Category Archives: Film

Lemonade: The hidden meanings buried in Beyoncé’s filmic journey through grief


“If Beyoncé’s 2013 self-titled album was the proof-of-concept for the “surprise visual album”, then Lemonade is its apex. That last effort felt like an anthology of music videos. Not Lemonade, premiered in full on HBO on Saturday night. A sophisticated hour-long art film that uses movements and motifs, not just tracks on an album, its breadth and depth see it surpass similar pop soundtrack films like Kanye West’s Runaway and Lana Del Rey’s Tropico, which now seem quaint in comparison. Lemonade is in a league of its own.

It’s a hero’s journey through grief. If her self-titled album was micro – a personal exploration of feminism, career and self – then Lemonade is macro – an exploration of those themes across time and place. And while the album is stunning on its own, it’s in visual form that Lemonade truly comes to life.”

Read more at FACT Magazine.

Thoughts on "Moneyball," a true inside baseball story

With any film adaptation, the question of the film’s reverence to the source material is inevitably raised. When the source material is as controversial as Michael Lewis’ Moneyball, this is doubly true. But this is a film review, not a comment on “Moneyball” or sabermetric analysis* so I’ll leave the criticisms of the original book, from both sides (the merits of sabermetrics, whether Billy Beane’s contributions are overstated, etc), alone.

The two films that come to mind when viewing Moneyball are The Blind Side (also adapted from a Lewis book) and The Social Network (also adapted from a Aaron Sorkin script).

In the same way that Michael Oher’s story breathes life into a book about the development of the left tackle, the colorful characters that made up the 2002 Oakland Athletics illuminate the most important development in a generation of baseball: the reliance on advanced statistics over business-as-usual scouting and intuition. While the film of The Blind Side focuses on the emotional melodrama of Michael Oher’s life, the film version of Moneyball is the opposite: those characters are largely absent from the film, with the notable exception of Scott Hatteberg (Chris Pratt). Instead, the film’s protagonist is GM Billy Beane (Brad Pitt), with a major supporting role for the fictional Peter Brand (Jonah Hill). And despite a few key scenes with Beane’s daughter, the film doesn’t rely on the smarmy, inspirational tone favored by The Blind Side.

Moneyball is both a baseball movie and an underdog story, yet it never is reduced to the cliches of those genres. For the most part, this is the story of what happens in the front office – not the field. Like The Social Network, the film is a dynamic take on what should be a bland topic, at least on paper. Even with Sorkin’s rewrite, unfortunately, the dialogue isn’t as snappy as that of The Social Network – and maybe that’s alright. These aren’t Harvard entrepreneurs. The lone Ivy grad character is Brand (the Yale economist who resembles the real life Paul DePodesta) and Hill’s dweebish portrayal is heavy on awkward, not assertive. Pitt’s Beane is as cocky and direct as his real life counterpart, with the fiery temper that doomed his professional career.

Still, the film feels incomplete, with many character arcs reduced to just a few points. Take Hatteberg, for example: the film shows his meeting with Beane, some awkward first base training, a little confidence building, and a winning home run. Manager Art Howe (an underutilized Philip Seymour Hoffman) opposes Beane’s new approach to baseball, has a few confrontations with him, and finally relents. Even Beane’s journey leaves the audience wanting: a few angry drives in his truck aren’t enough to fill in the blanks of his character. It’s as the script tries to do too much, leaving it disjointed.

But like the 2002 A’s, Moneyball is fun to watch. The relationship between Beane and Brand is never sentimentalized; Pitt and Hill have surprisingly good chemistry, which is reassuring since the pair have the most scenes in the film. Director Bennett Miller gives the film an almost documentary-like precision, relying on the romance of the sport film only where appropriate. I would have liked to see what Steven Soderbergh and Steve Zaillian (American Gangster, Gangs of New York, among others) would have done with the project, but the Miller-Sorkin pairing is more than capable of telling the story of Moneyball, scoring by stringing together a couple of singles but never hitting a home run.

Moneyball hits theaters on September 23.

