It’s About Myself

For the longest time, I was passionate about writing about myself. I vowed to make a living out of blogging about my own psyche, expressing myself through humor and frankness. It was going to be a sure thing that my four years of higher education would be the summation of the ability: a long running, twice a week series of blogs about what’s inside my head. Unfortunately, I learned that I just haven’t been through many eventful things in my life to be worthy of such a self-indulgent premise, and I learned that the hard way, via self-enlightenment. The only impact I would make with these blogs, where I would routinely offer scathing critiques towards commonalities of society and the people around my life, is a pissed off reading audience. This is not some Fight Club scenario of the empty ordinary schmuck shouting “we live in a society” to the crowds. I am content with everything nowadays, which is probably concerning considering that I haven’t found a career yet.

For as naval-gazing and angsty as these blogs were, I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t reminisce over this time when I was courageous enough to be so bold online. Sometimes, I’m envious of that version of myself, because I had something worthwhile. What I used to publish online was unique, at least in my mind. There are already thousands of loudmouths on the Internet who draft up thinkpieces and ten Tweet threads about why film is Important. I could talk about the state of the medium and film “philosophy” if you call it all day, but I’ll admit that the individual movie analysis can be slightly grating at times. There are just more equipped people to properly break down the artistic value of A Perfect World, and those people have probably done so already.

There is a good chance that none of this makes any sense. I oughta just show you what I used to write, now featured with annotations from 2022. This one I selected is titled “When the Shoe Doesn’t Fit,” where I discuss how I fit in at college after three days in. (Passages written in bold)

In high school, there was this charm with me, I suppose, that many people appreciated. I had the knack for saying something cynically polarizing or throwing some crazed rant about anything trivial in class. I don’t know, maybe my imaginations are completely far from reality. Wouldn’t be the first or last time.

Being incapable of distinguishing between ego and reality. I guess I really haven’t changed that much? I have never been the most socially outgoing individual of the bunch. I built up this artificial reputation based on a few moments in my senior year, all of which happened when I had friends in class. This is a mild spoiler for the rest of the blog, but when you refuse to make friends at your four year university, you start to think you’re some hermetic tortured genius.

I don’t think the folks in my residence hall take pleasure in that kid. Granted, I haven’t fully unleashed my high school persona, but vibes are vibes.

Or… I could’ve been just a person and not a persona. When it comes to holding boat loads of regrets, I am a shipping port. My freshman year of college just might make it over capacitated. The regret that is perhaps the most prioritized is reserved for my roommate. That kid deserves a Purple Heart for putting up with my irritable neurotic angst.

Perhaps they like the genuinely nice kid. Perhaps they like the kid who picks up girls like a forklift. I don’t know what kids like these days. (I know what Fortnite is, shut up.) It probably explains how I got started doing this shit. When you check my box in the filter section of what they like, nothing shows up.

In the character alignment chart, this writing represents chaotic evil. However, I’m still giving myself the benefit of the doubt when it comes to the quality of the writing. I remember that my prose and language back then even came out naturally. These days, it can take me ten minutes to pick the proper word to use. Based on how I used to characterize myself in print, it’s a miracle that I didn’t turn out to be a member of QAnon.

I know it’s nothing personal at all. New blood arises in your system once you reach upperclassmen stage, which makes you smug upon the peasant freshmen. I always love it when they harass us to attend school events, but immediately take out their frustrations on the fact that too many freshmen are there. But I can store those ideas for another day.

This passage is really out there. Most of the residents in my hall were most certainly freshmen. So apparently freshmen were lambasted for attending school events? (Narrator voice: they weren’t).

As you might expect, I don’t mind it at all. In fact, I embrace it. I do believe with all of my heart that one of the big keys in life is embracing any negative qualities or circumstances in your life. You’ll feel so much better about yourself. We fight and repel too often. I’m on the side of believing that people never really change on their fundamental level. So for me, there’s no point in shoehorning in a connection between the other UNH students in my residence hall, because I speak a different language than these kids, and it’s all fine. We can keep doing our business diplomatically.

This sums up my theory that I probably should have never gone to a four year university after all. I would routinely say “I should’ve gone to plumbing school” to myself during this time, but I think I would’ve been happy to roll with community college. It would’ve eased up on the loans. Without question, I carried myself with too much negativity, but I still believe I was never going to connect with my peers, as the college lifestyle was never in my bag.

Fear of Missing Out, or as they call it, FOMO?

FOMO? Fuck no.

I had a way with words. 

I would like to imagine that this kind of writing, a style and an attitude that can be packaged into a series, can give me a career. The job search is going as well as you think, and I wonder if starting my own thing is the last remaining path to success if things keep getting dire. The reason why I am hesitant to revive this writing subject stems from the response that I could receive on social media, and worse, if it ever comes back to me in reality. When I was writing these personal blogs in the fall of 2018, I was on a roll, and I had enthusiasm about its future. All it took was a single, benign comment, which mainly consisted of me trying to think more positively about my environment, and I turtled. I carry myself like I don’t have a care in the world, but deep down, I know that I’m sensitive to the reaction of others, which is not a great asset in this circumstance.

Well, considering this whole blog was an unnecessary deep dive into a life severely lacking in real adventure, I guess I have already jumped back into the game.

Dear Oscars: Stop Hating Movies

I have a challenge for the Academy Awards that I, despite my antagonistic relationship, will always love deep down. I hope this isn’t too much to ask, but for the sake of your purpose of existence, please, stop hating movies.

It sounds unusual for the highest body of awarding film achievement to hate movies. To put a more specific point on it, the Oscars have fed into the deep rooted cynicism of the film industry that has transpired over the last few years. Nothing was more dire than the display put on by the Academy last March. As I stated in a previous blog, they are so lucky that Will Smith was insecure about his marriage, because they would’ve had their reckoning if not for G.I. Jane 2.

There is a ratings crisis for the Oscars. Surprising, I know, for a network TV broadcast in 2022. Viewership dropped from 43.7 million in 2014 to 15.36 this year, with the only increase coming from 2018 to 2019 (not counting this year’s jump from the fake telecast in 2021 that doesn’t exist). At the most recent 94th Academy Awards, they decided to be more proactive in dealing with this issue than ever before: by going populist.

What these morons didn’t realize was that the fight for ratings was and will forever be a lost cause. The days of 48 million people watching anything non-NFL on basic television are over. No matter what you do, whether it’s a fan vote or cutting out below the line categories on the telecast, you will never regain anything close to the viewership of 48 million that they received in 1998. So naturally, the best course of action would be to placate to the more niche audience that cares deeply about movies. You know, the freaks like me that can name the Best Supporting Actor winner in 1991 quicker than their middle name. (The answer is of course Jack Palance in City Slickers. If we’re being dumb and looking at the calendar year, then it would be Joe Pesci in Goodfellas.)

