Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, 1939 – ★★★★★ [Movie Log]

The sort of vibrant, thoughtful film that I could (and that I want to) write about at length, praising Capra’s steady direction and Stewart’s subtle performance and Arthur’s tremendous range; yet there is so much here to praise, I want to just focus on one thing—the film’s poor response when it was released.

Recently, I had a student ask if a politician like Beto O’Rourke could be considered contrarian because he presented himself as an honest politician, when we all know that politicians are intrinsically dishonest. The reaction that M.SGtW garnered when it first was released betrays how times have changed and what makes that student’s question so fascinating to me: In 1939, the idea that US Senators were so abysmally, irredeemably corrupt was so shocking as to draw condemnation across the country, with real senators walking out and production companies refusing funding. Not that anyone really disagreed, of course, but merely breaking protocols of civility seemed an anti-American threat to our institutions and standing in the world. There is no better time to criticize politicians then when criticizing politicians—the very heart of the democratic spirit upon which this country was founded—is called unpatriotic by those in power.

How especially telling, then, to compare this film, which has since its release enjoyed a century of parodies and nods and more image savvy politicians claiming as their own rallying cry, with another movie with a similar history: HIGH NOON, at first decried as unpatriotic, then celebrated as an archetype of American politics.

Note: Listen, I watch more than my fair share of movies. They are as often incredible examples of ideology and political economy as they are works of world-expanding art. At best, they are thought-provoking, and at worst, they are mediocre entertainment (especially when they fall into that uncanny valley of “so awful it’s fun”). Since I generally write up a few quick thoughts for each movie I watch, and in the interest of making public more of my thinking and writing processes, I figured that I might as well post the occasional review to this blog as well as to my Letterboxd/Rotten Tomatoes accounts.

Vía Letterboxd – Jake Cowan

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Filmworker, 2017 – ★★★★ [Movie Log]

Auteur theory is bunk, and one needs look no further than the oeuvre of cinema’s greatest auteur to see the cadre of collaborators—from Leon Vitali to Jan Harlan—behind every picture. Of course, the commonplace vision of Kubrick as an obsessive, cold, calculating perfectionist, and the fact that he rarely recast the same actors—Vitali being the odd exception—and made films so infrequently as to hardly be able to rehire the same crew, obscures the influence of his collaborators; but as this slight documentary evidences, there is always more than one person behind a camera, and film can only ever be a collaborative medium, the work of which extends long past the wrap party and into even color correcting reprints.

Note: Listen, I watch more than my fair share of movies. They are as often incredible examples of ideology and political economy as they are works of world-expanding art. At best, they are thought-provoking, and at worst, they are mediocre entertainment (especially when they fall into that uncanny valley of “so awful it’s fun”). Since I generally write up a few quick thoughts for each movie I watch, and in the interest of making public more of my thinking and writing processes, I figured that I might as well post the occasional review to this blog as well as to my Letterboxd/Rotten Tomatoes accounts.

Vía Letterboxd – Jake Cowan

Searching, 2018 – ★★★★½ [Movie Log]

For all its innovation in storytelling—which is truly remarkable and gripping—the movie lives and dies by three things: Its characters, performances, and realism—for without these grounding the experiment, drawing the viewer into this world and making the audience feel like this syuzhet is necessary, the film might hardly feel like one at all. Too often underutilized, John Cho sinks his teeth into a well-rounded and human role, bringing life to the layers of screens within screens, giving a face to the interface, which is no small task in a movie overwhelming inhuman—so that’s check one and two. What is more, except for a couple twists near the end of the movie, everything here, while new to the screen, feels utterly banal and familiar, a reflection of how we really interact with our media ecology. While the film may have a short shelf life, feeling dated even by the time it left theaters, there is nonetheless plenty here—a parent’s love, a teen’s angst, the paranoid structure of digital knowledge—that is true and universal.

Note: Listen, I watch more than my fair share of movies. They are as often incredible examples of ideology and political economy as they are works of world-expanding art. At best, they are thought-provoking, and at worst, they are mediocre entertainment (especially when they fall into that uncanny valley of “so awful it’s fun”). Since I generally write up a few quick thoughts for each movie I watch, and in the interest of making public more of my thinking and writing processes, I figured that I might as well post the occasional review to this blog as well as to my Letterboxd/Rotten Tomatoes accounts.