*I’m a true believer when it comes to the importance of sabermetrics, even if Beane wasn’t the first one in baseball (or even in his own organization) to utilize such advanced statistics. A clip of Joe Morgan’s boneheaded dismissal of Beane and sabermetrics plays over a key scene in the film like nails on a chalkboard.

Video Rundown: Matthew Dear / Oh Land / Katy B

Matthew Dear, “Slowdance”

The video for Matthew Dear’s “Slowdance” is a monochromatic collage about “the disruption of memory, at it’s visual core,” according to filmmaker Charles Bergquist. These disruptions are expressed through beat-matching cuts and visual effects that lend the clip the look of degraded film or mixed paint. The blend of urban decay and fleeting romance echoes the themes of Dear’s Black City.

Oh Land, “White Nights”

Video music auteurs Canada
craft a whimsical, surreal clip for Danish singer-songwriter Oh Land. The result is a musical version of Inception, if directed by Michel Gondry. Not as frenetic as their earlier videos, they take a more traditional approach with their choreography. Oh Land is a joy to listen and watch, whether in hipster-friendly Indian headdress, 50s styling, or animal-print.

Katy B, “Witches’ Brew”

One of the strongest song’s on Katy B‘s On A Mission gets an equally vibrant video. Colin Tilley keeps his focus on the chanteuse, playing a bit with the titular witchcraft. A fine example of focusing on a singer’s inherent sexuality without resorting to the lowest common denominator.

Seven surprising similarities between "Your Highness" and "Game of Thrones"

One was a summer smash and the other was a summer flop, but Game of Thrones and Your Highness were more similar than not. Beyond the obvious, the medieval fantasies shared more than a setting, character archetypes, and a penchant for quests. Here’s a rundown of some of the more specific elements the HBO epic had in common with the raunchy version of The Princess Bride.


Danny McBride’s Thadeous begins Your Highness sentenced to die by hanging at the hands of a dwarf king, but things don’t go quite as expected. The ensuing joke, like much of the film, is predictable but effective. Similarly, Peter Dinklage’s Tyrion Lannister provided much of Game of Thrones‘ levity, albeit with more well-written jokes.

Charles Dance

The British actor is a veteran of stage and screen, and he’s typecast as a hard-to-please father in both works. However, considering the differences in tone, King Tallious is much more sympathetic than Tywin Lannister.

Crafty eunuchs

Highlighting one of history’s more unfortunate phenomenons, both Game of Thrones and Your Highness include eunuchs in key roles. Lord Varys is the master of whispers on GOT; neither the audience nor the other characters know his true intentions. In contrast, Julie is a put-upon slave who betrays Thadeous at the first opportunity. Ironically, both characters have balls.

Women warriors

Watching (Academy Award winner) Natalie Portman kick all types of medieval ass on her quest for revenge, I couldn’t help but think of young Arya Stark, the tomboyish daughter of Ned and Catelyn Stark who cuts with both her wit and her sword. Give Arya a few years, and I’m sure she’ll be following Isabel’s lead.

Eating hearts

One of the most rewarding character arcs in the first season of Game of Thrones belonged to Daenerys Targaryen, whose transition into adulthood was gut-wrenching, extreme, and dramatic. A key turning point in her development occurred when she was forced to eat an entire horse heart. Thadeous has a similar experience which, as you can guess, was not as dramatic.

The next two don’t get images, both to avoid spoilers and to keep the blog SFW.

Heads on pikes

This one is tough to write about without spoilers. Suffice to say “head on a pike” was an acceptable form of burial in medieval times.

Gratuitous nudity

Much has been made about the nudity in GOT, which some felt took away from the story (I disagree). The nudity in Your Highness is supposed to distract from the story, considering that most of the female extras were topless glamor models.

Your Highness is out on DVD today; expect Game of Thrones in the spring.

Video Rundown: Björk / Little Dragon / Pure X

I struggled to find a common thread between these videos, and there might not be one. A music video maven, a de riguer style, and a forbidden suggestion comprise this week’s Video Rundown.

