I’ve read and reread Joan Didion’s essay On Self-Respect more times this month than I have fingers and toes. When you’ve hit rock bottom and you’re not even five days into the month, staring at a reflection of yourself wearing a wash-worn two-piece hospital gown that hangs on you like a sack and donning an unintentionally expressive pompadour, realizing that this will be “Day 1” of an indefinite hospital stay, you’re left reconsidering where things turned south. And so I thought about Didion and how she gets to the heart of things about the origins of self-respect, where she suggests, “character – the willingness to accept responsibility for one’s own life – is the source from which self-respect springs.” That quote has been running through my mind, along with the tangential idea of recognizing the importance of fighting for something, and the gray, abstract areas associated with negotiating with who gets hurt in that fight. Us, Jordan Peele’s intriguing, messy, and relentlessly sensory new film, is about this idea of leaving the bargaining table behind, refusing to ask permission for rights or apologizing for deficiencies, and executing the moral nerve to seize the life that you want.Read More
In brief: I watch professional wrestling. It’s one of those interests that I keep mostly to myself, having lost the conviction to defend my ritual habit of consuming NXT, WWE, NJPW, and AJPW content. When the subject, (never brought up by me) is discussed at a party, the same exhausting repartee tends to take place, whereby the nonfan acknowledges the viewer with a cynical, somewhat condescending tone, reiterating some variation of “but isn’t it fake?” At which point, my skin crawls with goose bumps and my eyeballs make a full 360 rotation behind my skull as I sulk out of earshot of the conversation, so as not to get involved. Discussing this interest, particularly with those who consider it little more than a facsimile of a sport, can just be so taxing. Linking the interest with my passion for film, even doubly so. But I get it: there’s a culture, there’s a fanbase, there’s a stigma associated with professional wrestling that makes it primarily a blue-collar, fundamentally thoughtless mode of entertainment intended to satisfy a certain kind of, ahem, fringe type.
Stephen Merchant’s Fighting with My Family attempts to dislodge the stereotype by embracing it, deploying a rote sports narrative as if to propose that professional wrestling is just like any other sport. The result is an innocuous, WWE Studios-approved exercise, intended for generic uplift that sacrifices specifics for something safe and anodyne. Brief interludes suggest something more profound or simply strange (so few films, even about wrestling, really examine how elementally bizarre the sport can be), but these asides are just too infrequent to leave a notable impression.Read More
In Christopher Landon’s Happy Death Day and sequel, 2U, everything happens quickly but nothing actually happens. Landon’s films indulge the viewer’s wish fulfillment in reconciling past mistakes but blandly suggests that you can only be set free from the past’s circuitous loop of despair when you learn from those errs. Or: Groundhog’s Day. But if Landon’s aping of Harold Ramis’ culturally-accepted quote unquote classic (never been a fan) served as the blueprint for his first film, then 2U embodies the films of another filmmaker entirely: John Hughes (also: never been a fan). Not that Hughes’ influence couldn’t be felt throughout Landon’s first film (the antiquated sexual politics, the blasé and ultimately mindless examination of white privilege, etc.) but it all seemed underplayed within the novelty of its structure. 2U is rather insistent on making the insular experience of one woman repeating her death into a communal, ensemble piece filled with goofy asides and facile attempts at “subversion”. 35 years after Molly Ringwald’s birthday slipped the minds of her parents in Sixteen Candles and we still have to deal with a woman’s narrative getting hijacked by a couple of generic dude-bros. History’s cyclical, and intellectually and emotionally we still live in the 1980s; cinema like Happy Death Day 2U would have you believe that it’s admirable for that quality.Read More
Adam Robitel’s Escape Room posits that we are all hermetically sealed in our own isolation chambers, locked within man-made structures of guilt, self-doubt, and despair, listening, recounting, and mentally relitigating the same tired series of traumatic events that cripple us into complacency. Or at least it’s what the film tries to suggest. This is a film that requires a pretty endless series of mental acrobatics to make sense of, whether it be the inanity of its plotting or the skull-clutching awkwardness of its performers reciting banal, hackneyed platitudes from a screenplay that would seem amateurish to even a SyFy network executive. Welcome to the cinematic dregs of January, this film would seem to announce.Read More