Film Analysis

Spider-Man Thoughts

Spider-Man is easily my favorite superhero and I am an unashamed defender of nearly all of his feature films so far, save for one example: I absolutely loved The Amazing Spider-Man 2, but I did not enjoy Spider-Man 3, and the latter gets worse with each viewing. After the new trailer for the latest iteration Spider-Man: Homecoming dropped yesterday I had to reevaluate my overall thoughts about the franchise–after watching the trailer multiple times, of course.

First and foremost I do think this movie has some potential, and I’ll absolutely be waiting in line to see it on opening night. I was a huge fan of Tom Holland’s portrayal of the character in Captain America: Civil War, and I think the addition of actors such as Marisa Tomei, Zendaya, Tony Revelori, Bookem Woodbine, and, particularly, Michael Keaton, give this movie a fresh, diverse group of talent. Although I am weary that the film has six credited screenwriters, I am quite excited for this film, apart from its awful title. Still, I don’t think this film needs to exist.

From a financial standpoint I do understand why this film has been made. Sony was desperate to move on from the lukewarm reception of Amazing Spider-Man 2 and their 2014 hack, while Marvel was itching to bring one of Marvel’s most popular heroes into their Cinematic Universe. Mutually, they agreed to co-produce the film pleasing fans almost universally, save maybe for people like me who loved Andrew Garfield’s take on the character. Despite this film’s good intentions, though, it feels like a cash grab to me. As Civil War shot to the top of the box office and the juggernaut of Star Wars continues to be the highest grossing film of the year even when it’s a mostly unrelated spinoff film like Rogue One, Disney and Marvel have proven that they are in it for the money, and we continue to give them ours.

I don’t want to sound cynical. I am monstrously excited for not only Homecoming but for Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 and I’ll buy my tickets for Star Wars: The Last Jedi months in advance, yet I wish we, America, gave a bit more attention to smaller independent films as well. (On a related note, I’ve bought tickets to see both Raw (Ducournau, 2016) and Dark Night (Sutton, 2016) this week so expect to see a mini-review of both of them in the coming days.)

You can check out the (very good) second trailer for Spider-Man: Homecoming here.

The Semi-Rarity of a 100% Rotten Tomatoes Rating

On February 24th, Jordan Peele released his directorial debut Get Out in theaters which, at the time of this writing on February 25th, holds a perfect 100% rating on review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes. This is not to say that every critic reviewing the film has given the film perfect scores, though, with the average rating of the film being an 8.3 out of 10. Still, this is a monumental achievement, especially for a director making his debut and working within the confines of two genres not known for their critical acclaim–comedy and horror. Get Out is a great example of how to do both genres well, and manages to be a great film in its own right, too, yet seems like a left-field choice for a film receiving unanimous critical acclaim. After doing some research, though, the distinction of a 100% rating is not as rare as one might think, and some truly odd films have achieved this feat.

Certainly some films in the historical canon of greatest/most important films of all time appear on the list: The Birth of a Nation (1915), The Kid (1921), Nanook of the North (1922), Modern Times (1936), The Grapes of WrathRebecca, The Philadelphia Story (all 1940), Citizen Kane (1941) and the first two Toy Story films (1995, 1999) all appear along with many other examples of classic films. Still, many other films with a 100% rating are more obscure and appear on the list thanks to positive reviews from just a handful of reviews–a 1993 Queer/exploitation film titled Totally Fucked Up holds a 100% thanks to six reviews. The amount of “perfect” films hasn’t decreased in recent years, yet it has most often occurred for documentary films including Netflix’s The Square (2013), Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me (2014), and 2016’s O.J.: Made in America (for my review of that film, see here.)

In the modern age, though, it is rare for a film to be so widely seen and to still hold the perfect Rotten Tomatoes rating. Only three films have been reviewed by over 100 critics and still hold the unanimous approval rating: Toy Story 2, which has 163 reviews, Man on Wire (2008) with 154 reviews, and Get Out with 132 reviews and counting. This unanimous approval seems to be counter-intuitive to the nature of film criticism sometimes. Even films hailed as Oscar contenders in recent years–like Selma and Boyhood (both 2014)–received a handful of negative reviews even on route to numerous Oscar nominations. While many predicted that, because of the intense acclaim these films received, one of them would win Best Picture, it came as a surprise when both of these films went home with one award a piece on Oscar night and both losing Best Picture to Birdman, a film with a still very highly-resepectable score of 91%.

