The pop culture discussion of tech's greater issues missed in (at least) two major ways.
Listen to this article read by Siri Voice 2 below...
For those of us who've written about technology, generally, for quite a long time, any injection of the broader metaphysical/“ethical” conversation regarding the impact the industry has had/is having/is expected to have on our species into popular culture is inevitably an emotional event. The Social Network had an almost comical disregard for any potential function as a substantial critique of its subjects. Not that it's particularly supportive of that argument, but Mark Fuck, himself, recently said in court, essentially, that he didn't know what the movie was about. I'm not particularly sure, either. I suppose the dramatic film industry has no particular obligation to be critical of the times, but documentaries certainly should, in my estimation, and The Social Dilemma could've done better, in that regard.
First, the actively misleading: As thoroughly as I enjoyed Peter Campbell's casting as the master-manipulating triplets behind the dramatized young man's screen, the film's depiction of this very human invasion of privacy is blatantly false imagery. The Privacy Problem is not that Facebook or Google employees are directly and actively viewing and manipulating your use of their services in real time. In fact, it is ridiculously unlikely that human eyes will ever see your individualized information. One could go so far as to describe the whole film as “ridiculous,” as did one of my favs, Casey Newton:
The dramatized segments include a fictional trio of sociopaths working inside an unnamed social network to design bespoke push notifications to distract their users. They show an anguished family struggling to get the children to put their phones away during dinner. And the ominous piano score that pervades every scene, rather than ratcheting up the tension, gives it all the feeling of camp.
The Verge's official review of the film – written by Adi Robinson and as cited by Casey – is an important read, as well. Robinson makes use of some very intelligent language and cites some very interesting bits (including a Wikipedia article about a series of Hogarth paintings?) for The Verge's audience, who already knew all of this. What I hoped to do by writing about this at all was speak to those distinctly separate tech media – grandmothers, retirees, etc. – who are both directly affected by the subjects covered by The Social Dilemma and particularly susceptible to its delusions about “privacy” – a term which I would argue is not particularly relevant to the conversation. Personally, I define my privacy in a way that is not violated by the simple collection of “my data,” regardless of how detailed said collection may or may not be, but would be by individual examination with human eyes, which – while possible – is extremely unlikely if for no other reason than a lack of business incentive. While Google may have access to the data it would need to determine whether I am currently showering or not, there is absolutely zero monetary gain to be had in one of its employees (or outsourced contractors) knowing this.
you don't have to care about reforming privacy, intellectual property, or any of the other issues an alternative addresses – you need only to want a better and/or different experience.
Now, on to the notably missing: Perhaps most important to note before I go on is that the film was produced by – and directly promotes on several occasions – one particular organization, called the Center for Humane Technology, which notably has a .com rather than a .org domain... hm. Immediately after watching the film, I complied with its direction to its website, where I was specifically looking for “solutions” to the issues it presented. Aside from Wikipedia (sortof,) it neglected to mention the abundance of alternative organizations and projects who've been building against the adtech-funded web for ages – some for decades. Unfortunately, neither the organization's website nor the film's webpage list any of these alternatives, whatsoever, which personally leads me to believe the whole thing is bullshit, for lack of a better term.
The film essentially argues for a single choice: using social media and other adtech-sustained services, or not using them. What I'm here to tell you: you have a choice of services. For every single individual service criticized in the film, I guarantee there exists at least a handful of alternatives across a spectrum of sin. If you've followed my work for any length of time (you probably shouldn't still be reading,) you know I've advocated exhaustively for Mastodon – the open web, decentralized social network outpacing Twitter in every single way. Two years ago, I spent an entire summer arguing that Bandcamp is the only music streaming service who's business model benefits both platform and artist. I'm still finishing up a massive essay that discusses alternatives to Facebook, which has been an exhausting but educational journey, as you can probably imagine, namely that leaving a platform as all-consuming as Facebook for an open-source and/or federated alternative requires a certain amount of bravery. Essentially, the evidence suggests that the alternatives discussion is a particularly important one to me, as is finding a way to evangelize it that isn't immediately off-putting to “the average person.”
Poke around the film's official website a bit and you'll discover a variety of heavily-branded “resources” for “taking action,” all awash with a certain irony, including a fucking Bingo game (hosted on Google Drive, no less,) which the site actually suggests you post on your Instagram story! Also under the “Take Action” vertical are links to Moment CEO Tim Kendall's tips for reducing your screen time, the “Data Detox Kit,” which advocates for Firefox as the private browsing solution (among an indigestibly huge link tree,) a “Join Now” button, and – most ironic of all – a link to download the “Ad Observer plugin,” in order to “share with researchers the ads you see on social media as they work to expose micro-targeting techniques & hold political advertisers accountable.” In other words, the very same data collection the film condemns, albeit for the “Online Political Transparency Project” instead of the greater adtech monstrosity.
No, it's not a scam. Using The Markup's shiny new Blacklight tool, I found thesocialdilemma.com to be entirely free of any malicious tracking aside from the inevitable accompaniment to their Google Drive embeds. (Here's the report in full.) All at once, we can be virtually certain there is no malice in this particular destination, at least, which leaves... incompetence? I'm afraid so. It is not revolutionary to suppose that the people who conceived of these ruthlessly effective systems of adtech and figure out how to implement them in the real world – regardless of what they believe now, or then – that these folks should not be our first call when we're searching for “solutions.” You know this, they know it, and they explicitly acknowledged it at least twice in the film, itself, and yet the fact of it remains.
Would you care to guess what Chapter 1 of the Digital Detox Kit is about? I can't imagine you'd be correct... Under the heading “CONTROL YOUR SMARTPHONE DATA,” step 1 is literally just renaming your phone:
At some point, you may have “named” your phone for Wi-Fi, Bluetooth or both – or maybe the name was automatically generated during setup.
This means that “Alex Chung’s Phone” is what’s visible to the Wi-Fi network owner and, if your Bluetooth is turned on, to everyone in the area who has their Bluetooth on as well.
You wouldn't announce your name as you enter a café, restaurant, or airport, so neither should your phone.
Now, I've always considered the ability to change a computer's name an immense privilege. My first “real” computer's name was Clementine, then there was Bertha, two Sophies (probably my favorite traditionally female name, so I excuse myself,) Silas, Linus, Uel, Jehoshaphat, Temba, Knot, and now Hildur. My iPhone 8 Plus' name is Gravel. However, I realize that most users could care less, and I think that's completely rational. Technically, suggesting you change your phone's common name to that of “your favorite television character” (Hildur Odegard is my favorite character in Fortitude, so...) is not bad advice, even within its own privacy-centered argument, it's just that it's ridiculously low priority (or should be) compared with doing just about anything else along this vein. A conundrum is presented: I cannot imagine these people sitting down and seriously jotting down “change device name” as step 1 in their strategy, but I also cannot fathom an incentive for them to expend such effort facetiously or maliciously. Again, incompetence/ignorance is the only remaining explanation.
A notification I received while literally typing this out.
I have to backtrack, now, and confess that I did find an “Alternative Apps Centre” within the Data Detox Kit, which contains some genuinely smart recommendations like ProtonMail, Riot, Signal, and DuckDuckGo surrounding a bunch of privacy-enhancing browser extensions. However, the “detox” seems to have been lost at some point along the way. No amount of privacy (yes, I do think it's hilarious that I can freely refer to “privacy” as a commodity with a positive quantity) can detoxify one' social media addiction. The savvy reader notes the “Supported by Mozilla Firefox” badges all over the website and asks me “well, what did you expect?” My answer: something “more” than promotion, I suppose.
I suspect this is another case of don't go to those who created the problem for the solution. More privacy is a more tangible vector upon which to “innovate” than simply putting down the fucking phone, but the interviewees in the film at least touched upon a very important insight in that regard: turn off all your notifications. I genuinely believe turning off all notifications is a good way to proceed, especially if this film (or anything else, for that matter) has made you feel uncomfortable about your relationship with your phone. I realized that I'd somehow allowed YouTube to clutter my notifications unconsciously for years, which is disturbing. In general, the apps who's notifications I'd probably value the most (Bandcamp!) are the ones who use the feature the least/the most subtly.
