Doc Sportello and the Dude: Separated at Birth?

Doc Sportello and the Dude

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)

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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

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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

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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...]

ToMers on the Best Books and Movies of 2015

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In the fading days of 2015, it's time for our annual smorgasbord of culture: best this, best that. Of course, almost all our writers are in their 30s or older so the cool train left the station long ago, but hey WE STILL HAVE OPINIONS. With that in mind, we'll start with two hidebound standards: movies and books.   In regard to the former, apparently the folks at Tropics of Meta really liked Mad Max and Ex Machina... or did they? As for the latter, it's a wide ranging list from a site that enjoys grazing from a wide range of landscapes. If you don't put up any fences, we'll eat your tomatoes, drink your milkshake, raid your pantries, you get the idea. Best Books Charles Lee: Inventing the … [Read more...]

Jurassic World: Hollywood’s Epic Ode to Woman-Shaming and Mansplaining

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If there's anything Jurassic World gets right, it’s that the titular theme park was always going to be little more than Sea World with serial killers. The latest installment in the hoary franchise at least nails the cynical Disneyfication of dinosaurs and biotechnology in a way that the earlier films never really did—or never got around to, since life always “found a way” and mayhem ensued before business could really get going. My praise officially stops there. Where do you even begin with this movie? The leading characters are flat and one-dimensional, each less interesting than the last. There’s Jake Johnson’s hipster dinosaur purist character, who by all rights should have been … [Read more...]

Straight Outta Respectability Politics: The Wonder and Weirdness of NWA’s Biopic

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For once, the bluster of a movie tagline is actually on-point. The trailer for Straight Outta Compton pegs it as “the movie of our time,” and it’s easy to forget one is watching a film and not the news as director F. Gary Gray unspools a panoply of poverty, racism, and police violence on the big screen. The names Trayvon, Mike, Renisha, and Eric are never far from the viewer’s mind as we see Dr. Dre and Eazy-E face down racist cops in late 1980s LA. This is coming from a viewer who hates biopics—music biopics in particular. Biopics tend to be like sports films and romantic comedies, where the film’s narrative is straightjacketed to a hackneyed sequence of successes and failures that … [Read more...]

The Fascinating — and Troubling — Gender Politics of Inside Out

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More than a few years ago, I remember a friend saying he was troubled by the “sexual politics” of Pixar’s celebrated 2009 film Up. At the time, I thought his analysis was a bit much—his parents were professors, and he really couldn’t help talking that way. However, he did have a point. The heartbreaking intro to the film—perhaps the single biggest emotional punch to the gut in an animated film since Bambi’s mom died—depicts a man living his life with his wife, who gives up her own aspirations for the quotidian course of marriage and homeownership. At the end of a painful five minutes, she passes away, her dream of motherhood thwarted and her yearning for other adventures similarly … [Read more...]

Noiring L.A.: Double Indemnity, Black Dahlia, and the Fears of Postwar America

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Last night marked the second season debut of HBO's True Detective. If last year's Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey tinged season one led the audience through a metaphysically drenched Louisiana swamp thriller while sparking a McConaissance and nostalgic longing for the work of H.P. Lovecraft and Robert W. Chambers's "Yellow King", season two seems to be a call back to the most American of films, the California noir. Judging from episode one pseudo kingpin Frank Seymon (Vince Vaughn), spartan Ventura County detective Ani Bezzerides (Rachael McAdams), damaged highway patrolman Paul Woodrugh (Taylor Kitsch), and corrupt Vinci investigator Ray Velcoro (Colin Ferrel) appear … [Read more...]

Innocents Abroad: Reimagining the Immigrant Frontier in “Slow West”

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“He was an officer.” “Wearing a dress don’t make her a lady. He ain’t soldier least no more … injun slayers.” “Wearing a dress don’t make her a lady,” Silas Selleck (Michael Fassbender) tells his new mentee, Scottish 16-year-old Jay Cavendish (Kodi Smit-McPhee). Indeed, the first dialogue exchanged between the two in the new western, Slow West could serve as the film’s coda. Things are rarely what they seem, expectations do not often meet reality, and the stories we tell ourselves, whether about love, identity, or history, frequently obscure unpleasant truths. Cavendish had travelled from “the cold shoulder of Scotland to the hot baking heart of America,” Selleck tells viewers in the … [Read more...]

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