What the grand and prestigious Academy Awards gave us cinephiles instead was the Twitter fan favorite vote, where the public at large can pick their favorite movie and the finest “cheer” moment on screen. If I had a kid that thought of this idea, I’d put him up for adoption. I know this joke ran into the ground when first announced, but when did the Oscars begin idolizing the MTV Movie Awards? A longtime Academy member stated to the Los Angeles Times “Does the academy not get how much this pisses off their members and filmmakers?” With this asinine fan vote, their line of thinking consists of the rabid DCEU fan base all turning on their TVs to witness a mediocre movie they already like win a meaningless award. Yep, that’s how it turned out. Congratulations folks, you fixed it.

Their second measure to fix the ratings crisis was, once again at the alienation of their core audience, cutting the acceptance of numerous technical categories such as Best Original Score and Best Editing from the broadcast. I’m sorry I don’t have hard proof or scientific data to back this up, but there is no human being that was going to watch the full Oscars telecast because they cut out a few categories. This audience that the Academy is desperate to obtain is not the girl you try to pick up at a bar. You know who that girl is though? Me! So start putting some goddamn respect into films and the craft that goes behind it. I personally think it’s pretty neat that there used to be a major awards body that gave an equal stage to a costume designer and Julia Roberts. The 48 million viewers had to have been tolerating them in 1998, which makes sense because we all simply had better taste back then. It’s a shame I missed it. I get handed clips of the fucking Flash from Justice League for my Oscars.

It doesn’t help that movies are made a mockery of during the telecast. If it were up to me, there would be no bits or heavily rehearsed material at the show. If the host or presenter isn’t charming and charismatic enough to take the stage without it, then keep looking for another host or presenter. But anyways, I get that they need jokes, and I’m not here looking for anyone to be policed, but the Oscars ought to have a little respect for what they represent. Take for example this abhorrent joke about The Last Duel that, as I mentioned in a previous blog, still pisses me off.

Johnny Carson used to host this show.

Ridley Scott’s film is excellent. Not only that, it’s an adult picture with adult themes and ideas. They look like complete jackasses by turning a movie that should be honored by them into a bit. Really? You guys are so low that you poke fun at a movie that bombed at the box office? A movie that bombed because it wasn’t a blue lasers/portals in the sky piece of garbage? Do you possess any self-awareness? This truly was the nadir of their weird vitriol towards cinema. If anything, the joke is on the public for ignoring The Last Duel.

You might be saying, “how do you suppose that the Academy Awards doesn’t respect cinema? Did you not see those montages and reunions this year?” I sure did, and I’ve seen enough of the barrage of clips over the past few years. Someone across the street from me could do the same thing on their computer. Peak laziness from this past broadcast came from the Godfather and Pulp Fiction “reunions”, which were as much of a reunion as running into the person you sat next to in chemistry class in sophomore year on the street. Drag out Coppola, Pacino, and De Niro (who, in case you weren’t sure, IS NOT IN THE FIRST GODFATHER THAT IS BEING CELEBRATED FOR ITS 50TH ANNIVERSARY. BE MORE GODDAMN LAZY!), and have them say absolute drivel. The Pulp Fiction was somehow even more contrived. At least The Godfather was its 50th anniversary. Come back in two years when Pulp is at year 30. This is really the best the premiere awards body of the country can muster up to honor the art of cinema? The same creators who created the thing you like are standing together again! It’s like every shitty Super Bowl commercial now. 

Academy voters did the right thing by not buying into any disillusions about Marvel being the westerns of our time or some bullshit like that and giving Spider-Man: No Way Home a Best Picture nomination. That movie and all its counterparts in the Disney empire is a disgrace to cinema. The Academy is under no obligation to nominate No Way Home because it was the most seen movie. It’s a grave discredit to popular movies that are good. You know what happens when you make a good movie that makes tons of money? Dune, Black Panther, Get Out, and Mad Max: Fury Road got to find out. You get a Best Picture nominee. This goes out to every reader who has this myth jammed into their brain: popular movies have always been acknowledged at the Oscars! It happens slightly less often nowadays because most popular movies are pitiful franchise content. It’s not them, it’s you, Marvel. You’re the ones that suck.

This is a long way of saying that the Academy needs to stop dumbing themselves down for a culture with deteriorating creative output. Needless to say, this year’s telecast had jokes mocking themselves for not nominating No Way Home, including Amy Schumer hanging from the ceiling in a Spider-Man outfit, frankly looking like an idiot. The whole awards body seemed embarrassed at themselves for not properly acknowledging the movie. I know I said that popular movies are routinely honored, but that doesn’t change the fact that the Oscars should not be a popularity contest. The discourse surrounding the entitlement of No Way Home as a BP nominee from fans online is part of a worsening case of juvenile anti-intellectualism in our popular culture. Even Kevin Feige, the head honcho of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, called out the Academy for a “superhero bias”. This would be like the President of McDonald’s and its team of lackeys getting upset that McDonald’s has never won the restaurant equivalent of an Oscar.

If the Academy Awards are going to continue to lower their standards like this, then shut it down, because we’ve lost all perspective.

DRAG ME TO HELL (2009) – Sam Raimi Having the Time of His Life

Photo: Universal

Movies ought to be meaner. I know intellectually that there should be movies with a lighter touch, ones that are deeply moving and ones that are lacking in any emotional manipulation. But the kind of visceral feeling I received when I first watched Drag Me To Hell, Sam Raimi’s return to the equally screwball and gory horror genre that he represented, is what makes me most proud to be a passionate consumer of the art and a follower of director career arcs.

The 2009 film was Raimi’s return to horror following his Spider-Man trilogy, which concluded with the often derided Spider-Man 3. The struggles behind the production of the third installment has been well documented, including studio notes and forced story arcs, and Raimi himself seems to have disavowed it himself. His career arc is quite fascinating. He begins in independent cinema, making zany horror-comedies with his friends that become cult classics (Evil Dead trilogy), climbs his way into the studio system as a gun for hire on mid-budget pictures (The Quick and the Dead, A Simple Plan), and then fully ascends to the top of blockbuster cinema as the author of a franchise. As his authorship deteriorates with Spider-Man 3, he steps down to go back to his Evil Dead roots. Drag Me to Hell isn’t just a return to form. It is a diss track on film.

The story follows Christine Brown (Alison Lohman), a successful loan officer of a bank who is the recipient of a supernatural curse after evicting an old woman from her home. She attempts to work for a promotion and continue a stable relationship with her boyfriend Clay (Justin Long), but this evil curse is using its power to destroy her life.

