I’m Not There: Olivier Assayas’ “Personal Shopper”

I’m Not There: Olivier Assayas’ “Personal Shopper”

[The following contains spoilers for Personal Shopper.]

 

I had more difficulty writing about Personal Shopper than almost anything else I’ve written about, because of what’s been happening in my life of late. Just last month, a mere week before I saw the movie, my uncle passed away after a long struggle with his health. There’s a hole in my life he left that I don’t think I’ll ever fill; he was a kind and giving man to everyone, a fantastic brother to my mom and my other uncles and was never anything but supportive of me. Sometimes it’s still hard to grasp that he’s gone. I feel like he’s still with me even now. Personal Shopper was exactly the movie I needed to see at that moment, because its statements on grief, technology, and how the two are intertwined profoundly moved me and helped me achieve some kind of closure.

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Nothing There That Wasn’t There Before

Nothing There That Wasn’t There Before

There’s really nothing more that I hate than the phrase “ruined my childhood” or the billions of more vulgar variants on it. I don’t believe that a new thing that capitalizes on something you liked when you were a kid is capable of “ruining” it, because your childhood already happened. Unless the creators of this lame new thing magically time-travelled back to when you were five and tormented your little mind, giving you PTSD related to your once beloved film/book/whatever, you’re just being melodramatic.

 

So no, Disney’s new live-action version of Beauty and the Beast, directed by Bill Condon and based on Disney’s own 1991 animated feature (which I love deeply), did not “ruin my childhood.” But it did inspire a deep disappointment in me, a malaise with both the Disney Company and their practice of releasing what are basically photocopies of their former glory but in live action, woah, that I found myself seemingly incapable of articulating without feeling like I’m parroting either myself or one of several tired old chestnuts of film criticism that I’ve attempted to avoid.

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“King Cobra” isn’t even half as good as most entries in the medium it clearly despises

“King Cobra” isn’t even half as good as most entries in the medium it clearly despises

This review was commissioned by Patrick McClafferty! If you’d like to commission a review, please see my Commissions page.

 

WARNING: the following review contains discussions of child pornography and abuse.

 

There are very, very few queer-themed thrillers that I actually like. Stranger by the Lake is pretty much a classic at this point, The Talented Mr. Ripley is unfairly underrated, and Paul Verhoeven’s The Fourth Man really needs to be seen by more American audiences, but that’s about it as far as I’m concerned. Most of the reason I tend to hate thrillers with major LGBTQ characters is that they either feature said characters doing awful depraved things Because Gay or Because Trans as basically their entire motive (most of the reason I’ve never been able to work up the energy to defend Basic Instinct) or are just painfully low-rent and badly made (Hellbent, widely touted as the first slasher with an all-gay cast, springs to mind).

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“Moana,” “Rogue One” and How 2016’s Studio Films Failed Us

“Moana,” “Rogue One” and How 2016’s Studio Films Failed Us

[WARNING: Contains spoilers for both Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and Moana. You’ve been warned.]

In the past week, I saw two very different Disney-owned properties. On one hand, there was a family-friendly animated musical adventure loosely based on Pacific Islander folklore; and on the other, there was a spinoff to one of the most successful franchises ever that focused on war and gritty reality IN SPACE and was decidedly not for children. Oddly enough, I found a lot of bizarre similarities in both of them. Not necessarily in story or themes, but how they fit into 2016’s studio filmmaking climate and Disney’s modern branding.

As I have often complained, 2016 was an absolutely hideous year for studio films. Many were outright disasters of construction and born of either incompetence or choking on ambition (e.g. Suicide Squad, Batman v. Superman, Warcraft, Alice Through the Looking Glass) and the ones that weren’t were either bland and dull (e.g. The Legend of Tarzan, The Huntsman: Winter’s War) or stunk of a particularly noxious white cishet male cult of personality (e.g. Sausage Party, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies). So really, it was less a search for studio films that were good and more one for films that kept their heads above water well enough that they weren’t considered utter garbage.

Neither Moana nor Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is a particularly great film; both have crippling flaws that keep me from wholeheartedly embracing their good qualities. On the other hand, they still manage to be relatively functional on a film level, so they were rewarded with massive box office grosses and effusive praise. Okay, that’s mean, but my question remains as to why we continue to reward mediocrity rather than showcase greatness, and both of these films are emblematic of trends in studio filmmaking that have been particularly prominent this year.

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Quick Takes: Pablo Larraín’s “Jackie”

Quick Takes: Pablo Larraín’s “Jackie”

“Nothing’s ever mine. Not to keep, anyway,” Jacqueline Kennedy (Natalie Portman) remarks near the end of Jackie, but it’s not for lack of trying. Jackie depicts the iconic First Lady as someone constantly trying to keep her life stitched together in the face of pressure the likes of which most people can’t even imagine. There’s a lot that’s laudable about Larraín’s picture, but the element I’d like to focus on is Portman’s masterful performance in the title role.

Natalie Portman, I believe, is a perennially underrated actor, despite having won an Academy Award and having another nomination. She, like Keanu Reeves, has a reputation for looking like she’s not really doing anything special. But that’s really what makes her so good: she does great work without making it look like a breathless Herculean undertaking. Even in terrible films like Your Highness and No Strings Attached, she embodies her characters fully, prioritizing physicality and interiority over physical transformations. She adopts method acting techniques, but minus the arrogant showboating of many actors that have come to be associated with the label.

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A Dangerous Girl: Queer Sexuality and Femininity in ‘The Neon Demon’

A Dangerous Girl: Queer Sexuality and Femininity in ‘The Neon Demon’

[The following contains spoilers for The Neon Demon, and descriptions of violence.]

Nicholas Winding Refn may be one of the most singular and bullheadedly determined directors currently working, for better and for worse. His past three films have all been garishly-lit grotty portraits of the underbellies of seemingly glamorous lifestyles in major cities, with most of the variations being minor deviations in framing and storytelling rather than aesthetics. He’s hellbent on chasing his every single thought down the neon-soaked rabbit hole of his camera lens whether people like it (as most seemed to with Drive) or not (Only God Forgives has mostly been rejected, somewhat unfairly).

With that in mind, The Neon Demon has both a lot going for it and against it. Refn’s previous films illustrate that he’s very good indeed at what he does, but The Neon Demons shift in direction is towards a feminine perspective (specifically in relation to the cutthroat world of female models in Los Angeles fashion), which Refn has mostly omitted from his prior work. Instead, he’s opted for a hyper-stylized, fetishized view of masculinity that reads very easily as queer. So, how does the traditional Refn gaze work when applied to a story that’s inseparably about women and femininity? Well, the results are nothing if not interesting, particularly as applied to the character of makeup designer Ruby (played by Jena Malone).

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