like an irritated response to castle in the sky, in which ghibli cofounder and past subordinate hayao miyazaki depicts precocious children who get away with everything and make friends with everyone. takahata fostered well enough love for the titular Little Norse Prince Hols of their first feature together, developed in 1968 with takahata as director and miyazaki as key animator.

miyazaki maybe tempered takahata’s steel with my neighbor totoro and kiki’s delivery service, maybe made him believe in the goodness of kids. his next project was another adaptation: only yesterday, which has just recently made its american debut with a proper dub and home video release. while daisy ridley is lovely, only yesterday screams its japanese culture with exuberance in telling the story of an unmarried city girl who visits the country and reminisces about her middle school days.

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it is almost unbearable how totally takahata captures childhood. every woman i know who’s seen it remarks on how truthfully and insightfully he captures something about adolescent girlhood. he simply does not shy away from the psychology of the discomfort and exhilaration of puberty, and he clearly did actually pay attention in conversations about what the girls did when the boys weren’t around. he does this without evangelizing the children: they are still often impetuous, often cruel, often wrong, and yet the care he takes in depicting that fallibility makes the love it displays so powerful. that he made these films while miyazaki was inventing another beloved anthropomorphized animal in porco rosso only further cements the level of takahata’s commitment to telling stories he felt were true.

which is why pom poko, his one solo creation, without adaptation (though some rightfully note its structural relationship to seven samurai), being about the shapeshifting tanuuki yokai attempting to survive a deforestation is so delightful. not a lick of it rings less true than his last two films, and his commitment to psychology keeps pom poko deliberate and full of experimentation. the same is true of his last film before his own long hiatus, my neighbor the yamadas, his first film after the death of kondo that threatened to retire both takahata and miyazaki.

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but both returned before takahata passed last night. in roughly 2013 (a date made complicated by international releases) the two men released elegiac swan songs in miyazaki’s the wind rises and takahata’s the tale of princess kaguya. i do not consider it overstatement to say these are the two men’s best films. kaguya evolves the ghibli art style and fuses it with the aesthetic of Heian-era japanese painting while sacrificing none of his psychological nuance. its final note is one of death as release from consciousness, maybe unbearable for those still on earth but unfelt by the deceased. it is how takahata chose to send himself off.

i cannot express how deeply the work of isao takahata has affected me. he in so many ways legitimized animation, and still he also legitimized the importance of telling women’s stories, of not letting yourself get bogged down in a genre, and of being willing to learn and admit wrong while maintaining conviction to yourself. his work is home to many of the great images i will ever see.

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i hope he rests peacefully.

My Top 15 Films of 2015, For Posterity

After an amazing year of over 500 flicks, it took me an age to narrow down the best films of 2015. What an astounding year we’ve had. I may narrow this down to a top 10 eventually, but, for now, it’s a beautiful top 15. The order, of course, will trade as months or years go by.

I’ll be catching up later with A Pigeon Sat On A Branch Contemplating Existence, Shaun the Sheep, The Russian Woodpecker, Peanuts, The Big Short, Anomalisa, The Assassin, Taxi, and 45 Years, along with many others over the rest of my life. Though there are another five or ten films that could make this list (and may, someday,) the true honorable mention goes to Don Hertzfeldt’s WORLD OF TOMORROW, a great short film which warms my heart more as time passes.

I linked to my Letterboxd list in an earlier post, but I realized I’m planning to let that Letterboxd list be edited at some point. So this will be the standing record of my favorite films of 2015. Since the original version of this text, I’ve seen Anomalisa. It’s fantastic, and equally worthy of placement, but I like what I have here.

15. Bridge of Spies

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Spielberg’s film is one of his most understated successes; part Le Carre glare-off and part Capra-esque morality fable, the film works equally well as entertainment and political statement. The Coens’ touch, perhaps simply to have the running joke about “this cold,” remains one of the subtlest and most entertaining details in a film this year. I think that joke works thematically to exemplify that maybe everyone is so eager to get their job done in the first place that they don’t stop to think if they’ve done it right until they’re on the precipice of its completion. Hanks and Rylance excel, and the film’s levity helps establish the film as one of the best of the year.

14. Clouds of Sils Maria

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I can’t deny the performances of Binoche and Stewart in Clouds of Sils Maria, a film which portrays the critique found in, say, Birdman, as simultaneously vital work against juvenility and pure cynicism. Similarly to Carol, its sexuality exists on its periphery, allowing excellent dialogue, performance, setting, and filmmaking to make the film’s statement. Hazier and more abstract than many of the films on this list, I suspect rewatching Clouds of Sils Maria may shoot it higher along.

