Tag Archives: Movies

Ahistoricism

I went into The Favourite like I do with many movies: knowing very little and having seen maybe a part of a trailer. I knew it was a period piece (duh) and there was a Queen in it (also: duh). Anyway, after watching the movie I read up on it on Wikipedia and found, to my immense surprise, that it was somewhat based on actual historical fact. It makes sense enough that I thought this movie was fabricated wholesale: there’s a Queen in power, nobles are vying for power, and England is at war with France; it’s the proverbial typical Tuesday. And yet, Queen Anne actually did have a pair of rival handmaidens, and many of the characters had their own Wikipedia articles detailing their real-life stories.

It was all quite fascinating, but, ultimately, also quite irrelevant.

Unlike many historical dramas dealing with heads of state, The Favourite is not terribly concerned with the major political movements of the time. Rather the focus is on Anne and the machinations of Abigail and Sarah that take place behind the scenes. There is some influence on the larger political landscape, but we see very little of life beyond the lush estate the action transpires in. Court life is ruthlessly savaged in this satire, the politicians reduced to overdressed men slathered with makeup in foppish wigs racing ducks.

Now, there is some criticism of The Favourite for playing fast and loose with history. Anne’s husband was still alive at the time all this drama went down, and the idea of there being lesbian liaisons between the Queen and her ladies-in-waiting is dismissed by some historians as nothing more than contemporary slander by the opposition. Despite being about real people and set against real events, The Favourite is an out and out lie.

Which is great, since the movie doesn’t purport to be anything but. There’s no fancy title card letting us know what century we’re in, there’s no real reference to the actual geopolitical situation at the time (let’s face it, England and France are at war in basically every period piece, and there’s always an opposition party). All the temporal trappings of the movie serve its central story and all the schemings therein.

The Favourite’s detachment from historical fact is what makes it all the more scathing. Since the exact time-period is indeterminate to the layperson (ie: me), I’m not gonna get caught up wondering about the exact details about the time and can instead happily get lost in the film. The world of The Favourite is the world the filmmakers want to use to tell their story. It is a world where men are useless and relegated to the background while the women with their plots and aspirations are far more important. We don’t need to care too much how accurate to the contemporary social mores it is, the way things happen is how they happen. It’s fantasy.

That’s the real pleasure of period pieces: they feel like another world with another set of rules and another life that’s very much not that of 2019. There’s a different set of rules, one that’s foreign yet familiar. Though the Queen may rule in The Favourite, some words in her ear from Abigail or Sarah can sway her mind. We go along with it because it makes enough sense not to break our suspicion of disbelief. Consider how most Westerns play fast and loose with reality, or the ersatz 80s-ness of Metal Gear Solid V; it doesn’t matter how accurate things are, so long as they feel real.

And so, despite its lack of historical accuracy, The Favourite really works so well because its world feels right and its characters real. For Anne, Abigail, and Sarah the world is deathly serious, and we buy in and get to enjoy the hijinks as they unfold.

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Spiders

Comics are weird. Especially superhero comics. There are people who come back to death, people with weird powers, people who lose those weird powers but then get them back when they come back to life. Also, y’know, aliens and monsters and crazy science crap.

Like I said, weird.

There are also multiple universes, and so multiple versions of characters. There’s a version of Captain America where she’s the biracial daughter of Luke Cage and Jessica Jones and beats up a version of MODOK who looks like a certain American politician. There’s one where Mr. Fantastic is a villain, like, the villain.

And, of course, there is a ridiculous number of variations on Spider-Man. A lot of them are, of course, Peter Parker in one form or another. Spider-UK is a British Spider-Man. The Ultimate universe saw a return to a younger Peter, one who, incidentally, dated Kitty Pryde for a while. And out there somewhere is Spiders-Man, wherein Peter Parker’s consciousness was passed on to a horde of spiders (it’s weird).

The Spider-Verse event from a few years ago saw a whole mess of Spiders teaming up to fight the Inheritors, a group of pseudo-vampires who feed on the essence of spider-powered beings across the multiverse. A variety of new (and old) Spiders were (re)introduced; including Spider-Gwen, from Earth-65, where Gwen Stacy was bitten by the radioactive spider and so got the powers. Spider-Verse saw these Spiders teaming up together, so the Spider-Man from Marvel VS Capcom used fighting moves, and the Spider-Man from an old Japanese show had a giant robot.

