Back Catalog Review: The Exterminating Angel

Exterminating Angel 1

The Back Catalog is a series following my quest to watch all of the films I own. Check out the index, or follow the Back Catalog tag to see what I’ve watched and what I’ve thought of the films.

Like a less-overt episode of The Twilight Zone, The Exterminating Angel puts people in a weird situation and then sees what happens before putting a final twist of the knife at the very end. It’s unlike most other movies in that it isn’t super concerned with characters or even a story as such. And for all of its surrealism and absurdity, the events of the film mostly follow logically from one to the next. Everything, that is, except for the first few minutes, which feature the servants in a baroque Spanish mansion trying to leave before the start of a dinner party that will prove to last quite a long time. We see two maids hide in a closet as the group of rich revelers enter the house and go upstairs to the banquet hall. Here the maids see their escape route open, only to have the same set of guests enter and perform the same actions a second time around. It’s your first hint that something is up here and it’s delightful and off-putting at the same time.

(more…)

Advertisements

Movie Review: Solo: A Star Wars Story

Solo 1.png

Making a Star Wars movie in 2018 is fraught with dangers. Lurking within the dangerous fog that surrounds the only safe path are fans who have invested in personal visions of the universe based on recently de-canonized stories, critics eager to espouse opinions about franchise fatigue, and just when you think you’ve made it out with your precious cargo, here come journalists ready to pounce upon any reports of troubles on the set or changes in filmmakers. It’s almost impossible to avoid all of these traps and hungry monsters, and the worst thing is that there’s really no way of knowing when one will pop up. Did you hire directors whose trademark is their sense of spontaneity to make your movie that has to slot precisely into a rigid canon, then fire them when you realized that they weren’t going to button up and act right? Oops, there’s 6 months of bad news stories. Did you think it would be a good idea to focus a little on a prop that had accidentally become important after previous filmmakers cut the justifying scene from three movies ago? Well, now you’re scrambling to make up for a horrible movie that everybody hated (one that’s actually the best in the franchise), so now they’re going to hate your movie too. Is your film in part a prequel and in part a set-up for further untold stories? That’s not good storytelling, it’s just an excuse to be money-grubbing hacks. What’s a moviegoer to do?
(more…)

Book Review: Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward

 

Sing Unburied Sing

A year and a half ago I read Absalom, Absalom! by William Faulkner and found within it one of my favorite passages of all time:

Quentin had grown up with that; the mere names were interchangeable and almost myriad. His childhood was full of them; his very body was an empty hall echoing with sonorous defeated names; he was not a being, an entity, he was a commonwealth. He was a barracks filled with stubborn back-looking ghosts still recovering, even forty-three years afterward, from the fever which had cured the disease, waking from the fever without even knowing that it had been the fever itself which they had fought against and not the sickness, looking with stubborn recalcitrance backward beyond the fever and into the disease with actual regret, weak from the fever yet free of the disease and not even aware that the freedom was that of impotence.

The passage is about a young man growing up in the Reconstruction South where everybody was still obsessed with their “lost cause” and the lengths they went to in an effort to retain their right to own other people. The “back-looking ghosts” are an amazing image for that desire to return over and over again to a battle that was already fought and rightfully lost, and that Quentin is literally constructed as a place to hold these ghosts in the logic of the sentence is something that has stuck with me and will continue to do so. It changed the way I think about ghost stories, the Civil War, the American South, the passage of time, and race. I guess I have been looking for a story that would strike me as much as this one part of a paragraph did.

(more…)

Peaceful Thinking: Avengers: Infinity War and Criticism

Infinity War 4

Peaceful Thinking is what I’ll call things that aren’t reviews. This isn’t a review.

It’s almost impossible to write about Avengers: Infinity War. I know, I’ve read plenty about it. Practically every review or think-piece misses some essential part of the film’s composition. Some writers seem upset that they had less of an understanding of what’s going on than they normally do, as characters are barely introduced nor are their powers or importance explained. Others argue that it’s barely a movie, more like a series of setpieces with hardly any character development taking place within or between the explosions and fights. Still others claim that there are no stakes to the film thanks to its very comic book nature and the things that we know comic books do (namely: have something happen, then reverse or retcon that happening issues later). While each of these have a core of truth, I’d suggest that none of them constitute a criticism of any value, at least for a certain kind of viewer.

(more…)