DC Comics has been assembling a stellar lineup of creators as of late. Marvel mainstay Brian Bendis recently relaunched Superman with artists Joe Prado and Ivan Reis, while Ms. Marvel writer G. Willow Wilson is set to take over duties on Wonder Woman with Cary Nord this year. Add to that Grant Morrison and Liam Sharp’s Green Lantern re-imagining and you already have a veritable all-star team, but the powers that be over on the WB lot aren’t quite done shaking things up.
Ahead of Aquaman‘s big-screen outing this December, DC is going to re-tell the Atlantean king’s origin under the authorship of writer Kelly Sue DeConnick (Captain Marvel) and artist Robson Rocha (Green Lanterns). Read More »
DC’s Green Lantern mythos has always been a wellspring for incredible ideas, from alien rings that turn thought to reality, to Geoff Johns’ modern entangling of the visual spectrum with corresponding emotions. The well was arguably poisoned with the 2011 film adaptation, a cookie-cutter Hal Jordan story with an unearned character arc that left audiences feeling sour. And while there have been plenty of good Green Lantern comics since, the film side of things has struggled to get its Space Corps off the ground again.
One wonders, then, if that could change with this upcoming comic relaunch from artist Liam Sharp (Judge Dredd) and writer Grant Morrison (Batman, All-Star Superman). Read More »
Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot, the new film from Gus Van Sant (Good Will Hunting), finds strength in a discombobulated narrative. The tale of late quadriplegic cartoonist John Callahan, a mean-spirited alcoholic on the road to being better, Van Sant’s biopic hits every beat expected of a based-on-a-true-story story — the tragedies, the triumphs, the moments of realization, even the lofty speeches that tie them together — only it organizes them in a manner that flies in the face of traditional Hollywood storytelling. The film isn’t some mystery to be unlocked though; it’s a presentation of the familiar robbed of its starry-eyed quality, with a sharp focus on the real-world nuances, and difficulties, of self-actualization. It’s “like real life” in a way movies aren’t usually meant to be, ignoring narrative instincts, often intentionally, in favour of achingly human real-world complications, the kind that cinema and television are rarely adept at capturing.
The film, like the book it’s based on, takes its title from a self-deprecating cartoon by Callahan, an “equal opportunity offender” who began drawing in lines and squiggles after his accident, and who reveled in offending the guardians of “Political Correctness.” Joaquin Phoenix plays Callahan with a similarly self-deprecating streak, introducing himself at every party and AA meeting with the same bitter mantra that articulates his core as a character: “I knew three things about my mother. She was Irish, she had red hair, and she was a school teacher. Oh yeah, and she didn’t want me. I guess that makes four things.”
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(Welcome to A Passage to India, a new series where we explore great works from all over South Asia for unacquainted viewers, all of them available to stream.)
Nagraj Popatrao Manjule seems like a born filmmaker, though he only gravitated towards the profession in his early thirties. His reason, in part, was to reflect his own experiences, those oft unaddressed by the Indian mainstream. His 2011 short Pistulya, for instance, focuses on a child from a Dalit family — a community frequently oppressed within India’s long-standing caste hegemony — in a film about hoping and, in some small ways, fighting for an education. This story of searching for a better life, while exposing the perils of rigid social hierarchy, lends its DNA to Manjule’s 2014 debut feature, the Marathi-language Fandry, a sublime, hard-hitting tale of longing and circumstance.
In Fandry, Manjule crafts, with every tool at his disposal, what may well be one of the best-directed first features in recent memory. A soulful portrait of character, place and memory, told from the lens of a tumultuous childhood. It builds, incisively, to a stunning, saddening and perhaps even enraging climax, holding accountable those who would uphold the perceived normality of caste oppression. On its way to this potent destination, it takes us on an intimate journey alongside its thirteen-year-old protagonist, Jambhuvant Kachru Mane, AKA Jabya (Somnath Awghade), drawing influence from the likes of Vittorio De Sica’s Italian neorealist staple Ladri di biciclette, though maintaining a rhythmic, pulsating energy unique to India’s contemporary indie scene. There is, quite simply, nothing like it.
