Avengers: Infinity War is a hugely ambitious, audacious superhero film that made for an amazing theater-going experience. In this spoiler discussion, we discuss what made the film work and what we thought could’ve been improved.
Avengers: Infinity War is a hugely ambitious, audacious superhero film that made for an amazing theater-going experience. In this spoiler discussion, we discuss what made the film work and what we thought could’ve been improved.
I love thinking through the best movie moments in a given year. More than any other aspect, the individual moments of grandeur and spectacle in films stay with me long after I’ve watched them.
That’s why I was glad to contribute to /Film’s “56 Best movie moments of 2017” piece. There are some great moments on here, assembled by the entire staff. Here’s what I had to say about the ending of The Killing of a Sacred Deer:
My longstanding belief about conspiracy theories is that they’re popular because deep down, humans prefer to believe there’s a higher power at work. It’s terrifying to contemplate the possibility that every occurrence is completely random. Much more reassuring to think that someone is pulling all the strings, even if that someone is malevolent. The Killing of a Sacred Deer turns this notion on its head. Here, surgeon Steve Murphy (Colin Farrell) becomes increasingly certain that teenager Martin (played chillingly by Barry Keoghan) exerts an other-worldly power over his family, causing them to become sick. The only thing that will cause it to stop is if Murphy takes one of his family member’s lives – retribution for Murphy errantly taking the life of Martin’s father in a botched surgery. After agonizing over how to proceed, Farrell decides that introducing randomness into the equation is the only solution. He ties up his family in the living room and spins around randomly, firing a rifle until one of them is dead. It’s a brutal, heartbreaking scene with an unspeakable outcome, demonstrating that sometimes, chance is only outcome we can live with.
MovieBob (AKA Bob Chipman) has created a series of video essays totaling 4 hours (!) discussing everything wrong with Zach Snyder’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. It is one of the most comprehensive analyses of any film that I’ve ever watched — Chipman covers everything from the film’s aesthetics and structure, to why Snyder’s overall attitude towards superheroes might’ve made him the wrong director for this film.
Most importantly, I think Chipman hits the nail on the head by calling Batman v Superman an act of cultural vandalism. It takes characters who are beloved, revered, and admired, and it completely defaces everything we know about them. That is not inherently a bad idea. Great pieces of art often subvert, deconstruct, and satirize. But in this case, the end result does not make it feel worthwhile.
Batman v Superman was a disaster of a film, but what remains tragic to me is how it has essentially ruined these characters for a generation. If I had a child, I would not take them to go see the film and if I’d seen it when I was a kid, I can’t imagine admiring or wanting to be either of these characters. Man of Steel and Batman v Superman created this psychic void of heroism and integrity that these characters used to fill. Watching these video essays helped me reckon with that loss.
This set of videos isn’t without its own flaws — some of Chipman’s points are self-admittedly minor nitpicks, the aesthetics of the videos might not be up to everyone’s standards, and there is a significant amount of repetition — but if a YouTube video essays can be said to be a genre, then this is one of the best entries in that genre that I’ve ever seen. Highly recommended for any film fan.
In striving to make Ebbing feel like a lived-in place, rather than just an idea of one, Three Billboards treats racism like it’s just another quaint regional detail — part of the local decor. Here’s the gift shop, here’s the bar, and here’s Officer Jason Dixon (Sam Rockwell), a violent, openly intolerant alcoholic who’s rumored to have tortured a black man in his custody. That’s a claim the other characters don’t deny so much as they defend on the basis of a lack of evidence. Dixon also gets declared a “good man,” if there’s any question of how little the term has to do with moral quality and how much it has to do with how many chances someone is given. Even Mildred herself is let off the hook for an assault she’s definitely committed. Dixon instead arrests Mildred’s black friend and coworker Denise (Amanda Warren) for possession, to use her as leverage (seemingly her only function in the movie). His colleague congratulates him for coming up with the idea.
Dixon’s behavior, and the way it’s tolerated by others, is depicted with a matter-of-factness that’s striking — but not nearly as striking as the disinterest the film has in actually engaging with that racism. It’s a disinterest that becomes clearer as Dixon becomes increasingly central to the last act of the movie, eventually starting to reckon with his anger and his brutality, but never with his bigotry.
I agree with everything Willmore says here. Three Billboards uses racist violence as window dressing, even as it tackles sexual violence head on. It made me feel deeply uncomfortable, and I don’t think in a way the film intended.
