The Favourite, 2018 – ★★★★ [Movie Log]

It’s hard to pin down just one part of the movie that was my favorite: The exceptionally acerbic dialogue; the stunning and often eye-popping cinematography; the exquisite set and costume design brought to vivid luster by the use of natural lighting; the truly trenchant performances, especially Colman’s embodiment of the wavering strengths and weakness of impolitic monarchy. Yet even as the story overflows with sterling filmmaking, the betrayals and seductions come about so squarely and easily that the movie never is able to achieve the tension necessary for the political and social commentary to really cut. No doubt there is something here about the decrepitude of decadence and power, about the inevitable connection between sensual eroticism and political authority, about the dangers of flattery and the bulwark of love, but these themes are mostly overshadowed by a feeling of nihilism that none of it matters because in the end, faces and places and costumes will change but the institutions of power will live on unaffected. Perhaps this conceptual confusion is most problematic in the way the film treats the abuse of power for sexual ends: Rather than reflect the current social dialogue about people using positions of influence to exploit people in need, the movie oddly reverses that dynamic, depicting a ruler whose sexuality and loneliness is taken advantage of by those we would usually see as the victims. A problematic message in today’s environment, to say the least, though it makes for good melodrama.

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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The Oath, 2018 – ★★★★ [Movie Log]

It’ll make you cackle, cringe, and cry for the crumbling of America. Aided by a cast filled with some of the smartest comedic talent working today, first-timer Barinholtz cuts deep into our modern political quagmire with a satire as smartly sharp as it is dangerously sharp. The acerbic humor is so true to life at points that it practically burns, and there’s no way to sit through it but to squirm. Viewers on the right who can stomach the whole—if there even are any—will no doubt feel attacked; centrists will clutch their pearls and decry the wry-teous indignation; and even liberals getting to watch their rage fantasies lived out on screen will balk to see the futility of that anger. In no way does that mean that the film somehow performs some sort of both-sides handwringing or is an lame equal-opportunity-offender, for there are clearly bad guys (jingoistic chauvinists) and good guys (informed progressives) here.

That said, even though the film does an admirable and impassioned defense of free speech and denunciation of creeping fascist violence (though not violence per se), the politics never cut any deeper than the most basic civil liberties, never touching upon economic justice or corruption. But that’s not what the film is after, for as political a film as this is, it is less a screed for revolution than a satire of self-care maintaining day to day normalcy and modes of #resistance in an age of deplorable nationalism. While the pace does lose steam during the third act, when fresh hell breaks loose and chaos reigns, the nonsensical mayhem is as much a storytelling crutch as a reflection of our contemporary political aporia—how else will our unbridled anger end but like that? can we imagine any other ending? can we imagine an end at all? That feeling of indecision and impotence, while maybe not narratively satisfying in the way Hollywood usually spoon feeds us pure fantasy, is nonetheless the film’s smartest and most uncomfortable choice.

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

Punchline, 1988 – ★★½ [Movie Log]

Have you heard the one about the comedian who bombed so bad he fell through the floor? It seems like stand-up was just a stage for him…

And after watching this morose melodramedy, aren’t we all glad that comedy like this was just that for Field and Hanks, nothing but a stage to leave behind? Not that either one lacks the charisma and timing to tell a joke in the spotlight, as the performances are the only thing here that really pack any punch. Rather, despite their obvious comedic sensibilities, the screenplay never delivers a modicum of the wit or profundity that it imagines these characters muster on the mic, the jokes instead being rote and hackneyed. If the movie ultimately is a bore for this reason, its overall narrative thrust posits the opposite—that talent will overcome any paucity of material or overabundance of cliches, that well-told, even an old joke can still kill.