Vía Letterboxd – Jake Cowan

Life Is Beautiful, 1997 – ★★★★★ [Movie Log]

What can one say about this stunning achievement of storytelling, which achieves what not even Jerry Lewis could: Finding humor and heart in the horror of the Holocaust. A true clown at heart, Benigni—who deserved his Oscars, and probably another for Best Picture, to boot—strikes the perfect delicate balance between heavenly love and hellish brutality, like Chaplin before him employing buffoonish slapstick to ridicule the even more idiotic posturing of fascism. Why only treat evil seriously, when often the power of evil lies in precisely a complete lack of humor, an inability to take a joke (see: Obama mocking Trump), and a oh-so-serious-and-rational egoism? Rather than inadvertently ceding terms to the solemnity of the Blackshirts and angry young men, bowing to the power of hate as the film drops to its proverbial knees to rend its shirt in mourning, what Benigni does is far more radical, standing up to their violence by standing apart from it, refusing to acknowledge its terrible strength—a fantasy, no doubt, as Zizek has pointed out (www.lacan.com/zizekholocaust.htm), but better than the fantasy that we might ever properly mourn the slaughtered victims. Rather than simply making this the tragic tale of survivors who barely escape the nightmare machinery of genocide, Benigni locates survival in the heart of death itself, signifying that one can be a survivor despite (by rejecting) the horrors, not only because of them. In doing this, the film ultimately exists a repudiation of Adorno’s famed lament that there could be “no poetry after Auschwitz”—for what Benigni does is precisely to find poetry *within* Auschwitz, dealing a blow to fascism like few other films before it.

Note: Listen, I watch more than my fair share of movies. They are as often incredible examples of ideology and political economy as they are works of world-expanding art. At best, they are thought-provoking, and at worst, they are mediocre entertainment (especially when they fall into that uncanny valley of “so awful it’s fun”). Since I generally write up a few quick thoughts for each movie I watch, and in the interest of making public more of my thinking and writing processes, I figured that I might as well post the occasional review to this blog as well as to my Letterboxd/Rotten Tomatoes accounts.

Vía Letterboxd – Jake Cowan

The Remains of the Day, 1993 – ★★★★★ [Movie Log]

As impeccable, meticulous, and thoughtfully crafted as the mansion itself, filled with painstaking details and piercing performances that lack in neither emotion or intelligence. The film moves slowly, deliberately, gradually exposing its depths and corners and hidden nooks, shadows concealed by florid taste which are revealed and concealed in swift succession. The house itself becomes a character in its own right, just as Stevens, the butler—played to perfection by Anthony Hopkins at the peak of his powers, though everyone here is truly remarkable—is the essence of the house, aloof and studied; yet the butler, a metonym for the whole of the English class system of peerage, is himself a stand-in for the national character, a stiff upper lip in sum and substance.

Note: Listen, I watch more than my fair share of movies. They are as often incredible examples of ideology and political economy as they are works of world-expanding art. At best, they are thought-provoking, and at worst, they are mediocre entertainment (especially when they fall into that uncanny valley of “so awful it’s fun”). Since I generally write up a few quick thoughts for each movie I watch, and in the interest of making public more of my thinking and writing processes, I figured that I might as well post the occasional review to this blog as well as to my Letterboxd/Rotten Tomatoes accounts.

Vía Letterboxd – Jake Cowan

Leave No Trace, 2018 – ★★★★ [Movie Log]

Reminiscent in its empathetic treatment of culturally invisible subjects of the work of Sean Baker, though more meditative and muted, the film forces you to mediate questions of societal mores and ethical expectations. Will has raised a kind, intelligent, self-reliant daughter in Tom—does that not make him a good father, even if he does not provide a traditional shelter and consistently puts her in a physically precarious situation? Like animals, they live quietly, unnoticed by neighbors, with little impact on their environment—yet the scars and traces of mankind’s savagery (war being a distinctly human affair) haunt Will ceaselessly, without prospect of escape.

Note: Listen, I watch more than my fair share of movies. They are as often incredible examples of ideology and political economy as they are works of world-expanding art. At best, they are thought-provoking, and at worst, they are mediocre entertainment (especially when they fall into that uncanny valley of “so awful it’s fun”). Since I generally write up a few quick thoughts for each movie I watch, and in the interest of making public more of my thinking and writing processes, I figured that I might as well post the occasional review to this blog as well as to my Letterboxd/Rotten Tomatoes accounts.

Vía Letterboxd – Jake Cowan

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, 2018 – ★★★★½ [Movie Log]

An exhilarating achievement illustrating how adventurous, intertextual, and unique a comic book film actually could be. Visually the most arresting and unconventional animated film in recent memory, the filmmakers put their medium to full use: Utterly abandoned is the realism of the Nolan Batman trilogy—in the wake of which has been far too much seriousness—or the popcorn safety of the MCU, instead embracing the radical impossibility of the comic imagination. On the level of its texture embodying all at once, paradoxes and logic be damned, its origin and its adaptation, its comic source and its cinematic expression, the film simultaneously sets the stage for, on the level of the text, a story that embraces originals and successors, plurality and uniqueness at the same time—there is no sole source and no singular end, for the font of heroism is within all of our hearts.

Note: Listen, I watch more than my fair share of movies. They are as often incredible examples of ideology and political economy as they are works of world-expanding art. At best, they are thought-provoking, and at worst, they are mediocre entertainment (especially when they fall into that uncanny valley of “so awful it’s fun”). Since I generally write up a few quick thoughts for each movie I watch, and in the interest of making public more of my thinking and writing processes, I figured that I might as well post the occasional review to this blog as well as to my Letterboxd/Rotten Tomatoes accounts.

Vía Letterboxd – Jake Cowan