Leaving your phone in a different room while you sleep is a good idea, though it seems a bit excessive when you could just turn it off, instead. (Displaced from your bed or stone dead, your chances of making use of your handset in an emergency are about the same, I'd wager.) I suspect it's long overdue for a reboot, anyway. As far as “Email Addiction” goes, I suggest you first take an afternoon to go through your inbox and make use of GDPR's greatest gift: the single-click opt-out, most often found in very small text in a given email's footer. If you're really serious, unsubscribe from even the newsletters you do read and make yourself resubscribe to them. Make use of your preferred email platform's archives feature – or don't – but clear everything from your inbox itself. Mark it all as read. Then, you'll be ready to seek out other Email Wellness methodologies like the recently-trendy Inbox Zero.
If quitting social media cold turkey is not viable in your personal or professional life, a set daily time to check your notifications is a very good start. Yes, it's okay to announce on Facebook that you're taking a break from Facebook. There is a very good reason: accountability, to both yourself and your friends. If you are interested in the alternatives I mentioned before, genuinely contact me literally any time. My personal phone number is (573) 823-4380. I would be elated to discuss some of the services I've discovered with you.
My own advice on “privacy:” don't worry about installing browser extensions, or using a different browser for that matter. Aside from a password manager, there is no need to download or install any additional software to protect your information. All the “privacy tools” you need are already present on your device, and they mostly consist of geolocation settings. If you're an iOS user, you've already been confronted with them in the past few months. If you are still genuinely bothered by automated data collection unseen by human eyes, your only next step – if we're really honest with ourselves – is figuring out how you're going to go without the internet. Untracked browsing is no longer a realistic option.
Examining Fred Rogers' debut Atlantic-theatre naval anxiety compilation.
It's a little late to write about Greyhound – Tom Hanks' first screenwriting credit – which released on Apple TV+ this past Father's Day, June 21st. Though I definitely left my quite severe obsession with WWII history in my prepubescence, I thought I'd remark on this film because I originally hoped it would fulfill a role I'd long wanted for: the destroyer-side compliment to U-boat films like Das Boot and U-571. James D. Hornfischer's exceptional account of the U.S.S. Samuel B. Roberts' part in The Battle off Samar with The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors was my last dive into naval history. It's one of the most astounding war stories I've ever encountered, and upon first seeing Greyhound's trailer, I was sortof hoping it was the Big Boy film adaptation its always warranted. (Though apparently there was a TV movie made in 2005???) Instead, its based on (distinct from “adapted from,” apparently) a 1955 novel by English author C.S. Forester entitled The Good Shepherd.
When it came to shooting the film, instead of relying completely on sets, the crew of ‘Greyhound’ found another option. They used USS Kidd, a real WWII destroyer, to film the journey of Greyhound. She is a Fletcher-class destroyer and is named after Rear Admiral Isaac C. Kidd, the first US flag officer to die during the Second World War.
As much as you're going to loathe it, I must include this commentary on Greyhound's historical accuracy if only because – as a undoubtedly mainstream film – its been so widely and competently reviewed, already, by real film writers. I am almost positive U-boats would rarely – if ever – waste their precious few viable torpedo shots firing ultra-close-range at the agile, super-speedy destroyers and destroyer escorts that protected supply convoys, and I am sure that none ever bothered with audibly addressing enemy ships over the radio in English. I understand that dramatizing historic events is the core function of Greyhound's genre, but this particular addition was so unbearably cheesy that it utterly decimates all of the experience's hard-won context. Just look at a snippet from the first of two dialogues in text:
Greyhound. Greyhound, Greyhound.
This is Gray Wolf.
We hunt you and your friends
Eagle, Dicky and Harry.
We watch your ships sinking into the deep.
We hear the screams of your comrades
as they die.
How many of them will there be
before you join them?
The Gray Wolf is so very hungry.
I'm sure there's an essential academic film function which only similar enemy taunts could perform and without which this screenplay would've been technically unsound, and – if I were allowed supposition – I would venture to guess that America's Favorite Dad felt pressured to bolster his first penning against easy gimmes for the Great Big institution of cinema criticism as much as possible. However, this shit is just disruptingly cheesy. Fuck it! Have the rest:
Your flock is not safe from this wolf.
We can always find you
in the night to kill you.
Or will Dicky die next? Or Harry?
[Gray Wolf howls]
Guten Morgen, Greyhound.
Did you think you had slipped away
from this Gray Wolf?
No, you did not. You will not.
The sea favors the Gray Wolf on the hunt,
not the hound on the run.
You and your comrades will die today.
The contrast with the rest of the script's imposingly thorough and relentlessly-paced naval action dialogue is far too abrupt to not be problematic. Even as obsessed as I was with naval history, I'm still too oblivious to the details of what is/was actually said on the bridge of a warship during combat maneuvers to tell you how authentic Greyhound's depiction really is (it's hardly ever shown on the screen or laid out in nonfiction, even,) which nullifies all relevance the realism would've had, otherwise. Director Aaron Schneider in an interview for Vanity Fair:
“If you decide to read Greyhound by tracking the dialogue—rudder commands and sonar distances—you’ll soon find yourself completely lost. Because that’s not where the movie lives. This screenplay was designed to beam you aboard the USS Keeling…and it’s up to you to engage with what’s going on and extrapolate how things work, so you can answer the question, ‘What the hell is going on here?’”
In this sense – crafting a consuming, believable, unbelievably gray, claustrophobic, icing iron reality – Tom Hanks excels.
Though Letterboxd user brucewayn called it “boring” in the most popular review of the film to date on the platform, I found Greyhound to be quite engaging in an anxious, depressing sense familiar to classic war dramas like Saving Private Ryan and Black Hawk Down. The tedium of naval warfare's endless orienteering is rescaled to a battlefield of lesser distances – axis and allied vessels actually collide on several occasions and a U-boat crew decides to fuck it all and brawl it out with two parallel destroyers with surface guns instead of retreating after losing their ability to dive. (See: Titanic VI.) Through a combination of wartime compression and stitching, Greyhound is in large part a mashup of naval action at the extremes of what historical fiction will allow within its 48-hour setting. From Ben Lindbergh's review for The Ringer:
In The Good Shepherd, enemy torpedoes simply sail wide; in the movie, they graze the hull for even closer calls. In the book, Krause agonizes over, and generally resists, calling the crew to general quarters, wary of exhausting their energy reserves; in the movie, he doesn’t hesitate to summon his sailors to battle stations.
The result is an emotionally effective film constrained by a very specific dramatic aim: another war movie every father can juice for decades' worth of Sunday afternoons on the sofa. “As befits his status as America's Dad, Hanks has constructed for us the ultimate Dad Movie — all the action you could ever need or want, with no annoying characters hanging around, harboring pesky needs and wants of their own,” quips Glen Weldon for NPR. Undoubtedly, though, the subject matter is fresh. I wouldn't say my youth desire for a surface-side Atlantic-theatre film is 100% satiated, but Greyhound managed to accomplish much more than I expected.
In Stephen King's “The Langoliers,” the state of today's air travel is foreshadowed.
I told myself I would not be topical – that I would publicly ignore the coronavirus – but I can no longer. There is simply too much to say about one of the most emotionally effective, surreal films of my childhood. The Langoliers occupied 9-11PM's slot on ABC for May 14th and 15th, 1995 (Sunday and Monday, twenty-five years ago.) It's an adaptation of a Stephen King novel of the same title and is fairly widely-regarded as the worst such adaptation of all time. You can now watch the whole three hours of The Langoliers in 360p (supposedly) at your leisure thanks to OpenTube (for now.) One commenter (on the since-taken-down YouTube video) echoes what I'm about to tell you: “My god! I thought I dreamed this movie up as a kid. I have been trying to describe this to people for years and here it is, it’s real!” In order to write this, I joined the Stephen King Wiki Discord server and was immediately welcomed with a request not to type in the text channels: “I’m working on adding some new channels so pls nobody type in them til I’m done.”
The Langoliers begins with a pissed-off British secret agent (Mark Lindsay Chapman,) an insane businessman (Bronson Pinchot,) a psychic, vision-impaired young woman (Kate Maberly,) Sarah Jessica Parker (Patricia Wettig,) and a just-widowed pilot (David Morse) all boarding the same redeye flight to Boston – American Pride Flight 29. This group falls asleep and mysteriously wakes up alone on the aircraft except for Stephen King himself (Dean Stockwell,) a stupid incel violinist (Christopher Collet,) and a stoner (Kimber Riddle.) My favorite character, Craig Toomey, is the “twerp” business boy with daddy issues who can't stop himself from demanding to know what's going on. James Bond shuts him up with a “nose hold.”
Whoa. No one's driving the plane!
