As a Gen-X film idolater, my two favorite genres of film are science fiction and crime drama. The latter in particular is something like a hallowed tradition in the field – just think of how many of the great classics are crime movies. It might have something to do with the film industry’s strong ties to the United States of America, a country which has long glorified crime and violence.
So for this week’s Silent in the spotlight, I choose Martin Scorsese (b. 1942), who has directed some of the greatest crime movies that ever entertained my generation. He’s been at it since the 1970s and is still going strong, and I’m just going to focus in this post on his film directing career. You can tell how much he has influenced people my age by this homage, by avant-garde rock band King Missile, to Scorsese and all of his excellent films:
And this is just up until 1993, before Casino! There’s been so much since then, including his contribution to the genre of good Nick Cage movies (Bringing Out the Dead) and his huge list of collaborations with Leonardo DiCaprio, which started with Gangs of New York, then continued with The Aviator and his award-winning masterpiece, The Departed.
But wait, that’s just his films from before the Great Financial Crisis! Since then, he has directed all of these excellent films: Shutter Island, Hugo (proving that it’s not all crime and violence with this guy), The Wolf of Wall Street, and Silence.
You might think it couldn’t get any better, but now he’s coming out with what might be the perfect crime movie. Showing that his generation is always keeping up with the latest trends, he is teaming up with streaming giant Netflix to produce The Irishman. It features a cast of cream of the crop crime movie actors, and covers one of the most well-known stories in the history of the mafia – the disappearance of teamster boss Jimmy Hoffa. It’s like the 1970s will never die – certainly not as long as the Silent Generation is still around.
Last month my BFF and I were at The Buckland Museum of Witchcraft and Magick in Cleveland, Ohio. It’s actually where I picked up this book that I reviewed a few posts ago. The proprietor of the museum recommended a movie called The Love Witch, which I duly put in my Netflix queue*, and which we just got around to watching a couple of nights ago.
We weren’t sure what to expect. Since the film is not rated, we decided to watch it without the boys. That’s probably for the best, since there was quite a bit of nudity and sexual content. The film was a great compliment to the aforementioned book, which is an autobiographical romp through the decadence of the 1960s.
The Love Witch stars Samantha Robinson and was written and directed by Anna Biller. And as it started, it seemed like it might also be set in the 1960s. It was filmed in vibrant technicolor and featured stilted dialog and acting. Visually it was stunning, especially with the costuming and the setting choices, but the writing wasn’t so good. We were actually wondering if we had stumbled upon the female equivalent of The Room.
The story revolved around the titular character, a young woman practicing witchcraft for the purpose of finding the perfect man. As she cast her spell on a succession of lovers, she found that none of them were strong enough to withstand the intensity of her love – though they certainly enjoyed the sex. The lovers came to bad ends, and the movie revealed itself to be a sexual psychodrama horror film. Eventually a chisel-jawed police detective got drawn into the plot, and – no spoilers – you can just imagine what happened with him.
Again, the movie came across as set in the late 60s or early 70s in its style and fashion choices, and with its slow and awkward exposition and stiff acting it imitated the film of that era. My BFF even said that sometimes it felt like we were watching an old Star Trek episode. But then there were some jarring moments when it was obvious this film was set in modern times (it was released in 2016). Were these clumsy errors, or was the director toying with us? Was this a luridly compelling B-movie, or brilliant satire? I will say that The Love Witch kept us watching, and stimulated some discussion when it was done, so it must have had merit. Right?
So here’s what I got out of it. The Love Witch satirizes gender roles and the romantic ideal of heterosexual relations. Men are egotistical and hyper-rational, women manipulative and hyper-emotional. But as the saying goes, vive la différence! When done right, heterosexual relationships strike a balance between the needs of men and women and fulfill them both. This is discussed by one of the witches in the movie, in a scene at a bar where a burlesque is being performed.
Unfortunately, the witch protagonist’s quest for fulfillment is selfish, and she uses magick irresponsibly, taking her gender role too far. She is portrayed as bafflingly naive, apparently so obsessed that she is blind to the consequences of her actions. The male victims of her spells are helpless and weak, overcome by supernatural powers beyond their ability to resist. When a man with a strong enough ego finally does come along, the witch’s next logical step proves disastrous.
This could all be allegorical, in which case we must face the truth that love has power and must be wielded with care. Most of us have experienced love triangles, even though not as lurid and bloody and occult as those that involve the Love Witch. But the pain is just as real, and the responsibility is as much ours to bear. For even ordinary heartbreak is tragic, and even ordinary deception in love is a crime against the heart.
That was my impression of this strangely enticing film. If you want to form your own, you’ll have to find a copy and watch it yourself.
