I left the theater for A Wrinkle in Time with my face wet from tears of joy that started from basically the first scene of the movie. Ava DuVernay and her cast and crew, working off Jennifer Lee and Jeff Stockwell’s screenplay based on Madeleine L’Engle’s novel, have created a cinematic miracle so full of sincerity, imagination, and love that it will either eliminate every last ounce of cynicism in your system, or provoke an almost allergic reaction. And going by its Rotten Tomatoes score, I don’t think a large commercial film has been so misunderstood since the Wachowski’s Speed Racer, which also used heavily computer generated aesthetics to tell a story of a young person with a galaxy of potential inside of them waiting to blossom.
They say the only difference between comedy and tragedy is time, but they never specified how much time. Twenty-two years passed between Hitler’s suicide and Mel Brooks’ The Producers; but these days we’re finding out we can laugh at Trump while he’s ordering ICE to break-up families and intern innocent people for being from the “wrong” countries. I’m personally unsure whether or not its healthy that we can find the humor in the tragedy of incompetent and world-threatening leadership. But, if there’s one person who can reveal the humor in even the darkest of political circumstances, it is Armando Iannucci; creator of In the Loop, The Thick of It, and Veep; who brings his razor-sharp satirical wit to his latest feature, The Death of Stalin.
One of my most deeply held political beliefs is that there are no good rich people. That isn’t to say that people with money are incapable of doing good things, or that rich people are actively engaged in doing evil; rather, that for anyone to accumulate enough wealth to be considered wealthy, they almost necessarily have had to do so through exploitation of others, and always necessarily aren’t spending that money on the public good.
It’s an undisputed fact that James Bond is a terrible spy; both as an example of what spies do in the real world, and in-universe. He’s a secret agent who goes around telling everybody his name – and clarifying it to make sure they know it, unnecessarily fraternizes with allies and enemies alike, causes massive collateral damage, racks up massive expenditures on the taxpayer’s dime, has emotional and physical addictions that compromise his abilities, and wields his licence to kill with reckless abandon. James Bond is also the central player in one of film’s most enduringly fun action franchises, and his adventures have had a greater influence on the popular conception of espionage than almost anything else.
All that preface is to say that Red Sparrow is not a James Bond movie, and Dominika Egorova (Jennifer Lawrence) of Red Sparrow is not James Bond, though the movie has left me unsure of how much better a spy she is. And the movie’s opaqueness as to whether an audience is supposed to come away thinking that Dominika is a master of subterfuge and manipulation, or that she’s kinda lucked out in slightly nudging things in a way where her problems solve themselves epitomizes how Red Sparrow stumbles over all the things the movie tries to be about over it’s bloated 140 minute runtime. Red Sparrow is a post-Cold War Cold War slow burn spy thriller that’s also a movie about the state-as-patriarchy where said state teaches a woman how to become empowered by weaponizing her sexuality, but only for state interests. Lie back and think of Russia – for better or worse. And that’s before even getting into the plot!
The greatest threat of exploration is the unknown. It is something that cannot be comprehended or compromised with. Facing this, our normal signals and behaviors become scrambled, our bodies betray us. Hypothermia convinces us that stripping will warm us up. We attempt to drink seawater to quench our thirst. We become convinced that what friends we may have scheme to betray us. We call these unmotivated attackers eldritch or uncanny, powerful and unknowable forces that escape even the confines of good and evil. And yet humanity’s is a history of exploration, of venturing into the unknown and in doing so conquering them. We seem driven to seek them out, to drag them into the light, to challenge their dominance over our fragile forms.
Annihilation, a loose adaptation of the first of Jeff VanderMeer’s Southern Reach trilogy, by writer-director Alex Garland, presents as a treatise on this facet of human nature, and even suggests a reason; because the other side of the eldritch is the sublime.
It’s impossible to separate the superhero from its power-fantasy roots. The genre was built on the fantasy of the children of refugees, strangers in strange lands, who wished to have the power to protect those like them and fight against those who forced others out of their homes and under the jackboots of oppression. Over time, that changed to fit the power-fantasies of relatively well-off white male comic readers, who wished to use power to instead demonstrate righteousness they felt was suppressed by a society who didn’t realize their potential.
And then there are the Black superheroes. Marvel’s Luke Cage, a bulletproof black man, couldn’t be brought down by the same means that killed Black leaders like Dr. King, Malcolm X, or Huey Newton. Black Panther’s vibranium suit fills that same purpose; but even more important is his nation of Wakanda. Wakanda is in so many ways the ultimate African “what-if.” What if there was a nation that was spared the parasitic influence of Europe, a nation of Black people free to grow unencumbered by the tragedies of slavery and colonization. What if they took advantage of their god-given talents and resources to become the most powerful and advanced society on the planet?
Have you ever wanted to watch every sci-fi movie at once? If so, The Cloverfield Paradox would be what you get if you wished on a monkey’s paw. The movie is a mess, an uneven mishmash of tones and tropes that can’t even follow the Calvinball-esque rules it barely sets for itself; and all on the backs of barely one-dimensional characters.
The plot follows the international crew of the Cloverfield Space Station, and its mission to perfect a particle-accelerator that would produce unlimited free energy and save the world from a war over dwindling resources. Why did the world gamble on an experimental space particle accelerator over existing renewable energy like solar and wind? Who knows? Nothing else in this movie makes sense.