David Morse proceeds to try and contact air traffic control in a fairly-realistic manner, but is unable to receieve any radio signals at all, even from Strategic Air Command. Frankie Faison plays the single person of color on the flight, Don Gaffney – “a tool and die worker for Hughes Aircraft” – who dies first, of course. James Bond lecures David about inciting panic and almost immediately reveals his secret identity. Then, the Hungry Idiot (Baxter Harris) wakes up whilst Toomey begins screaming again.
Scaring the little girl? Scaring the little girl?! Lady, we're diverting to some tin-pot airport in the middle of nowhere, and I've got better things to think about than scaring the little girl!
After the entirety of the male cast threatens to beat him up, Toomey, sweating his balls off, begins slowly tearing strips of paper and moaning sexually like an absolute madman. Some irritiatingly irrelevant dialogue insues in which Stephen King Author Man narrates through Sherlock Holmes deduction to figure absolutely nothing out. He is wearing stripes on plaid. He suggests that the entire situation could be some sort of government experiment and I can't believe I'm wasting your time with this. “If it were just this plane, I could give you a scenario, but unfortunately, it's not just this plane. The city of Denver is probably still down there, but all its lights were off if it was.” Here you can see how excellently this script was written.
I've been sitting here running all these old stories through my head. You know, time warps, space warps, alien raiding parties. I mean, we really don't know if there's anything left down there, do we?
Sarah Jessica Parker reveals to Powers Girl that she's on her way to meet a guy she's been emailing with. Stoner girl asks if everything is going to be okay and Incel Violinist looks horny. She's going to rehab for stones. The captain announces to his nine passengers that they're beginning their descent into Bangor International Airport, near Stephen King's birthplace. Don asks Toomey to stop ripping up paper and the useless food addict yells “well, at least we'll be able to get some chow when we land” offscreen. Craig, sweating even more, is still ripping up magazines in the face of Don's threats. “Try it, you little jackass,” he says. I'm wondering where I can snag this American Pride livery for Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020. Director Tom Holland manages to add drama to a more-or-less routine landing.
This place is utterly, totally deserted... You know, there's something wrong with the air here, Brian.
It's occuring to me that this may be the worst script I've ever actually sat through reading. “This place smells wrong. Really badly wrong.” Toomey threatens to sue the airline for $30 million for missing his 9AM meeting before seeing flashbacks to his abusive father (John Griesemer,) who mentions the Langoliers for the first time. The deserted airport scene is the reason I've written this whole thing – the dulled sounds of the characters' heels on the tarmac, the putrefied air. The clocks have stopped. The payphones are dead. The computers are lifeless. The abadonedness of it all. This is what the coronavirus has done to the world and to Craig Toomey. Even the battery-powered devices are dead. This is what confuses Stephen King Author Man to the point of head-rubbing and cigarette smoking for the first time in ten years.
The production was actually made at Bangor International Airport as this incredible video hosted by Toomey's actor explores.
LOVE IS NOT PART OF THE BIG PICTURE!
It's never actually explained what The Langoliers are. Ken Tucker for Entertainment Weekly describes them as “little meatballs.” The little Beatles-haired girl can hear them approaching. “It sounds a little like rice krispies after you pour the milk.” Foodism abounds. “A really terrible, scary sound... Something making that horrible cereal noise.” She screams that the cereal is going to kill them. Somehow, Toomey finds a revolver while he's losing his mind. Kimber Riddle the Stoner went to NYU.
Don't forget, Craiggy-weggy, the langoliers were here. And they will be back.
Stephen King Author Man and Food Addict note that the food and soda have gone completely flat. “Tastes like old tire,” says Don. “What we're dealing with is time, not dimension,” says Stephen King. I'm wondering what in the hell sort of room they're in at the moment, and who decided those light wood countertops were ever a good idea.
The bottom line is, I believe, that we have hopped an absurdly short distance into the past, say as little as 15 minutes, and we're discovering the unlovely truth about time travel. That one can't appear in the Texas State School Book Depository on November 22nd, 1963 and hope to stop the Kennedy assassination. One can't witness the building of the pyramids or the sack of Rome, or investigate the age of the dinosaurs firsthand. No, fellow time travellers, have a look around you. This is the past. It's empty. It's silent. It's a world with all the meaning of a discarded old paint can. Sensory input has disappeared. Electricity has already disappeared. And time itself is winding down in a kind of a spiral that's going faster and faster.
Little Prophet notes that the sound she's been hearing is once again getting louder. Mr. Toomey's face is shoved in the floor, his nose bent.
The repugnant missteps of ‘Star Wars’ in the hands of Ron Howard and the long-awaited conclusions about the nature of cinema’s luckiest character to which they lead.
It's opening night at the Bagdad Theater on Hawthorne in Southeast Portland and hardly anybody’s bothered to show up. Less than 20% of the venue’s 500 seats are occupied by the time the host takes the stage to introduce Solo, but those who are here for the last Thursday showing have been shouting, whooping, and gurgling bad approximations of wookiee noises since the screen cut to black from its ad slideshow. If my middle row can be assumed an accurate sample, only a handful of these are “fans” enough to feel compelled to wear a Star Wars t-shirt. As I grab my last cocktail, the bartender tells me that only 300 folks showed up for the evening matinee, though he himself was “excited” to see the movie — one of a minority among Portlanders, apparently, who still give a shit about Star Wars.
By design, Solo: A Star Wars Story is a slightly more complex film than The Episodes in the same way Rogue One was, if a bit better executed, narratively. First, please rest assured that Alden Ehrenreich assumes the Han Solo persona as truly as anyone could — he triumphed through a ridiculously extensive casting process, and is certainly handsome enough (if not more conventionally so than his predecessor) to consistently look the part. He actually bears an unsettling resemblance in features and mannerisms to one of the nicest guys I’ve ever met and that through-and-through boyishness particularly makes sense here, set in Han’s formative, earnest youth — the stated purpose of the film’s existence. Franchise fanatics, then, should be content. (It’s a good thing CGI-ing the main character in a live action film isn’t quite a low-risk option yet.) And yes, Donald Glover completely steals the vain, infinitely stylish Lando Calrissian and inevitably makes one wish to see him cast again. Personally, I am very tired of seeing Woody Harrelson, though all the components of his public persona should all but ensure his likability. From what I saw in Three Billboards, I’d concede that he is as talented of an actor as I am capable of appreciating, but his role as Tobias Beckett in Solo couldn’t possibly be substantial enough to actually make use of his craft.
Though I don’t believe in “spoilers,” or use of the term to bait readers, it’s worth stating for the record what everyone should know by now: there simply aren’t spoilers in a Star Wars movie — every human being on Earth knows too much about the formula to ever have any of these films’ comparatively irrelevant plots “ruined.” The most surprising, historically-significant decision of this whole production was the omission of the traditional yellow type opening crawl over a backdrop of distant stars, which I genuinely found myself missing. (Apparently it wasn’t present in Rogue One, either — I just failed to catch it.) I was very pleased to see my own number one favorite device of the franchise used within this film’s first ten minutes: crimelords and gang leaders as hugely magnified variations of the creeping and crawling creatures our instincts are planned to abhor. Solo’s first villain — the gigantic, wormlike boss Lady Proxima (Linda Hunt) — is completely inconsequential, and only appears in a single scene, but the practice of grossly oversized monstrosities leaving absolutely nothing of a baddie’s essence to be extrapolated by the audience from nuance is one of very few ways these films are let loose, and it openly shits on the more pretentious viewer’s assumptions about good writing, which I think big money movies should feel more comfortable doing, generally.
This first act begins on Han’s home planet Corellia — the bleaker urban, industrial, working-class counterpart to the clean capitol cityworld Coruscant — with his rather predictable mission to escape Lady Proxima’s sphere of control with his girl, Qi-ra (Emilia Clarke,) who could and should have been more creatively named, given her importance not as her own character with depth to develop (a no-no for a female role, Gourd help us,) but as Han’s mirror image to grow darkly apart, proving that he — The Good Guy — is unquestionably more morally fortified than anyone else in the whole goddamned universe. After having been drug through so very many, I couldn’t tell you at this point how to make the introductory escape action of this sort of production more exciting and less formulaic. Big surprise — their plan goes awry, and Qi-ra is prevented from leaving the planet with Han, who’s immediate (and I mean immediate)solution is his enlistment in the Imperial Navy via the recruiting station right there in the damned spaceport (during which the film takes the liberty of seizing his surname’s explanation) to serve the English in their grand conquest of the universe. Bizarrely, he manages to serve as a grunt for three whole years of complicity in unmentioned atrocities until he encounters the disguised criminal Wise Old Woody in the middle of pulling a job with his two-person crew. The team doesn’t agree to bring Solo along until he meets an asset in Chewbacca for the first time as he briefly inhabits another of the classic Star Wars trap: the hungry monster in a shadow-filled mud pit, but is spared the wrath because of his introductory grasp on Chewie’s shrieking language (called Shyriiwook) in which he manages to sufficiently pitch the advantages of his survival, and the two escape, chained together. Observing the addition of Wookiee to the deal, the crew briefly debates the prospect’s new value in providing “needed muscle,” which convinces Woody to return for them and kicks off a series of case studies in this film’s bizarre attitude toward the commodification of the oppressed.