*I still get Netflix DVDs by snail mail. I find it to be an excellent way to watch indie films and classic films, which are often hard to find on streaming services.
In a recent blog post I mentioned three films featuring the Homeland Generation (b. 2005-202?). They are all great films which I enjoyed very much, and I thought I would give a little more detail and quick reviews about each one.
The first one is the best of the three films, 2017’s The Florida Project. A young girl lives with her mother in a motel somewhere near Disney World. They are poor, getting by through means semi-licit or worse. Despite this life on the economic fringes, the girl finds joy in her simple life of carefree play with her friends. When trouble brews, the ragtag denizens of the motel generally look out for each other. The Magic Kingdom is there in the background, but what is the true paradise – the artificial construct of middle-class America, or the innocent heart of a child? This poignant film will make you wonder.
The next film is about a girl whose circumstances are even starker than living in a motel. In 2012’s Beasts of the Southern Wild, a girl and her father dwell deep in the swampland of the Louisiana coast, part of an eclectic group of squatters in a community called “The Bathtub.” Their impoverishment is just a backdrop for a tale that takes on mythic proportions and features some thrilling fantastical elements. When her life and home are disrupted, the girl must search for her past to find the courage to face her future. The movie ends with a note of confidence that, much like the child’s imagination, seems out of touch with reality.
Finally, there is What Maisie Knew, also from 2012. This is a retelling of a story from the late 1800s that was written by Henry James, about a girl whose parents are divorced. They share custody, but are both irresponsible, and eventually the girl finds a safer haven in the guardians who are entrusted with her care. The movie changes the story a little bit, and is also set in contemporary times. As such, it presents an anomalous portrait of how children are raised today. The parents are acting like parents from the 1970s, not those of the 2010s. It’s still a very touching film, and I thought it brought out some Homelander traits in the girl character, particularly her compassion for others.
Three films about Homelanders that are highly recommended. You may have noticed that they are all about girls. Where are the boys of this generation represented? Perhaps we will see those films in the future. I will write more about girls versus boys growing up in a future blog post.
One aspect of this era is the wild success of the franchise films based off of the works of two prominent American comics publishers – Marvel and DC.
There is something quintessentially American about the superhero genre. It tells stories where empowered, self-motivated individuals – what all Americans are in theory – strive to better society while struggling with profound ethical dilemmas. The stories indulge a form of escapism where the intractable problems of the world are conceivably solvable – given fantastical powers and abilities. Why is it so hard to bring peace and stability to the far-flung regions of the planet? Well obviously we simply lack sufficiently advanced technology.
At their worst these movies are trite and tedious, with the same formula repeated ad nauseam. At their best they are rich allegories about power and responsibility, or intriguing character studies. The modern wave of blockbusters has enjoyed tremendous box office success, and love them or hate them, you can’t deny they are a hallmark of our time.
Because I always like to see the generational angle, I decided to catalog the generation and sex of the directors and principal actors in both the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the DC Extended Universe films to date. Actually, only up to how far I’ve seen the films because I didn’t want my research to reveal any spoilers. But that’s close to all films to date.
So here is a summary of what I discovered.
The franchises have been a bonanza for Gen-X men, who comprise the majority of directors, and of actors portraying either superheros or supervillains. Gen-X men dominate as directors, with a few Boomer men joining their ranks, along with one Gen-X woman (the director of Wonder Woman) and one Millennial man (the director of Black Panther).
Gen-X men play a majority of the superheros, though a significant number of Millennials share that role. The iconic Gen-X example is surely Robert Downey Jr. as reckless playboy Tony Stark (Iron Man), who is a foil for dutiful Millennial Chris Evans (technically a Gen-X cusper) as Captain America. A conflict between the two characters is even a major element of the MCU story arc. And DCEU has its own Gen-X/Millennial pair of frenemies – the brooding Ben Affleck as Batman versus the self-assured Henry Cavill as Superman.
GenX men are less dominant as supervillains, because Boomer men have found a niche there. Many of the villains are egotistical and power-hungry Boomer men – James Spader as Ultron, Kurt Russell as literally a character called Ego. Their machinations are always being thwarted by younger heroes – an allegory about our times, I suppose. But Boomer men have also found a niche in supporting roles, paternal and self-sacrificing – like Kevin Costner as Jonathan Kent or Michael Booker as Yondu.
Boomer and Gen-X women have benefited much less from the superhero film phenomenon. There are very few roles for Gen-X women, despite such prominent stars as Gwynneth Paltrow as Pepper Potts and Amy Adams as Lois Lane. Boomer women are similarly underrepresented – the only notable example I could identify was Glenn Close in a supporting role.