Raimi loves to abuse his main characters, whether it’s Ash Williams or Peter Parker. When those two are slapped, thrown through a wall, or have projectiles launched at them, viewers don’t sense danger from them. The mayhem sent toward them is recognized as a fetization and sensationalism of screwball violence. When bodily fluid from the supernatural force is projectiled at Christine, it feels cruel. This mostly comes from her gender, age, and petite body. For my viewing experience, a portion of this discomfort also came from an uncertainty of my sympathy for her. While not labeled as one, the movie, based on the viewer’s mood or state of mind, can play as a dark comedy. The line is muddled throughout the runtime of whether or not it is appropriate to chuckle at the sheer carnage thrown at the way of poor Christine.

While Raimi would go on to direct a mediocre Wizard of Oz sequel following this, Drag Me to Hell is in many ways a twisted Oz adaptation. Christine, the farm girl, makes it to the big city and thrives at the cost of others’ livelihood, and is satanically punished for it. The parallels to this film’s release coinciding with the Great Recession of 2008 is conspicuous, but the script was written way before the financial crisis. Raimi is the furthest thing from a director with social and political messages, but the attitude of the film is representative of a time of distress. The kind of vicious punishment Christine, as a loan officer, suffers through would be a comforting vibe for audiences in 2009.

Raimi has always been a pastiche filmmaker with traditional sensibilities. His Spider-Man was so radical because it refused to be hip and new wave, and instead went for earnestness. For as mean as Drag Me to Hell is, it is still formally old school with its use of practical effects and puppeteer work. Raimi zipping the camera across space and spraying Lohman’s face with unidentified goo has the same wide-eyed passion of movie-making as it did in the 80s. On a more perverse level, I get a kick out of Raimi cooking up new gross excrements to throw at his actors’ faces all as a form of venting due to his frustrations on Spider-Man 3. In his mind, Avi Arad, his boss at Sony who forced him to add Venom to his story for merchandising, is the one being covered in excrement and not Lohman.

The metatextual commentary of Raimi unleashing his frustrations on this film is the most logical cause as to how he made the first truly cynical film of his career. While violent and gory, Evil Dead seems benign. There is even a sense of sympathy for the characters in A Simple Plan as they continue to push their luck out of pure greed. The guy had an interest in taking on a syrupy, dad-core Kevin Costner baseball movie. Even at his most zany and rebellious nature, Raimi is rooted in creating whole-hearted entertainment. Despite Drag Me to Hell being positioned as a return of form, the film is really more of a far cry for Raimi. It was the perfect kind of film to make as he got into older age and in the aftermath of dealing with the burden of franchise filmmaking.

As a tradition I’ve merely stumbled on, I tried to find a good passage from Roger Ebert’s review. I’m afraid that his review is really lacking. Anything he wrote circa 2009, when his health was quite poor in the midst of his battle with cancer. He’s a legend who earned the privilege to write reviews that were more about the plot and character beats of the horror genre rather than his usual populist analysis.

For most movies I watch, even the great ones, I always wish the ending was a little bit more harsh, dark, sad, or pick any adjective evoking negative emotions. Most movies are cynical for the first three quarters and then lose the tone in the 4th. Landing the plane is difficult, and because of that, filmmakers become too concerned with wrapping up the plot cleanly and concisely. This is particularly true with genre pictures. In the closing moments of Drag Me to Hell, I was expecting to be disappointed by an ending that plays it safe. I kept checking how much time was left, holding my breath for the tide to change. Christine waits for a train with Clay, and everything seems to be merry, signaling that she may have learned a lesson in morality. In fact, she did learn a lesson. Instead of passing her curse on to another living person, she digs underground in the pouring rain for the grave of the old woman who was ground zero and passes it on back to her, which was summoned in the form of a coat pin. Unbeknownst to her, she sent the wrong envelope, one that didn’t contain the pin. Her good deed was not good enough despite the effort, and as the title promises, Christine is dragged to hell, and the set piece is as mean as anything in the film. Now that’s what I’m talking about.

Revisiting Teen Core Cinema

Photo: Universal Pictures

As I wonder where all the time has gone (I refuse to believe I started high school eight years ago), I thought of an interesting experiment. I recently had the urge to film bro-out, so I would take the time to revisit three essential films that I would argue on any given day in 2016 were my three favorites: A Clockwork Orange, Scarface, and The Shawshank Redemption. These pretty much check all the boxes of the teen film bro who just started getting into movies. While Shawshank stylistically and tonally greatly differs from the first two, there is something something inexplicable as to why this has climbed up the ranks of the film bro core despite the lack of gun wielders shouting “fuck you” at each other. I mean, it is #1 on the IMDb Top 250.

What is there to say about Stanley Kubrick that hasn’t been said to death already? He knows how and where to point the camera and how to, like a madman, unlock his actors into giving unique performances. There isn’t much enthusiasm, at least for me, in discussing the artistry or filmography of Kubrick. For as mysterious and reclusive as he was, everything about him is stated and plain fact. This is probably due to his films being so precise and exacting, as well as the length of time he took in between films towards the end of his career and life. Over the last few years, I never have the urge to rewatch any of his movies (even as my favorite podcast, Blank Check, is currently covering him).

A Clockwork Orange is the pinnacle of my new relationship to Kubrick. In my head, I was saying this while rewatching: This is technically exceptional. I’m loving Malcolm McDowell’s performance. The story is simultaneously transgressive and nuanced. I’d rather be doing something else with this time. It is a shame that I had this reaction, but maybe I shouldn’t feel bad. Perhaps this is the Kubrick effect: forcing yourself to sit in his cold and calculated mind. And I’m aware that the mythos surrounding Kubrick as a hermetic cyborg artist is overblown, but this is how I respond to his films. I might not be alone in having second thoughts about the film. Anecdotally speaking, the crowd on film Twitter would generally place this at second tier Kubrick, behind Barry Lyndon and Eyes Wide Shut. The issue that gets in my way the most of putting this in my top five of his films is the overall sameness in its narrative. The tone and characterization is just a little too one-note for my liking, and that is where Kubrick’s demanding preciseness hurts him.

Verdict: Very good movie that I respect more than I love. I’m hoping that I don’t feel this way when I revisit Barry Lyndon and Full Metal Jacket. My favorite Kubrick joints are still Paths of Glory and Dr. Strangelove

I love Brian de Palma. Just about all of his films are so engaging to watch and use the camera so masterfully. Not many directors have the precise genre sensibilities that he possesses. While there is a lot to grab on to when watching Scarface, from the De Palma perspective, I find that the film is lacking more and more every time I watch it. It’s odd that the knock on the movie when it was first released in 1983 was that it was too stylized and all flash. The whole time when I was revisiting this, I was yelling “why isn’t this more perverted? Where are the split screens and split diopter shots?” This is De Palma at half speed, which is baffling considering that this is in between Blow Out and Body Double, perhaps his two most De Palma movies. 