I went to see Coco with my family this weekend. It’s been years since I’ve been able to watch a movie in theaters with my brother and my parents, so I was excited to be able to take them to Pixar’s sumptuous new story about an aspiring young musician trying to make his way through the Land of the Dead. The movie was great — thought-provoking, moving, and respectful of the traditions by which it was inspired. There was just one thing that marred the entire experience.
Olaf’s Frozen Adventure.
Olaf’s Frozen Adventure is a 21-minute “short film” that plays in front of Coco. That means that between 15 minutes of trailers and this 21-minute ABC holiday special, you’re looking at a good 35 minutes before the movie even begins.
The decision to put this special in front of Coco creates numerous externalities. First of all, it bumps a Pixar short film that would’ve otherwise gone in its place. These shorts, while hit or miss, often showcased important up-and-coming talent and were frequently nominated for “Best Animated Short Film” awards due to their quality (I’m going to go out on a limb and say that Olaf’s Frozen Adventure will not land that honor). It also means there are lots of confused people in the audience of Coco, wondering whether or not they’re even in the correct theater.
My family and I almost walked out – and there were 13 of us awaiting Coco, not a lame and unnecessary time suck that was the Frozen “short.”
— Bachman McHutchins (@jmartindustries) November 26, 2017
But let’s put all that aside. Even if all those extremely annoying aspects of the Olaf-viewing experience weren’t present, you’d still have to contend with this: Olaf’s Frozen Adventure is a terrible piece of art represents all the worst aspects of the commercialization of Christmas. Olaf has always been an irritating character, but he’s fine in small doses — he’s the spice, not the stew. Making him the center of the story is like trying to force Captain Jack Sparrow into the protagonist role of a Pirates film (How’d that work out for Disney?).
Olaf spends the movie hunting around for more “traditions.” Songs are sung. References to Frozen are made. Suffice it to say, he comes to learn that the real tradition…was love.
The short film was constructed in a way to be the most widely appealing, least offensive reference to Christmas ever. At the end, when Elsa uses her ice powers to create a Christmas tree, there’s a Disney ornament at the top, rather than something that might actually symbolize anything other than corporate domination of the holidays.
This is the type of film people complain about when they say that Christmas is too commercial. It says nothing of value. Its execution is barely competent. It is only interested in getting you to buy more Frozen Blu-Rays, or getting you to think about these characters once more during the long wait for Frozen 2.
It is a colossal waste of time whose only legacy will be that it made the magical experience of seeing the great new Pixar film just a little bit less special.
[This post contains SPOILERS for Thor: Ragnarok]
Thor: Ragnarok is the best reviewed Thor movie by a longshot (as of this writing, its RT score sits at 93%). I found the film did a great job of infusing director Taika Waititi’s off-kilter sense of humor into a well-established cinematic brand. You can view my Periscoped thoughts on the film right here.
But one thing nagged at me: What even is the point of Loki in the Thor movies anymore?
While I didn’t think Thor was the greatest Marvel film, one thing it unquestionably accomplished is bringing the Marvel Cinematic Universe its greatest villain: Loki. Hiddleston’s performance as Loki was charming but whiny, vicious but vulnerable. In other words, he was complex. Plus, the conflict between Loki and Thor was genuinely poignant — a Cain and Abel story played out against the massive backdrop of Norse/Marvel mythology.
Perhaps due to the MCU’s inability to consistently generate memorable villains (I dare you to use two adjectives to describe Malekith other than “evil”), the MCU films have clung to Loki as though he’s their lifeblood. He showed up as the villain in The Avengers, then appeared once more in Thor: The Dark World where he betrayed Thor, had a sad goodbye-death-scene, then somehow reappears later impersonating Odin.
In Thor: Ragnarok, Thor discovers Loki lounging around on Asgard as Odin. The two watch their father die, then end up in a crazy situation on the planet Sakaar where Loki again betrays Thor(!) before reuniting with him at the end to save Asgard. On a transport ship at the end of the film, Loki stands by Thor’s side as Thor leads Asgard’s people into the future.
At this point, I posit that Loki’s character has gone through so many twists and turns that it is impossible to attach any stakes to his position. One moment, he’s dead. The next, he’s alive. One moment, he hates Thor. The next, they are taking down Sakaarian guards like they’re playing a video game.