With Millennials you see the most gender diversity – there are almost as many female Millennial superheros as male. But with the exception of Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman, no female superhero has her own movie – a fact not lost on critics. There is a female Millennial villain – Cara Delevingne as Enchantress, and there are two if you count Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn.
The Guardians of the Galaxy movies have the most gender diverse cast – including the only Gen-X female superhero – Zoe Saldana as Gamora. Thus it is ironic that writer/director James Gunn was hashtag metoo’d out of the franchise.
A final note: only one actor from the Silent generation appears in the MCU or DCEU – Anthony Hopkins as Odin.
In conclusion, the modern wave of superhero movies can be seen as the wish-fulfillment of Gen-X men, who are so prominent in their making. Presumably many of the men of that generation grew up consuming the comics and the earlier movies and television shows made around them. Boomer men, who overshadowed Gen-X growing up, get to be villains or supporting characters. Millennials, meanwhile, are along for the ride, with many Millennial women asserting themselves as equals, as the girl power generation has been preparing to do their whole lives.
Assuming the superhero craze lasts for very much longer, can we expect the Millennial generation to slowly take it over, putting an end to the male dominance that characterizes the franchises today? Or will Gen-Xers maintain their control, until the genre is out of touch with the times? I’m always hearing people say they are tired of these movies, yet there doesn’t seem to be an end to them in sight. And personally I’m excited as any fan about the upcoming releases.
It was awesome to see the new Halloween sequel on Halloween night, because the movie is set exactly then – 10/31/2018, forty years since the original movie’s horrors on the same date in 1978. The movie was good – exactly what you’d expect, and with the same awesomely creepy music.
We were two adults and one teenage boy, but the boy wan’t worried about being frightened. As he explained to us, he never gets scared by horror movies. We adults both recalled that we did get scared (I remember having nightmares over the Frankenstein monster), but perhaps the young generation is hardened now because of all the exposure to violent entertainment from multiple media sources.
Or perhaps, I speculated, we’ve all gotten so used to mass murder in real life that it is impossible to find it shocking or frightening at all. Which turns out to be exactly the point made by one of the teenage characters talking to his friends in the movie. The babysitter murders of 1978 just seem so mild and quaint to the teens of Haddonfield, Illinois in 2018, who might reasonably anticipate being shot up in school on any random day.
I won’t say any more about the film except that if you are a franchise fan, you will find this one to be a satisfying sequel. I can’t personally compare it to the other sequels, since I have not seen any of them, but the buzz on the Internet seems to be that it is the best of the lot. This is probably because, while it has many updates appropriate for the times, it stays true to the feel and form of the original.
The latest Pixar offering, Coco, is a wonderful film which has instantly become one of our family’s favorites. It is technically brilliant, demonstrating how far computer animation has come in the more than 20 years since Pixar’s beginnings. The visual detail, the lighting and the color are superb, and it is all easy to take in despite being so complex, unlike much of the CGI that accompanies live action movies these days. The story is excellent as well, and I can’t write much at all about it without spoiling it, except to note that it is fancifully set in Mexico, and while it has action-adventure elements it is really a family drama.
Coco actually has some things in common with another recent animated feature, Kubo and the Two Strings, which uses stop-motion instead of CGI, giving it an older and artsier look. Kubo is also more of an adventure movie, a mythological tale whose narrative is not quite as engaging as Coco’s, though it is not without its own twists. But again – no spoilers!
Each of these films appropriates a facet of world culture to tell a high-stakes story that reminds us to cherish our loved ones. If you’re looking for a satisfying family movie night, you can’t go wrong with either one.
Scrambled Easter Eggs: A Review of Ready Player One
Why would the youth of 2045 be obsessed with the pop culture of the late 1900s? This was my thought as I sat in the theater and watched the movie Ready Player One. As the cultural references kept piling on, my partner commented, “this movie is made for us.” We are both Gen-Xers, born in the 1960s, and the movie’s plot was an endless series of shoutouts to the iconic movies, TV shows and video games of our youth.
My partner’s son, who was born in the early 2000s, was watching with us, and ironically, he knew more of the references than we did. He would call them “Easter eggs,” coming from the term for messages or images that are often hidden in video games. In fact, Easter eggs in this sense are a major plot point in the movie, which is mostly set in a massive multiplayer virtual reality game. As the characters hunt online for the Easter eggs that are the MacGuffins of the story, we the audience enjoy recognizing the pop culture references that parade by in the form of avatars and items and scenery.
The people of 2045 apparently live online to escape the hellish dystopia the world has become, following some droughts and riots. Civilization has weathered events like these many times before, but we’ll have to assume they were really bad this time. We don’t get to see much of what this bleak future looks like outside of the VR, except for one vertically sprawling slum in Columbus, Ohio, where the residents live in stacked shipping containers supported by bare metal scaffolding. The visual design of this set is striking, which just underscores that fact that we are consuming visual art, and that the “real world” setting depicted is just as contrived as the “virtual world.”