I used to think one of the strengths of Scarface was the conflicting sensibilities of De Palma and screenwriter Oliver Stone. The former seems to have no interest in telling a story about the rise and fall of the gangster and/or takedown of capitalism, while the latter made a career out of suffering the consequences of following the American Dream. That worked against my enjoyment of the film this time. Their separate takes on Scarface would be much better. This certainly isn’t me looking at myself as a De Palma truther who delegitimizes his popular movies. I recently rewatched The Untouchables and Mission: Impossible and liked them even more, so much that they climbed up my ranking of his filmography. 

Verdict: Scarface needed to be either more trashy (sleazy exploitation) or more classy (30s Warner Bros gangster picture, even if it’s too similar to the original Howard Hawks film). This is just sitting here awkwardly in between.

As for The Shawshank Redemption, I’m still trying to comprehend its spot in film bro culture. If anything, I guess that when you begin diving into movies as an art form, the ones you start out with are ultimately nihilistic. Sometime after watching Pulp Fiction and Taxi Driver and feeling like you discovered true art for the first time, Shawshank moves on its audience differently. This was the one movie out of the three that I most expected to hold up the best. I was particularly in the mood for classical, broad sentimentality about friendship and self-redemption for a while, and in fact, I responded to these emotions when I revisited the film. With much of it coming from Stephen King’s side, the structure of the film is great, and features economical storytelling despite its mildly lengthy runtime. The highlight of Shawshank, really without question, is a thunderously captivating Morgan Freeman performance, who’s spirit carries the story, even through ham-fisted writing on screen or via voice over.

On a long awaited rewatch, I noticed signs of a rookie director in Frank Darabont. It’s amazing he directed a modern classic considering he unknowingly almost blew Morgan Freeman’s arm out. To steal a line from Griffin Newman of Blank Check, someone needed to take away the jar of paprika from Darabont. There are times, even though I can be suckered into a sweeping sentimental tale, when he lays it on too thick. Watch the “hope is a dangerous thing” scene again. Tim Robbins is giving too much, and the Thomas Newman score (albeit still great) plays way too unceremoniously. While the narrative stays on track, the first third of the film, which comprises prison hell porn and a cartoonish villain as a means to signify the difficulty of the lifestyle, could be cut out of the movie or at least be considerably revamped. These cliche filled moments get in the way of the true heart of the movie: the relationship between Andy and Red.

Verdict: This held up the best, but just like the two other films I covered, I no longer view this as a masterpiece. When it’s playing on cable TV (yes, I’m still sticking with it), I immediately click it, because it is rightfully canonized as the premiere Rewatchable movie. For a reason, the flow of the movie works efficiently, and you can jump in at any time and get to a landmark scene. The film’s strength is also its weakness at heart: it’s just too simple.

After contemplating these films in succession, I think why films of this kind resonate with male teens morphing into film buffs is because these films are centered around the evolution of a character, in this case being Alex, Tony Montana, and Andy Dufresne/Red Redding. Furthermore, they evolve due to their environment (crime reformation program, drug trade, prison) There is nothing an angsty teen knows more than the utter fact that we live in a society. These films may seemingly just be about individual people, but myself and many other up and coming film bros recognized that it’s the system, and we’re all just pawns in it, man.

Rent Free – A Martin Scorsese Story

It has been three years since the benign opinion heard around the world.

“I don’t see them. I tried, you know? But that’s not cinema. Honestly, the closest I can think of them, as well made as they are, with actors doing the best they can under the circumstances, is theme parks. It isn’t the cinema of human beings trying to convey emotional, psychological experiences to another human being.”

~ Martin Scorsese on the films of the Marvel Cinematic Universe

Marvel and its rambunctious online fanbase has been knocked out and down for the count ever since. Scorsese still owns so much real estate in their heads in 2022. Ever since these comments, they want to be taken seriously just as their movies continue to get worse and look like the worst amusement park in the area. Since that fateful day on October 4th, 2019, we have been blessed with many unhinged takes and think-pieces from Twitter users and professional columnists. I wanted to take valuable time to break down the summation of what we have been dealing with for three years. 

Introducing: “Martin Scorsese: rinse and repeat self-indulgence”, written by Sean Egan of The Critic.

“The result is a debasing of his talent: new Scorsese films are routinely an hour too long. The truth, though, is that his directorial talent has never been as great as occasional masterpieces like Goodfellas (1990) tricked us into believing it was.”

I don’t appreciate that someone like Sean Egan likes Goodfellas. This complaint is a broken record. Runtime, runtime, runtime. As James Cameorn said in a recent interview, go take a fucking piss if you have to. While almost every film released nowadays has a long runtime that is noticeable, Scorsese films are so tight and economical that you are just along for the ride.

Taxi Driver made Scorsese’s name in 1976, but lacks momentum or moral, relying for its gritty power on the shock value of Jodie Foster’s child-prostitute character and on it constituting by simple happenstance a snapshot of a Big Apple that then seemed on an unstoppable ride to dystopia.”

This feels like someone who didn’t watch Taxi Driver and instead went off of a Gen Z influencer’s ten tweet thread about the problematic nature of the film. If Travis Bickle’s arch isn’t an unstoppable ride to dystopia, then what is?

New York, New York (1977) is curiously soap opera-like if reasonably entertaining

This guy thinks Mean Streets is poorly directed but enjoys watching New York, New York, which I am fond of but is maybe his least enjoyable film to watch? I can’t help but admire Mr. Egan. His thoughts on Raging Bull are just more of the greatest hits. I’m sorry Jake LaMotta never puts down his gloves and says, “wait a second, your name is SUGAR RAY?!?!” like he’s Ant-Man. (Marvel has yet to get sick of that joke)

It turns out The King of Comedy, After Hours, and Goodfellas get the Egan stamp of approval, which again is concerning. They’re only three of my thirty favorite movies ever. After his 1990 masterpiece, however, it all goes downhill for Scorsese according to the writer who has Avengers: Endgame as his favorite film on Letterboxd.

“Since then, though, Scorsese has lazily settled on Mafia-Picture Director as a main calling.”

Did you not go to school for counting? I’ll fill it in for you. He’s done two since then, Casino and The Irishman, (I’ll give you The Departed but I don’t count it). He’s directed nearly fifteen feature films following Goodfellas. It really is like the closing lines of The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, the legend has become the real story behind Scorsese’s variety of films. I try not to get too defensive about this fallacy. Let’s pretend this notion is actually true and he’s only directed films in crime underworld, it would still be way more interesting than the shit that this guy consumes.

Casino (1995) and The Irishman (2019) contain broadly the same milieu, set pieces and morality lessons. Scorsese is simply moving the furniture around. The problem is exacerbated by the fact that he, in another act of laziness, uses the same actors over and over: seeing Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci and Harvey Keitel in a Scorsese mobster movie for the umpteenth time makes for a bizarre feeling of déjà vu-cum-musical chairs.”