Maybe that’s true, but really great stand-up, whatever demons may torment and motivate the actual performers, requires ego and confidence; and though the movie knows and dramatizes this, it strangely lacks, to a fault, that confidence in itself, and so stuffs itself to overflowing with platitudes and archetypes. On their own, given room to breathe, these arcs and characters might have actually worked: Watching either Hanks or Field hungrily hone their material, struggling to balance everyday life and nightlife on stage—but together, the narrative threads just never figure out how to make ends meet in an original or interesting way. The result feels flat and overstuffed simultaneously, the movie’s highs artificial and its lows rather shallow.

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

creed_ii-_poster_0Whereas the first CREED brilliantly subverts the at best questionable and at bottom problematic politics of the original ROCKY franchise, this sequel takes a more simplistic and formulaic approach by repeating, mutatis mutandis, the cold war ideology of the Reaganite fourth installment. In a moment when hate crimes against people of color are on the rise across the US, when our democratic norms and institutions are under threat by those charged with protecting American interests, CREED II decides to sidestep homegrown issues by once again resorting to chauvinistic patriotism cast as personal vendetta. Seizing on contemporary (and well-founded) public anxieties about the machinations of practically cartoonish Russian villains, the movie takes aim at an easy and overblown target—though it aptly lands the punch, if not quite being as much of a knock-out as the first.

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.

Via Letterboxd

Creed, 2015 – ★★★★ [Movie Log]

It is, on the one hand—or, rather, let’s say, the one glove—a reboot of the original film, with much of the same narrative arc as ROCKY, a similar underdog triumph against the spectacle and expectations of the establishment. On the other glove, however, it is a sequel, the seventh in a long line, which must, much like Adonis in the ring, bear the authority and glory of its forbearers, a feat (not a glove or fist) that it pulls off better than anyone could have anticipated. Yet the film stands on its own two feet, regardless the heavyweight of its franchise, by flipping the racial prejudices and great-white-hope-trope of the earlier films, sublimating the influence of its pedigree to make this classic storyline its own.

More on the film’s racial subtext here: www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2018/11/how-creed-forever-changed-rocky-series/576757/

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

Support the Girls, 2018 – ★★★★ [Movie Log]

What does it mean to “support the girls”—a title that is, at the same time, an ethical injunction? It depends on who has the power and means to support: For patrons at the boobs-and-beer/wings-and-breasts Double Whammies (a local, more family friendly Twin Peaks), to support the girls working their barely covered butts off means tipping extra well and keeping to a transactional relationship. For the owners and managers of nationwide chain and competitor Man Cave—which puts its own patriarchal priority right in its name—to support the girls means hiring a team of lawyers to protect (which is to say, claim property of) their bodies from groping hands (though not gazing eyes), keeping to a biopolitical framework. Yet for the general manager of Whammies, Lisa—played to the hilt by an astoundingly dynamic Regina Hall—to support her (not merely “the”) girls means treating them with respect: Yes, money is part of that, as are boundaries of consent, but above all it means never demeaning one another, accepting their humanity and femininity for all its foibles, treating these women (not “girls” at all) with dignity and care and strength.

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

In the Heat of the Night, 1967 – ★★★★½ [Movie Log]

SECOND WATCH: In a sense, I wish this felt more dated: I wish the film’s blatantly racist cops felt as out of step today as Q’s funky score, which screams 1968; of course, that the score is so in tune with its era is the point—while the racism may seem extreme by today’s standards (though not unrealistic or unimaginable or even unfamiliar), the film is trying to capture and expose its moment, and it is only by accident (or, rather, institutional inertia) that so little has changed in the past half-century. Then again, in one of the key scenes of the film, Jewison points directly to the slow churn of structural machinery, the continuum of racism across generations (which is one reason, I suppose, that racism and nationalism are such easy bedfellows)—a full century after the Civil War, and there are still plantations and, for all intents and purposes, modern slave owners. To discover the monstrous heart of white supremacy, one does not need to step back time, whether 50 or 150 years; rather, the film signifies how one only needs to step into the American heartland, where such cruel institutions seem eternal, forever of their own moment and ours.

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