It’s a classic case of trying to extracting too many resources from one character, rendering their presence completely meaningless. I hope the MCU can work on its secondary character game a bit more (to some extent, Ruffalo’s Bruce Banner, who never got his own film, is a pretty good example of what is possible). In the meantime, I’m sad that Loki seems to have befallen the same fate as Miley Cyrus.
To explain the premise of Long Shot is to basically give away the entire plot. With that in mind, here is what the movie is about: Long Shot is a new Netflix documentary about the trial of Juan Catalan, who was wrongly accused of murder in 2003. Catalan was at a Dodgers game around the time the murder was said to have taken place, but had few ways of definitively proving his whereabouts. Desperate to solidify his alibi, his lawyer turns to an unconventional place: footage from an episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm that just happened to be shooting at Dodgers Stadium that night.
Long Shot is that rare Netflix property that doesn’t overstay its welcome. The film, directed by Jacob LaMendola, is well shot and efficient with its interviews and b-roll. With a documentary this short (39 minutes, in this case), it can be challenging to have a broader takeaway from this story of near-catastrophe. But I did get one idea from this film that I haven’t been able to shake, and that is that we are all just one random decision away from complete and utter catastrophe befalling us.
What if Catalan had decided to watch the game at home that night? What if Curb decided to shoot only one take that night? What if the production assistant had chosen a different section of the stadium to shoot in? If any of these things had happened, Catalan might be serving a life sentence today.
It’s a mind-boggling idea to consider, and elevates this doc from “true crime” trifle to something more thought provoking.
Blade Runner 2049 is one of the most visually arresting films I’ve ever seen. Director Dennis Villeneuve and cinematographer Roger Deakins have created a film that is chock full of spectacular shots and breathtaking tableaus.
But for all that the film does to try to explore the nature of man’s relationship to technology, I was still left cold at the end. I didn’t leave the movie with chills (as I did when I saw the original Blade Runner earlier this week), nor with exuberant joy (as I did when I watched a blockbuster like, say, Spider-Man: Homecoming). I wanted to love it…but I didn’t. I try to grapple with my feelings about in this Periscope broadcast.
As I reflected more about the movie this morning, I wanted to quickly jot down some of my issues with the film. MASSIVE SPOILERS FOR THE FILM FOLLOW:
I know some people love this movie (see: Matt Singer’s review). I think it’s awesome that the writer/director tried to take the story in totally different directions than the first film. That said, a day later, I still don’t think I connected with it as well as I wanted to and I’m still trying to figure out why.
This week on the Slashfilmcast, we are joined by Andy Signore, one of the Emmy-nominated hosts behind Screen Junkies, one of my favorite YouTube channels in existence. I watch Screen Junkies pretty religiously, and have been inspired by them in many of my online pursuits.
For months, we’ve tried to get Andy on my show (and me onto his, Movie Fights). Last night, we finally succeeded. I’m also happy with how this review turned out. If you’re interested in a pretty intense discussion about mother!, then check out our episode.
Halo Top has released a new ad online and it’s really something. Directed by Mike Diva and released on his YouTube channel, it’s creepy and unsettling and generally provokes a bunch of emotions I wouldn’t think you’d want associated with an awesome ice cream brand.
In an interview with AdWeek, Diva explains how the ad came together:
I guess the CEO has been a fan of my stuff for a while. He basically just said to me, “We already have enough commercials that explain why Halo Top is awesome. We just want something in your style that just grabs people’s attention.” I came back and pitched my idea in person. It’s one of those things where I felt like, if I just sent it to him over email, I would sound like a crazy person. I had to get in front of this dude and illustrate why it’s going to be funny. On paper, it just reads like it’s super dark, you know? I downloaded a text-to-speech app and kind of acted it out, and played the robot parts on my phone, so he would understand why it’s funny for the robot to say “Eat the ice cream” a bunch of times.
There’s also this later in the interview:
A lot of people are drawing comparisons to Kubrick and saying it’s a take on 2001: A Space Odyssey. That it’s a direct homage. I actually didn’t want that at all. I had reservations about shooting in the 14th Factory Space Odyssey set. I didn’t want people to associate it with Space Odyssey just because there’s a robot in it. We yanked out all the furniture and redressed the entire room to make it look as different as possible. But of course, we still ended up getting a lot of those comparisons.