There’s nothing worse than when Casino is viewed as the direct-to-video sequel to Goodfellas. Even when spoken neutrally about it, I wish the ‘95 film could ever get its due without having the title Goodfellas mentioned. The two films heavily vary in visual style. Goodfellas is more contained as a personal tale of rags to riches while Casino is going for something larger about the state of capitalism in America. Why do people dumb themselves down so much for Scorsese, one of the smartest directors to ever live? I know people aren’t this dumb. Or are you all way too caught up in the fact that they share similar casts and feature narration thus causing your brain to shut down?

The Irishman and The Wolf of Wall Street (2013) are achingly slow, the momentum of what could be great narratives dragged down by longueurs just begging for the application of a brave editor’s scissors.”

The Irishman is slow” takes, fine, I give up that fight (but many people I see online lost their film buff badge over their awful takes on the film three years ago), but The Wolf of Wall Street is too slow now? I’m becoming more convinced this piece is all a bit.

“Whisper it lightly, but Scorsese doesn’t really believe in cinema. He has consistently refused to work within the art form’s natural parameters, whether it be by using voiceovers…or by whimsically breaking the fourth wall”

And…there’s the money shot. I read these previous takes in my sleep, but this was the new mountain that needed to be climbed. Someone who would painstakingly lay the groundwork for Scorsese being a detriment to the art of cinema is probably going to invoke the artistic value of a certain long running franchise, aren’t they?

“Scorsese recently slammed the Marvel Cinematic Universe, asserting that its component films are sensationalist and empty. In fact, thoughtfulness and rationalism suffuse every single one of them. In Captain America: Civil War, the vigilante nature of superheroes and costumed crime fighters is subject to profound questioning.”

I want “In Captain America: Civil War, the vigilante nature of superheroes and costumed crime fighters is subject to profound questioning.” to be memefied. Thank you Sean Egan for being a real king with this piece. I can see the light now. He watched Raging Bull and The Last Temptation of Christ and, out loud, asked, “where is the profound questioning?” I bet you he was so upset he turned off the T.V halfway through each and stormed out of his apartment.

The level of vitriol towards Martin Scorsese is borderline concerning. Just watch any interview with him. He’s a sweet and gentle old man who loves cinema as art and not commercial property. I think because of the kinds of films he’s most famous for and the demographic of people who are most passionate about them, his naysayers think he is this toxic gatekeeper filled with aggressive male rage. In an age of sellouts and the real mafia of this story, intellectual property, he continues to preserve classic and international cinema. You know what, though, I get how the game is played. A nuanced story about Scorsese’s contribution to saving lost films Michael Powell doesn’t draw the same amount of clicks as “Despite claims from old cretin Martin Scorsese, Thor: Love and Thunder is great art.”

MEAN CREEK (2004) – The Darkest Afternoon Special

© 2004 Paramount Classics.

I heard about it from a meme, and I stayed with it because it hits the spot. That is my relationship to the 2004 indie film directed by newcomer Jacob Aaron Estes, Mean Creek

What most shockingly stands out for viewers, specifically ones who grew up on the Nickelodeon series Drake & Josh as kids, is the presence of Josh Peck, who serves as the emotional center of the story. He looks just like the titular Josh of fame, but in this film which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival almost synchronously to the airing of the show, he is hostile, aggressive, and vulgar. This curse-filled tirade is the meme that is single handedly responsible for any lasting impact of this film today. And that’s a damn shame because this film is quite excellent.

The story of a group of kids performing a prank on George (Peck) after he beat up the younger brother (Rory Culkin) of one of the kids that goes horribly wrong seems like an invitation for campy, syrupy, cheap melodrama. After School Special 101: revenge is bad and don’t do to others and what you wouldn’t want others to do to you. Trust me, this movie is punishing to both the characters and the audience. The revenge prank ends when George is involuntarily pushed overboard and is killed via head collision. While sure, the coda of the film enforces that message, you experience a visceral reaction to the cause and effect as a result of the film’s dynamic character work.

Once the main story arc of the prank orchestrated by Marty (Scott Mechlowicz), Rocky (Trevor Morgan), and Clyde (Ryan Kelley), which involves leaving George naked and left alone on the water, I at least found myself continuously on edge. Estes plays with conscious thought and primal emotions. Consciously, you know that this prank is cruel, but emotionally, you talk yourself into thinking that George deserves something coming to him. His troubled nature works on both sides of the coin. In morality tales such as this, the gray line of proper justice is always in question and often pushed to the limit. When dealing with junior high schoolers and high schoolers, the punishing effect when the wrong decisions are made only hits harder.

A great example of the character work in Mean Creek is Clyde’s disdain when homophobic remarks are made at the expense of him, as he is the son of a gay couple, even when they come from his friend, Marty. So when George, trying to fit in with the group, refers to Clyde as a “faggot”, it creates dramatic tension between Clyde and George. You can only imagine how he would feel about a non-friend name calling him with that word. But then again, George just doesn’t know any better. And as an aside, there is great nuance in showing a young adult express vulnerability in being called such a thing for a film with such a hard edge in 2004.

Mean Creek is effective as a film engaging with the desires and consequences of hyper-masculinity. On the first watch, which occurred when I was about 15 I might add, (you know, what most 15 year olds were doing) I was puzzled by how often the boys were physically pushing each other, notably in the first twenty minutes or so. It seemed like overdirection, but looking at it now, it builds up to the idea that their instinctual toxic aggression led them down this path. Marty is constantly reinforcing to Rocky that he can’t let George walk away scot free after beating up his brother when Rocky starts to grow weary of the executing the prank. It’s ambiguous whether George’s toxic masculinity is true to him by nature or whether it’s a cover up for his insecurities, but either way, his aggression clashes with the internal rage of Marty and leads to his demise on the boat. The damning sign of the toxic masculinity of Marty and Rocky, “who personally have nothing against George, want to go ahead (with the prank); they’re using a crude interpretation of justice to mask their own needs” writes Roger Ebert. When Rocky’s brother, Sam, gets to know George more, morphs his vengeance into empathy, and Sam is the one who actually was affected by George’s actions. The way I as a viewer shifted my sympathies with George is a credit to Josh Peck’s brilliant performance, who somehow managed to make me forget he was the lovable, goofy kid on Nickelodeon.

Ebert’s review is quite celebratory, more than expected solely based on his middling three star rating. I thought I’d be the one defending this film’s honor at all times, but I couldn’t help but be taken aback by Ebert’s comment here:

Mean Creek makes us realize how many films, not just those about teenagers but particularly the one-dimensional revenge-driven adult dramas, think the defeat of the villain solves everything. Such films have a simplistic playground morality: The bully is bad, we will destroy him, and our problems will be over. They don’t pause to consider the effects of revenge — not on the bully, but on themselves.”

