Jack of All Trades

Jack of All Trades

“Jack of all trades, master of none” is supposed to describe Master of None’s lead character, jobbing New York actor Dev, not the show itself. And yet.

Master of None has gotten pretty much universal critical acclaim and been nominated for lots of awards, but when you get down to it, it’s a pretty okay show with a handful of very good episodes. I rarely complain about things being derivative, because art being original is less important than its being well-executed, but it’s frustrating to watch Master of None get praised for inventing things that I’ve seen on TV or in movies many times before, from being a romantic comedy where the man has feelings (the works of everyone from Chaplin to Apatow mustn’t count, I guess), to doing a Slacker episode, which I felt like I’d seen a hundred times before and I haven’t even seen Slacker.

Continue reading “Jack of All Trades”

I Went to the Marches, Nothing Happened

I Went to the Marches, Nothing Happened

If I describe 2016’s Little Sister, it will sound like a quirky-for-quirk’s-sake, typical and self-important indie film: Addison Timlin plays Colleen, a former goth who is now a novitiate in Brooklyn close to taking her first vows. She visits her estranged family in Asheville, North Carolina where her brother, Jacob (Keith Poulson), has returned from the Iraq War, his face horrifically burned. There are countless indie films about a twenty-something returning home to a family from whom they feel alienated, where they learn something or other before returning to the big city, and if Little Sister just swapped the personalities involved – a stuffy conservative young person and their free-thinking liberal parents – it would be really boring (I know because I’ve seen Smart People and it was really boring).

Continue reading “I Went to the Marches, Nothing Happened”

The Agony of Suburbia

The Agony of Suburbia

I don’t fully understand music criticism. When I read (good) criticism about a book or a film, I feel like I learn something – either about the book or film itself, or books or films in general, or about politics or culture or the world. Most of the music criticism I’ve read either validates my opinions without helping me learn anything about them, or else it makes me feel stupid. A huge amount of music criticism is underpinned by a dichotomy between what is Good and Okay to Like and what is Dumb and Bad that Only Dumb and Bad People Like. What falls into each category is supposed to be obvious to the reader, because it’s never explained. (Robert Christgau is one of the most acclaimed music critics in America, and he operates on a bizarre and complicated system combining letter grades and emojis.) Declaring something good or bad is the critic’s job, of course, but even when I disagree with a film critic, they’ll still be interesting to read if they’re any good. Roger Ebert was wrong about Midnight Cowboy, but he was wrong in a way that made me think more deeply about the film.

Quentin Tarantino said that there are two ways to love film: people who love the films they like, and people who love films. Maybe that’s part of the problem – I love films, and I love books, but I only love the music I like. I love lots of different kinds of music, but I don’t love music in the generalised, abstracted way I can love films and books. Music feels too big to care about that way, in more than the small chunks I can consume. But there are genres that are small enough to love in that way, small enough to grasp in my hands.

Continue reading “The Agony of Suburbia”

Ghostbusters (2016): a Hillary Clinton Story

Ghostbusters (2016): a Hillary Clinton Story

It’s been the guts of a year since the height of the boom industry of Ghostbusters (2016) opinion pieces, and, I guess, since Ghostbusters (2016). The thousands upon thousands of words written about Ghostbusters were many things, but mostly they were exhausting. For months before the film was released, the Internet was alight both with backlash against the all-female reboot of Ghostbusters and with subsequent condemnation of the backlash as sexism. Somehow an all-female remake of an eighties comedy about hunting ghosts became a touchstone of socio-political debate in a year where the UK voted to leave the European Union and Donald Trump was elected the American president.

Continue reading “Ghostbusters (2016): a Hillary Clinton Story”

Defending The Hudsucker Proxy

Defending The Hudsucker Proxy

Joel and Ethan Coen make two types of films. Both types are comedies.

The first type sometimes gets mistaken for a drama. They’re the dark comedies that usually operate within a specific genre. Some of these are easily spotted – even Wikipedia calls Fargo a comedy – but it’s easy to get distracted by how serious they look on the surface. The Man Who Wasn’t There is a black-and-white period noir, which somehow overrides that the whole film is set in motion by someone coming up with this totally crazy idea he’s calling “dry cleaning”. The closest to a true drama that the Coens have directed is probably No Country for Old Men, but it has a huge amount of funny hair for a very serious, tense movie.

Continue reading “Defending The Hudsucker Proxy”

Martin Scorsese’s Violence of Grace

Martin Scorsese’s Violence of Grace

In the stories of Flannery O’Connor, grace is violent. It overpowers. Baptisms are drownings. It is only with a gun pointed at her that a grandmother can recognise the humanity of her murderer: she would have been “a good woman, if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life.”

This violence of grace is often represented by human violence, but it isn’t the same as human violence. Grace is beyond human comprehension, and so is impossible to represent literally. Any religious text is filled with metaphors, because metaphors are the only way to communicate about the divine. Using violence to represent grace, art can express how grace strikes: dramatic, overwhelming, painful. It is painful because it is transformative. Like violence, it is destructive, but it destroys only evil.

Continue reading “Martin Scorsese’s Violence of Grace”

The Gang Fights Neoliberalism

The Gang Fights Neoliberalism

American politics, for the past couple of decades up until just recently, has operated on a binary: liberal/conservative. A lot of the time, this leads to weird semantic problems – calling Bernie Sanders “very liberal” when he’s not a liberal at all, calling Donald Trump a conservative when his ideology has very little to do with conservatism  – but the way we talk about ideas informs what ideas become. If you only see things in terms of liberal and conservative, you can deeply misunderstand things happening in front of you. Worse, when you lose the words to describe them, the possibility of other distinct political philosophies can disappear.

South Park is a libertarian show. It’s always been a libertarian show. I find it hard to imagine a show more upfront with its ideology than South Park. Yet there are countless posts and articles debating whether South Park is secretly liberal or secretly conservative, as if it’s secretly anything. Even more bizarre is the common idea that South Park has no ideology at all. Interviews with titles like “Matt Stone & Trey Parker Are Not Your Political Allies (No Matter What You Believe).” Academic articles with titles like “Pseudo-Satire and Evasion of Ideological Meaning in South Park.” If an ideology does not fit within either of the boxes I have in front of me, it must not exist at all.

Continue reading “The Gang Fights Neoliberalism”