Bo Burnham understands better than most what it’s like to be a lonely kid trying to find the joys of online invisibility in the real world, and with Eighth Grade, has taken a sledgehammer to the outdated myth that high school is the worst part of growing up. High school is confusing, sure, but it’s nothing compared to the three year caravan of misery through halls of kids carrying SpongeBob USB drives and horny teens begging for Snapchats.
Author: Juan Ramirez
Seeing things in black and white often means denying room for any nuance and detail. And yet, it is in black and white that Marjane Satrapi chose to illustrate her vision of the Iranian Revolution and the role it played in her life in her autobiographical graphic novel and its 2007 film adaptation, Persepolis.
In translating the groundbreaking 1957 stage musical, West Side Story, to film, the producers knew that a work whose claim to fame was its gritty realism should only be more true-to-life on the big screen. Robert Wise, a director better known for his noirish city dramas than fanciful entertainments, brought a down-to-earth sensibility to a work that, on stage, might seem to be simply a slightly edgier musical set against an urban backdrop. On film, we are thrust head-first into the streets, with their palpable energy and danger. Wise’s disinterest in theatrical razzle-dazzle is striking throughout, but especially in the film’s opening sequence: a bird’s-eye view of the Upper West Side playground in which we meet our two warring gangs, the Sharks and the Jets.
The genius of All About Eve (1950) is that it does not drag out its fairly obvious premise that Broadway star Margo Channing’s enthusiastic, young super-fan, Eve Harrington, is deviously plotting her own career rise at Margo’s expense. Barely a quarter of the way into the film, Margo (Bette Davis) has already deemed Eve (Anne Baxter), whose fandom and sycophancy she’d rewarded with a personal assistant job, a threat to her career and boyfriend. In true theatrical fashion, Margo unleashes her first wave of retaliation by drunkenly making a scene at her own party.
To tackle the current social climate through popular art is a delicate task. Any attempt to correctly render the mistrust, uncertainty and helplessness of daily life in a “post-truth” age runs the risk of coming off as too on-the-nose or condescending, content to simply list our woes rather than address them. Ticking off obvious boxes can be satisfying but falls short of being cathartic, and is hardly ever memorable. In times like this, one can get a more authentic view of our times through the works that appear as a result of them rather than attempts to explain them.
In adapting Joseph Kessel’s 1928 novel of the same name, Luis Buñuel’s 1968 classic, Belle de Jour, turned a deeply sexist tale of prostitution in the Parisian upper crust into a nuanced portrait of a woman at odds with her surroundings and herself. The story of Séverine – the quiet, young wife of a handsome doctor who fights her ennui and tests the edges of her sexuality by working part-time at a brothel – is a risky one; one that could benefit from sensitive characterization and detailed imagery or die at the hands of softcore exploitation.
Though Kessel considers it the “most human” of his novels, he fails to deliver the lived-in introspection required for this sort of material. His Séverine is a caricature straight out of Freud’s margin notes, unable to process complex thoughts clearly and whose sexuality exists solely because of a childhood molestation brusquely referenced at the start of the book. Her every action is painfully simple-minded – her constant near-fainting at the mere thought of prostitution, her inadequacy during her early days at the brothel and the catastrophe she causes after starting an affair with a dangerous client – and she is almost always punished for them. One can see Kessel wrote from a place that might’ve seemed to him genuinely human, but his obvious lack of understanding in regards to female sexuality cuts his apparent wisdom down into misguided misogyny.
Phantom Thread is a movie about obsession. Call it love, admiration, compulsion or simply attention to detail, it is the central ingredient in Paul Thomas Anderson’s answer to the vintage Hollywood romance. Following the peculiar relationship between eccentric couturier Reynolds Woodcock and foreign waitress-turned-muse-turned-partner Alma, the postwar London-set film fits right in with the other classic love affairs of the time, save for its distinctly modern look at what is essentially a well-dressed, well-spoken battle of the kinks.
Trainwreck held a lot of surprises for the year 2015 – mainly that Amy Schumer could ditch fart jokes and command an audience’s attention longer than the length of a Hulu clip and that director Judd Apatow’s career wasn’t on a steady decline. Though those revelations were nothing short of incredible in a summer season filled with Pixels and Ted 2, neither compares to the one-two punch of casting Tilda Swinton, the Oscar and BAFTA-winning actress, and then using every trick in the cosmetology book to disguise her as thoroughly as possible.
Gentleman’s Agreement (1947) dir. Elia Kazan
1947’s other “message film” to also deal with antisemitism was Elia Kazan’s Gentleman’s Agreement, which took home Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Director and Best Supporting Actress. Adapted by Kazan and Moss Hart from Laura Z. Hobson’s best-selling novel of the same name – which she wrote after learning a congressman’s racist tirade against Walter Winchell was met with applause by the House – the film concerns a journalist (Gregory Peck) who spends six months living as a Jew to expose antisemitism in New York for his liberal newsmagazine.
Text by Juan Ramirez
The Belle Starr Story (1968) dir. Lina Wertmüller
The only Spaghetti Western ever directed by a woman (who would later go on to become the first woman ever nominated for the Best Director Oscar), The Belle Starr Story is a sordid revision of the life of the infamous outlaw. More preoccupied with her usual battles of the sexes and themes of memory and trauma than with historical accuracy, Wertmüller casts fashion model Elsa Martinelli as a glamorous sharpshooter with winged eyeliner and black leather suits.