Björk, “Crystalline”

Michel Gondry pairs up with frequent muse Björk for her “Crystalline” video. A vivid combination of stop motion and traditional animation, the clip is a dance-club version of A Trip the Moon (a film that has influenced music videos before). Gondry translates Björk’s lyrics literally: “crystals grow like plants” and “crystallizing galaxies / spread out like my fingers.” The result is mesmerizing; the song’s drum-and-bass breakdown particularly so.

Little Dragon, “When I Go Out”

“When I Go Out” on Little Dragon’s latest effort (Ritual Union) is sparse and ambient. The video by Italy’s Emanuele Kabu fills in the empty space of the song with a sensory-overloading video. A collage of discrete, 2D images layered to create movement and depth creates a GIF kaleidoscope effect (popularlized by everyone from M.I.A. to the Traphouse crew) that is as hypnotic is the song’s deep house groove.

Pure X, “Easy”

Shoegazers Pure X team up with director Malcolm Elijah for the video for “Easy,” the most upbeat track on their Acéphale debut Pleasure. The clip is built on fleeting glimpses of S&M (the theme of the album’s cover). But like their sound, the leather-gloved hands and stiletto heels are difficult to grasp. Instead of the fuzzy feedback of the music, however, the audience is awash in deep reds or the unnerving bleach of negative film.

Video Rundown: Tittsworth & Alvin Risk / Bikini / Does It Offend You, Yeah?

The “party as video” is nothing new, but here are three distinct takes on an age-old concept.

Tittsworth & Alvin Risk – “Pendejas”

The one you’ve all been waiting for: a clip that captures the sweat and swagger of moombahton, filmed in one of its chief incubators. Directed by Rand Rosenberg, “Pendejas” combines footage from a rowdy Tropixxx party with just enough touches of urban life to keep it grounded. “Que Que” might have beaten Tittsworth and Alvin Risk to the punch, but this is the first true moombahton video.

Bikini – “ACheerlaeder”

Dance-pop outfit Bikini paints a picture of Hamptons-style extravagance in their (NSFW) video for “ACheerlaeder.” Vivid with the clarity that only HD can provide, the clip fills in the blanks of what you don’t see in Gossip Girl or American Apparel ads. Fleeting scenes of boarding school preps firing Roman candles out of a Mercedes convertible, a suited duo steering a speed boat, and the requisite between-the-sheets intimacy mingle with some stray images: one woman in armor and another planking nude. Trashy, yet refined.

Does It Offend You, Yeah? – “The Wrestler”

The latest from unofficial video mavens the High5Collective is less a party video than their offering for “T.I.O.N.” Still, hipsters recreating the most famous scene from Office Space is evocative as any scene from a rager. The video’s second half gets tribal; the man versus machine/return to nature theme fits the natural/artificial contrast that DIOYY inhibit in their brand of dance-punk.

Meet the High5Collective, masters of the unofficial video

“We make videos for artists that inspire us.”

That simple credo comes from the High5Collective. If you don’t know their name yet, you soon will. While music video directors CANADA use the traditional, artist-commissioned model, the High5Collective (or H5C) is trying something different: producing high-quality – but unofficial – videos on spec. Coupled with a low-information mystique and a reliance on social media like Tumblr, H5C is firmly in touch with the zeitgeist.

H5C appeared out of nowhere about a month ago, with a video for The Weeknd’s “The Morning.” Like the song, the clip is a lurid tribute to debauchery, complete with half-dressed club rats and expansive shots of the desert. Straying from form, however, is the video’s dip into darkness: a metaphorical take on the psychic damage that the club lifestyle entails.

The collective has also tackled songs by the Internet driven, crew-of-the-moment, Odd Future. H5C’s video for Frank Ocean’s “We All Believe” continues the visual feel of “The Morning,” even if there isn’t as strong a thread from song to video. Like a better version of Rihanna’s “Man Down,” the clip is a tale of assault, revenge, and murder. Again, H5C opts for a sinister narrative and an unsettling conclusion.

