Casting JonBenet (Dir. Kitty Green), the highly anticipated meta-documentary released as a Netflix-exclusive film about the 1996 murder of 6-year-old JonBenet Ramsey was met with mixed reactions- mostly because the idea of making a film about the actual brutal murder of an actual child didn’t sit well with many people. 1996 wasn’t that long ago. Is it exploitative? Probably. But by that logic, every film about or based on a real-life tragedy is exploitative. I am willing to defend this film’s existence despite its tendency to insert some black humor, as it doesn’t set out to minimize the seriousness of the crime. Unlike other crime documentaries, it is less focused on solving the mystery at hand and more focused on reactions to what we know about the murder and the inevitable biases that come with it. Continue reading
While I have never subscribed to the notion that the narrative of a film is always more important than its visuals, My Entire High School Sinking Into The Sea lacks in depth both narratively and visually. But when I say it lacks in depth visually, I thoroughly mean it as a compliment- everything is very flat and two-dimensional because it’s meant to look like a graphic novel, which is what writer/director Dash Shaw is best known for. The animation style is colorful and trippy- it’s also choppy and unpolished but that is what works in its favor. As this film is centered on a group of teenagers and is narrated by its 16-year-old main character, it makes sense that it looks like something sketched by a teen.
The concept of a sudden epic disaster being inflicted upon a high school in which the heroes are mostly social outcasts literally sounds like something a 16-year-old would daydream about in class as he draws the popular kids drowning in the margins of his notebook paper. There is literally a scene in which one of the popular girls begs to be rescued by the nerdy main characters by offering to invite them to her next party, before slipping into shark-infested waters. For misanthropic teens, this is unapologetic wish fulfillment. But Dash Shaw seems to be aware of this because he named the pretentious main character after himself. Dash (Jason Schwartzman) is a kid who exists in real life and you probably hung out with him in high school. Everything is pointless, the nerds and the artists are the only people who really understand the world, don’t be a sheep, etc. Not following the crowd and staying true to yourself isn’t a lesson without merit but Dash is mean and petty. And this is pointed out to him early on in the film- that he thinks people don’t like him because of his acne but it’s really because of his personality. He does eventually learn his lesson but the moral is still lacking because it is so clearly written to be flattering and easily palatable to 15-year-old nerds. Not only is he the only one with the bright idea to not stay on the bottom floor when the building is literally sinking, but he was the only one who knew the disaster was coming. Of course he warned them and nobody listened until it was too late.
The very simple messages of this story aren’t particularly new – ‘remember who your true friends are’, ‘don’t sacrifice your individuality to fit in’, ‘high school doesn’t matter in the grand scheme when you’re literally faced with a life-or-death situation’ etc. But there’s also something in here that is very specific to millennials. There is a throwaway line or two about the recession and the increasingly narrow job market, which is interesting within the context of an apocalyptic disaster- that young people are under constant pressure by adults to be successful but are simultaneously trying to survive in a drastically changing world that those same adults are responsible for (ex. Baby Boomers voted for Trump and tanked the economy). In this case, it was the adult with the most authority (the principal), who knew but chose to ignore the fact that the building was at risk of collapsing. This movie could apply to the young-adult anxiety felt by any generation, but feels particularly apt in representing the current one. But I might just be reading too much into a film that will inevitably gain a cult following of young stoners.
“Sex Survey Results, the Pipe Strip and the Return of Lasagna Cat”
Jon Arbuckle, Zero
Despite his status as a cultural icon for the past forty years, Garfield hasn’t contributed much to the artistic world at large- save for some “I hate Mondays” coffee mugs and the memes your aunt shares on Facebook. And while this orange cat has never truly gone away, he isn’t often discussed. Garfield has existed as background noise for the past several decades as a three-panel comic strip, the occasional cartoon, and a handful of kids’ movies that nobody saw. Everybody knows who Garfield is but few have dedicated as much time analyzing his oeuvre as Fatal Farm’s Zach Johnson and Jeffrey Max. Continue reading
What is the point of setting Battle Royale in an office building if you’re not going to utilize office supplies as murder weapons?
The Belko Experiment is very short-barely 90 minutes long. That’s because it is exactly what you saw in the trailer and nothing more is added. Everything you think is going to happen does. There is no attempt to add a plot twist or alteration to set this film apart from Battle Royale, The Hunger Games, Exam, Cube, Circle, Lord of the Flies, The Killing Room or the dozens of other films with similar ideas and better execution. This is not to say The Belko Experiment is a particularly bad film. It’s passable. But I take issue with this because “let’s put people in a life or death situation and see how they deal with it for the sake of social commentary or entertainment or whatever” has become a genre unto itself because it’s so watchable and easy to write. Even if the film isn’t particularly memorable, a premise like this one will always be attractive to audiences. There are two main reasons for this: the self-insert ‘murder without consequences’ prospect (e.g. “which of my coworkers would I kill in this type of situation?”), and the easily palatable social commentary that essentially writes itself. This is why we, as a culture, love post-apocalyptic stories. They are simple and straightforward and easy to analyze by considering it within the context of the world we live in currently. And I’d be lying if I said I didn’t love movies like Battle Royale and Circle for the very reasons I just listed. But The Belko Experiment did not do it for me.
