On FIRE ISLAND, THE NORTHMAN, MEMORY and much more...
To paraphrase the great Timbaland, it’s been a long time, but I haven’t left you.
Here’s the skinny. Film writing has been an impossible task for me these past few months. It’s taken a back seat in my life, and then seemingly been kicked out of the car altogether. Words have failed me, and I have failed the words. No recent moviegoing experience inspired any creative or analytical response. I’ve been busy (new jobs + new baby = new world order), but there’s something deeper going on that’s hard to articulate. Is this writer’s block? Or just burn out? I’m new to either phenomenon.
For over a decade, I wrote almost every day, about films old and new. Most of the time I was on deadline, which certainly helped hold my feet to the fire. Writing that much turns you into a writer. The act itself becomes a ritual, a way to express yourself in a consistent and thoughtful way. The best kind of grammatical muscle memory.
For many reasons, this creative outlet has become less of a priority. There’s very little time for me to sit down and think about films in constructive ways, but when I do try there’s no inspiration. I’m hoping that this rut is only temporary, but nevertheless, I felt the need to explain why the newsletter has been dormant for so long since many of you are generously donating your hard earned money. I feel deeply guilty about that and I’ll try to make it up to you all.
The short capsules below are the only way I know how to jumpstart things again. Go back to the basics. I know that writing is something I still deeply enjoy doing. I just need to remember why. Thanks as always for your support and readership. Here’s to forward momentum.
Fire Island (Andrew Ahn, 2022): Lovely, as one would expect from one of America cinema’s great new humanists. While technically a reflexive adaptation of Pride and Prejudice created through the lens of gay identity and friendship, the film is free of any constricting literary constraints, at one with modern social tensions and economic anxieties. Camaraderie has been an evolving concept in all of Andrew Ahn’s wonderful films, something defined by the changes in our lives and the timing of our experiences. The sounds, locales, and iconography of Fire Island itself hint at the changes of a place that has represented for so long a necessary escape from the constant surge of modern expectations and information. Thankfully, this breezy, often-sharp witted romantic comedy doesn’t try to do too much. The honest writing and chemistry of the performers carries us through an island-time revelation cycle that’s beautiful in both its simplicity and generosity.
Memory (Martin Campbell, 2022): Many of us who grew up on 90s action movies have a soft spot for Campbell, a solid craftsman whose flare for intense pacing and narrative immediacy has always been welcome and subversive in the Hollywood genre landscape. His latest, a Liam Neeson-starring hitman-with-Alzheimer’s thriller, isn’t quite the same rousing good time as last year’s The Protegé, but what it lacks in formal delight it more than makes up for with apt rage. The entire convoluted Narco/cop frontera conceit is structured around the need to take brutal action against those who hurt children, and with the most recent murder of 19 elementary school children and two of their teachers in Uvalde, Texas, the film’s thematic construct is a courageous rebuke of the corrupt and inert politicians who seemingly have an endless supply of “thoughts and prayers.”
The Northman (Robert Eggers, 2022): As an Eggers agnostic, I fully expected to hate this. I found The Witch and The Lighthouse both stagnant, self-congratulatory cinematic experiences. But this rampaging Nordic revenge film harkens back to a more elemental momentum, scorching Earth while moving from one vast landscape to the next. The film is as restless and angry as its hulking anti-hero played by Alexander Skarsgård, and continuously surprising in the way it handles collisions between real world brutality and the origins of mythological delusions.
Everything Everywhere All at Once (Daniel Kwan, Daniel Scheinert, 2022): A MOVIE!! that tries so hard to be innovative, emotional, representative, and moving it sucks out all of the oxygen in the room. Suffocation is the only end result here, as it gasps and gasps for meaning while telling you exactly what it wants you to feel at every turn. The performances are mostly okay (with Ke Huy Quan delivering an especially mesmerizing turn), but the Daniels are more interested in aesthetic fancy footwork than deeper subtleties about identity or generational traumas, having never left the film school mentality that showing off means showing up.
/Zero Dark Thirty/ (Kathryn Bigelow, 2012): Not by any means a small screen movie, so the viewing experience was less than ideal. Chastain and Clarke are both excellent, flip sides of the same flipping coin of American extremism. Weird side note - now that we know Chris Pratt and his politics the glee his character takes in that climactic assault just feels evil. It’s all still technically brilliant but I was honestly left cold this time around.
/Courage Under Fire/ (Edward, Zwick, 1995): Nobody makes bleeding heart melodramas like our boy Eddie Z. Taking responsibility for the errors and horrors on the battlefield is a complicated process, and this Rashomon-style approach lends itself well to the task. The real takeaway some 25 years removed from the release is just how electric Matt Damon was from the get-go. The second he walks on screen he feels like the second coming of Edward
/Gone Girl/ (David Fincher, 2014): Rosamund Pike bathing in her captor’s gushing waterfall of blood is one of the great images in Fincher’s career. Still a banger about the terrors and misapprehensions of modern marriage. Staggering in its ability to weaponize stagnation.