The Exquisite Exquisiteness of Carol

We got this piece seven months ago and shelved it because, at the time, it didn't seem like it could be of any great relevance; the author just really, really likes a movie. And then we saw this piece in Wired on the rapid efflorescence of extreme Carol fandom online.  And we reconsidered. Go figure. Seldom has a movie so moved me as Todd Haynes's Carol. Haynes is an auteur's auteur, a throwback to the heyday of Great Directors in the 1970s.  His 1995 film Safe nearly inspired me to write a book, and his 2007 I'm Not There--a riff on the identity and iconicity of Bob Dylan--almost made me stop hating biopics. Indeed, the director's versatility and willingness to play with issues of gender … [Read more...]

Get Out: The First Great Film of the Trump Era

We need books that affect us like a disaster, that grieve us deeply, like the death of someone we loved more than ourselves, like being banished into forests far from everyone, like a suicide. A book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us. That is my belief. Suffice to say this quotation was not written by a Hollywood producer looking for the next big hit.  Driving an axe into the deepest fears and anxieties of audiences is not a recipe for success—perhaps not even in the horror genre. The words of Franz Kafka will likely provide cold comfort to those who already know and understand the black American experience firsthand—those for whom the disaster and the suicide that Kafka … [Read more...]

The Best Film and Music of 2016

Our end-of-last-year series rolls on with a look at the sights and sounds of 2016. In this case, we actually did watch/hear things that came out in 2016.  Our recommendations for reading material from the last year can be found here. Best Film ASC: Moonlight, obviously--to my mind the undisputed champ of 2016 cinema. And Arrival, the best portrayal of human-alien contact I've seen, and a plea for sanity in an increasingly insane world. Then there was Anna Rose Holmer's criminally overlooked The Fits, a tense study of gender and sexual awakening, urban poverty and environmental racism that only now seems to be getting the attention it deserves: a compact gem of a film. Finally, Whit … [Read more...]

Finding Family with the Wilderpeople

Historian and legal expert Ariela J. Gross opens her 2008 work What Blood Won’t Tell with details from the life of Alexina Morrison, an enslaved person in Jefferson Parish Louisiana. In 1857, Morrison fled her master and found herself imprisoned in a local jail, where she convinced the authorities that she was actually white; she had been kidnapped and unfairly sold into slavery, she told them.  William Dennison, the local jailer, believed Morrison and took her into his own family, gradually integrating her into white society where she attended balls and other social functions. Eventually, her master James White sued to return her to her previous status.  The case, Morrison vs. White, went … [Read more...]

In Fits and Stops: Coming of Age in Anna Rose Holmer’s Extraordinary “The Fits”

When I first saw the trailer for The Fits, we were going to see Yorgos Lanthimos’s brilliant and mordant The Lobster at Atlanta’s Midtown Arts Cinema. Half paying attention, I assumed the tale of a Cincinatti teen who joins a dance team would be a gag-inducing inspirational sports/dance flick—Rookie of the Year or Save the Last Dance by way of Akeelah and the Bee. It’s understandable that promoters of a dark, underdog indie film would want to frame it in misleadingly appealing terms for mainstream audiences—it happens all the time—but I can’t blame the team behind first-time director Anna Rose Holmer’s The Fits for playing an Entourage-style bait-and-switch with their trailer. On second … [Read more...]

Apocalypto Now: How Everyone’s Favorite Bigot Made an Improbably Great Film

When I heard that Mel Gibson was making a movie about pre-Columbian, Mesoamerican culture, my reaction was probably not different from most: a deep, existential groan.  The right-wing, anti-Semitic actor and filmmaker hardly seemed like the best candidate to create a thoughtful historical depiction of Mayan life on the eve of European colonization. True, Gibson had just accomplished a certain kind of feat.  His 2004 film The Passion of the Christ not only stirred profound interest in the evangelical community—some even carried their own crosses to showings—but it also became what might justifiably be called the biggest independent film of all time, earning an eye-popping $612 million on a … [Read more...]

Doc Sportello and the Dude: Separated at Birth?

When I heard that Paul Thomas Anderson would be translating a Thomas Pynchon novel for the the screen, I could not help but be excited. Here was one of today’s most ambitious and talented filmmakers interpreting an author of such dazzling obscurantism that his novels were generally considered by critics to be the acme of unfilmable.  It was like the unstoppable force finally met the immovable object.  Who would prevail? The answer was probably not Anderson.  The film adaptation of Inherent Vice only made back $14.7 million on its $20 million budget, though it earned a respectable 74% approval from critics on Rotten Tomatoes.  The movie was universally ignored by the award shows and seemed … [Read more...]

Black History Month Part VI: F*** tha Police (and the Oscars)

With the regularity of something that is extremely regular, pundits and politicians solemnly intone that America needs to have a conversation about race.  Actually, it seems like Americans have been having this conversation for several centuries.  We're happy to talk about race, but not prepared to do much about racism.  African Americans keep getting shot, politicians keep escalating their appalling rhetoric about Muslims and Mexicans, and--as we've seen all too clearly this year--movies keep getting made by, for, and about white people.  Even when the characters are non-white, they are often played by white actors.  (It's a testament to Cameron Crowe's talent that casting Emma Stone as a … [Read more...]

Selma, George Wallace, and the Real Legacy of White Resistance

George Wallace, Jr. wants you to believe that his father was unfairly represented in the Hollywood film Selma. The movie – produced by Oprah Winfrey and Brad Pitt, and directed by the outspoken Ava DuVernay – has generated significant controversy since its December 2014 release. Former White House staffer Joseph Califano and others have taken issue with the film’s not-as-flattering-as-they-would-like portrayal of President Lyndon Johnson (and have even absurdly suggested that staging protests in Selma was LBJ’s idea). And Spike Lee and many others cried foul over the snub of both DuVernay and actor David Oyelowo at last year’s Academy Awards. Oyelowo masterfully embodies the film’s … [Read more...]

“Room” and the Allegory of the Cave

Room is the adaptation of a popular novel by Irish writer Emma Donoghue, with a screenplay written by the author herself and ably directed by Lenny Abrahamson. Those are the basic facts. But there is always a gap between facts and truth. The truth is that the film pushes against the outer boundaries of what we understand about love, family, parenting, epistemology, and even the meaning of existence itself. That, of course, is an awful lot of freight to put on one movie—especially a film that, for much of its duration, concerns only two actors interacting in a tiny space, one of whom was a seven or eight year old boy at the time of filming (albeit playing a five-year-old). Again, the facts … [Read more...]