To quote Gob Bluth, “COME ON.”
mother! debuted in theaters this weekend and it’s not only looking like it’ll be a lackluster box office opening, but the film has also received an “F” Cinemascore, indicating that general audiences did not connect well with the film.
Scott Tobias wrote a piece at The Dissolve (RIP) awhile ago tackling this very issue and proposing the concept of a film festival made up of only films that receive the F Cinemascore:
To me, what these cases reveal about CinemaScore is that it isn’t a metric of merit, but a barometer of comfort, with satisfaction on one end and estrangement on the other. But estranging qualities are qualities nonetheless, even if they break from expectation. The romantic comedies of Gerard Butler may be dull, deplorable, or some combination of the two, but they aren’t going to alienate people who unaccountably enjoy the romantic comedies of Gerard Butler. But when Killing Them Softly, a crime thriller starring Brad Pitt, forgoes action in favor of commentary on the 2008 financial crisis and election-year politics, it’s roundly rejected for the crime of cutting against the grain.
Movies with an F Cinemascore, if they’re not outright terrible, are usually at least interesting.
Thanks to Matt Singer for reminding me about this article.
A poet and his wife live in a peaceful, idyllic home, seemingly in the middle of nowhere. While the woman is happy, the man begins welcoming strangers into their home and sharing his belongings, until the cost to his wife becomes unspeakably high.
This is the plot of Darren Aronofsky’s mother! which can be interpreted in many ways, but seems most obviously to be an allegory about the creation of the world, as told in the Christian Bible. I found the movie to be provocative, bold, and original, even as its basic conceit began to wear on me during the course of its two-hour runtime. This is a movie that will polarize people and cause some to walk out of theaters. It’s also unlike most things we’ll see in at the mulitplex this year and for that, I’m grateful.
Also worth reading: Julie Miller’s excellent, in-depth exploration of some of the symbolism in the film.
Apple is now selling and renting digital 4K movies via iTunes, in addition to its HD and SD resolution versions. The addition of 4K content, which you can stream as well as download, is mainly designed to support the new Apple TV, which supports 4K HDR output for the first time. Plus, if you bought HD versions of titles for which 4K HDR is available, Apple is automatically upgrading them for free.
This is a key piece of Apple’s incentive puzzle for getting users to upgrade to a new Apple TV, as it means there will be a strong content pool that users can access right away. Apple will also be able to take advantage of 4K streaming content provided via Netflix, which has offered both 4K and HDR streaming on other platforms for a while now, and Amazon Prime Video, which is finally arriving on the platform as previously announced.
As someone who owns a ton of iTunes content, I couldn’t be more thrilled with this. This would be like Sony saying “FREE BLU-RAYS FOR EVERYONE!” when the HD transition first happened. It’s insane.
That said, it seems as though 4K-specific remasters that are released separately will not be included in this offer (e.g. the new Close Encounters of the Third Kind). We’ll see how things shake out when the new Apple TV launches, but I’m optimistic about the necessity of double dipping (or lack thereof).
I missed this short film from Vice when it was first released in February, but am glad I finally found it. It’s a look inside the effort by Everything Is Terrible to not only amass the largest collection of Jerry Maguire VHS tapes, but also their desire to build a permanent pyramid in the Nevada dessert that will serve as a tribute to these “Jerry’s.”
On the one hand, there are probably better things for one to devote one’s time to than anything Maguire VHS-tape-related. On the other hand, this project gives me so much joy with its randomness that I kind of want these guys to succeed.
I was stunned by this Honest Trailer for Kong: Skull Island, which features the participation of the film’s director, Jordan Vogt-Roberts. It’s rare to see a director be so blunt and relentless about criticizing his own film, but Vogt-Roberts deftly shows that he still has the self-awareness to recognize his own film’s weaknesses.
In retrospect, I now understand why most directors don’t do this kind of thing. With film being such a collaborative medium, there are many people who could interpret commentary like this as throwing them under a bus: screenwriters, actors, editors, (heck even the studio itself) etc. I’m sure Roberts is on good terms with all, but it just feels like the risk is large for misinterpretation.
That said, this is an extraordinary work of self-examination, taking place on the massive stage of an insanely popular YouTube channel. Kudos to Vogt-Roberts for putting the magnifying glass on himself.