If Estes had the courage to write and direct a film that sets up and executes the perfect bully revenge and relishes in the success of it all a la Tarantino, then hats off to him. This is when I wonder if Ebert, god love him, occasionally viewed films too literally. Every morality tale that I’ve seen flirts with the consequences of a scheme like this, even if the story arc is closely tied to the perspective of the characters rather than an omnipresent narrator. I highly recommend that everyone see Mean Creek, but not because it’s unique in delving into the consequences of your actions. The point I imagined he’d agree with, and maybe was trying to convey all along, was that Mean Creek is more unapologetic with its psychological angst than its peers.

As I previously mentioned, I watched this when I was fifteen and a freshman in high school. Based on the Vine (R.I.P) of Josh Peck’s passionate vulgar filled insult barrage at these people that always gave me a great laugh, I just had to know what this movie was and how it got to this point of dramatic intensity. Sure enough, the film worked on me so well that I was doing anything but laughing by the time this pivotal scene occurred.

Ebert’s review

The Still Too 2022-23 Early Academy Awards Predictions

While I find the telecast and background discourse surrounding it all to be tiring, I can’t get enough of the Oscars as it relates to the outcomes of the actual awards. This past day randomly at 5:00PM, I lied down trying to recall the five nominees for Best Actress from last year. I was even blanking on the winner, which is usually money in the bank. I thought I could pull it off by asking “did they make a comment attempting to relieve the tension in the post-Will Smith slap environment?” Ten minutes of mental deliberation later, Jessica Chastain for The Eyes of Tammy Faye leaped into my consciousness, which can’t be said about anyone else on Earth, even by those who watched the movie. When I start to catch others losing interest in me, I ask them to rattle off random years so I can give them the corresponding Best Picture winner of that year. So far this skill (let’s call it that) hasn’t gotten me a free round of drinks or anything.

I very recently got the itch to start delving into Oscars season, now about a month into festivals where most of the potential contenders first premiered. While the field is always so scattered in the fall and continues to be through the announcement of the nominees, I ought to finally walk the talk and stand by predictions of the Best Picture nominees for the 2022 Academy Awards. (P.S. Can we stop referring to Oscar shows by their calendar year? Last year was the 2021 Oscars, and the 2021 BP winner was CODA.)

  1. The Fabelmans – The easiest lock of all time. No doubt about it. It’s Spielberg. It’s sentimental. It’s about the love of da moviesh. While we suspect it’s not his last joint, this could be the perfect swansong treatment for the iconic director, and the Academy would gladly vault him into the club with Frank Capra, William Wyler, and John Ford as the only directors with more than two Best Director awards. To top it all off, this could be John Williams’ last score of his luxurious career. I have to be hesitant about The Fabelmans winning it all though, as the early fall favorite (Belfast, The Irishman) that checks all the boxes as Best Picture friendly has been doomed.
  2. Babylon – This one seemed like just as much of a lock as The Fabelmans a month ago. Once again, we have a film about Hollywood, and no one is more obsessed with themselves than the awards body. 2016 Best Director winner Damien Chazelle is a mainstay for the awards circle and leads a cast of big stars. Where I think this could get tripped up is that the film is simply too brash and unflattering in its depiction of golden age Hollywood. And if the lack of major consideration of First Man showed anything, it’s that Chazelle’s seemingly Oscar-friendly projects (portrait of a Great Man) might be slightly off-kilter for voters.
  3. Top Gun: Maverick – This Tom Cruise guy may have saved movies. The best thing to ever happen to this movie was COVID-19 and shitty Marvel VFX. There was so much anticipation for this movie after numerous delays and from desperation of a satisfying Hollywood blockbuster in the midst of MCU movies that look more and more like they were completed at the last minute of post-production. While I enjoy it very much, I still stand by that most of the overwhelming praise of the film stems from the general moviegoing population being stranded on a desert and dying of thirst, and Cruise and Joseph Kosinski emerged from the clouds and gave us a cold bottle of water. As it’s been said to death, the Academy loves the da moviesh, and Maverick vitalizes the spirit and magic of the art form enough to disguise it from being a familiar but effective action movie sequel to a cheesy 80s movie.
  4. TAR – Mark this as this year’s Power of the Dog. Without seeing it myself, I see this as a highly divisive, visually stunning, bold arthouse film that picks up front runner status in January but slowly loses enthusiasm. Todd Field had success picking up nominations for BP and acting going back to 2001 with In the Bedroom
  5. Armageddon Time – I see this listed as missing the cut in many articles I read, but I think this will hit the spot for voters. James Gray will finally get his due in the BP pool, with the help of the presence of Anthony Hopkins, Anne Hathaway, and a coming of age story set in New York. This appears to have a take on the American Dream and its myths and realities, and if not, it sure ought to demonstrate the story of a family, an Academy staple favorite.
  6. Avatar: The Way of Water – James Cameron returning to Pandora after 13 long awaited years. It doesn’t get much more “MOVIES!” than this. I hope this gets the nod more than anything just to see the naysayers mad. Just admit it, Jim Cameron is your king. This won’t reinvent the wheel story-wise, but just like its predecessor, it will be a big, sweeping tale with a limitless scope. 
  7. The Banshees of Inisherin – I initially was going to have this miss the cut, thinking it would be too small and leave too quiet of an impact at the box office, but I have to imagine that the overwhelming critical approval of this will translate to a nomination.
  8. Women Talking – Ditto from above.
  9. Everything Everywhere All at Once – This is the kind of movie I immediately shut down from Oscar contention time and time again. A surprise genre hit released in April? Stop talking yourself into it. But of course, there’s always a Get Out. And this idiosyncratic film from Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert embodies the same kind of magic of the movies as Top Gun and Avatar. This was a throwback word-of-mouth success that the Academy would love to embrace.
  10. Triangle of Sadness – So all of these picks aren’t really that bold. If anything, it’s what I’m leaving out that is more noteworthy (Wakanda Forever will be met with muted enthusiasm and thus miss out on a BP nod). We seem to be guaranteed a foreign film nomination every year, and this NEON release will sneak up on everyone, even if the critical reception is muted. Perhaps this is the 2022 CODA?

Do we notice a theme between all these films? Allow this to be the first time I write the names Netflix, Amazon, and Apple. No streaming, all required to see in a theater. Da moviesh, baby. 2022, at the end of it all, will be the year of how we stopped worrying and loved the movies. Streaming for new original films has gotten such a bad rap that I’m hesitant to admit that sometimes there’s nothing better than waking up on a lazy Saturday morning and firing up Blonde with a cup of joe and a runny egg sandwich. Nonetheless, when we reached the nadir of streaming, with The Gray Man being a $200 million spy thriller with big stars going straight to Netflix, everyone being me, the Academy, and the public at large decided enough was enough. I believe the Academy is going to announce themselves this season as the protectors of cinema, with the likes of Top Gun and Avatar headlining the movie-going experience sentiment.