Essentially, the Marvel universe has a bunch of different Spider-People, and sometimes they hang out (and one version of Gwen Stacy gets to complain about getting, and I quote, “fridged off a bridge”). It’s definitely pretty outlandish, and also something pretty unique to comics.

And now we have the movie Enter The Spider-Verse. I’m going to forgo talking about how the film’s animation style is a love letter to comics and just focus on the story of it all, namely how multiverses play a huge role and we’ve a bunch of different Spiders.

Quick rundown of the dramatis personae: in addition to Miles, the Spidey-in-training, you’ve Peter Parker, an experienced Spider-Man from his universe; Gwen Stacy, Spider-Gwen who knows what she’s doing; Spider-Man Noir, a hard-boiled guy who’s literally in black and white; Peni Parker, who’s basically from an anime; and Peter Porker, who’s, um, a pig, but also Spider-Man (Spider-Ham, to be exact).

Miles, our protagonist, gets to interact with four alternate versions of Spider-Man, each of whom provide a different take on the character, and, for Miles, a different version of who he could be. Much of Miles’ arc revolves around him learning how to be Spider-Man and what all that means. For a good chunk of the movie, that means he’s trying to emulate a Peter Parker, wearing a knock-off of another Spider-Man’s costume, playacting at being someone else. He is not his own hero yet, rather he is attempting to be someone else. It is no spoiler, then, that Miles’ self-actualization sees him making his own suit; one that is uniquely him. He’s the only one who can really decide what to do with the powers that’s been given to him — and with it the responsibility.

The central tension in so many great Spider-Man stories is that of power and responsibility. How does Peter (or Gwen, or Miles) navigate that space between the two, that fatalistic flaw of needing to use that power to protect, but at the cost of one’s own well-being? The multiversal nature of Spider-Man allows for a multitude of interpretations and interactions, tackling these themes from a host of different angles. Events like Spider-Verse let these characters team-up and has their takes on power and responsibility clash or feed off each other. So then we have Into The Spider-Verse, where Miles sees these different takes on who he could be. It’s up to him to figure out just who that is, what is expected of him and what he will do. By having all these different versions of Spider-Man, Miles is given the space to create his own.

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Top Ten Movie Challenge Thing

There’s been this thing circulating around online challenging people to post a collection of top ten movies. I’m not a huge fan of ranking things, because it’s arbitrary, limited, and tends to change on a dime. Heck, I do a Top Nine every year and more often than not I’ll see something later that I’ll wish I’d added or something else will emerge as being a bit of a dark horse.

In any case, a friend of mine challenged me to do this and, after much consternation, I decided to just take the plunge. I’m loath to call these a Top Ten, as opposed to just ten movies that I really like for a variety of reasons. There are certainly omissions, but screw it. Here are ten movies I really like, with a gorgeous still from each with a little bit of a blurb.

Pacific Rim

Pacific Rim

It’s hard for me to overstate how much I absolutely adore this movie. Yes, there are my beloved giant robots, but it’s a hopeful movie, where the apocalypse can be canceled. The end isn’t the end.

Up

Up

Tied with Wall-E for being the best Pixar film. Magnificent all around.

Police Story

Police Story

Jackie Chan is tragically underrated as a filmmaker. Police Story balances a variety of tones and is a fantastic kung-fu romp.

Empire Strikes Back

ESB

If I had to choose on Star Wars, it might be this one.

Fruitvale Station

Fruitvale

This movie wrecked me.

Captain America: Civil War

Civil War

Pending Captain Marvel, probably my favorite MCU movie (subject to change). Anything that lets us get into Tony’s head.

Lost in Translation

lost in translation

Beautiful meditation on loneliness.

Scott Pilgrim

Scott Pilgrim

It’s about self-respect.

The Return of The King

Return of The King

It was hard to pick a shot for this one. But I like this, the hobbits are finally home after an adventure that no one around them could care for.

The Princess Bride

Princess Bride

Everything I love about 80s movies; an unabashed earnestness that knows it could be cynical but chooses not to be.

 

 

 

BONUS: The Last Jedi

Last Jedi

Behold, my favorite shot from one of my favorite movies that absolutely had to be included.

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A Normal Teenager Named Lara Jean

To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before really feels like a classic 80s teen romcom, except it was made much more recently. It’s delightfully sweet, and has that uncynical honesty that readily calls back to fare like Sixteen Candles or Can’t Buy Me Love. Honestly, this movie is almost an anachronism, but a delightfully refreshing one at that.