Their recently released video for Tyler, the Creator’s “Transylvania” attempts to capture the spirit of the earliest Odd Future clips (notably “EARL“). “Transylvania,” one of the hardest songs on Goblin, is the perfect soundtrack for some wolf gang-esque mayhem: skateboarding, drug-use, underage drinking, violence, theft, and eventually (and predictably), date rape. Like KIDS, it’s shocking because of its verisimilitude.

Rounding out the collective’s output is a clip for Sander Kleinenberg’s electrohouse anthem “T.I.O.N.” The video is straight-forward but effective: one of those mythic parties of youth, with enough oddly colored drinks and sexual experimentation to go around. Also, body paint.

Will the High5Collective be able to convert unofficial videos into official ones? In an age where Kreayshawn gets a $1 million contract after one video goes viral, the right combination of talent and savvy goes a long way. The High5Collective is blessed with both.

The future of comic book movies

While I haven’t seen it, the consensus is that Green Lantern is hot garbage, the type of overproduced and poorly written adaptation that has long plagued the comic book film genre. Is the problem an essential one, as raised by the Washington Post?

No matter how many times he’s been reimagined, Green Lantern retains a crucial flaw: He’s a DC Comics character, without the weaknesses and neuroses that make Marvel Comics heroes interesting (sometimes even on screen).

I tend to agree with this sentiment. For the most part, the only DC comics I’ve enjoyed (outside of those on the Vertigo imprint) are Batman and specific Superman ones, like All-Star Superman: comics that are grounded in true human experience, no matter how super-powered.*

A recent post over at Nerve proposed five superheroes who should’ve gotten movies before the Green Lantern. I don’t think they make a compelling case for any entries on their list, with Wonder Woman and the Flash sharing the same DC weaknesses as Green Lantern.

The suggestion of Grant Morrison’s transgressive The Invisibles is a nod to the rich world of independent comics, even if the author of the Nerve piece admits there’s no chance of it ever being a film. Its inclusion raises another issue: the viability of less mainstream comics or graphic novels as films. Along those lines, there are a whole host of properties that beg for adaptations. Each of the following has been kicked around in development, and practically beg for cinematic versions: Garth Ennis’ Preacher and The Boys; Brian K. Vaughn’s Y: The Last Man, Ex Machina, and Runaways; Warren Ellis’ Transmetropolitan.

The question remains: just because something can be adapted, should it be? The works of Alan Moore (Watchmen, V for Vendetta, From Hell, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen) have been adapted – without Moore’s involvement – with varying degrees of faithfulness and quality. The same could be expected to the works of Ennis, Vaughn, and Ellis. Too much would be left out of the script, due to length or graphic content. The success of Game of Thrones could portend more small screen adaptations of nerd lore, but for now, premium TV adaptations are pie-in-the-sky.

Over the next year and a half, the landscape is littered with big budget comic book films: Captain America: The First Avenger will lead into the mega-crossover The Avengers, both Superman (The Man of Steel) and Spider-Man (The Amazing Spider-Man) will be rebooted, and Christopher Nolan will end his Batman trilogy, arguably the raison d’être for this glut of superhero films. While X-Men: First Class was an imperfect success, will the next batch fare as well?

After these A-listers, what’s next? Are there five superheroes who would’ve been better on film than Green Lantern? With few exceptions, I think Hollywood would be scraping the bottom of the barrel at this point. One exception, coincidentally, is another Ryan Reynolds vehicle: Deadpool, which has a writer and director attached but has been in development hell for nearly a decade. The “Merc with a Mouth” is no Jesse Custer or Spider Jerusalem, but at least he’s not in the Justice League.

* Watchmen, while published by DC, doesn’t fit in the same universe as the majority of DC books. In fact, it’s a response to that type of superhero mythology.

Video Rundown: Nightwave / Adventure / Chad Valley

Three videos with drastically different styles: post-MTV sampling; breezy hand-held; film school symbolism. United by a common theme, each clip is a meditation on what it is to “feel” (that was the easy part – it’s right there in each song title).

