Black Caesar, 1973 – ★★★ [Movie Log]

Cut with a manic energy that propels each moment into the next with a sense of disregard and inevitability, much like its titular antecedent, the film is as suffused with a tragic spirit as it is with street violence. It is a despair beyond individual peripeteia, one born of resentment and rage felt by an entire community, which lifts up a strongman to save it only to be stepped on in turn, giving a social depth to the story beyond its gangster film source material. On the contrary, for these souls, when the die is cast, it’s never more than a game of craps; at least they have a classic soundtrack from none other than James Brown—a different sort of godfather—to carry them through.

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 – Jake Cowan

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Vox Lux, 2018 – ★★½ [Movie Log]

As ambitious and alluring as its acerbic central figure, but ultimately just as cynical and shallow as she is, to boot. Mirroring the rise and fall of its stylish (and stylized) subject, the film begins with shockingly and strongly enough, maintaining a tense tone throughout its first act until meandering in the latter half, when Natalie Portman takes over the part of Celeste from Raffey Cassidy, who, in an interesting casting turn, is relegated to playing the daughter of her former self. A far too glib, shallow dive into the vapid vanity of modern celebrity, all style with little substantial to say, the film (again, like Celeste) exploits the continuous tragedy of contemporary America—mass shootings, terrorism, drug abuse, the decline of symbolic efficiency, and so on—but itself never rises above vague vacuity (consider how the title itself says nothing, a cheap imitation of Latin), as trapped by its aesthetic commitment to Celeste as she is trapped by the commitments of stardom.

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 – Jake Cowan

Hedwig and the Angry Inch, 2001 – ★★★★ [Movie Log]

Gender is, no doubt, a doubtful, complicated thing, utterly self-contradictory—femininity defined by men, who define their masculinity in opposition to what makes a woman—and so difficult to positively affirm while impossible to entirely escape. At best, perhaps, rather than simply repudiate gender tout court, aiming for some impossibly neutral middle ground, a gender equilibrium that still reinforces a basic binary while seeking the stasis of the death drive, one must abandon such dichotomies whatsoever to instead see gender as a fluid spectrum with multiple overlapping identity positions. Such is the case for Hedwig, a character whose radical queerness must have been bracing when she first appeared on stage, whose success and longevity helped spark a transformation in queer acceptance that, twenty years later, makes her problematic aspects all the more glaring, reflecting transphobic myths of child abuse and castration anxiety. Still, the film, for good reason, is iconic, innovative, and subversive, blending cinematic and musical genres just as artfully as Hedwig blends gender.

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 – Jake Cowan

Jem and the Holograms, 2015 – ★★½ [Movie Log]

Upbeat, polished, bland, and overproduced: An apt surrogate for modern pop.

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 – Jake Cowan

The Runaways, 2010 – ★★½ [Movie Log]

Provocative if not very effective, and more neurotic than erotic, the movie is built on performances to match those of the band, though just like their music, there’s more style, shock, and spectacle than artistic merit—but maybe that’s just rock ‘n roll.

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 – Jake Cowan

Ladies and Gentlemen, the Fabulous Stains, 1982 – ★★★½ [Movie Log]

Whether with the band or the movie, the music itself hardly matters—though there is something to my ears far more punk rock about a trio without drums than the usual garage combo—rather, what takes center stage here is the sheer, visceral attitude. Led by the always-but-never-more-spunky (or skunky) Lane in a performance that embodies what it means to be called “fierce,” the film gives voice (albeit wobbly and off key at times) to the frustration and rage of young women everywhere, an angry and necessary cry against misogyny whether in the early Eighties or today. Yet the moral here is not merely a celebration of feminine sexuality or a neoliberal parable about representation, for the filmmakers also take aim at how celebrity culture and late capitalism devour the rebel spirit of youth only to spit it back out as tepid and safe—something, fortunately, the movie itself never falls prey to.

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 – Jake Cowan

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, 1948 – ★★★★★ [Movie Log]

A morality tale of greed and gold in the vein of Conrad, with the machismo bravado of Hemingway, and the progressive sensibilities of Steinbeck, told with a mix of Golden Age Hollywood royalty and New Hollywood cynicism, self-reflection, and intimacy. The film has a wealth of invaluable performances—especially Huston the Elder, who is the paragon of prospectors, and Bogart playing against type by perpetually losing his cool—and rich dialogue, mining its source material for the madness mammon begets. What, then, is the fabled, titular treasure? Certainly not gold, as evanescent and cold as the sand whipped around by a norther; no, rather it’s the friends made along the way, transient but intrinsically more worthwhile.

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 – Jake Cowan