Now here’s the thing, unlike all those 80s teen romcoms, To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before’s protagonist is Asian-American. Lara Jean Covey, played by Lana Condor, a Vietnamese-American actress, is one of three sisters. Their Dad’s white, their passed-away mother Korean. This isn’t really relevant to the plot, it’s mentioned in passing here and there, and their dad makes a decided effort to blend some Korean culture (namely: cuisine) into everyday life. But beyond that, Lara Jean and her sisters are just typical Americans.

Point is, she’s really pretty normal.

Which is actually pretty unusual. Lara Jean’s narrative has nothing whatsoever to do with her identity. She just happens to find herself in the midst of some romantic comment shenanigans after some love letters that were never meant to be sent got sent.

To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before is based on a book of the same name by author Jenny Han. Apparently, there was a few groups interested in adapting it to a movie, but they all wanted to make a change: make Lara Jean white. Han stuck to her guns and eventually a studio came along that was alright with keeping Lara Jean Asian (as, let me remind you, she is in the books) and so we got the movie.

Let’s focus in on just how ridiculous this is. You’ve a bunch of movie studios game to adapt a book, on the condition that the protagonist be white. Only one of the ones that approached her agreed to keep Lara Jean as an Asian-American. Sure, the story’s got basically nothing to do with her race, but that’s all the more the reason why it’s important for her to be Asian.

If you’ve read this blog for a while you probably know that I am a really big proponent for representation in fiction. So of course I want a character who’s a minority in the source to remain such for the adaptation. Especially when it’s a story where her race doesn’t come into play.

Yes, there’s a time and a place for ‘Asian stories’ and all that, but there’s also a space for stories about people-of-color getting to be normal. Look at all those classic 80s teen romcoms we love so much, everyone’s white. Kevin Bacon in Footloose, Molly Ringwald in Sixteen Candles, John Cusack in Say Anything. There’s the implicit suggestion that those stories are their stories; sure, they’re meant to be everyman, characters who the audience can see themselves in, but there’s still this undercurrent of the everyman usually being a white dude.

To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before isn’t exactly reinventing the wheel with any of its plotting. Yet it’s a delight of a movie, especially coming in an age when we really don’t have much in the way of romcoms anymore (Set It Up, also on Netflix, is wonderful too, by the way). Having an Asian-American woman as the main character, adds a small, cosmetic spin on things and makes these stories just a little more inclusive. So if we’re in the middle of a romcom renaissance, I’d like more of that too, thank you very much.

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First Man(liness)

I’m a little tired of manly manliness in cinema. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll always have a soft spot Predator, Die Hard, or a good Spaghetti Westerns. But it’s 2018 and I’m kinda tired of that being the MO for male characters, especially manliness for the sake of manliness, like that 50s stoic, silent masculinity. In short, I’m really tired of ‘traditional’ masculinity, especially when it’s idolized and unquestioned.

Which leads me to First Man, the new movie by Damien Chazelle, director of Whiplash (excellent!) and La La Land (ehhhhh). First Man centers on one of my favorite topics: space exploration, particularly the effort to put a person on the moon, hence, y’know, the title. I like space. I think the Apollo Missions were terribly exciting, always have — I was one of those kids who absolutely consumed space stuff. That love of space was enough to beat out my trepidation about watching another Chazelle movie after La La Land.

Now, First Man is a very well made movie. It makes space travel terrifying in the best way possible, it’s claustrophobic and there is so little under your control. The movie really makes you feel that terror, and oh, it’s such a thrill. It’s such a shame, then, that square in the middle of that is Ryan Gosling’s Neil Armstrong.

I don’t know much about Armstrong as a person; I haven’t read biographies and I only know him for his role in space exploration. I don’t purport to really know what he’s like as a person. I do know, however, that I found Gosling’s portrayal to be very frustrating. See, in First Man Armstrong is a very stoic character. We see him crack once or twice — in the aftermath of his daughter’s death, for example — but beyond that he’s borderline emotionless. Maybe there’s a world of emotion going on behind his face, but we’re never afforded a glance inside.

Throughout the film, Armstrong’s stoicism is portrayed to the point of blandness, he doesn’t really seem to feel much (which again, could be argued away as being due to his daughter’s death, but we’re never really allowed to know) and instead his main quality is that he is a driven, quiet man. While other astronauts are bantering about space he is silently committed to getting to the moon. He’ll take part in some family stuff, but at the end of the day, he is Quiet and Manly, focused on going to space. Other astronauts dying just makes him more committed, in addition to having Manly Fear so we know he’s scared (but not too scared). Gosling’s Armstrong is the epitome of that silent, stoic, 50s masculinity, and, as far as the movie is concerned, all the better for it.