The people in “the stacks” are mostly obsessed with putting on their VR gear and hanging out online, trying to rack up experience and in-game resources. Despite presumably being poor, they can all afford the gear, much as people of all classes today own smartphones. It’s not clear what is happening in the outside world, in the boring realm of politics, economics, and international relations. All that matters to anyone living in the stacks is this game world, as if humanity has abandoned all thought of civic renewal to focus on entertainment. Which actually fits the zeitgeist of the early 21st century quite well.
Really, this movie is an homage to the era of entertainment culture that has been presided over by its director, the hugely influential Steven Spielberg. His generation has dominated the cultural space, and let the political space go to ruin. The people of 2045 worship his generation’s cultural legacy because, in the Spielbergian vision, that legacy is the culminating achievement of our time. The movie audiences of 2018 may well agree.
In the Spielbergian weltanschauung, civic virtue amounts to willingness to join the scrappy underdogs in a fight against the uniformed forces of oppression, represented in Ready Player One by a greedy corporate conglomerate. “Welcome to the rebellion” is actually a line in this movie. It’s like Star Wars all over again. Again.
I write this review without any knowledge of the book on which the film is based, so apologies to the book’s author for missing his original intent, which may have been much different. He may have written a profoundly original and thought-provoking story. You’ll never know from watching this film. Watching this film, you will get an amusing mélange of your favorite pop culture nostalgia, packaged in a plot that has become a routine of PG-rated action adventure movies. And, of course, you will have fun.
I find that the soundtrack to the Netflix original film Bright makes an excellent workout album, with its driving beats and heavy hip-hop influence. I also makes me feel firmly planted in the zeitgeist, since it is not even a year old, and is replete with Millennial themes of building community and repairing the broken.
The film itself didn’t impress critics, instead sort of representing everything that Netflix, or streaming in general, is doing to ruin the film industry. Maybe it is just too weird to mash up the fantasy and buddy cop genres – A Game of Thrones meets End of Watch. It is undoubtedly a formulaic action movie, but I enjoyed it nonetheless. It was certainly better than The Cloverfield Paradox.
I have been creating hobby web pages since a long time ago, and keep at it even though the web itself has moved on. I’m still stuck in Web 1.0, and we have since moved on to Web 2.5 or something like that, and apps are going to kill the World Wide Web any day now anyway, but I still maintain my sites because I enjoy it. So one page I have kept maintaining has reviews of books and movies/TV shows; here it is for you to check out if you’d like:
I recently watched H.G. Wells‘ Things to Come (available on Amazon prime video) and discovered that it tells the tale of a saeculum from Crisis through to the next Awakening, but with a stretched out timeline. It also has early examples of a lot of film tropes.
By saeculum, I mean the social cycle as defined in Strauss and Howe generational theory, which you can learn more about here.
[MASSIVE SPOILERS FOLLOW]
The movie was made in 1936, and its story starts in that year, as the Crisis Era looms. There are rumors of war, making it contemporaneously relevant. There is a bit of a friendly discussion between two characters of the likelihood of war and the nature of progress.
Then the war comes, and rages for three decades and more. Civilization is ruined, the war is unresolved yet in 1970, and the film has now introduced the post-apocalyptic genre, complete with a plague that turns people into zombie-like creatures. The plague is eradicated, and peace comes at last when a benevolent scientifically advanced alliance deploys a super-weapon – sleeping gas, which they call “the gas of peace.”
Next an expansionist High Era begins, and we get a montage of civilizational development, taking us to a sci-fi world that fits the conventional mid-twentieth century vision of the future. Everything is shiny and sterile, and people dress in styles reminiscent of classical Greece and Rome.
It’s now 2036, and the hubristic future civilization is preparing to send the first humans into lunar orbit, using the method commonly envisaged before the rocket age – a space gun. But the Awakening Era has begun, which is a time of spiritual upheaval and of questioning the current regime. A firebrand preacher arises, denounces the lunar project and stirs up the masses against it. The launch happens anyway and the movie ends with more philosophical ruminations on progress.
So the movie covers a half-saeculum, spread out over a century. It’s as though H.G. Wells understood the saeculum, if not its generation-length timing. It’s impressive that he got two predictions correct – the use of a super weapon to end the Big War, and the fact that the next Awakening begins at the same time as the first manned missions to the moon.
It’s a good film, well worth the hour and a half viewing time. The version on Amazon is colorized and restored, which I think helps to make it more watchable.