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
It is somewhat unclear who Dave Chappelle’s new comedy specials are for. There’s definitely a point to direct it to old fans of Chappelle’s Show: not only was Chappelle a game-changer of a comic, but there’s also nostalgic value in aiming it at this audience. There’s also an aim for fans who weren’t around when Chappelle was in his prime. As cliché as it is, Chappelle pokes fun at a 24 year-old in the audience. The content of Chappelle’s jokes vary from the self-aware, topical humor, and material about people that would seem irrelevant had it not been for recent events bringing them into prominence (i.e. O.J. Simpson and Bill Cosby). Both of Chappelle’s new specials find a pleasing middle ground that sets him both as an older comic trying to reach a new audience and someone acting as if he never left. 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.
I love Amy Schumer, almost as much as I hate Amy Schumer. Actually, what I should say is: I love Amy Schumer, almost as much as I hate the idea of Amy Schumer. Despite being an immensely talented comic, Schumer has become everyone and their mother’s favorite comic. Schumer is no longer a club or theatre comic. She’s the type of comic that can probably sell out Madison Square Garden for the rest of her career. She’s entered the lexicon of Louis C.K., Chris Rock, and Eddie Murphy, but she’s also entering into the realm of Dane Cook. She’s still incredibly funny, but it appears her material has suffered a bit. She’s not as witty or clever as she was during Live at the Apollo or Cutting. Of course, that doesn’t mean she’s not funny. Continue reading
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.
Especially now, jokes are one of the most important things we’ve got. Whether the jokes come from a place of brutal honesty like Marc Maron or evil fiction like Anthony Jeselnik, it’s important to laugh. Mike Birbiglia’s new Thank God for Jokes discusses how important it is to make jokes with Birbiglia’s emotive honesty and deep thought. Birbiglia doesn’t fail to make you laugh, but there are moments that this special lags at a predictable pace.
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.