Jordan Peele’s Get Out would not have been green-lit in any year but this one. Had someone described the premise of this film to me a few years ago, I would not have believed them- that not only does this film exist, but that it is a tremendous hit both critically and commercially. And it’s a blessing, really, because if Get Out had been released two years ago it might have been more polarizing if it had even been released at all. The fact that a film with such a supposedly controversial premise has done so well is a testament both to how good this movie is and, very likely, due to the current political climate. It’s a daunting task to create a thought-provoking and genuinely scary film that can include humor sparingly and with purpose, but Jordan Peele has pulled it off.
Get Out is not a “horror comedy”. It is a horror film with moments of comic relief to keep the audience grounded. The humor in this film will come from one of two sources: the uncomfortable familiarity of upper middle class white culture, or Lil Rel Howery as audience surrogate Rod Williams. Rod’s job is to act as the voice of reason most horror movies are missing. See this movie in theatres while you can, because part of the experience is developing this camaraderie with the other viewers through Rod. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a movie that warranted applause at three separate scenes.
Just when I was thinking, “this year’s Oscars are really lacking in meme-worthy material,” in come Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway, who have arrived to finally relieve John Travolta of the great “Adele Dazeem” flub of 2014.
I hate the Oscars; I know that they are entirely meaningless and serve little purpose other than to reward those who gave the most money to the Academy. I know that the same types of films are nominated every year, as they follow the same focus group-tested algorithm and were factory-built for award season. And I know that it is a tacky ceremony that spends most of its time congratulating itself and the many white people who didn’t do much to deserve it. But I watch it every year. I love complaining to no one when my favorites don’t win, I love the ridiculous over-polished musical performances and I love placing my bets. So here they are.
The 2016 Sundance Film Festival featured two separate and unrelated films about the life and death of Christine Chubbuck, a news reporter who committed suicide by gunshot during a live broadcast on July 15th, 1974. Apart from these two films, titled Christine and Kate Plays Christine, little has been spoken of Chubbuck in the past forty years. The footage of the event is under lock and key, and the only people who have seen it, as far as I’m aware, were those present during the event. And it seems odd that such an unusual story is suddenly getting film adaptations after so many years of being largely forgotten- but it seems fitting for 2016. In an era where information is more widely accessible than ever before, it’s frustrating to know that this video exists but isn’t available with the click of a button. And in this age of information, everything we do can be publicized and exploited- it’s difficult to keep anything private. Christine made a premeditated decision- she wanted the gruesome end to her miserable life to have an audience. And maybe in this performative culture we live in today, she has once again become relatable.
Antonio Campos’ Christine is a fairly straightforward biopic while Robert Greene’s Kate Plays Christine is labeled a documentary. I say labeled because it isn’t really a documentary, but it is disguised as one. It is centered around Kate Lyn Sheil, a method actress trying to understand Chubbuck in preparation to portray her in a movie that does not exist. Sheil puts on a wig to look more like her, speaks to people who knew Chubbuck, learns about the gun used during the suicide, speaks to mental health professionals, et cetera. And while it is interesting to watch this woman in a wig run in circles around Sarasota looking for lost footage, this movie feels aimless until the very end. As Kate prepares to re-enact the suicide, she is clearly distressed and struggles to get through the entire scene. During the last take, she turns the gun away from her own head and toward the audience: “If you want me to do it, you have to tell me why you want to see it…I keep looking for an angle to make her death worth more than her life and there just isn’t one.” When she doesn’t receive a response, she finally says “fuck it,” and shoots herself in the head. After a long pause, she lifts her head back up and looks back at the audience: “Are you happy now? You’re all a bunch of fucking sadists.” And she was not wrong. This movie’s pointlessness is part of its point. It’s slow and meandering and it’s hard not to constantly wonder when the bloodshed will occur, because there is unfortunately no other reason for a film about her to exist. We know little about her life and she wasn’t a hero or a martyr. Her death is the only reason she is discussed at all. And that’s why Campos’ Christine can’t work as a whole. While it was engaging enough and Rebecca Hall gave a fantastic performance, a film about a person whose death was more notable than their life will be exploitative and soulless no matter how competently made the film is. It is a straightforward biopic that attempts to explain her death, but that can’t be possible when so many of its details were made up for the sake of driving the plot forward. Kate Plays Christine shames the audience for subconsciously craving that forbidden footage. And we should be ashamed.