On a recent episode of the Slashfilmcast, we discussed the odd fact that a ton of 2017 films happened to use John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads.” Over at Vulture, Karen Han has written a piece that explores why:
Amy Abrams, one of the managers of Denver’s estate, confirmed in an interview with Vulture that there’s been an uptick in “meaningful feature film requests” for Denver’s music in the last few years, in part because those who loved Denver’s music as kids are now adults able make those requests. “John Denver’s songs were iconic to a generation, and have been passed down in the public consciousness,” said Abrams. “It also helps that a lot of directors, producers, actors, editors, and music supervisors grew up fans and are now in powerful positions to sync the music they love.”
Abrams also attributed the uptick to the estate’s partnership with Kobalt (they were brought on in 2014, replacing BMG, and also represent artists such as Carly Rae Jepsen and the Red Hot Chili Peppers), in addition to making licensing a priority with their new team. To secure the rights to a Denver song, Abrams explained, the filmmakers must submit scene briefs. If they aren’t clear enough as to how the music will be used and further questions don’t clear the matter up, Denver’s children and their business managers are consulted as well. What’s most important, said Abrams, is that they remain in line with Denver’s ideals: He’s remembered as a philanthropist and humanitarian as much as he is a musician, and much of the content on his official web page is devoted to his messages of peace and compassion.
It’s a great song, but it really does feel like we’ve reached Peak Denver this year.
[This article contains SPOILERS for Baby Driver, Ocean’s 11, and Logan Lucky]
The ending of Steven Sodberbergh’s Ocean’s 11 is one of the most iconic heist movie endings of all time. Having successfully pulled off one of the most elaborate casino heists ever, Daniel Ocean’s associates stand at the Bellagio fountain and watch the water show together set to an orchestral version of Debussy’s “Clair De Lune,” reflecting on the depth of their achievements. They go off on their own separate ways, presumably to enjoy the winnings they’ve obtained.
I thought about this ending a lot when I saw Logan Lucky yesterday, which is out in theaters almost 16 years after the release of Ocean’s 11. Both feature a male mastermind with a complicated love life who assembles a team of people to steal a huge sum of money from a large location with a complex security system. In both movies, the protagonists encounter events that are seemingly setbacks, but that we later learn were part of the plan all along. In other words, they’re both fairly conventional heist films.
With one major difference.
Just as Logan Lucky was hitting the 90-minute mark or so and wrapping up its main heist plot, the film introduces two new characters — FBI agents played by Hillary Swank and Macon Blair. For an additional 15-20 minutes, the film chronicles the FBI’s attempt to find who was responsible for the speedway heist. When the FBI ultimately fails, that’s when we get that happy ending we’ve been looking for: All the members of Logan’s crew drinking and enjoying life at the Duck Tape bar. The final shot of the film reveals Swank’s character is also at the bar, presumably having put all the pieces of the puzzle together and about to create some real trouble for the Logan brothers.
I found this ending to be curious. First of all, I thought Swank’s performance was an…interesting choice? She plays her investigative agent very much like a cartoon character, devoid of any emotion and unrelentingly stern.
But beyond that, it felt similar in a lot of ways to the ending of Edgar Wright’s Baby Driver. In that movie, the protagonist Baby has seemingly escaped town with the love of his life, Debora, only to be apprehended by police at a roadblock. In a rapid fire montage that follows, we see the trial that occurs in the wake of the film’s events. Many of the side characters we’ve seen in the film testify on Baby’s behalf. He’s eventually released, presumably not too long after he was imprisoned, and he and Debora get the chance to drive off into the sunset.
Both Baby Driver and Logan Lucky feature something I don’t recall seeing too often at the end of heist films: a glimpse at how the legal process would play out in the wake of each film’s extraordinary events. Why complicate the film in this way? Why add on a few minutes of runtime (or in the case of Logan Lucky, what amounts to a rushed third act) simply to tell us something that viewers might not even care about? I have a few theories.
I believe that filmgoers in general have gotten too smart about how society actually functions. In a world of smartphones and ubiquitous surveillance, we know that one simply can’t create a ton of havoc in downtown Atlanta or steal hundreds of thousands of dollars from Charlotte Speedway without either being caught or experiencing some form of consequences.
In both films, the function of the legal process basically allows us to feel good about the actions of the protagonists by communicating to us that these people got off (almost) scot-free. Yes, Baby had to serve time, and yes, Hillary Swank might be ready to re-open her investigation. But the crimes of the film have been largely resolved in the eyes of our country’s legal system.