First Man doesn’t say much of anything about Gosling’s version of masculinity, aside from extolling it (the other astronauts don’t have the right attitude, his wife [like all of Chazelle’s female characters] just doesn’t understand). Because, as the movie implicitly argues, Armstrong did such great things, and because he embodied this brand of masculinity, clearly it’s great. Underlying the movie is an adoration of his stoicism and drive.

And I am so damn sick of that brand of masculinity. I’d be fine with Armstrong in First Man being a selfish prick if he got called out on it and it was recognized as being a flaw; but instead the movie loves him for it. I’d be okay if we saw some more self-doubt behind that heroic facade, but he is constantly in the zone, never weak, never emotional, always masculine. There’s no real antagonist for that masculinity to butt heads with; no warring factions for Clint Eastwood’s Man With No Name to outdo in A Fistful of Dollars, no equally over-the-top villains for John Matrix to vie against in Commando. Rather the doubts raised by his wife and friends fall like the words of a straw man on Armstrong’s manly, too-determined-to-listen ears. It’s frustrating, especially when recognized as the predecessor to the modern toxic masculinity that’s so problematic today.

And it’s 2018, for crying out loud! Masculinity doesn’t have to be so narrowly defined! Consider Chris Evan’s Captain America/Steve Rogers. There’s no doubt that he’s a Manly Man; dude’s jacked, he fights for AMERICA! and is a superhero. He’s also the nicest, sweetest member of the Avengers, the one who sees the best in everyone and supports those around him. He has his doubts and questions; he’s weak at times, but he presses on. His strength isn’t so much his muscles and physicality, but his gentle heart and belief in others. Michael B. Jordan’s Adonis Creed in Creed is a boxer and the inheritor to both his father and Rocky’s legacies. But for all the machismo you’d expect in a boxing movie, we also see him doubt ridden, trying to make relationships work, and being called out on his masculine bullshit. In my beloved Pacific Rim, is Raleigh, a male main character whose primary role is providing the emotional support so other characters (particularly the Japanese woman Mako) can reach their full potential. None of these characters are any less ‘manly’ for these traits, rather in them we see a more complex, fuller, and more welcoming depiction of masculinity.

In the same way that a feminist approach to storytelling challenges the teller to create narratives where women are given agency and allowed to appear in a variety of roles, so too does it desire an allowance for male characters to take on more interesting dimensions. If Neil Armstrong was the embodiment of that style of stoic, selfish masculinity, couldn’t First Man have explored what was beneath that outer shell? Was he a husk of a man so bound by his need to be in control? Or was there genuine, painful emotion behind it? Could the narrative have questioned whether having all that to get to the Moon was worth it, rather than ending with him and his wife reconnecting? We’ve gotta get over this old-fashioned, idealized sort of manliness. It’s 2018, there’s more than one way to be a man.

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Captain Marvel Trailer

It’s happening.

It’s finally freaking happening.

On Tuesday we finally got a trailer for Captain Marvel, a movie I’ve been looking forwards to quite incessantly since it was announced way back in 2014. And now, at long last, we’re getting a glimpse of the movie itself and what all it’s gonna be.

Needless to say, I’m somehow even more excited.

Trailers are tricky beasts. Sometimes they give away the entire darn plot. Sometimes they misdirect you all over the place. Sometimes they’re better than the actual movie (hello, Man of Steel). A lot of the time, though, they give you an idea of the theme of the movie. You’re not gonna be given a plot breakdown, but rather the Central Question of the movie gets raised — or at least hinted at — within the trailer. Trailers for the original Avengers asked if they would be able to work together as a team, the trailer for Sorry To Bother You immediately brought to the forefront questions of race and class that the movie went on to tackle.

The trailer for Captain Marvel hints at what the movie’s gonna be about: identity. It’s heavily implied in the trailer that Carol’s an amnesiac, who doesn’t remember growing up on Earth before becoming a part of Starforce. She crash lands (in a Blockbuster of all places) and, presumably, plot happens. Given the flashbacks in the trailer, it stands to reason that a major part of the movie is Carol rediscovering her roots and coming to terms with the earthling side of her.