I’m sure everyone knows this, but Will Smith getting upset at a hacky G.I. Jane joke was the best thing to happen for the Oscars. If Jada Pinkett had the flu and couldn’t make it to the ceremony, there would be so much bad press for the awards body and telecast. Refusing to hire hosts, perfunctory montages, a general dismissiveness of movies (that Last Duel joke still pisses me off), another safe but forgettable Best Picture winner, and not to mention, ratings that continue to decline (23.6M viewers in 2020 to 16.6M in 2022. The COVID ceremony in between doesn’t exist). The Slap gave them a mulligan, and now the 95th Academy Awards this March is their chance to get it together.

ABOUT SCHMIDT (2002) – Alexander Payne Breaks Hearts and the Jack Persona

Photo: New Line

This overlooked gem of the early aughts is about death, loneliness, and regret. This film is so in my bag that it’s a little concerning.

In general, Alexander Payne is an overlooked filmmaker who masterfully balances and shifts between comedy and drama, and consistently writes and directs intriguing, emotionally complicated characters. His consecutive run of Election, About Schmidt, and Sideways is absolutely lights out. Election, a viscous satire of U.S politics told through a high school class president vote, which is quite a far cry from the rest of his filmography, is the only one that has gotten its fair share of respect amongst the modern day online social media criticism body. People are just too dismissive of Payne’s kind of stories, which has developed a little bit of sameness since the start of the 2010s. Anything about middle-aged men struggling with an internal crisis is deemed “Oscar bait.” Alexander Payne the person might not be so great, but the artist is quite special in my book.

About Schmidt follows a 66 year old Warren Schmidt (Jack Nicholson). Recently retired and mourning the loss of his wife (June Squibb), he embarks on a cross-country road in an attempt to find something greater in life as well as attend his daughter’s (Hope Davis) wedding.

The plot description from a distance is hokey, but I can’t underestimate how much the film is trying to work against formulations. The hell with my plot description, Roger Ebert’s description is a perfect encapsulation of Schmidt’s attitude and purpose of life.

The film “is not about a man who goes on a journey to find himself, because there is no one to find. When Schmidt gets into his 35-foot Winnebago Adventurer, which he and his wife Helen thought to use in his retirement, it is not an act of curiosity but of desperation: He has no place else to turn.” I should just let him write these blogs.

Although its IMDb page says otherwise, the film is desperately trying not to be a traditional comedy. Nicholson even remarked when he won a Golden Globe (remember them?) for Best Actor in a Drama for his performance as the titular role, “I thought we made a comedy.” The fragmented comedic elements come from Warren using it to cover up his deeper internal sadness. This trait is masterfully executed by Payne in Sideways. The good-hearted and benign drama that complements the comedy in your typical “dramedy” is hard to find here. As Ebert wrote, Schmidt can’t be enlightened in retirement or during his road trip because he is ultimately vacant. The most powerful emotions he can strike up are pet peeves of his wife that he writes about to his foster child in Africa as part of a charity mailing program he sees on T.V. Payne naturally has a sharp tongue to his storytelling, so as a viewer, you feel more cruel pity for Schmidt than sympathy. He goes back into the office early into retirement, thinking his replacement needs his assistance, and doesn’t. His future son-in-law is slightly off-beat but good-spirited, and yet Warren is nothing but cold to him. Throughout the film, the formulaic reactions viewers have when watching the typical mid-life crisis dramedy are manipulated. You start thinking about the deep roots of the character’s darkness. Why is he like this? This works especially because Payne keeps the mystery afloat and Nicholson shows unprecedented restraint.

Speaking of which, I don’t like to play the hot take game, but is About Schmidt the great Jack Nicholson’s finest work as an actor? For as iconic as he is, Jack never truly immerses himself into a role. The character, in the end, is always Jack, whether he’s a patient in a mental hospital or a private detective. His performance as Warren Schmidt is the exception. As previously mentioned, his restraint is the biggest reason why he becomes this character. The performance upends audience expectations in that the viewer is waiting throughout the entire arch of the story for Warren to break out and become the loud, vibrant, and explosive Jack that we see in Five Easy Pieces and The Shining. Yet, in his last ever capital “g” Great performance, he never does it. Despite that, you are able to feel his off-putting energy by how he acts with his face, and the great positioning and framing Payne does to express it. The emotions he brings to his performance are less traditionally defined and more shapeless. “Nicholson somehow finds within Schmidt a slowing developing hunger, a desire to start living now that the time is almost gone” Ebert writes.

I can’t help but address Ebert’s closing paragraph to his review.

“Most teenagers will probably not be drawn to this movie, but they should attend. Let it be a lesson to them. If they define their lives only in terms of a good job, a good paycheck and a comfortable suburban existence, they could end up like Schmidt, dead in the water. They should start paying attention to that crazy English teacher.”

Well there’s one way to connect to the kids, Roger. I’m drawn to this because of how the film speaks to me on a personal level. Meanwhile, I don’t have a career yet and I’m relating to a film about old age. Nonetheless, I ponder on how my past and present work may ultimately amount to nothing, starting from public school to this very moment of writing a blog post about a 2002 drama that I’ve never discussed with anyone yet I deeply admire. Everything I do seems to serve the future purpose of being able to live on my own in the real world, whether it is my college education or interest in movies. With each passing year, things are not so much about “the love of the game” as they say. I keep looking ahead for the future, and at some point, the future will wane and all you have is limited time in the present. And like Warren Schmidt, your financial and career success gives you zero fulfillment at the end of the day. I have a desire to develop and strengthen social bonds and experiences, but like Schmidt, there’s a void where that makes it difficult for me.

This personal connection is why the film’s ending and final shot is like a hammer dropping on my heart. When Warren opens an envelope containing a crayon drawing of him and the foster boy as stick figures holding hands, you are simply looking at a mirror when the camera cuts to Warren sobbing. The film’s patience pays off at the highest order. In a tender moment like that, the innocent beauty of living is fully appreciated.

Ebert’s review

The Mythos of College

I was sold a bag of goods about college.

For all of my life, sunshine was shoved down my throat about how amazing the college experience is. I got it from people who never enrolled! From all the good press I heard, going to a major, four year university would be the most formative experience of my life and make everything you did in high school child’s play. You’ll miss it when it’s over and wish you could go back for a second.

I finished my higher education this past May. It certainly flew by (COVID disrupted the concept of time), but it was a staggeringly unremarkable four years. I’ll be the first one to blame myself for failing to make a name for myself during this time, but there are so many aspects of the college experience that were more or less total hogwash.

