(This article contains minor spoilers, but nothing that should diminish your enjoyment of the film.)
Madeline’s Madeline is mind-boggling.
The phrase is seldom used as a compliment, though it takes experiencing the film first-hand to see why it fits. Josephine Decker’s Thou Wast Mild and Lovely follow-up is decidedly Brechtian, opening by distancing itself from an audience who, by now, would’ve no doubt caught wind of its charms (the film was a hit at Sundance in January and Fantasia and it is in theaters today). “The emotions you are having are not your own,” we’re told up front, by a black nurse played by Okwui Okpokwasili, shot in angelic close up as the frame shimmers in and out of focus. “They are someone else’s.” We begin to experience physical space — a house, a room, the natural world — from a disorienting perspective. On the ground. Upon a table. Vantages we aren’t used to. Okpokwasili clarifies, as we crawl towards an unseen woman and her ironing board, surrounded by what feels like a half-dressed set: “You are not the cat. You are inside the cat.” Curious.
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The final shot of Star Wars: The Last Jedi, a Force-sensitive stable boy gazing up at the stars, echoes Luke Skywalker watching the dual sunset on Tatooine. Separated from the original film by 40 years and an ever-widening mythology — one that’s focused largely on a single lineage — the closing moments of Episode VIII brought the saga back to its roots, in a way.
As far as anyone knew in 1977, Luke was the last remaining Skywalker. Darth Vader was not his father. Leia was not his sister, and Old Ben did not live nearby specifically to protect him. Luke was a farmer and an orphan, albeit one whose father was once a Jedi. He dreamed of flying among the stars, and his journey was catalyzed not by lineage or destiny, but by the incidental murder of his aunt and uncle. He was left a nobody, thrust into a larger world of conflict that had found him by accident.
That’s no longer the Star Wars we know, but when the next chapter is written in 2019, it could, and perhaps should be once again.
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Picture, if you will, a middle-aged white man; broken, disheveled, perhaps even remorseful. A character who’s spent years pursuing a twisted ideal that now pushes back, struggling to accept this reality as he re-calibrates his place in the world.
It sounds like a “prestige” American cable drama, doesn’t it? In the case of character Paul Heyman however, a slimy lawyer played by producer and inadvertent actor Paul Heyman, it happens to be a fixture of American wrestling. No, not the Olympic sport. The trashy, “lowbrow” one. The one broadcast on Monday nights, where women in skimpy outfits would mud-fight for rowdy crowds while men bashed each other’s skulls in with folding chairs for our entertainment. At least, that’s how things used to be.
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Two trailers out of this year’s Comic Con that had everyone abuzz were Aquaman and Shazam!, the forthcoming films from DC Entertainment. The “DC Extended Universe,” as it’s colloquially known, began by positioning itself as an alternative to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, with uber-serious posturing taking precedence over, well, pretty much everything else. Even Wonder Woman, by far the best and most joyful of the bunch, could only swing so far in the opposite direction since it was set during World War I. These next films two however (and by all accounts, next year’s Wonder Woman 1984) appear to represent a mea culpa for the saga, as it transitions into something more akin to the classic comics.
Aquaman follows Jason Momoa’s Arthur Curry as he “YEAYUH!”s his way through Atlantis, a world where merpeople ride sharks into battle, while Shazam! is essentially Big with superheroes. The former, from Furious 7 director James Wan, looks like a goofy, CGI-laden romp (I’m here for it) while the latter appears to be an all-out comedy, and both are far cries from Batman v Superman’s “Do you bleed?” and the generally grim, sluggish tone of the series. Superheroes can certainly be used to tell serious tales, but their escapist nature is a major draw. Even if the story is about lofty ideas of power and responsibility, people want to be entertained when they go to the movies; for a film series whose very name began as a joke, it would only seem prudent to embrace the material’s inherent campiness.
