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“Black Panther”, “Crazy Rich Asians”, and American Dreaming in 2018…

The silver screen is not just a window, it is occasionally a mirror as well.

The cinematic gaze reveals a lot. Not just about the object in focus, but about the filmmaker (and the audience) behind the gaze. Although independent and arthouse cinema is thriving in the twenty-first century, and though home media is fundamentally changing the way that people consume media, the cinema will always be a communal space. A group of people sitting in a room together, bathed in projected light. There are obviously debates to be had about to what extent cinema reflects culture as much as it acts upon it, but there is undoubtedly a symbiosis there.

Cinema reveals a lot about contemporary culture, and not just “worthy” cinema that tends to get cited by critics as “the most important” or “the most timely” media of its particular moment. Indeed, there is perhaps something more revealing in looking at media that doesn’t consciously invite these comparisons, that doesn’t trumpet the manner in which it speaks to a particular moment. Sometimes it is more revealing to look at the films that aren’t saying anything, or at least are not consciously or overtly saying anything, about the current political moment.

In fact, it’s often a lot easier to get a sense of what is bubbling through the popular consciousness (or even the popular subconscious) by looking at low-budget “disposable” fare like horror movies than it is be interrogating more respectable and self-conscious fare. It is no coincidence that the past decade has seen a resurgence in haunted house and home invasion horror like The Conjuring, The Strangers, The Purge or even Don’t Breathe, reflecting anxieties about the American home as a site of horror in the wake of the subprime mortgage crisis.

Popular cinema is similarly a fascinating prism through which to examine contemporary American culture, to get a sense of how the United States sees both itself and its relationship with the rest of the world. It’s a glimpse into the nation’s psyche, offering a messy and dynamic dive beneath the polished exterior. It cuts through a lot of contemporary politics, foregoing accuracy in favour of a general aesthetic. It is a sketch more than a portrait, but that sketch can be instructive and revealing of itself.

In particular, the twin releases of Black Panther and Crazy Rich Asians over the past year suggest something interesting about modern conceptions of the American Dream.

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Non-Review Review: Crazy Rich Asians

The romantic comedy is, by its nature, an aspirational genre.

At its core, the romantic comedy is built around the idea that love conquers all, that soul mates exist, that there is one person in a million for every other person and that they are destined to find one another. The romantic comedy is aspirational in its presentation of love: the idea that everybody lives happily ever after, that every obstacle can be navigated if two people love one another. Of course, reality doesn’t always work out like that. This is just one reason why we tell stories; not just to tell us how the world is, but to insist how it should be.

Crazy, stupid, rich love.

This is perhaps why the romantic comedy is so often wedded to other fantasies; consider the ostentatious wealth depicted in most romantic comedies, but especially in Nancy Meyers films like It’s Complicated or Home Again. Romantic comedies present an idealised depiction of family life, where all differences can be reconciled and where practical concerns need never even be articulated. Even romantic comedies that aren’t explicitly about wealthy families luxuriate in a fantasy of wealth; very few families could realistically afford even the starter pack romantic comedy wedding.

There is nothing inherently wrong with aspiration, to be clear. Action movies and superhero films tend to indulge in a similarly idealised fantasy of heroism and strength of will, imagining worlds where many of the complications of everyday life can be shuffled into the background or wrestled into submission. However, the aspirations baked into romantic comedies are more tangible and more immediate, more recognisable even in their outlandishness.

“I mean, I’m rich. But I’m not crazy rich.”

Very few people will find themselves liberating a soccer stadium from terrorism, but most audience members have romantic relationships and many have weddings and even families. Even those audience members who don’t have their own spouses and children would have grown up within something resembling a familial structure. As a result, even the most outlandish romantic comedy offers something that more closely approximates lived experience.

Crazy Rich Asians fundamentally understands this aspirational nature of romantic comedies, and takes a great deal of pleasure in its display (and even celebration) of absurd wealth. The film’s title is a bold statement of purpose. There is something exhilarating in that.

Love don’t rom (com).

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New Podcast! Scannain Podcast (2018) #6!

Into the mouth of madness…

Discussing the latest in film news here and abroad, the Scannain podcast is a weekly podcast discussion of what we watched, what we watched, what is dominating and the box office, and what is lurking on the horizon film-wise. This week’s episode was recorded right before the premiere of Black ’47 at the launch of the eleven-day-long Audi Dublin Film Festival 2018, and covered everything from Black Panther to Galway cinema.

I’m thrilled to be part of a panel including returning host Niall Murphy and returning guests Ronan Doyle and Alex Towers. Give it a listen below.

CinÉireann – Issue 4 (February 2018)

The latest issue of CinÉireann has just been released.

I’m delighted to have contributed several pieces to the magazine, talking about the Oscars, about Netflix and about Black Panther and the IMDb. There is some fantastic talent involved, and it is an honour to be involved.

As ever, thanks to the fantastic Niall Murphy over at Scannain for letting me be a part of it.

You can read CinÉireann as a digital magazine directly. You can even subscribe and get future issues delivered to you directly. Or click the picture below.

Non-Review Review: Black Panther

Black Panther is something special.

In a lot of ways, it is a very typical Marvel blockbuster. The familiar formula is in place, and the movie follows the rhythms that audiences have come to expect from these films. There is a certain tempo and structure to the film, the sort of clean efficiency that delineates most of the movies produced under the banner of Marvel Studios. For a film advertised using a remix of The Revolution Will Not Be Televised, it is striking how conservative Black Panther is.

The Panther Strikes!

However, there is a lot to be said for the film’s more understated revolutionary qualities, the depth of understanding that the production team bring to the adaptation. Black Panther is acutely aware of what it means to construct a superhero fantasy epic about an African prince who leads a utopian society in the context of 2017, and there is something reassuring in how confidently and efficiently the film works within that framework. It is not merely that the existence of Black Panther is important, it is that Black Panther‘s assertion of its identity is important.

Black Panther is superior blockbuster by any measure, constructed with a great deal of care and thought about what it means. Much like its title character, there is a sense that the weight of expectation is upon Black Panther, and the most remarkable thing about the film is how seriously it takes that obligation without ever feeling burdened.

Heavy lies the head that wears the cowl.

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Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, Volume 2 (Review)

April (and a little bit of May) are “Avengers month” at the m0vie blog. In anticipation of Joss Whedon’s superhero epic, we’ll have a variety of articles and reviews published looking at various aspects of “Earth’s Mightiest Heroes.”

Written by Joe Casey, Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, both volumes of it, can’t help but feel like an attempt to appease nostalgic fans, with a conscious throwback to simpler and more idealistic times, published while Mark Millar was deconstructing The Ultimates and Brian Michael Bendis was putting together the New Avengers. Both of those books represented something bold and new for a franchise that had been at the heart (but rarely the fore) of the Marvel Universe for decades, and both of which were undoubtedly controversial to older fans, offering a strange new direction for the series and its characters. Essentially an “untold” history of the team, drawing from classic published stories, Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes feels like a bone given to those fans uncomfortable at the very notion of change.

Looking for the blessing of the Trinity...

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Hammering it Home: Thor and the Race Issue…

A few weeks ago, a debate sparked up on-line about Kenneth Branagh’s upcoming blockbuster, Thor. The debate centred around the casting of superb British actor Idris Elba as Norse god Heimdall in the film. Apparently the “Council of Conservative Citizens” had an objection to this casting decision. It wasn’t that they felt that Elba was a weak actor or that they were lobbying for another actor in the role. It was because Elba is a black actor and Heimdall is a white character.

Do we still live in an age where this matters?

A black and white issue?

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