In the movie — and this is all speculation — we might end up seeing Carol, a renegade soldier as Nick Fury calls her, creating an identity for herself outside of the one she’s had in Starforce. Take the whole space ranger thing away from her; what’s left? Who is Carol Danvers? If Captain Marvel is gonna be an origins story (and it might have to be), a far more refreshing narrative is how Carol became Captain Marvel, rather than how she got her powers. As the trailer asks “what makes a(her)o.”

A Carol who doesn’t remember her past is an interesting starting point. In the comics, Carol sacrificed much of her memory to defeat Yon-Rogg as part of “The Enemy Within.” She pushes herself further than she’s ever gone before in an effort to sever the psychic connection between them and, in doing so, defeat the villain. Much of Captain Marvel’s adventures after that involves a lot of her trying to figure out who she is, some of it through friends helping her rediscover her identity, some of it through her friends, some of it through her own self-determination.

I realize so much of this blog post is pure conjecture. All we’ve gotten has been this two minute trailer that’s been precious light on our details. Sure, there’s been vague hints about the movie’s story in the press and all, but there’s some room for guesses about the theming for narrative. And if it’s a story about identity, which it sure seems like, they made a really good choice. Because at the end of the day, Carol is the sort of person who keeps picking herself up again and again. Can’t wait to watch her discover she is and has always been that person.

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On Crazy Rich Asians

Crazy Rich Asians is an odd beast for me. It’s a movie based on a book I didn’t really like, but oddly it’s one where I do like the movie over the book. More than that, though, it’s a book set in Singapore, a country I’m not used to seeing on screen. Also where, of all the places I’ve lived, I’ve racked up the most years of residence. And now I’m seeing streets I’ve driven on and places I’ve eaten on a movie screen in New York City.

It’s surreal, because a lotta folks don’t really know much about Singapore. When I moved to the States (South Carolina) at fourteen I got asked where in China it was. To this day folks tell me my English is really good for someone from Singapore, never mind that said language is the main language spoken there. The island I sorta come from is an unknown, save for a depiction in the third Pirates of The Caribbean movie so fantastical it makes the New York of How I Met Your Mother look like a documentary.

Now the place it seemed that no one this side of the Pacific had heard about is featured in what’s been the top movie in the US for three weeks in a row. Singapore has summarily gone from “where?” to that place in Crazy Rich Asians. That island is Known.

Herein lies the conflict at the root of the surreality. It’s absolutely thrilling to see Singapore in a movie — and a good movie at that. If this cultural osmosis takes hold, maybe the response to hearing I’m half-Singaporean won’t be thinking I hail from a backwards, destitute island. Maybe it’ll be the metropolis of Crazy Rich Asians. At last there’s an image in the cultural consciousness. And it’s that.

Most of the people I know here in the US will never go to Singapore. For many, this is the first — and maybe only — impression of Singapore they’ll have. As good as the movie is, I guess I wish it was more comprehensive; it held within it a fuller take on Singapore. I wish it showed more of the Singapore I know.

By virtue of its story, Crazy Rich Asians focuses on a very specific Singaporean experience: that of the ultra wealthy, the crazy rich, if you will. The cast, though entirely comprised of Asian actors, are primarily from the West, and so absent from the film is the Singaporean accent and its idiosyncratic turns of phrase — something the novel captured so well. It’s awesome to see Awkwafina and Gemma Chan have hefty roles in a major film, but there’s a part of me that wishes that accent was there — especially because your style of speaking in Singapore very much denotes which social class you’re part of. It feels like a missed opportunity.

Characters/actors’ accents are something so tiny for me to take issue with, but they’re indicative of more. Singapore is a complex place for me; it’s a place that’s taken me away from whatever I’ve had going on in the US a number of times. It’s got the best food on the planet. It’s a place I’ve hated and loved. I want the people in my life to see that country, the one with a pros and cons list each a kilometer long. I want people to see more of this place and get where I’m coming from.

I want to be understood.

Crazy Rich Asians — the film — deserves every accolade its gotten. I hope there are many, many more movies with all-Asian casts. It means so much to me, this mixed race guy who passed as Chinese in the US, to see Singapore and people who look like me in the spotlight. The movie isn’t gonna be the solution to my myriad questions of identity; I shouldn’t expect a delightful romcom to provide a sociological survey. It’s still a closer depiction of a part of my life than I’ve seen elsewhere. I’ve gotta take the advice I hold for so many stories: to let it tell the story it wants and to judge it based on that and not what I might want.

Anyway. Crazy Rich Asians is great. Go watch it. Michelle Yeoh needs to be in everything.

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