13. The Revenant

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This poor flick is clouded by Academy Awards, talk of difficult shoots, and Birdman. It ought not to be. DiCaprio doesn’t give the best performance he’s ever given (that remains Django Unchained) but he gives an excellent one, with physicality enough to make the film’s mostly non-verbal second act a treasure to take in. The natural lighting results in a beautiful film, and the supporting turn from Hardy fills in a movie with a gap. As a revisionist Western, it does enough to favor the Native Americans to escape offense. It’s not even the most profound Western of the year, but it is one of the most enjoyable Westerns I’ve seen, and one of the most astounding as filmmaking.

12. Furious 7

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The Fast & Furious movies continue to be a highlight of my movie year. I watched Fast Five and was impressed by the amount of fun I had; I saw it because I won a t-shirt in a trivia competition. I watched all of the films in preparation for Fast & Furious 6, which I quite enjoyed, but was a little disappointed by upon first viewing. This year, for Furious 7, I rewatched Tokyo Drift, Fast Five, and F&F 6, and I enjoyed the last much more this time. But I’ve yet to enjoy any of these films like Furious 7, an insane romp which explodes off the screen with enthusiasm, invention, and delight. Furious 7 is a ride filled with small great elements like fights with Ronda Rousey and Tony Jaa. But the bravery comes when it includes moments like the graveyard scene, in which Walker says from the grave, “No more funerals.” I’ve never seen a film include its own in memoriam; the last frames of that sequence are so moving, so light, that the bold stroke works. Furious 7 eschews the line between fact and fiction, ingratiating the audience into the Toretto family and then honoring the audience’s need to grieve.

11. Sicario

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Some people will watch Sicario and determine the path to hell is laid with best intentions. They’re missing the point; that justice is not the best intention when you make a deal with harbingers of doom, and that passion replaces clarity when we take the sword of justice into our own hands. Flagrant disregard for the law throughout Sicario creates a chaotic zone so toxic as to seem unsolvable. I walked out of Sicario red-eyed, not from tears, but from high-wire anxiety. The best use of Denis Villenueve’s talent for tension yet, Sicario is the first of his films that I would want to rewatch; I hope I will continue to find new volume in it over years.

10. Ex Machina

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From my review: “Ex Machina is simultaneously a film of this moment and a film which can last beyond it; its concerns about the objectification and domestication of women, its depiction of the hypermasculine domestication by web technologists of its consumers, and its concerns about levity in a time of moral panic all should hold some resonance for many years and spin from our very current concerns. One of the better dramas of the last several years, Ex Machina has that special touch where a screenwriter discovers that they, too, can direct, as well as the directors who have ever held their work, and they may begin to discover their own autonomy.” I haven’t come up with anything more succinct than my writing about this fun Alex Garland flick. A24 makes the coolest movies in the world.

9. Tangerine

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I don’t know if Tangerine would have made the same impact upon me had I not seen it in a theater. Something about seeing this story, this camera, these actresses on a big screen validated Tangerine as something more than “a cool thing shot on an iPhone.” I’m glad I watched it in a venue separate from where I might watch DJ Khaled’s SnapChat story or read about Zola. I hope I still would have found it entertaining, empathetic, multilayered, and worthy of its commentary on sex, poverty, cultural baggage, and hegemony. Some are still furious that Kitana “Kiki” Rodriguez and Mya Taylor were not nominated for acting awards. I think they should have been up for Best Original Screenplay; my belief in the entire project comes from their belief in their portrayal.

8. Carol

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This premise sounds like it was practically designed to sweep the 2016 Oscars; in reality, it’s a miracle that it wound up excellent, and the forgotten Freeheld helps exemplify exactly where its statements about sexuality could have become too political. Instead, Carol works as a political act by being an expertly made romance drama which lets its lesbian romance speak as its own political statement. The film works best as a character drama and as an aesthetic accomplishment, with some of the most beautiful filmmaking and scoring I can recall. A taut screenplay lets it stick as a remarkable achievement; Blanchett and Mara develop career performances in their work off one another.