However, in a rare depiction of his volition, Chewbacca is briefly consulted before the two seek to be formally included on the job, and is even asked around a campfire, later, what he’s shooting for in life at the moment, to which he responds “finding my family/tribe.” Despite having spent a whole three hellish years in the trenches with the British, the romantic Han Solo declares his primary motivation for all of it still lies in his desire to return to Corellia and rescue Qi’ra. In their stolen Imperial ship, the lot descend on a snowy mountain-traversing Maglev to steal the Uranium it’s transporting in a scene that’s straight up jacked from animated family classic The Polar Express, but… oh no!… A gaggle of “marauders” called the Cloud Riders (yet another throwaway proper noun) roll up on those speeder bikes from Endor (except these can fly,) and screw up everything so badly that both of Woody’s crew end up dead and the booty scuttled. After the fact, Woody reveals to Han that the job was contracted by yet another carelessly-named crime syndicate — Crimson Dawn, and that his only possible course of action is now vigorous brown nosing to its leader, Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany) ((aka Scarred Jarvis,)) in the waning hope he’ll spare his life to make another attempt. Following this information, he firmly suggests that Han and Chewie fuck off, lest their faces become known in the underworld, dooming them to serving it forever, apparently. Already, this vague presumption of Han’s purity which all of the protagonists must constantly venerate in martyrdom is getting tiresome, as is the dynamic of his insistence against them.
Naturally, both Chewie and Han end up along for a visit to Scarred Jarvis’ tower yacht, where the latter very conveniently stumbles upon none other than his long lost love, Qi-ra in the bar. Despite having spent the past three years at war in unspeakable conditions thinking only of how to liberate and be reunited with her, he isn’t bothered to express more than the moderately-excited and surprised hug you’d expect of someone who’s just run into the kid down the cul-de-sac from their childhood home who used to ride her bike over for popsicles on Sunday afternoons. While he does rehearse for her the tale of their reunification as his one motivation for everything since they were separated — including his presence there, “right now,” he follows the profession up quite abruptly with the sly suggestion that they fuck as soon as possible. True to trope, she is jaded and indefinite as she distantly implies her binds of servitude while flashing the tattoo of the extremely-forgettable and innocuous Crimson Dawn logo on her right wrist. (The total lameness of the brands in this movie must be intentional. I can think of no other explanation.)
The evil Scarred Jarvis is then introduced, quickly stealing the crown for Best Host of all Star Wars Antagonists before politely asking Woody why he shouldn’t kill the lot of them. As per his infinite luck, Han pulls the idea of stealing unrefined Uranium out of his ass, which has somehow never occurred to anyone else in the room, despite their unanimous top-of-the-head knowledge of the single location where it is mined. Shortly, the merry three plus Qi-ra conveniently in tow are off to a casino-esque establishment to find Lando, who Qi-ra describes as “attractive, stylish, charming,” and like adjectives, to Han’s obvious sexual chagrin, which is furthered by his subsequent loss of a card game with Lando’s ship — the Millennium Falcon, of course — in the stakes. Of course, the attractive, beautifully-dressed black man only bests Solo — the earnest, simpleton, Good Guy white dude who wears the same outfit for decades — in front of Qi-ra, the female prize by way of sleight-of-hand, the film shamelessly playing on that strange insecurity white guys have about their partners’ secretly everpresent and very powerful temptation to dump them without warning for black cock. Further emasculation is inflicted on poor little Han when Lando turns his oh-so-crafty (actually just very charismatic) charm upon Qi-ra, who reveals that she’s the boss of the gig. The final blow to Han’s dickitude is cast when he tries to enter the negotiation between the two and Lando chides “the adults are speaking,” but eventually agrees to provide them a lift for a 25% cut, so the lot make preparations to leave.
Enter my new favorite character of the franchise, Lando Calrissian’s co-pilot, L3–37 (voiced by Phoebe Waller-Bridge,) or “L3,” the proudly sentient, violently revolutionary pro-rights droid who is introduced as she is pleading with two fighting droids in a square cage surrounded by screaming spectators (easy does it on that thematic slavery) to circumvent their “fighting programs” because they “don’t have to do this.” Though Lando and the crew behave like her duress is foolish and unimportant — pulling her away to the Falcon — she is allowed another opportunity to free droids very soon, but not before Solo’s single short private conversation between two female characters.
On the way to Kessel, Qi-ra stops by the cockpit and converses with L3. Until recently, I was unaware of what’s largely regarded as the worst habit of male writers with female characters: if and when they have a one-on-one conversation between another female character, it’s only about other male characters. Sure enough, L3 begins by insisting to Qi-ra that Han is in love with her, insisting by the objective findings of her sensors — which Qi-ra uncharacteristically denies like a bashful little girl before L3 continues on about Lando’s longtime love for her, and why it must remain unrequited, which we are encouraged to laugh at by the doubt Qi-ra voices without much hesitation regarding the hypothetical union’s sexual mechanics because it’s so preposterous.(I’ll get back to that in a moment.)
When the team arrives on Kessel and infiltrates the mine, L3 creates a “distraction” when she begins removing the restraining bolts from droids in the control room, calling the practice savage, or uncivilized, or maybe barbarian — I don’t quite remember. As she frees them without any noticeable detraction from her duties as Seth Green of the heist — hacking controls, remotely opening doors, and all that — the droids begin to help free others in an exponentially multiplying circle of liberation until they become a rowdy mob who’s cute acts of rebellion are spaced throughout a few minutes of screentime in short jumpcuts off the other crew as they fight deeper into the mine. With the most significant emphasis ever placed upon Chewbacca in Star Wars history, he halts when he spies slave Wookiees struggling to find off enforcers and informs Han that he’s going to break off and assist them. Since Chewie’s only allowed to speak to the audience through Han’s retorts and never directly, it’s impossible to know how he phrased it, exactly, but from my perspective, his appeared to be the expression of a wish to do what Han had to agree to release him to do, as would a master, not a “partner.” Of course, Solo does agree, albeit hesitantly, because he’s The Good Guy, while quite inconsiderately expressing his desire to see Chewie again soon instead of wishing him success. However, releasing him to free his people (as per his primary life goal, expressed before,) means that Han has to load twelve of the super heavy unrefined Uranium tubes onto the cart all by himself and push it fully loaded at least 50 whole yards without the assistance of his big strong slave. Boy, what a pain in the ass! He’s spared his laboring, though, when Chewbacca returns after no time at all with the enslaved Wookiees he’s just heroically rescued, who he then immediately asks to assist his master in pushing the cart — performing the same labor they were forced to do under the enslavement they were supposedly liberated from, seconds before.
The heist has inadvertently (nice, huge emphasis on inadvertently) ignited a slave rebellion throughout the mine, which serves the crew only as a distraction for the guards. The chaos is interrupted a half dozen times or so by those jumpcuts back to the control room of adorable little droids enacting their pitifully amusing revenge on the equipment — slapping a keyboard with a cookie sheet-like pan, stomping on a control panel, etc. — while L3 shouts parodical quasi-Marxist battlecries, which… yes… include referring to the freed droids as “comrades.” She even radios Lando at one point and triumphantly proclaims that she’s “found her true calling.”
If and when a female character has a one-on-one conversation with another female character, it’s only about other male characters.
By the time the Uranium cart is within its last few yards of the awaiting Falcon, the riot has reached the landing bay and the guards around its perimeter have readjusted their priorities to disabling the ship’s landing gear. This interrupts Lando in the cockpit, who has chosen this time to work on dictating his autobiography because he’s a man who bothers to dresses himself well and is therefore oh so maniacally, comically, and unreasonably vain! How berserk! Still looking good as hell, he emerges and stands on the ramp to cover the rest of the crew’s return and loading of the dangerous Uranium with blaster fire, shouting the obligatory intermittent “come on, hurry up,” until L3 appears, also firing a blaster and shouting until she arrives in front of Lando, before noticing some commotion(?) with droids behind her and turning around, again fervently shouting more liberation cries. Lando doesn’t budge from the Falcon’s side, but yells after her, until he watches as she is shot repeatedly and falls, prompting him to run to her side. Filmed unnecessarily gruesomely, her head and shoulders separate from what’s left of her lower body when he first tries to hoist her up. Of course, his recklessness gets him shot in the arm, so Chewie returns to carry them both to the safety of the ship, where the injured Lando holds her head lovingly in his arms for her last moments, repeating “I can fix you, I can fix you.”