Of course, Logan Lucky and Baby Driver aren’t the first movies to have people experience the consequences of their actions. Just look at the opening minute of this Ocean’s 12 teaser trailer:
The only other idea I’ll posit about why these movies ended this way is that, in our new interconnected age, perhaps society has gotten more communal. Actions no longer take place in a vacuum — everyone acutely understands how we’re all connected and how kindness can actually affect people in the longer term (just think of how the witness testimony in Baby Driver is all about the character’s good nature).
Maybe seeing someone abscond with millions of other people’s money with zero consequences — regardless of noble intentions, regardless of if the money is insured — is no longer something we can feel 100% good about. If that’s the case (BIG if), I actually think that’s a step in the right direction for us.
I’ve been going through a lot of changes in my life recently. While I’m excited at what lies ahead, I’m wistful for what has been left behind. To quote Don Draper, “‘nostalgia’ literally means ‘the pain from an old wound.’ It’s a twinge in your heart far more powerful than memory alone.” I have a lot of nostalgia lately.
One of the ways I’ve been coping is by listening to Jon Brion’s score for Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. With its plaintive piano melodies and synth-y backdrops, it makes for perfect listening as you’re reflecting on the past.
Here are a few of my favorite tracks:
Only downside? The tracks are extremely short and, mirroring many of the scenes in the film, often feel like they end with no warning. Nevertheless, they still provide my day with sublime moments of beauty.
Stephen Kearse has written a great profile on film critic Armond White over at Hazlitt:
What tarnishes White’s appeal is how calcified his expertise has become. No longer even nominally engaged with larger discourses, he writes with an embittered detachment, scoffing at an anonymous conglomerate of lesser writers and thinkers. White was always adversarial, but in his old columns, his rivals were named: Stanley Crouch, Greg Tate, Robert Christgau, Ann Powers—virtually anyone who ever wrote for the Village Voice. His tone was just as sardonic as it is now, but there was an air of community to all these callouts, a sense that he, and all critics, were participating in a grand commitment to art that necessitated disagreement and dialogue. White’s current reviews have no sense of any conversations beyond the ones in his own head. “Hollywood movies have become television at just the point when media shills are spreading the fake news that we’re experiencing a ‘new golden age’ of TV,” he writes emptily in his review of Baywatch, the shills, the movies, and the television shows unnamed. “Kong: Skull Island and Contemporary Color coexist because Millennial culture is at odds with itself,” he writes of those two movies, citing a mysterious conflict within a demographic group that no one can accurately define. Critics are expected to make loaded comparisons and to use their own inclinations as a wellspring for new perspectives, but since his expulsion from the NYFCC, White’s oppositional writing style has struggled. He brings the gusto of his past work, but he writes against criticism that doesn’t actually appear to exist, the silliest resistance. […]
Ultimately, the world doesn’t need Armond White, but it’s a shame that he’s slipped away. He wasn’t initially a contrarian or a hack or a troll; he was a gay black man with the audacity to demand that movies not be condescending and escapist and patronizing to the people that loved them, that needed them. He believed in black art and art in general and fought, sometimes pettily, sometimes harshly, for it to be appreciated seriously. He sneered at goofy shit like consensus and Tomatometers and Stanley Crouch because they had nothing to do with criticism. Criticism was arguments, confrontation, politics, enlightenment, resistance. But that’s who he was, back when he had colleagues, back when he listened, back when the NYFCC was accountable to him, and he to it, back when he was a journalist and not a blowhard. Now he’s just a joke. And even worse, he’s the most unfunny kind: the kind that used to rock you to your core, but now just confounds you, broken synapses firing into the void.
This profile links to an interview I conducted with White after the NYFCC controversy. I was honored to have the opportunity to have White on the Slashfilm podcast multiple times, including our review of Inception (and its After Dark), our review of 12 Years a Slave, and our review of Real Steel.
We always got lots of flak for every one of these appearances. Here’s one example of such criticism, emailed in by one of our listeners after the 12 Years a Slave episode:
Armond White is a troll and I really did not enjoy listening to him on the latest episode of the podcast. Not only is he a troll, but a classic troll. When confronted with any of your arguments against his points, he almost always deflected the question and either changed the subject or nit picked at your question/choice of words.
Another tactic that grew wearisome was his referencing older films that he can assume you have not seen and therefore remain unable to engaged him in a conversation about. And calling Steve McQueen’s film an “art thing?” It’s just juvenile.