7. Room

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I really need to get around to Abrahamson’s Irish films; his prior film, Frank, is an empathetic film which achieves sublimity with its closure. Room is equally empathetic and sublime from the start, but it doesn’t lose steam once its denizens escape Room. Larson is an actress I’ve found compelling since her brief turn in Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, but it’s with this film that I turned into a fan. Her and Tremblay, together, work within the limited confines of Room and make it wholly compelling. When they leave, Abrahamson gives the film the brain it needs to stay moving. The structure of this is so effective, the emotional depth so fantastic. And the final moment, a treasure.

6. When Marnie Was There

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There is no shock that Studio Ghibli winds up on my list once more. My favorite film studio made sure that each of its directors’ last features would be each of their best work, and When Marnie Was There is certainly the best film directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi as of 2015. The film’s best element is its lead character, a young artist named Anna. Anna is one of the studio’s most fully realized characters, and I fell wholly into her story of love and loss. If this is the last official Studio Ghibli film, they’ll have gone out as well as imaginable; I look forward to wherever Yonebayashi makes movies next, and I hope they have the same degree of empathy as this great film.

5. Mad Max Fury Road

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What can be said about Mad Max: Fury Road that hasn’t been said already? That it would probably entertain those who think they’re done with action movies in a post-The Dark Knight world? That it, when looked at as a series of scenes or great images, works in ways unimagined when you just watch it as a sort of lore factory? That, somehow, it uses the orange and blue color palette of the modern blockbuster to reach an apex of visual filmmaking? Watch Mad Max: Fury Road. We can all keep watching Mad Max: Fury Road. It will always be here.

4. Spotlight

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Spotlight is, essentially, perfect. Spotlight is activist and emotional and empathetic while remaining dispassionate, complex, not exploitative. The story of the exposure of the Boston Catholic Church as a brotherhood of secrecy and permission of child molestation reveals so much about how the brain should work. Schriber’s character, who demands a full and complete dismantling of the system because the Boston Globe has the power to do more than expose bad priests, is a model for how the individual has intense power. Spotlight is entertaining in that it is enjoyable to watch people do their jobs well; it is emotional in that it respects those on its sideline. I have naught but praise for Spotlight, and it should not just be a model for how to handle ensemble drama, but a model for how to handle one’s own life.

3. The Hateful Eight

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I expected to find myself wholly disappointed by The Hateful Eight. Another Western, and one less obviously political than Django Unchained? It seemed a wasteful half-step. But no Tarantino film has better transformed the idea of what a Tarantino film might do; the film rewards not surface level analysis but deep meditation and immersion, having far more to say by saying several things less emphatically. We’ve become accustomed to genre movies screaming themes at us without subtlety. The Hateful Eight pulls them into an ensemble of figures who conflict with one another, making a muddy collection of ideas that actually reward using one’s brain. Each performance is astounding; Jennifer Jason Leigh obviously makes a mark, but how about Jackson’s great work, or the astounding performance from Bruce Dern? Rarely has the violence itself in a Tarantino film felt so criticized. This feels like his film that looks at all the misery in his work over the years and bothers to make it clear that this violence is not that of Randian evolution but of the end of the world. Some justice.

2. Magic Mike XXL

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Industrial welding. Magic Mike XXL utilizes the first film’s focus of the lack of glamour and stability in sex work and hangs this cloud over a more joyful film about all of sexuality’s greatest gifts. The convenience store. Some zany antics support the smiles, body positivity, gender dynamics, and comments on self-transformation that make Magic Mike XXL a magical experience for almost any viewer. Rome. There is a moment where this film transforms into a sort of odyssey, and the remaining encounters each are so progressive and beautiful as to make me laugh and cry all over again. Heaven. And with the last half hour, I knew I had a new favorite comedy on this earth. Magic Mike XXL is better than the film we need; it’s the film I love.

1. The Look of Silence

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I was aware there would be no hope in seeing anything better than The Look of Silence as soon as I saw that it existed. Oppenheimer’s The Act of Killing shows a destroyed nation where its executors still hold power over the subjugated survivors, and the documentary evokes Werner Herzog (an executive producer on both films) as it heightens Indonesian genocide to divine tragedy. The essential antidote is The Look of Silence, a film which returns to earth and places an optometrist named Adi as a sort of vigilante investigator into his own brother’s death in those genocides. The latter evokes the other executive producer, Errol Morris (The Thin Blue Line, The Fog of War) as it chases down those involved in Adi’s brother’s killing, but does not lose sight of the prior film’s gorgeous cinematography. If The Look of Silence were fiction, it would be receiving the same criticisms as Bridge of Spies, called a Capra-esque morality tale that sits as too unbelievable to be successful. As reality, the confrontations Adi has with those who perpetrated the genocide, or those who willfully enable their family members who did, are some of the boldest filmmaking I’ve ever witnessed. The Look of Silence is the year’s best film.