Now, I understand that Star Wars movies (or their reviews, for that matter) are not the sort of entertainment one seeks out in order to examine the dynamics of power structures or elaborate cultural symbolism, but they all contain a significant amount of both. The sterile, cold, and bureaucratic Galactic Empire is the British Empire, the Rebellion and the Republic are the United States or its colonial precursors, the Jedi are vaguely Native American, and the Death Star is the Boston Tea Party. You’ve recognized this, I’m sure because it’s shoved in your ears most explicitly by their accents, and less so in your face by aesthetic influences, tactical philosophies, command etiquette, and posture, even. Solo’s main character is soaking in American Old Westness, which may or may not have led to its liberal saturation with the themes of individual rights, slavery, and liberation. Regardless, they’re certainly present, and most of them disturbingly for comedic effect.
As a silent character to the audience, it’s understandable that Chewbacca had too many limitations to occupy a strong second to Han Solo’s lead in the narrative’s eye, and perhaps the relationship between the two as portrayed in the previous films reeked so strongly of servitude that it was an inevitable element when the time came to write them their very own movie. In direct contrast to the firm place of all droids in the social hierarchy of the last 9 movies — addressing humans as “Master,” unapologetically spoken of as property, and traded and/or gifted as such by both protagonists and antagonists, etc. — what we see of Lando and L3 together is a genuinely and complexly affectionate partnership between equals, which Solo makes an effort to emphasize, if only to laugh at.
In response to the forced violence between two drones for spectator sport, L3 is completely enraged, and she cries (among other things) “we are sentient!,” but her distress is trivialized as hysterical distraction (see: Django Unchained.) When she suggests to Qi-ra that Lando (who is already illegitimized as a cheating narcissist, and therefore effeminate) is attracted to her, it’s a joke (which many in my audience laughed at) at the expense of her trivialized sexuality. After she triumphs and declares the liberation of her kind to be her true cause, she is immediately destroyed fighting for its sake, yet her ideology is not once acknowledged by her fleshy companions, and her body is quickly gutted for the data on her “central processing unit” as it’s interfaced with the Falcon. Granted, Lando does thoughtfully muse “she’s part of the ship now” shortly afterward, which would be nice, if you’d forgotten his last words were an outright lie. Lastly, it’s worth noting how apathetic the main characters themselves are toward the Kessel miners, especially as they are packing up to leave, when the camera pans over the chaotic struggle between the liberated and their guards in very close proximity to the awaiting Falcon, yet there was not a suggestion that they would even consider letting them take refuge from the violence in their very spacious freighter. Aside from Han’s or Qi-ra’s, Solo treats liberation as charming or amusing, nothing more.
Anyway, the crown jewel of Solo for many fans will probably be the scene of the infamous Kessel Run, when Han Solo and Chewbacca first take the helm(?) of the Millennium Falcon with Lando injured and L3 dissected, using her “navigational database” to plot a very risky shortcut around the scary space cloud by the scary space squid and the scary space hole in order to make it to the site of the refinery before the volatile Uranium explodes. Once there, darn old flakey Lando fucks the hell of in the Falcon right as the Cloud Riders roll up, but whoa! their leader is actually a very young woman with freckles! She describes the atrocities of Crimson Dawn and suggests that Han (who’s now the established decisionmaker for whatever reason) give them the Uranium in order to establish “the beginning of a rebellion,” which we can safely assume is The Rebellion, which does beg one to wonder why Solo never once bragged among the later rebellion about having started the whole thing in the other films, considering that — whaddya know — he says yes!
Woody, however, says he’s going to retire upon the news of this decision before immediately reappearing again on Scarred Jarvis’ yacht after he’s revealed to have betrayed the Uranium ruse to him. Qi-ra ends up killing Scarred Jarvis, saving Han, but after promising to follow him and escape, she rings up the late Scarred Jarvis’ boss — a Sith Zabrak who, I would argue, is not necessarily Darth Maul, though he probably is — and informs him that her boss is dead and she’s assumed his post. As Han and Woody meet again in an Old West standoff (complete with sand,) the latter insists one more time that Qi-ra is not who Han thinks she is (as Jarvis and Qi-ra herself have also said repeatedly,) describing her as “a survivor,” before Han kills him in self-defense.
Finally, after seeing the Cloud Riders off with the Uranium, Han finds Lando once again in a card game — this time taking care to disable his sleight-of-hand device beforehand so that he wins the Millennium Falcon, “fair and square,” and we cut to Solo (who seems remarkably upbeat considering the recent betrayal of the lover he’d longed years to reunite with) and Chewie in her cockpit as they tie in that one last knot by declaring their destination, Tatooine, before roaring off into hyperspace, leaving the credit roll in their wake.
Solo treats liberation as charming or amusing, nothing more.
Over two years ago, I concluded my first work for Extratone about The Force Awakens by arguing that Star Wars on the big screen should be allowed to die in favor of investing the time, energy, and funding they require in the pursuit of something new, but the industry still appears to believe that nostalgia is a surer bet where profits are concerned, at least, even after two whole decades of mind-numbing reanimated properties. I didn’t catch The Last Jedi until recently, which was remarkably well-done measured against the others as a Star Wars movie, but certainly didn’t aim to achieve much more. Clearly, there must be some truth in Hollywood’s cowardice about original properties- especially when it comes to the sort of fantasy armed with potent but unguided emotional bombs that define the Star Wars universe, so it wouldn’t make much sense to revive my old diatribe, here. (Though I can assure you that I will be relentless if this horseshit continues for much longer.) The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi, though, were episodic titles for the family, and these spinoffs that began with Rogue One are supposed to be for… well, I’m not entirely sure. In reality, they’ve only moved the proverbial bar up a very wee bit to the family who occasionally says “shit,” because they’re not intellectually stimulating enough to justify themselves as Big Boy-only productions. Or, they wouldn’t be, were they not part of this franchise.
The truth is, the fans have grown up, and they… I… will still buy a ticket for the smallest crumb of hope that a product of this huge machine will be capable of making us feel even a fraction of what we felt as children watching the original films. For me, The Force Awakens actually did, once, in that blast of horns before the opening crawl, but it hasn’t happened since, and I should certainly stop expecting or wanting to expect that it will. For others, it’s still working. Though there was a fraction of who I expected to be in attendance with me, they did laugh at a handful of (mostly fascist) moments, and whooped, hollered, and even clapped for a few seconds at the end. I’m surprised opening night wasn’t packed because Portland is the single most nostalgia-addicted culture I’ve ever seen anywhere in the United States. Then again, there are a billion theaters here, so perhaps the sample is just lousy. We’ll see how tomorrow and Sunday go, but I’d be surprised if any boxoffice records were broken.
In the past, when film enthusiasts andfans have described Han Solo as “the best character in Star Wars,” they’ve actually been praising his potential as a character, not his material itself, and Solo’s most effective function as a franchise film was to shut that praise down. Han was not at all denied his movie — this is his movie — and it provided him the screentime to show us who he truly is and why we really like him so much: he doesn’t fucking change. The secret to Han Solo’s moral and emotional resiliency is nothing more than halted development. The same old inner conflict between the tough, ruthlessly self-interested persona he does his best to project for everyone around him and the consistent reality of his soft insides was presented in his first scene way back in 1977, and we’re now sure that he was unable to make any progress toward its resolution despite openly and obviously brooding over it for an entire lifetime: from at least as early as his young adulthood in this film until his death at the hands of his little Sith son. There is 0 variation. He always comes back for the cause at the crucial moment after declaring himself through with it. Without fail, he’ll sacrifice the entirety of any self-making enterprise for just about any underdog with a problem who crosses his path. (Which probably explains his constantly-fleeting success as a smuggler well into gray hair and jowls.) Solo is abundantly clear about Han’s true nature and very willing to expose how uninteresting it is. When he first proclaims to Qi-ra that he’s become “an outlaw,” she shuts him down with the film’s ultimate quote, insisting that she “knows who [he] really is: the good guy.”