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(Welcome to A Passage to India, a new series where we explore great works from all over South Asia for unacquainted viewers. In this edition: we take a look at India’s last Oscar-nominated film, the cricket-and-colonialism musical Lagaan.)
Few theatrical experiences compare to Ashutosh Gowariker’s Lagaan, which, in the summer of 2001, had audiences cheering in cinemas as if they were watching a sporting event live in a stadium. A film that earns its mammoth 220-minute runtime, the period epic plays like a film by David Lean — fitting, given the title of this new /Film series — fine-tuned for sensibilities of the mainstream Indian audience. It’s a meticulously calculated piece, yet one that flows naturally, springing as if fully formed from the Earth, grounding musical formalism in folk celebration while telling a tale of historical fantasy.
Lagaan brings together three distinct pseudo-religious Indian institutions: the mainstream Hindi (or “Bollywood”) musical, the passionately revered sport of Cricket, and the oft-deified Indian independence movement, resulting in a potent cinematic nexus. Set in the village of Champaner in 1893, several decades prior to India’s freedom from the British, the film tells of a heightened confrontation between poor villagers under Colonial boot-heels, and the officers who torment them — verbally, physically and financially. The village hasn’t seen rainfall for several seasons. Its downtrodden farmers, led by cocksure protector Bhuvan (Aamir Khan) are desperate to be relieved of their taxes to the Crown, which have been doubled this year on a whim. They’re presented with an opportunity when one Captain Andrew Russell (Paul Blackthorne of Arrow fame) arrogantly challenges them to a game of Cricket, a sport with which they’re unfamiliar.
Should the villagers win, they won’t have to pay a single grain of tax, or “lagaan,” for three whole years. Should they lose however, they’ll have to pay the usual tax three times over. “Triple tax,” as Russell enunciates in the Queen’s, crossing his “T”s with his sharp tongue. Or “Teen goonah lagan” as he spits, with venom, in his uncouth, anglicized Hindi.
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We’ve grown to detest sincerity, haven’t we?
Or at the very least, we as a culture have grown suspicious of it. We have a need to see even the purest of kindness through a lens of the pain and suffering that drive it – friendly, neighborhood Paddington, like the friendly, neighborhood Spider-Man, was an orphan who subsequently lost his uncle – and we view kindness this way only if we aren’t first investigating the potential selfishness driving what we think is pretense. In either case, even fictional views on empathy and heroism, especially in American media, tend to focus on some kind of trauma. Captain America, who wears the star-spangled banner on his chest, lost everyone he ever loved before even waking up. Perhaps there is no such thing as kindness not born out of cruelty.
Perhaps there is no longer such a thing as American kindness detached from the various specters of September 11th; tragedy is a through-line for us all. Even the cinematic Superman, once a friend, has become a morose figure detached from humanity and the kindness of his “American way.” He was re-introduced to the world in Man of Steel amidst scenes of buildings crumbing into piles of ash, and his stories since have seen him wrestle with aloofness. Where would the citizens of Superman’s city, abandoned by their most reliable neighbor, have looked for the helpers, I wonder? Admittedly, I often wonder this about real American cities nowadays.
And that brings me to Fred Rogers and the new documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor?
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Primitive humans, caressing a consummate altar, worshipping, perhaps for the first time. We worship with them. Manmade celestial bodies, waltzing to Johann Strauss II, a flawless union of past and future. We waltz with them. A chilling cyclops, made of ones and zeroes, who ought not to feel human. He does. His victims, flesh and blood, ought to, but feel distant.
Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey is a journey through space and time and perception, and it remains the quintessential celluloid experience. More pertinently, it’s a communal experience, as most great cinema tends to be, eliciting gasps and applause and nervous laughter from even the most familiar viewers, and it recently made its return to theatres on its 50th anniversary.