Triad: I Started A Podcast!

Hey, so, my best friend Austin and I have started a movie podcast named Triad. Our goal is to watch three movies from a self-selected “trilogy,” with a shared theme, actor, genre, idea, heck, maybe even a trilogy at some point, and do an episode about each. Our first theme is “Three From The Heart,” where we’re talking about three romantic dramas that get overlooked as “fluffy” or dismissed as “girly.” We’re not about that, so we decided to take these movies pretty seriously.

The two episodes we’ve done are for the Keanu Reeves/Sandra Bullock movie “The Lake House” (which, spoilers, is bad) and the modern classic “The Notebook” (which, spoilers, we both liked.) Austin keeps worrying that we’re not funny enough, but I think we had good conversations about these movies.

However, we’re pretty new at this, and Austin is still getting used to the idea of making enough time to really edit this show. We’re still wooly. As a result, there’ll be more “ums” and “uhs” in these first two episodes than as we go along. We’re happy to take any feedback you wanna give, I’m sure, so if you listen, let us know!

We’ll be on iTunes at some point, and we’re hoping to get our RSS feed set up soon. For now, we’ll be at this Soundcloud page, getting way into cinematography after we done watched The Lake House and just fawning over Rachel McAdams’s dresses in our episode about The Notebook.

Film Review: La Haine

A still from La Haine.

Vinz and Said take in their projects.

La Haine (1995)

Directed and written by Mathieu Kassovitz
Last night I finished the new essay by Ta-Nehisi Coates, “Between The World And Me,” and I remarked upon it to my girlfriend and a couple customers as perhaps the greatest book I’d ever read. Watching La Haine, I realize that I now see things I couldn’t see before, things I didn’t understand. Or maybe I always did, but now I can better translate the symbols I see in this film.

La Haine is a film which depicts three young French men oppressed by classism and racism in a community in riot. Their friend, Abdel, has been brutalized by police in the riots, and he is in critical condition. They cannot see him, and attempts to do so nearly get them all arrested. Later, the film shows what happens when the two non-white men get arrested; in watching this film, I understand better what happened to Eric Garner, what happened to Sandra Bland.

The white man Vinz, played perfectly by Vincent Cassel, is furious. He has been shown what is life is meant to look like by the media, but classism has put him in this ghetto. Vinz dreams about going ballistic, about being a cop-killer, and eventually gets his chance. Vinz embodies much of what I’ve felt in the past year of police protests, a desire to bring down reckoning that comes from a place of security, of knowing that white people have to do more wrong to not get favors from friends in the force. Vinz is a body in the streets, dominated by protection of himself and taking what is his. He knows these rules, and he is protected because he can venture outside the streets and resemble a ballet director or a French prince.

The black man, Hubert, played subtly by Hubert Kounde, embodies much of what I have learned from Coates’s book. He seeks redemption, works hard to be twice as good as Vinz, to distinguish himself from that anger and to support his mother and siblings. Hubert is not without anger; he participates in protests, and he is a boxer. But he will not entertain the simple freedom of killing a cop and dying, which simply escalates the violence in his community; Hubert knows the rules of the streets, and he has the patience to recognize they rule against him. That patience is his virtue, and it is tested.

The Arabic man, Saïd, played quietly by Saïd Taghmaoui, is unfortunately overlooked in an effort to give Vinz and Hubert duality. He is younger, a bit more rash, a bit unsure whether to be confident or reticent. When faced with the direct conflicts between the two, Saïd resorts to peacemaking, either by separation or by distraction. He does not want to help them grow, and when the situation grows, he takes opportunities to retreat.

Perfectly shot, paced, and scored by excellent popular music, there is nothing I would change about La Haine. But Ta-Nehisi Coates’s book taught me something that places La Haine as a dated or foreign relic. In one scene, four men enact gun violence upon each other before being arrested, and the three protagonists join a large-scale rush on the police officers, who they fear will enact violence upon the fighters.

In La Haine, the police slightly escalate the situation, but they do not enact any noticeable violence upon the protesters. Based on our reports of the American justice system, the four men who carried firearms might be dead immediately, and responding like a human with fear is a death warrant.

A new favorite film.

5/5