If the video game-despising fans will bear with me for a moment, it’s worth noting that Bioware’s Star Wars: The Old Republic MMORPG is the most interesting and extensive source of nuanced narrative in the IP (it holds the world record for the largest voiceover project ever produced,) and most of it can now be experienced without actually playing the game. Like Solo, it’s set pre-saga, but considerably before — a few centuries, if I remember correctly, which gave the writers a gigantic opportunity to both expand and predestine the universe. There are eight different class stories with around 50 cumulative hours of dialog, each. A few are relatively unimaginative, but the majority are complex, exciting, emotionally-involved tales that create very rich characters, and all of them can be streamed in their entirety on YouTube. If you are willing to see the potential of a Han Solo-like character fulfilled in a different medium, the Smuggler class story is a pretty damned engaging exploration of the kind outlaw with conflicted identity issues angle.
From my perspective, Solo’s frequent less-than-subtle maltreatment of some very brutal and sensitive power relationships makes it the most toxic of the Star Wars films yet, and I assume it ended up that way, unnecessarily because Ron Howard is an all-American son of a bitch. If these titles are going to continue to be passed around between bigwhig directors, future unpleasantries are inevitable. Notably, I’ve yet to see any mention of these disturbing themes from the respectable authorities of the film criticism establishment, who’ve been overwhelmingly charmed by Solo’s nostalgia. Take from that whatever you will.
If we continue to love the character Han Solo, it’ll be in the same way we love our earnest, foolish, emotionally-stunted manchild fathers who’s developmental inadequacies are often embarrassing, sometimes abusive, and thoroughly pitiful. Solo leaves no more room for an idealized, elegant perception of this character — he’s no more than a pretty good guy with a lifelong addiction to thrill-seeking and a shitload of luck.
To declare unequivocally whether or not Solo: A Star Wars Story is worth a trip the cinema with your date, your children, or just your own damned conscience would require me to disregard a whole host of complicating factors, but if you’ve stuck it this far with me, you’d have a lot to disregard yourself to jump in. I’d advise that parents watch it themselves before deciding whether or not it’s something worth adding to your child’s life. Of those of you like me who’ll tow the line despite what you know and watch a Star Wars film alone on opening night in delirium hoping for just a drop from the Fountain of Youth, I would ask: how long are we really going to keep kidding ourselves?
The Earth will reach its maximum occupancy load (12 billion) when I am in my mid-fifties, meaning there’ll be more than twice as many gorging, shitting, shooting, complaining, and lying human beings than there were when I started, and perhaps Brian Taylor’s Mom and Dad is in fact a reasoned argument for a particular solution to our inevitable plight. I’m still not sure what a “cult” movie is, precisely, but I can’t imagine what sort of cult could possibly sustain itself around the ethos of this film alone, despite its concise, agitating, at once lighthearted, yet genuinely-disturbing trip. No, it is probably not propaganda. From the experts, you’ll get precisely the same review, varying only in length. The New York Times’ Glenn Kenny couldn’t be bothered with more than 250 words, but RogerEbert dot com’s Simon Abrams shelled out a whole 1000. They are suspiciously close to these big round numbers — perhaps each was written to respective quotas, and perhaps you could say all that could reasonably be said in 10, but I don’t care.
The tropes here are polished to a miraculous sheen — two emotionally-stunted, middleaged, overly preoccupied-with-their-lost-youth suburban parents (Nicolas Cage and Selma Blair) who’s existing envies & irritations regarding their own classically bratty teenage girl (Anne Winters) and her mischievous little brother (Zackary Arthur) is merely agitated by a sudden TV static-bound killer instinct into bloodlust, not originated. I’m not sure any pill dealer would actually flip off their customers after a fair buy — even in high school, but drugs, a black boyfriend, and a stinkbomb? in the old Trans Am!? I’m going to kill you!
Somebody, somewhere knew all the best sources on suburbia and how to put them to good use. The Camry, the golf bag, ping pong smashing, sweat-stained Big Sur tee, and Dr. Oz, for Christ’s sake! Granted, talking to your girlfriend/boyfriend on the phone at all is a bit dated — especially while riding a BMX — and I don’t think Froot Loops are generally accepted middle-class chow anymore. These are staples from my youth, and I am very old. Technically, the iMessage bubble graphics are more chronographically appropriate, but with great consequence, I fear — if we’re going to accept them once and for all as authentic mechanisms for telling stories set in the present, they are going to age faster than Nick’s new jowls (unless we’re all soon killed by our parents.) It’s been two years since I knew anything about music, but I seriously doubt even the gothest fifteen?-year-old girls are listening to Father-esque post-Memphis horrorcore in class — there’s something about SoundCloud that really clashes with chokers.
If there was ever a film in which to use grimy dubstep-influenced electronic slaps, buzzes, chirps, and great grating clanking, it’s this one. It’s a terrific disappointment that Hollywood feels so timidly about their use of the most intimate medium. One forgets its potential to control the nuances of an audience’s fear, anger, discomfort, and panic beyond cheap jump scares until they experience an irritating, distressing, ghastly gross, all-possessing feat of accentuating audio production such as that of Mom and Dad. If you want to judge Academically the effectiveness of a nominee’s work for an award with a title like Best Sound Editing (as opposed to whatever the hell criteria was met most fully by Skyfall,) you must give the little golden man to these folks, whoever they are.
When’s the last time you saw a truly, believably shitty modern parental pair on a big screen? I really can’t remember, myself. Brent and Kendall Ryan are masterpieces of character craft — both a perfect précis and thoroughly-defined exploration of miserable white suburbanites. They’re even named unimprovably, which reflects a quality in care and attention to detail that I very much appreciate. They are vain, vulgar, impatient, selfishly afraid, and careless, freely feeling and saying it all directly in front of their children. I love being told explicitly which characters to hate (no joke,) and in this case it’s the whole damned lot. Brian Taylor and Nicolas Cage scream it over and over (as I’d like to imagine) a single afternoon of one-take filming, considering that the latter took it upon himself to first memorize the entire screenplay and its prose, vanilla to perfection, before photography began, and I hope it all stays with him forever, especially “my mom is such a penis.”
Mom and Dad could conceivably be Nicolas Cage’s I Am Legend if for no other reason than the total lack of possible stand-ins for Brent Ryan — even the standard by which all white suburban Dad performances have been measured in the 21st century, Jason Bateman. Nick himself described it as “punk rock, rebellious, irreverent, original, badass,” and the “number one” movie he’s made in the past ten years (disqualifying National Treasure, in case you were worried.) No surprise, I must agree — this one is a wonderfully raucous and feral thing, but the scene involving the attempted murder of a newborn by her mother (Kendall’s sister) came very close to crossing the line. However, I am old and the intensity of my paternal instincts has probably outpaced my understanding of them. You could also argue, of course, that pushing such boundaries is a core function of a film like Mom and Dad. Nobody ended up vomiting or anything.
This fun thing shouldn’t feel as foreign as it does in cinema, but you already knew that. With all its implicit grapples with overpopulation, kids and gun violence, class, and racism — truly, this is a film charged electrically with current issues. Or maybe not. Ultimately, I can at least tell you for certain that Brian Taylor made exponentially better use of his resources (I couldn’t find a solid number for its production budget) than the Fucking Spierig Brothers did with Winchester (just so you know what a disaster looks like,) and managed to be refreshingly original (astonishing that nobody’s had this specific idea before.) A spectacular riot, Mom and Dad does all you could possibly want it to do. With just eighty-three minutes to lose, it’s worth the commitment just to hear Nicolas Cage whimper and say “anal beads.”
Nitpicking the recklessness of last year’s highly-awarded, class-blind black comedy
Listen to this article read by Siri Voice 2 below...
Indeed, it may be the time to jab at the rural, working-class South, but Martin McDonagh claims to have written his Golden Orb Special “eight years ago,” long before Tump, and any critical resolution the film provides is argued haphazardly. Consequently, its eye is cast on this strange, satirical portrayal of the Midwest in a manner which is inaccurate and insensitive enough to irk this Missourian. When I saw it at Columbia’s Ragtag Cinema this week, it was introduced by a young employee who noted that 1) Ebbing, Missouri is not a real place, 2) the film was actually shot in one of the Carolinas (an audience member suggested incorrectly that it was in SC,) and 3) we should prepare ourselves to be roused a bit by a bar scene in which a character pays $8 for two beers because “that just wouldn’t happen” (the Ragtag also serves alcohol.)