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Broadway’s two-part Harry Potter and the Cursed Child production is a fascinating beast. It brings with it most of its West End cast, acting as direct sequel to the books yet trading on the iconography of the film series, all while making its own unique mark on Harry Potter canon. Picking up from the originals’ “Seventeen Years Later” epilogue, it follows a new generation of characters – best friends Albus Potter and Scorpius Malfoy, sons of bitter rivals Harry and Draco – across four years of their schooling in a matter of minutes, before diving back into time itself.
Time is central to The Cursed Child, both as a fictional construct as well as a force of nostalgia. The play’s relationship to an audience that grew up with these characters is paramount. However, the only “Easter eggs” it trades in are those that, through their exploration, lead to a more complex, more complete understanding of the characters as they enter their middle age. Each adult character – Ron, Hermione, Ginny, but especially Harry and Draco – carries the weight of their past adventures, both the guilt and the glory, in ways that impact their children.
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The New York Indian Film Festival played host to several Shakespeare adaptations this year. Among them were Bornilla Chatterjee’s The Hungry and Abhaya Simha’s Paddayi, relatively direct transpositions of Titus Andronicus and Macbeth, though unassuming upland bullying drama Noblemen decided to use the Bard more obliquely: as a moral backdrop for its twisted tale.
Set in a co-ed boarding school but focusing on boys in their volatile teen years, Vandana Kataria’s debut feature sees a Founder’s Day The Merchant of Venice production host a tale of mercy gone awry. It’s a nuanced piece that spirals into stomach-churning violence (more implied than overt, yet unflinchingly realistic) as the unique nexus of Indian Christian schooling and silent, deadly homophobia come to an explosive head.
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Filmmakers are adept at the art of disguise, especially when it comes to their own stories. Sometimes it merely involves a change in name and location – Richard Linklater’s Before Trilogy is premised on the director’s real-world romantic encounter – though sometimes it involves experiences being filtered through a lens of genre. Loneliness tone-poems Lost in Translation (Sofia Coppola) and Her (Spike Jonze), for instance, arguably reveal themselves to be companion pieces on the duo’s failed marriage when viewed back-to-back.
There’s no better visual exploration of this facet of storytelling in recent years than Tom Ford’s Nocturnal Animals. Ford’s sophomore effort sees author Edward Sheffield (Jake Gyllenhaaal) deal, perhaps pettily, with the emotional trauma of witnessing his wife’s infidelity through a car windshield. Sheffield pens a rural rape-revenge novel in which protagonist Tony Hastings (also Jake Gyllenhaal) witnesses physical trauma through a similar window. While Ford’s film cuts incisively at the often-juvenile heart of this disguise and its misuse by many straight male storytellers, the film’s early moments also feature a closeted gay socialite (Michael Sheen) walking around in the ill-fitting visage of a heterosexual. Disguise, as Ford posits, isn’t just a storytelling tool, but a necessary mechanism for survival. What then, one wonders, begins to take shape when a filmmaker strips away both the secret language of visual narrative – an often obfuscating cipher – as well as the walls guarding the secrets of their own life?
Arshad Khan, director and narrator of Abu, is all too familiar with hiding in plain sight. A gay man from a conservative Pakistani background, his family immigrated to Mississauga, Ontario in 1991 when Arshad was just sixteen – too young to have found his footing yet, but too old for a childhood do-over. The film itself comes packaged as a first-person tale about a boy and his father. “Abu” is a loving term for fathers in Urdu, and the film features “Papa Kehte Hain Bada Naam Karega” (“Father Says I Will Make Him Famous”) from Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak, the rare Bollywood father-son songs, immediately following its haunting animated opening. However, Abu spans the breadth of a lifetime of experiences, both personal and collective, both hilarious and heartbreaking, as Arshad Khan bears his soul via lyrical voiceover and personal home videos spanning several decades. Read More »