Immense critical acclaim does not often lead to being the big winner come Oscar night. Toy Story 2 lost its only nomination back in 2000 (for Randy Newman and Best Original Song), and Man on Wire won only the Best Documentary Feature Oscar with no other nominations. Will Get Out stick around long enough in the mind of Oscar voters to garner a few nominations next year? My vote is no, based specifically off of its genre which Oscar voters almost always ignore. However, the lack of award attention that the film may unfortunately fall victim to does not take away from the praise that it so deserves. As a consolation prize? Get Out is currently the best reviewed horror film and the best reviewed comedy of all time.

Review: “O. J.: Made in America”

Very likely my favorite film of 2016, O. J.: Made in America is the rare kind of film that manages to add a little of everything to the mix. What is this film, an Academy Award nominee for Best Picture, really about? Race? Class? Gender and masculinity? The murder of a young woman and a young man? The fall from grace of an American icon? If you ask anyone who has sat through the almost eight-hour long epic (which took me a week to complete), and they will rightly tell you that the film delicately balances all those things, and more.

One of the greatest things about this film is how well director Ezra Edelman treats his audience by assuming that they know nothing about O. J. Simpson. You’d be hard pressed to find someone in 2017 who doesn’t know at least something about O. J. Simpson–I was only four months old at the time of his acquittal for murder, yet I feel as though I know the case better than some people who can remember it. Still, Edelman treats the film as though he is revealing the man of O. J. Simpson for the first time, a wondrous achievement. Beginning with Simpson as a young man, the film chronicles his early successes playing high school, college, and professional football, and his quick ascension to celebrity status, all with the backdrop of race, which Simpson was also an expert in. Edelman shows that, because of his maneuvering between the white and black races, Simpson was able to take hold of the white American psyche in a way that few, if any, African-American figures had done before, all the while still being adored by the African-American community as well. By adding in the complex topic of race early on in the film, the audience is given a clear indication that this will come into play later in the documentary, which it does in full force, especially during the parts of the film which depict the murder trial of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman.

The film is far too long, and far too far-reaching, for me to accurately sum it up in a single blog post, let alone a full-length essay, yet the whole film really comes down to the man it depicts–Orenthal James Simpson. A deeply enigmatic, deeply flawed, and deeply troubled icon of American pop culture, Made in America makes a valid attempt to understand the man himself, and it very richly succeeds. Simpson is a man dominated by the desire–the need, the addiction–to be liked, and to be famous. This is eerily present in the documentary which makes great usage of Simpson’s past interviews and archive footage. A charming guy with a great smile, a strong voice, and a passionate way about him, Simpson nevertheless emerges as a tragic individual. When someone is so dominated by the impulse to be loved by everyone, they will inevitably step on a few toes to get to the top of that proverbial mountain. Currently imprisoned since 2008 for a Las Vegas armed robbery, Simpson is carefully painted in both negative and positive lights for the film. While Edelman seems to make the conclusion that, yes, despite what the twelve jurors decided in 1995, Simpson is a murderer, there is a tragic way about how Simpson is presented in the documentary’s present tense. Simpson flew too close to the sun and got burned–if you ask Marcia Clark and Fred Goldman, as Edelman did, they’d say that karma came back and bit O. J. Simpson.

As a culture we are obsessed with fame and this film makes that abundantly clear. Allegedly, on the night of Simpson’s armed robbery in a Vegas casino, his god-daughter Kim Kardashian announced her new television series Keeping Up with the Kardashians, which, again allegedly, Simpson said would last no longer than two weeks. When the Kardashian patriarch, Robert, was such an influential figure in Simpson’s murder trial, did you really not expect one of his daughters to appear in a documentary about Simpson? We as Americans are so pre-occupied with fame that we, at times, forget to live our own lives, and we forget that fame is a tangible thing. I myself am a victim, as I’ve spent the vast majority of the past week researching, listening to, and watching any thing I could about a crime that happened before I was even born, all because a celebrity was at the center of it. But hey, whenever something as groundbreaking and astonishing as O. J.: Made in America is on, can you blame me?