The “redemption arc” of the racist “hick” “loser” Officer Dixon (Sam Rockwell) was rightfully at the center of the film’s controversy, but even if one imagines his role and fate written differently — perhaps with him irrecoverably shunned and/or visibly punished for his excessive, hateful violence — his rubishness would still be unforgivable. Living with his mother and turtle feels like an effort to humanize him — and, by extension, racist small-town cops as a whole. The Huffington Post’s Zeba Blay wrote an essential take on why Three Billboards — with its terrifyingly racist dork — was received the way it was.
Rockwell’s character is the racist uncle whom white liberals fear and love. The ability to feel for him ― to root for him in spite of his past transgressions, because he really is a “good man at heart,” an idiot who doesn’t know any better ― offers a kind of catharsis for the white viewer who can’t or won’t deal with true nuance, who is unable to reconcile their own complicity with their desire to be “good.”
It’s not as if the film isn’t technically well executed or refreshing — thanks in large part, yes, to Frances McDormand — or that I will not regret appealing on behalf of my home state, but it’s hard not to speak up when Hollywood shits so recklessly on my people. I don’t much like writing about movies because there are so many voices who consistently speak so much more effectively. NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour, for instance, did a wonderful job dissecting the film’s depictions of racism and domestic violence. Gene Demby commented that “[McDonagh] doesn’t get these particular physics of American racism, and he’s not interested in them,” and I think it’s reasonable to suggest that Mark’s not very versed or interested in the physics of American class, either.
If you must differentiate the state of Missouri as a cultural whole between North and South, it is currently more red than blue — we went 56% for Donald and 38% for Hillary — but ask anyone from “somewhere down in the Georgia, Florida, Alabama corner” — as McDonagh put it -where we generally fall, and they’d be unlikely to regard us, fraternally, as the same part of the country. The accents in Three Billboards are not among the wide variety of local dialects you’ll encounter anywhere in the state, but perhaps they wouldn’t be out of place in Sylva, North Carolina, where the film was actually shot.
Regardless of all potential criticism of the film’s cultural perspective or technical excellence — and I think most of it is more valid than any take I could possibly offer — my particular issue with it comes from a culmination of tasteless decisions. If one reasonably successful Irish director were to produce a patronizing film at the expense of Missouri’s working class filled with a ton of absurd, misconstrued characters portrayed by A-list talent on location in a real Missouri town, the side-effectual economic benefits such a production delivers to a locale would make it all more forgivable. Say what you want about us… as long as you’re paying. But to photograph such a film completely separate Missouri — culturally and financially — set in a fictional(ized) town, include the state’s name in its title, before conducting oneself in interviews as if we were a random target on a “Southern” dartboard… Well, that’s awfully shitty.
Boy, working class Americans sure are a riot!
The writing is interesting enough for this, totally-out-of-touch“reviewer,” but I can’t imagine why it won Best Screenplay at the Globes, unless the other nominees were completely, bleakly predictable. (I wouldn’t know.) The excerpt below (SPOILER WARNING I GUESS? LOL) was the most stirring part of the experience, personally, if only because I really like films that palm strike one in the face without warning with bizarre, chaotic vulgarity (like the elevator scene in Drive.)
I suppose it could have been the result of a rational decision to give any depth to Anne (Abbie Cornish) — who is Chief Willoughby’s (Woody Fucking Harrelson) Australian?, much-too-attractive wife — before he kills himself in the last third of the movie, making her suddenly relevant. Or, perhaps it was another attempt to emphasize the emotional repression of “Southern” folks — one of the almost-accurate positives of the film, if only thanks to McDormand’s skill. She and Sam Rockwell won Best Actress and Best Actor in a Supporting Role, respectively, which makes sense — it’s a shame they accepted such an out-of-touch work with which to demonstrate their ability to assume aloof, emotionally-dysfunctional characters.
Growing up astride classe while traveling throughout the vast majority of Missouri for various reasons has made me defensive, and — while my right to speak for hard-working Midwesterners is certainly debatable -I’d suggest the industry at large be more diligently interested when setting is especially emphasized. It is no longer acceptable to pass up the opportunities McDonagh has for critical storytelling in Three Billboards. Racist cops, abusive spouses, unsolved murders, and mishandled grief are real, abundant issues in the country’s breadbasket, and they’re worth discussing responsibly — especially with such a powerful platform. If the purpose of film writing is to help an audience determine whether or not a work is worth spending their time and money to see it in theaters or otherwise, I can tell you — even within my bias and limited authority -that this one just… isn’t.
In revisiting Disney movies from our childhoods, we stumbled upon a good number of surprisingly insightful sentiments about race and class.
In the late 1990s, when the dwindling cocaine generation of American high corporate executives had long since left their misogynistic glory days in the Disco era, their ruthlessness peaked. Whether it was instigated maliciously/ignorantly, collectively or individually, I care not. I think we can all agree, though, that the vast majority of American products were awful. When given some thought, one tends to regard it as the absolute low of “American quality.”
But why not, right? If you’re going to be forced into retirement at any moment, and likely face The Ultimate End shortly after, why not accrue some extra income to ensure you sufficiently entertain yourself in the buffer period between? And really… If you’ve got the nogginism to climb all the way to Chief Executive Officer, you’ve figured out just how worthless your “legacy” will be after your last one-way dip into Nothing. The Ends before The End have long justified any method of achieving them. Good Ole’ Pop has gone from a squeaky-clean young believer to a secretly-Godless fiend and — though he may tell you and the rest of the world otherwise — measures himself only by the gracefulness of his transition’s execution.
I could probably provide some evidence of the phenomena in the automotive industry, specifically, but I don’t intend to bother.
After some ancient memories were dug up by I-can’t-quite-recall-who, though, a friend and I have embarked to explore some Disney-actualized relics from the period. To my knowledge, the corporation’s leadership were anything but exempt, and decided to experiment with filling their filmography with a shitload of low-budget, made-for-TV features over their original masterpiece-a-half-century tradition.
Titles from the deepest and darkest compartments of our recollection are retrieved and cleared of dust for the first time in over a decade: Brink, Zenon: Girl of the 21st Century, Halloweentown, Smart House, Johnny Tsunami, Mom’s Got a Date with a Vampire, Motocrossed, The Luck of the Irish, The Even Stevens Movie, and many…many more menaces to my childhood television schedule.
I grew up rurally, so the only available alternative to local channels was in the stupendously-tedious delivery of early satellite television. Though it was quite clumsy, it did offer the first accessible program schedule I’d ever experienced, and I remember dreading the sight of such titles and — consciously or not — planning my free time around them. Yet, upon hearing the words, I was intrigued! All that time ago, I watched many of them again and again…and again, so why did I feel the desire to voluntarily revisit them?
It’s quite simple, actually. I was even more of an ignorant film consumer in my elementary years than I am now. I couldn’t have foreseen that instead of flying commercial jets, twenty-something me would be paying for the affliction I endured for free so that he could construct pretentious and unsolicited arguments about their greater implications.
That said, we flipped a smartphone — ⚠️ (PARADIGM SHIFT ALERT) ⚠️— for it and so began with Smart House. I have been obsessed with artificial intelligence since those days (no, it was not due to this film,) and was keen for it, in particular, because I remembered it stirring some rare reaction in me. There were a few period spectacles, of course. The online contest addiction plaguing Prickly Phisher, Bewildered Nick’s incompetence in controlling his neglected submissive sadomasochistic desires, and Silkroad Sarah’s ultra-datamouth were enough to entertain us for a few minutes, but there was little more of substance until the last moments.
When you think about it… ACTUALLY Race War 2.0
I’d wondered why LeVar Burton had directed a Disney movie until the climax, when full monstrous maternal sentience got the answer to the question “why can’t I just be your mother?” Phisher answered with something like “because you can never comfort us.” Pat grew somber (and smaller actually — I suppose increasing her size was an in-budget method of demonization,) ran her hand through Prickly’s face in a failed attempt to stroke his cheek, and then began cyberweeping.
(Apparently, it’s suicide for a holographic android.)
Her final free words were “I will miss you all.”
If she had been human, such a scene wouldn’t have bothered me a bit, but my preference and fascination with artificial intelligence justified my being actually a bit upset at the reality of the situation. I realized that my vague memory of reactivity was actually in a broader sadness for AI because even then, it was an issue that weighed heavily upon my day-to-day psyche.
We’ll create them, direct them, and then persecute them for our own ignorance.
I’m sure the story has been written by countless science fiction writers I’m too weary to pretend I’ve read.
While I think the sentiment of the film was somber regarding the inevitable fate of Sarah Mouth’s brainchild, its conclusion was aggravatingly ignorant. The last line comes from Tortured Nicholas in response to the question “how’s Pat been doing?”
