Letting It All Burn: How A 2013 “Best of” serves as a reminder of 2014’s “Worst of”

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“This police department here in Philadelphia could invade Cuba,” Mayor Frank Rizzo told reporters. “What I’m saying is that we are trained and equipped for war.” Rizzo’s appraisal might have been made nearly 30 years ago, but it now seems eerily prescient. With the events of the last few months, few films from the past couple years capture the current angry zeitgeist like Let the Fire Burn (2013) a documentary investigating the disastrous May 1985 confrontation between the Philadelphia Police Department and the back to earth, black power, anti-technology, commune/organization known as MOVE. After all was said and done, three city blocks, about 60 houses, lay in ruin and eleven MOVE members, … [Read more...]

Do Wes Anderson Movies Actually Make Money?

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Indie and art house film has always extended the possibility of artistic freedom—at least as much as it’s possible for any auteur to pursue a singular vision in a medium that requires the input of everyone from actors and producers to key grips and the tweakers on craft service. Hollywood is to film what Nashville is to music, the thinking goes—where formulaic pap is churned out for the general public, whereas indie (like alt-country or Americana) allegedly offers the possibility of something less polluted by conformity and commercial concerns. Of course, cinematic liberty can be a bad thing. Just look at the chronically self-indulgent and mediocre films of Woody Allen, which have cried … [Read more...]

Sideways at Ten: Shut Up and Drink the Damn Merlot

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Americans are awash in wine. We sniff it, eyeball it, drink it. We bathe in it.[1] It is a marker of cultural superiority and hipness. Things were not always so. For the Depression and Beat generations, wine was culturally denoted by the wino rather than the connoisseur. Even the heady Baby Boom generation, which drank a lot, preferred smart cocktails to Pinots and Chardonnay. So how on earth did wine enjoy such a turn around? Usually these things are complicated, but thankfully we can pin the entire wine revolution on one cultural moment: the theatrical release of Sideways in 2004. In the words of one authoritative and disinterested individual, Sideways “changed the international wine world … [Read more...]

Dick: The Forrest Gump of Stoner Movies

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It is the fate of the cult movie to be ahead of its time. One thinks of David Cronenberg’s Videodrome, which opened to middling reviews and pitiful box office receipts in 1983, only to see its dark media fantasia look far more prescient as video games and the Internet matured in the 1990s. Mike Judge had the distinction of directing two modern classics that tanked at the box office but flourished in video release; 1999’s Office Space resonated with the deepening economic malaise of the early twenty-first century, while 2006’s Idiocracy makes more sense today than ever before. Sometimes, though, a film manages to be both ahead of and behind its time—as the 1999 alternate-history farce Dick … [Read more...]

Noiring LA: Mildred Pierce, The Reckless Moment, and Reinforcing Postwar Suburban Gender Roles

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"Often like a ghost in the shadows, the mother haunts film noir," observed Kelly Oliver and Benigno Trigo in 2003. "She is mentioned but never seen, yet she leaves her traces throughout film noir. Paralleling the dichotomy of the bad omnipresent or bad absent mother, in film noir the mother is everywhere and nowhere."1 Yet, as the two critics note, a handful of film noirs placed mothers and women at their center, ultimately both pushing back against noir restraints, but still reinforcing domestic, gender, and racial normatives of the day. In two such films, "Mildred Pierce" and "The Reckless Moment," Los Angeles and its suburbs provide the backdrop for film noir's judgment on the role of … [Read more...]

Reading Piketty at the Grand Budapest Hotel

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Wes Anderson has always had a penchant for the past.  Ever since The Royal Tenenbaums, his movies have increasingly drifted into a historical aesthetic, from the shabby (The Tenenbaums’ vaguely 70s-esque New York) to the quaint (the warm agrarian hues of 1960s New England in Moonrise Kingdom).  Few critics have missed the fact that his newest film, The Grand Budapest Hotel, amps up all things Anderson to the extreme.  It is cute, fussily pristine, ornately detailed, and even more deeply wedded to a time and place—a screwball comedy in the made-up European nation of Zubrowka, a seeming nod to Freedonia in the 1933 Marx Brothers classic Duck Soup.  Indeed, Grand Budapest harks back to a … [Read more...]

White Racial Innocence Goes to War: Forrest Gump at 20

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1994—it wasn’t that long ago.  Or was it?  It was a time before iPhones, YouTube, Monica Lewinsky, WMDs, and Honey Boo-Boo.  The tech bubble was still a glimmer in Alan Greenspan’s eye.  It was in the Spring of that year that I remember seeing a trailer for a forthcoming Tom Hanks film with the unlikely title Forrest Gump.  I figured it was some weirdo prestige project that a big-name actor was doing for some indie cred, and would never, ever be a commercial success.  But a few months later, I witnessed a crowd of teary-eyed viewers streaming out of a screening of Forrest Gump, clutching Kleenexes.  Something was clearly going on. As it turns out, Tom Hanks’s portrayal of a Candidean … [Read more...]

Seventy Years Later: The Zoot Suit Riots and the Complexity of Youth Culture

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[Editor's Note: This article originally appeared under the Intersections column at KCET Departures, May 30, 2013.] In the film "American Me," Pedro Santana, fresh from having his devotion to wife Esperanza tattooed on his arm, prepares for a night on the town. His wife, accompanied by another couple, wades through Los Angeles streets on their way to meet Pedro, as a soundtrack of sensationalized news reports of zoot-suited thugs, dangerous riots, and retributions delivered by U.S. servicemen blare in the background. His friends exhibit a clear wariness regarding the evening's disruptive personality, but Pedro appears unconcerned, more focused on "walking the boulevard with his woman." … [Read more...]

From Better Luck Tomorrow to K-Town: Asian Americans and Los Angeles in 21st Century Media

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[Editor's Note: This piece closes out our  Asian Pacific American Heritage Month coverage.  Be sure to check out our previous posts on Asian American athletics, notably masculinity, femininity, and Asian American basketball in 20th century California here and basketball's role in Filipino and Filipino-American identity here, and the intersection of the Cold War and Asian American citizenship, particularly in how the New Right, anti-communism and the Vietnam War created the diverse demographics of today's Orange county here or how film noir, Cold War ethos, and Asian American sexuality figure prominently in the 1959 L.A. noir classic the "Crimson Kimono" here.] "The problem of this era is … [Read more...]

Noiring L.A.: The Crimson Kimono and Asian American Sexuality in the Age of the Cold War

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"Crimson Kimono is really just a reversal of the old GI concept: 'Let's change our luck,'" Director Sam Fuller told interviewers. "That means let's go out and get some local talent, someone of a race or creed other than our own. The Japanese cop in Crimson Kimono is in a reverse position. He is involved with a white girl and wondering to himself, 'Does she want me for me or has she been dumped by some white guy and is trying to change her luck?'" 1 Certainly, in this way and in several others, Fuller's 1959 film took a very different approach from other film noir of the 1950s, and serves as useful text from which to consider changes to the genre and Southern California's racial … [Read more...]

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