While watching Avengers: Infinity War, there was a specific moment where Doctor Stephen Strange, Sorcerer Supreme and protector of the time stone, duplicates himself. His many arms stretch out of his body like a hypnotic spider, and he proceeds to multiply to throw Thanos off guard in the middle of a tense battle. The audience erupted in applause, but I couldn’t help but feel unnerved at the display of blatant cultural appropriation. What could have been a triumphant moment of pride for me, had Strange been played by an Asian actor, was instead one of alienation. So here I am, with the goal to talk about this issue head-on. To do so effectively, we’re going to have to go back to the beginning.
Doctor Strange’s existence in the MCU has been a problem for me ever since he was cast, as there has always been an issue with the original source material, and the on-screen interpretation of the character has not done anything to fix it. When he was introduced into the comic sphere in 1963 with Strange Tales #110, there was a mass hippie craze for any “exotic” culture. The Sorcerer Supreme’s lore and imagery were heavily inspired by Tibetan and South-East Asian Buddhist folklore and legends. Obviously, it was never thought at the time how harmful it is to take an external culture and exploit it for aesthetics, but he was actually never explicitly caucasian until he became a popular character and was implemented into other storylines.
After the record shattering release of ‘Avengers: Infinity War’, we made a video edit to commemorate the 19 Marvel Cinematic Universe films over the past 10 years. Not all of them appear in the edit, but we wanted to tribute the characters, moments, and the emotions that make the trip to the cinema so special.
The Much Ado team will start creating even more video content in the next few months, so be on the lookout! Follow us on Twitter @muchadocinema for updates!
On the surface, you’ve definitely seen stories similar to You Were Never Really Here before. It follows Joe, an ex-veteran/FBI agent turned vigilante hero. His stoic masculine character trope has been explored in genre thrillers of this kind, such as Drive and most comparatively to Taxi Driver. The former a tired, male fantasy with regressive messages of masculinity and chivalric romance, the latter being an interesting study of masculinity, the main character played by De Niro going on a path to self-destruction to cope with his isolation. These movies both show a celebratory and a critical side to a masculine hero, perspectives both painted by white male directors.
What makes You Were Never Really Here a valuable addition to this canon of masculine genre thrillers, is that it becomes a character study to reveal a new kind of masculinity offered by a female director (Lynne Ramsay) that these previously mentioned films do not offer. But rather than showing a toxic male character on screen and showing his path of destruction like Scorsese did, Ramsay shows a new kind of masculine character under her own perspective. Portrayed with a career best performance by Joaquin Phoenix, Joe is a unique character to this genre because while he rescues girls sold off in human trafficking through methods of violence, but he doesn’t revel or indulge in violence. Joe suffers with a life of trauma and seeks heroism to cope with his psychological wounds, and learns what greater responsibility means through his experiences.
The opening visuals of Aaron Katz’s neo-noir mystery, Gemini, are palm trees turned upside-down, silhouetted by the blue aura of the twilight skies. Accompanied by the electronic synth score, it sets the stage for an edgy, mysterious and sexy 90 minutes. It starts out strong, but as Gemini moves along and unwinds itself, it becomes apparent that it doesn’t have very much to say. The screenplay lacked control over the tonal consistency and failed to capture any meaningful level of depth that the gorgeous Nicolas Winding Refn inspired visuals and hypnotic score could not do much to save this film from being a slog.
Gemini begins with Jill (Lola Kirke), a personal assistant for Heather (Zoë Kravitz), one of the most famous actresses in Hollywood going through a rough patch of partying and avoiding her responsibilities. In the prologue of the film, Jill helps Heather avoid reshoots, encounter an invasive fan, avoid paparazzi and drives Heather to a karaoke night with her secret girlfriend. This first act is as interesting and compelling as the film gets. Introducing us to a number of different faces and establishing their direct relationships with Heather, the film allows us to take a look into the celebrity culture of L.A. and makes us feel for Heather’s lack of privacy through the way she interacts with other characters. Although expositional for the murder mystery to unfold, the first act does a lot to give us context for Jill and Heather as friends and foreshadows a seductive darkness of L.A. nightlife.
Three months into 2018, and it is clear that it is on its way of becoming the year of unexpectedly fresh studio surprises. From the clever comedies of Game Night and Blockers to the romantic Love, Simon and the meditative sci-fi film Annihilation. John Krasinski’s addition to these first quarter gems is a nerve-wracking, experimental horror flick A Quiet Place. Despite the grievances I have with the film, I felt that first and foremost it was mainly about bringing the audience together and having them actively invested in the film. In short, A Quiet Place more than succeeds on so many levels, and while experiences may vary depending on how respectful your audience is, my viewing of the film was an engaging, interactive time at the movies.
Alex Garland is a science fiction writer that has a lot to say about humanity. His 2014 debut film Ex Machina followed a programmer studying a big name CEO’s invention of artificial intelligence, evolved into a complex study of what defines a “human.” The film was an exceptionally directed dive into the ideas of ego, gender roles, sexuality, and autonomy. His follow up feature, Annihilation, walks a different path from Ex Machina in scale. In his sophomore film, Garland shifts his style from a one-location thriller to a spectacle-filled journey through different environments. But Garland does not abandon his core philosophies, he develops them. Horrific yet gorgeous, Annihilation evokes the same feelings of previous science fiction films, but delivers a wildly original, personal, and experimental look into human themes.
If there’s one thing that Love, Simon succeeds at, its giving us something new in a genre that is characterized by the regurgitation of the same tropes and clichés. Needless to say, I am not a big fan of teen romcoms, so I walked into my advanced screening last Tuesday with cautious optimism. I was immediately surprised to see how packed the theater was with plenty of young faces and couples, and as soon as the movie started they cheered and filled the theater with so much delight and energy that can only be beaten by a crowd of a Star Wars movie on opening night. It was in that moment I knew that I was about to watch something very special for my community. Love, Simon is a heartfelt, positive, and inviting romp through the personal journey of a closeted gay teenager, and being that it is a mainstream studio film- that in itself is an honorable achievement.
Adapted by the 2015 young adult novel, Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli, Love, Simon tells the story of a teenage boy dealing with the struggle of embracing his own sexual identity whilst also wanting to also fit in and be treated normally by his family, friends, and peers around him. It was directed by Greg Berlanti, the writer-producer of other teen-aimed movies and shows such as the D.C. network shows and was produced by the same people who brought you films like The Fault in Our Stars and Paper Towns. This is a good indicator of what kind of film to expect going in, but Love, Simon does offer some very substantial subversions of traditional romantic comedy fare, including a character that serves as a callout to the obnoxious white knight archetype you see in a lot of these films.