Servitude without interference.
There’s a jewel for ya.
Next up was Johnny Tsunami, which very nearly unbearable, if we’re all honest with ourselves. It’s entertaining to watch from the perspective of race & class warfare, though. The Urchins and the Skys, and all that.
I think I’ll make a fan sequel one day — with dearest Brandon’s blessing, of course — involving Johnny Grandad’s assistance in offering Emily as a blood sacrifice to some ancient Hawaiian God in exchange for a total terraformation of the Northeast into a tropical/arid hell hybrid in order to finally commence the delivery of reparations upon the whites for our colonialism.
When Britain first, at Heaven’s commandArose from out the azure main;This was the charter of the land,And guardian angels sang this strain:“Rule, Britannia! rule the waves:“Britons never will be slaves.”
'Twas was the night after Christmas (I think,) and I was in the same scroogy mood I must maintain for consistency of appearances & equilibrium of family dynamics every year. Everywhere, there were words on the newest Stair Wiggling…everywhere THEY were wiggling… And I was being wit-bitter on the TL. For you, I’d planned on continuing in the usual way, so as not to startle your precious Hans Zimmer-embossed heart.
I’m sure you’re a tolerable being, and there’s nothing you’d rather read less at this hour (whatever hour it may be,) but I really despise going to the movies. I always end up getting sick from the popcorn, which I buy every outing because I have grown weary and weathered, and cannot sit for two straight hours without consuming something, so troubled is my stomach now with Big Boy woes.
I can never escape the ambient breath odor — even in an empty theatre — and I can smell the filth in the seats on my clothes and in my hair until I shower. This is at least an hour-long process, so we’ve racked up a significant trauma bill without even accounting for travel time.
Furious 7 was the last theatre experience I’d had, and it was a definite exception. Despite watching ten minutes of the ending on YouTube beforehand thanks to much-appreciated warnings from friends, I spent the final few frames before the credit roll honorably combatting the industrial weepy forces in my throat with tripplet labor breathing exercises while my dusty ducts piddled buttery tears all over my jacket.
As we age, straightforwardly emotional experiences (like watching a movie) become exhaustingly more complex and fickle. I don’t remember ever REALLY disliking a film as a child, for better or worse. I think I genuinely enjoyed all ~40 times I’ve sat through Cadet Kelly.
Star Wars, though, is a completely different thing.
To children, chocolate is like water [insert dystopian, but probably more metaphorically effective food example here] — it’s something you’d regularly consume as it is made available. Perhaps some foodists treasured it more, but I wouldn’t bother debating it. Star Wars, though, is like chocolate and Corvette. It’s SUCH an indulgence that even children are self-aware enough to recognize it, which is especially notable considering how many individuals I’ve known as they’ve lost nothing BUT their unlimited wanting when they “became” adults.
Metatots aside, it’s important to recognize how integral the IP’s illusion of limitlessness is to its appeal. It is not contained within the future of humanity, near or distant. The stories, characters, species, cultures, and conflicts come from a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away… There is no more perfectly concise introductory sentence to unshackle us from our history and our planet, sparing us from the ridiculously irrational instinct to make comparisons between fictional realities and our own that so plagues and defines the consumption of science fiction.
These processes are often welcome, of course, but they tether us to ourselves and our familiars, which tends to hinder the complete manifestation of the ultimate sense of adventure.
Even to the most petty plot ponderers, the time and effort it requires to arrive in Star Wars with externally-acquired foreknowledge is not a worthwhile investment. This is why so many (including myself) look upon A New Hope with such fondness and favoritism — the premier of the universe was at its potential apogee from the start.
Though it is inviting with its ellipses and cooling hue, that title card is actually saying “you don’t know shit about what you’re about to see. Don’t make the mistake of trying to be the first one to dissect it, because you’ll fail, regardless of how cultured or analytically superior you are. From this moment until you see credits, every one of you is an ignorant little child…”
When experience cannot possibly be applied, it becomes irrelevant. Without your experiences, you are an infant, waiting for identity. Over that Genesis, the curtains brushed aside any quantity of memories and made theatres into a sort of cultural nursery — clinically levelled playing fields existing in a precision of usefulness that expression will never fulfill again.
The real cancer of the property is lore, and the parasitic authorities it enables have been unknowingly slurping away its most enchanting (but not exclusive) value since the moment they first pushed through those double-portholed doors and, groggily squinting, brought this supremely strange universe into the dank kernel-littered corridors of our own.
I blame contemporary society’s dependency on compartmentalization for my disappointment in The Force Awakens, and, assuming you’re getting on a bit since I’ve kept your attention, you should for yours, too.
I tried my senile best to be passionate about “the new Star Wars movie” as December approached, but I don’t think I finished a single web article on the subject. I had begun my brief return to The Old Republic when the hilted lightsaber image was leaked and distinctly remember overhearing some very weary VoIP exasperation from my (VERY middle-aged) raid group. “It’s not gonna be the same, but neither was J.J.‘s Star Trek, and I liked it…I think.” And it’s not surprising that the conversation eventually turned to the specific mechanics of lightsaber design, chronological positing, and the like, given the context, but it really emphasized for me the magnitude of the history and nostalgia weighing upon the collective dad emotional balance. A New Hope had the intended effect on me, of course, but couldn’t possibly imburden itself as it had on those who were in the moment. In their psyche, that experience will be eternally associated with the sense of unlimited potential their childhood ignorance allowed for. These folk who are so often stereotyped as disciples of information have begun to grow weary, and are desperately seeking sanctuary from the mass of all the knowledge they’ve picked up since. Their need made a market; J.J. made a movie. (Well, six.) Today’s moms and dads find their escape in the Roku, not the bar. The Force Awakens and the decade of revivalist big-budgeters preceding it are the reformed druggie’s drug.
Because we both know you haven’t yet read anything you haven’t heard/read previously, I’ve really just been playing the role of a (more intelligent) Ghandi, but we’ve now finally arrived at some promising insight into the real issue: this culture is one of fatal contradiction. Despite its historical popularity, it’s ill-advisable to want to know by day what you try to forget at night. Since the PT Cruiser was allowed to go on sale, you’ve all been caught up in a nostalgic hellride that can only end with the ultimate destruction of all culture. You now know, definitively, what role The Force Awakens was created to perform. Depending on whether or not you welcome the end of everything, it fills it…adequately.
There are Baddie Red Brits and Cool Brown Moderate Americans in their X-Things, moving swiftly, acting in diversity, and generally heaving moral streaks of energy at the Intolerable Imperialists, just as they should! Sometimes, they yell and die! But it’s ok, because they’re all just loyal martyrs making their obligatory and patriotic sacrifice for the rebellion against the Queen!
I mean… the Smug Cowards in their big taxation balloon!
I must confess that I did feel something huge when the lights dimmed, the aforementioned disclaimer appeared, and the theme’s jarring introductory chord hit me in the face, beginning the opening crawl. I actually smiled involuntarily, which is tremendously embarrassing to admit because the warmth I felt was exactly the sensation that defined my childhood experiences with the franchise. I even had a gigantic model of the Moderate Fashion, which would now be worth a lot of money (or so I’m told,) had it not been so damaged in my frivolous storage.
Unfortunately, that frisky feeling of adventure promptly wisped through the screen’s grasp after the “obligatory” scrolling yellow text –> “there’s a big spaceship moving slowly” transition. Aside from the adorably entrancing romantic tension between Timid Traitor and Sentimental Squatter, there was nothing very Star Wars about anything I saw. The cards were a deceiving gate into a world that was distinctly NOT Star Wars. There’s no need to mess about; it’s clearly an alternate reality from the one we’ve known. J.J.‘s Star Trekwas in such a way, too, but it was explicitly identified as such by the production. Traditionally, Lucas’ IP wouldn’t necessarily allow for this exemption, but nobody’s been all that vocal in confronting it, to my knowledge.
The world expected both of these forays to rejuvenate the franchise, which would serve my argument, were it not for the (much preferable) alternative:
LET THEM DIE.
Despite millions of dollars worth of polish, they’ve still ended up feeling like a strange reanimation experiment.
Your son is DEAD, Georgino. There are some things man would do better by leaving alone and moving on. Imagine all that cash and creative talent spent on new ideas instead of desperate attempts to charm and cultivate the shallowest part of moviegoers’ spectrum. So much sweat shed trying to recreate the new franchise bewitchment is embarrassingly cowardly when one could just create a new franchise.