  • There are two claims from two opposite parties that were both false regarding professors. High school teachers spoke of college professors as the highest order of scholars who demanded excellence who refused to hold students’ hands. Wrong. Half of my classes felt like bad dreams of my worst memories of high school: when you simply don’t feel like talking and your frustrated and underpaid teacher begs you to raise your hand and answer questions in class. The only difference now is that the salary of a professor does not justify them to badger us. I certainly didn’t pay tuition to worry about class participation. You talk. We test. I used to say this in high school, but it only rings more true in college: enforce the message that the onus is on the students to pay attention in class. 
  • However, the other myth about college professors comes from college students, which is that professors are actually the most down to earth people around, and just “one of the guys/gals”. Again, just more nonsense. While I never had anyone who was a straight up asshole, the idea of developing a personal relationship with any professor was infeasible. Just because you could call some of them by their first name doesn’t make them cool.
  • People have told me with a straight face that college is an environment that makes you more mature and prepared for the world. If anything, I reverted in my progression of maturing and growing. Even by walking through the halls of academic buildings or the dining hall lobby, you can tell you’re not part of a great symposium of philosophy. I don’t mean this as an insult. My gripe is with the people who hype up college life. We’re all still young and dumb!

My only real takes involve academics, because everything else was that unmemorable. My nights consisted of watching 70s films by myself in my room. Don’t get me wrong, those nights are my calling card. But in the end, I don’t identify any growth I had as a result of the collegiate experience. I did learn and expand upon ideas and concepts in the communication and film studies field in my courses, but I probably would’ve been better off commuting.

BAMBOOZLED (2000) – The Best Spike Lee Joint You Haven’t Seen

Photo: New Line Cinema

There is a great list on Letterboxd, created by Sean Fennessy of The Ringer entitled, “Filmmakers Saying ‘Fuck it, I Hate Everyone’”, which is made up of satires and scathing critiques of a specific field or ecosystem of people. The films on this list are undeniable and are some of my all-time favorites, including The King of Comedy, Network, Ace in the Hole, The Heartbreak Kid, The Player, and Dr. Strangelove. These are the kind of films I think about, adore, and even rewatch the most. Maybe this is an indictment of me, but I like my movies cynical, skeptical of the universe, and just mean as hell. One of the last films listed there chronologically, which is a telling sign that the films we get nowadays need a sharper edge, is the 2000 Spike Lee joint, Bamboozled. If this isn’t the meanest picture on this list, then it’s at least the most unhinged.

There was once a time, specifically in the middle of October 2000, where I could enter the Showcase Cinema in Woburn, MA and see this film on a big screen, presumably with other patrons? We always say “this would be a TV show today” about an unprofitable film of the past, but Bamboozled of 2022 feels destined to be a 30 second TikTok that strikes up a cancel culture debate. When I watch my copy of its restoration from the Criterion Collection, it feels like I shouldn’t be watching this.

Bamboozled centers around racism and black identity through the sphere of television programming at the dawn of the new millennium. A frustrated writer, Pierre Delacroix (Damon Wayans, yes that’s right, with a broad French accent), develops a show serving as a modern day minstrel show. Expecting the show’s pilot to get him fired, Delacroix is forced to reckon with the show becoming a big success. The cast of characters, including Manray (Savion Glover), Womack (Tommy Davidson), and Sloan (Jada Pinkett Smith), realize that America is still stuck in the past and the minstrel show lives on in our current media landscape.

The majority of Bamboozled was shot on Mini DV digital video cameras, the kind back in 2000 anyone could buy at a Best Buy or Circuit City. This gives the movie, to put it delicately, a crummy look. The $10 million budget is a factor, but the artistic value of shooting a whole feature film like a home movie adds to the “atmosphere” of a story actively capturing the dynamic moment of the new century. Between the writers room led by the wannabe black, N-word saying, TV executive, Dunwitty (Michael Rapaport) and the live audience covered in blackface for the taping of “The New Millennium Minstrel Show”, there’s a lot of trashy people in this story, so the trashy look makes the shoe fit.

However, whenever we watch the taping of an episode of the minstrel show, the image jumps off the screen, because these sequences are shot on pristine, high quality film. Now here is where the rubber meets the road over the debate of whether you think this film is a biting satire or continuation of the problem. In essence, between the stand-out quality of the visual appearance and excellent showmanship of Glover and Davidson, the minstrel show is well made and… entertaining. This is quite problematic if you are Spike Lee and care deeply about protecting the integrity of black performers and artists. Yet, in my mind, it is evident that Lee is aggressively challenging audiences of all races to push back against their instincts and detest what is on screen. For as dehumanizing as it is, of course a minstrel show would look wholeheartedly appealing to audiences. For as much criticism the film received for being too heavy-handed with its message, this is a great example of powerful rhetoric that shows and doesn’t tell. Lee has the audience experience the manipulation that a minstrel show would bring as an everyday TV consumer.

This breakdown of the nuances of Bamboozled were ideas I picked up on my first viewing. I wish most critics back in 2000 did as well. But instead, many reviews fit into the narrative at the time of Spike Lee as the “angry black man” shoving his politics into his movies. The consensus was that the film was messy, overwrought, heavy-handed, and self-important. These critiques are logistically valid. The film certainly pulls no punches and is proverbially waving its arms at audiences yelling “wake up!” as Spike Lee characters tend to do.

Let’s look at the great Roger Ebert’s two star review, a critic who was an early advocate of Lee as one of the best American filmmakers.

“The film is a satirical attack on the way TV uses and misuses African-American images, but many viewers will leave the theater thinking Lee has misused them himself.” Ebert, the legend that he is, critiques film at a primal level. He “had a struggle” when looking beyond the images of black performers in dehumanizing blackface to see its satirical message. Ebert recognizes Lee’s arguments about gangsta rap standing in as the 21st century minstrel show and the general degrading depiction of black people on T.V, but the film ultimately loses him because of the use of blackface as the avatar for his ideas, as he calls it the film’s “fundamental miscalculation.” “Blackface is so blatant, so wounding, so highly charged, that it obscures any point being made by the person wearing it.”

I find that Ebert, along with his longtime television partner Gene Siskel, lets one aspect of the larger story blind his judgment and/or misinterpret the greater point. By integrating blackface, the movie loses him. No where in his review does he mention the home video look of the film and offers no opinion on the purposefully outrageous French accent from Wayans. This sincere thought process when reviewing films is one that I don’t tend to fall back on, but I still find admirable. If anything, we could rely on it more. More people should take certain things at face value. The Russo Brothers should’ve taken face value before they called every film of theirs an homage to paranoia thrillers.

While it has certainly been reclaimed as misunderstood, Bamboozled still feels slightly underappreciated. It still appears to be viewed more as a fascinating relic from a master filmmaker rather than an achievement, and I think it is the latter. I’ll even put my toes in the water of this being maybe my favorite Spike Lee joint. Yes, you’ve been hoodwinked. It’s not Do the Right Thing or Malcolm X. You’ve been bamboozled.

Roger Ebert’s review