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Monday, November 30, 2015

Back to the Future: Ryan Coogler's "Creed" and "Fruitvale Station"

Creed begins in a cold institutional hallway rattled by the strident echoes of unfortunate tenants who’ve slipped through this monochrome and mechanistic birth canal , stripped of purpose and packaged for predetermined cycles of reprocessing through similarly dead-hum environs. That’s quite a stretch from the inspirational Bill Conti-scored vigor and working class solidarity with cultural sanctioned ring violence under Christ opening this picture’s progenitor, the Rocky franchise, where Philadelphia’s Italian Stallion Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) became an American avatar for accomplishment and determination, the simple underdog standing up to insurmountable odds again, and again, and again…But then again, the kid we meet in Creed‘s opening minutes set in Los Angeles in 1998 is a forgotten child estranged from his wealthy progenitors, fighting every day and locked up in solitary detention. This is a Hall of Infamy, the dark side of the urban black experience juxtaposed against the Red White & Blue Hall of Fame trunks of Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers), a ring sacrifice for a Soviet monster (Dolph Lundgren) in 1985’s hilariously jingoistic so-bad-it’s-well-at-least-pretty-funny blockbuster Rocky IV, where the martyred black man is the functional catalyst for the white hero’s revenge and triumph.

Read the rest at L'etoile Magazine:

The Laying On of Hayes: Todd Haynes at the Walker

While not exactly prolific, few filmmakers have had as rich a body of work over the last 25 years as Todd Haynes. While his experimental and infamous (and widely unseen because of copyright issues) student short Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story (1987) reads in the abstract like a precocious academic’s theory-laden art project in vogue as postmodernism defiantly pokes its strychnine needles into the Reagan ’80s–the tragic ’70s pop star is given a biopic starring Barbie dolls–as a feature director Haynes has expertly refined his themes, craft, and performances from star players as his moving pictures ponder the beautiful sheen of surfaces and performances of identity in glamorous environments of rigid social censure. Unlike his fellow Bard College associate Kelly Reichardt (for whom he serves as a producer), who inspects disenfranchised lower class individuals unable to keep up with the accelerating economic demands of a “normal life,” Haynes looks at people blessed with privilege and money but with inner lives out of conjunction with the visible world around them. Both Portlandian filmmakers highlight how evanescent people are as the world is determined to be fixed in concretely defined and constructed essences; there’s an unlikely similarity then between Reichardt’s ne’er-do-wells and activists and Haynes’ spotlight on pop celebrity (including Carpenter, David Bowie, and Bob Dylan).

Read the rest at L'etoile Magazine:

Of Rats and Men: "Black Mass" vs. "The Departed"

James “Whitey” Bulger spent about 15 years on the lam as #2 on the FBI’s Most Wanted list, and yet “Black Mass,” the new Warner Bros. drama documenting his reign of terror over Irish Catholic South Boston, directed by Scott Cooper and headlined by Johnny Depp as Bulger, indicates he still eludes us. Guided by witnesses’ recorded testimonies, “Black Mass” is like an old chronological scrapbook from 1975 to the late 1980s reorganized for bureaucratic eyes.  Yet as Cooper emphasizes objectivity, Johnny Depp’s Bulger is an unnerving anomaly—a hybrid of Nosferatu, Pazuzu and Gollum DNA, a horror movie presence contaminating an Irish Catholic period canvas. That a character should be reading “The Exorcist” when Depp’s Bulgerferatu knocks on the door is less period correctness than an allusion to the character’s satanic prowess. In such a thin film, Bulger evades perspective. “Black Mass” cannot make sense of Bulger. Even when he's taken away in handcuffs, he still isn’t “there." It’s as if he needed to be a cosmeticized special effect because Cooper finds his evil unfathomable.

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Closer to God: Magic Mike XXL

For those curious to read a little something on the film I think may be the best Hollywood song-and-dance musical since All That Jazz (if we're not counting Stop Making Sense), Gregory Jacobs' Magic Mike XXL, published by The Point Magazine.