With the DCEU finally headed in a new direction, here are some characters from the comics who could bring hope, positivity and simply fun back to the movies:
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Angel Lamere, an eighteen-year-old fresh out of juvie, should be at the beach. She grew up dreaming of being by the water; on her mother’s suggestion, cars passing in the night sounded like ocean waves, and we get to experience these sounds alongside her. The beach is the last place she felt safe. It feels like home, or at least, what home ought to feel like. En route to the shore to confront her estranged father, she gets into a massive argument with Abby, her ten-year-old sister, who levels accusations of abandonment her way. Instead of frolicking in the sand, the two sisters await a dismal return home, their contemplative silence speaking a thousand words as they crouch beneath a bus stop shaped like a tidal wave. Its blue paint is chipped and peeled, like something from a faded memory.
This is the world of Night Comes On, in which Dominique Fishback (The Deuce), who plays Angel, and debutante Tatum Marilyn Hall, who plays Abby, are allowed to do just that: play. Playfulness is usually whimsical — for all we know, first time feature director Jordana Spiro (Ozark’s Rachel) may have run a jovial set — but Fishback and Hall’s playfulness, as it exists on screen, takes the form of daring exploration. Spiro’s kitchen-sink realism keeps the dialogue to a minimum (much of the chatter with side characters feel intentionally perfunctory), allowing her bold actresses to bounce off one another in an oddly touching revenge saga.
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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.)
To cinema, he’s Khyenste Norbu, New York Film Academy alumnus, consultant to Bertolucci on Little Buddha and Bhutan’s premier director. His second feature, Travelers and Magicians, was the first to be shot entirely in the Kingdom; his third, Vara: A Blessing, was the first Bhutanese film in the English language.
To Tibetan and Bhutanese Buddhism however, he’s Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche, a reincarnate lama and the grandson of spiritual leader Dudjom Jigdral Yeshe Dorje, the first supreme head of the Nyingma lineage appointed by none other than the fourteenth and current Dalai Lama. Few filmmakers occupy such a unique cultural space.
It would be natural to think these worlds incompatible. One some level, Norbu himself might agree; such is the tragedy of modernity, captured here on celluloid in ways that attempt to reconcile two warning halves of the soul. Dzongkha-language Travelers and Magicians (2003) tells the tale of a man trapped similarly between realities. A city dweller, appointed to a tiny village in the Kingdom of Bhutan on India’s north-eastern border, making his way to America in a tale that feels both fundamentally Buddhist, and yet fundamentally Western. An internal struggle, externalized ethereally, in the form of stories within stories.
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It’s a stacked week for Aleš Kot. The Czechoslovakia-born writer (now the Czech Repbulic), who you may know from his run on Marvel’s Bucky Barnes: Winter Soldier, just had a six-issue Image trade paperback hit shelves this past Wednesday, July 18th. Days of Hate: Act One, created with artist Danijel Zezelj, captures a gloomy, divided, radicalized America in the immediate future. This coming Wednesday, July 25th Kot releases his next glimpse into America’s oncoming transformation, also from Image Comics, the first issue of The New World with artists Tradd Moore and Heather Moore. It’s set even further in the future, another dark entry that takes its cues from the current political malaise, but its vision of the United States is a whole lot topsy-turvier in comparison; a heightened world with a rotten core that exhibits itself proudly.
Both works stem from similar creative impulses — connecting the dots of the past and the present in ways they might someday manifest, especially for queer and/or non-white characters — though their varying takes on the Police State and misuse of power zero in on wildly different facets of the current zeitgeist. The former, Days of Hate, is about the mechanics of fascism as it exists in the shadows, creeping in on a society that has no choice but to either fall in line or respond in kind. The New World however, in which the protagonists’ parents seem like they could be from our generation — a generation that failed them — features the all-out adsorption of fascism into popular culture, by a society that knows no other reality and must find new ways to fight it from within. And while they might sound like two contrasting takes, they function as sides to a coin.
Read on for our Days of Hate and The New World comic review.
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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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