Also, by his definition, any film that shows characters to struggle or to face tough odds would be considered “tourture porn.” I wonder if he would consider All is Lost to be “tourture porn?”
When I was younger, folks like Armond used to infuriate me. “Who dares besmirch the perfect RottenTomatoes score of Toy Story 3! Clearly not someone who had any good taste!” my logic went.
But as I grew older, I started appreciating folks like Armond White more and more. In a sea of “yes,” he dared to be a “no.” What drove him? Was it just the desire to be a troll or did he legitimately buy what he was selling?
Ultimately the reason I invited White on the podcast was because I wanted to see if there was any “there” there. And for awhile, I believed in the purity of Armond White’s motives. When he insisted that he could break down a Michael Bay film and a Christopher Nolan film frame by frame and prove that Bay had better visual storytelling acumen than Nolan, I didn’t necessarily believe it but I believed that he believed it.
In a piece after the NYFCC controversy, Owen Glieberman explained his thoughts on Armond White in a way that matched how mine evolved:
Does Armond White simply have his own idiosyncratic opinions? Or is he a contrarian, a bomb thrower who’s deliberately out to rile people up? I would say that both are true, but for most people the contrarian label sums him up, and you often can’t tell where the fearless free-thinker leaves off and the bullying, didactic iconoclast begins. And that’s the problem with Armond’s criticism. He writes like he’s the last honest man in America, but contrarianism, by definition, isn’t completely honest. It’s self-hype, designed to provoke a reaction. I truly do believe that Armond White comes to the vast majority of his opinions honestly. He’s a gay African-American fundamentalist-Christian aesthete, and if that doesn’t make him an individual, I don’t know what would. But it seems to me that Armond, over the years, has become so invested in the idea of how different his gaze is from everyone else’s that he has turned individuality into a species of megalomania. The subtext of too many of Armond’s reviews is: Only I see the truth! And it’s that need to be the only truth-teller in the room that, too often, seems to be driving him. A lot of great critics have anger — it was there in Kael, and in Lester Bangs — but Armond’s blistering attacks reflect not just anger but rage. That’s a dangerous place to write from.
In other words, from the outside, White seemed as though he believed in his own hype. And that’s a shame because it clouded a lot of his legitimately interesting and provocative opinions.
All that said, when I look back on my conversations with White, I feel nothing but gratitude. Here was a man whose opinions were admired by some, hated by thousands of internet fanboys, but who nonetheless kept fighting for a truth he believed in. And even though White seems to despise internet fan blogs like Slashfilm.com, he generously spent time sharing his opinions with me and with our audience.
I’ll never know why he agreed to appear on the show. When I asked him about why he was willing to return to the podcast, he just seemed to cherish the spirit of our show’s open conversation. I don’t know if I’ll ever have the chance to chat with White again but for now, that’s how I’ll choose to remember him.
Kyle Turner has written a reflection of the Adam Sandler and Kevin James film, I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry, assessing how well it has aged 10 years after its initial release:
Yes, it’s a big deal when a piece of culture that’s queer-focused does its job and perhaps—and with Chuck & Larry, that’s a big “perhaps”—makes people less hateful. But this film was released well after the advent of widespread internet access, making it all the more inexcusable. It’s not that Chuck & Larry has aged so poorly because of its crude humor, or because our society is less tolerant of work that’s offensive to marginalized communities, but precisely because the meek efforts Chuck & Larry make in the name of “tolerance” now seem so transparent and one-dimensional. The idea that Adam Sandler even continues to have a career is insulting (and he, in turn, continues to insult). One shudders to think of the world that would have resulted had Sandler’s vision of LGBTQ “progress” come to fruition; one in which queer people are merely tolerated, and one in which our sexuality is sidelined in that way—just as it was by Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell or years of dehumanizing arguments made against the right of same-sex couples to marry. If anything, this film serves to remind us that it’s been ten long years of gains won and our right to exist in public brutally fought for. No thanks to Chuck, Larry, Sandler, James or the Hollywood industrial complex that continues to prop them up.
So far, there are two works released in 2017 that I think will age particularly poorly: Dave Chappelle’s newest comedy special, which has some transphobic jokes in it, and Split, which furthers negative stigma against Dissociative Identity Disorder. My guess is in a decade, folks will look back on those aspects of those works and wonder how we ever thought that way.