For more information about, and another review extolling, O. J.: Made in America, read this New York Times piece by resident critic A. O. Scott. 

Hollywood is Ga-Ga for “La La Land”

This past Tuesday, Damien Chazelle’s musical La La Land tied the record for most Oscar nominations ever received by one film–14, a record now shared with All About Eve and Titanic. Yet again the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has chosen to honor a film by Hollywood and for Hollywood, effectively ignoring other worthy films to glorify themselves. As has been the case before–and will likely be the case again–this is not a good thing.

As they’ve done in the past, Hollywood is expressing a tendency to overlook a film’s flaws to honor what they believe will make themselves look the best in the future. A similar case of this happened during the 2012 award season when The Artist (Hazanavicius, 2011) received ten Academy Awards nominations and eventually won five of them, including Best Picture and Best Director. A movie with (evidently) very little staying power, The Artist was a similarly trendy choice at the time of its release. Silent films were a thing of the past, yet The Artist revived the genre in a way that hadn’t been done since the Academy Awards’ inception–The Artist became the first silent film since the very first Oscars to win Best Picture. Instead of focusing solely on merit and deservedness, the Academy went with the trendy and unique option, so perhaps it was merely a coincidence that the film also painted Hollywood in a very, very good light.

I’m reminded of the 2012 Academy Awards this year. The Artist had won three Golden Globes by the time the Oscar nominations were announced, and few were surprised at its ascent to become an award-season darlingLa La Land did this and more at the Golden Globes in 2017, winning all seven of the awards it had been nominated for, and quickly becoming the front runner for the Best Picture Oscar. This shouldn’t have been a surprise to me, yet I’m always amazed at just how quickly films become the talk of the town, La La Land not being an exception. When this year’s Oscars roll around on February 26th, I would be shocked if the film did not win a double-digit amount of Oscars with the rocket-propelled trajectory it is currently riding. (Still, anything can happen in a month, so we’ll see.) So, my unpopular opinion is this: La La Land‘s success is not a good thing for the reputation of the Academy, and is not a good thing for film as a whole.

This is not to say La La Land is not a deserving film, or not a good film. Despite its flaws, I’d be remiss to forget its wonderful qualities: the score conducted by Justin Hurwitz, as well as the songs written by Benj Pasek & Justin Paul, are extraordinary and some of the best original songs I’ve ever seen on the screen. Linus Sandgren’s cinematography is astonishingly beautiful, as well as the production and costume design, and Damien Chazelle continues to prove that he is one of the bright directors of our present and future. Emma Stone is terrific and Ryan Gosling is good as well, in spite of the biggest issue that I have with the film: its script. The motivations of Stone’s Mia and Gosling’s Sebastian are so hollow and so cookie-cutter that their actions, the path the film takes, and the conclusion the film reaches never feel justified to me, or are, at the very least, fantastical, melodramatic, and above all else, easy. My girlfriend frequently tells me that my negative comments about the script can be explained by the fact that the film is a musical, and musicals aren’t meant to be realistic, which is more than fair–I mean, they break into the Griffith Observatory for godssakes, so of course the film doesn’t have to be realistic. Still, these characters do not feel like real people, and I can never fully attach to them as a result. Their issues, their concerns, and their actions are never complex or difficult. From the introduction of both of their characters, I never had a doubt in my mind that Sebastian would be able to open his jazz club, or that Mia would become a famous actress–these destines already feel predetermined. For me, the script pulls down the rest of the film, and the immense acclaim that the film has received in spite of this sours me on the film as a whole.

La La Land is the trendy pick for best film of the year. Maybe America needs this film in this odd time of our lives, and perhaps we cannot be bothered with the much deeper (and much better) films that were released in 2016 like Moonlight (Jenkins) or Manchester by the Sea (Lonergan). La La Land will likely be the Best Picture winner that America wants right now, but it will not be the one it deserves a decade down the line. The intense and all-encompassing love that the film has received will likely not fade as we reach this year’s Oscars, yet, in a perfect world, it would. Other films deserve a chance to shine in the big categories, but I’ll concede and admit that I’m cheering on La La Land in at least one category–if “City of Stars” loses Best Original Song, I’ll be the lead torch-holder at the riot.