Nightwave – Feel

Formerly known as 8Bitch, the Slovenian Londoner Nightwave makes future bass that is true to her name. The video for “Feel,” off the EP of the same name, is a bubbling club track teeming with energetic synths and rave whistles. The video chops up the seminal coming-of-age film The Graduate, pushing the quick cuts of the Mike Nichols’ film to the extreme.

Adventure – Feels Like Heaven

As Adventure, Baltimore’s Benjamin Boeldt has transitioned from diehard chiptuner to synth pop crooner. In the video for “Feels Like Heaven,” Boeldt goes on some adventures of his own: jet skiing, sky-diving, and toying with some multi-colored skulls a la Dan Deacon. Both the video and song provide some airy, summertime fun.

Chad Valley – Now That I’m Real (How Does It Feel?)

The video for Chad Valley’s “Now That I’m Real” has that love-lorn, art school short film feel – in a good way. Beautifully shot in lush black and white by Lucy Bridger, the clip focuses on a couple and their interactions with a few found objects.

Thoughts on "X-Men: First Class"

X-Men: First Class is a fantastic film that succeeds in both it’s main goals. While it is very entertaining on its own, it also manages to clear the bad taste that X-Men: The Last Stand and X-Men Origins: Wolverine left with audiences. Matthew Vaughn infuses the film with retro charm, lets the ensemble cast shine and pleases both fans and novices.

The fact that First Class began development as X-Men Origins: Magneto is apparent: this is Magneto’s film. Michael Fassbender is captivating as Erik Lehnsherr, with the cool precision of Connery’s Bond in his dogged pursuit of Nazis. When the scripts falters, it is because the “first class” elements distract from Magneto’s journey. In the comics (and films, for that matter), Magneto has been more captivating than his counterpart, Xavier, a contrast never clearer than when Magneto is doing wet work while Xavier chugs a yard of beer.

While Magneto is the star, other characters and performances are very rewarding, as well. Jennifer Lawrence’s Mystique is richly drawn, with an arc that is a perfect vehicle for the film’s central issue: mutant pride and rights in the world at large. While Xavier would have his surrogate sister hide her blue skin and love interest Beast would actually try to “fix” her appearance, only Magneto appreciates her true form. I didn’t find her ultimate decision to be out-of-character or abrupt; Mystique is in the same crossroads as Rogue was in the first X-Men, striving to accept herself. The only veteran in the youthful ensemble, Kevin Bacon, handles Sebastian Shaw with ease, almost hammy in his over-the-top evilness.

Outside of pure film criticism, much of the Internet discussion of First Class concerns the film’s social message. Having understood the X-Men as an analogy for civil rights (with Xavier and Magneto standing in for Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X, respectively), the films pay little attention – as others have noted – to the civil rights movement, even though it takes place smack in the middle of it (1962, before “I Have a Dream” but after the boycotts and the sit-ins). As in the earlier films, the mutant pride plays more like gay pride. The parallel was played for ironic laughs in X2, with Iceman coming out to his parents (“Have you tried not being a mutant?”); here, Xavier accidentally outs Beast. For his part, Vaughn has said that the issue was simply too big to add to an already busy film, and has hinted that the next could deal with civil rights and the Vietnam War.

Larger than whitewashing the civil rights issue is how Magneto, usually understood to be a fanatic and villain, makes the more compelling argument. Xavier’s vision of peaceful co-existence requires mutants to stay in the closet: don’t rock the boat and wait for acceptance. Magneto, constantly haunted by the Holocaust, refuses to live in the shadows, betray his identity, and listen to those obeying orders. Forgive the pun, but Xavier doesn’t have a leg to stand on.

There is also the predictable nerd trap: how First Class fits into continuity, both comic and film, and whether this it’s a prequel or a rebooting of the franchise. The first issue is dismissed very early on: a title card places the action on Earth-917, to separate it from the mainstream continuity of Earth-616 (Marvel uses a parallel universe convention for this very reason, i.e. to keep fans happy). This nod should be enough to explain why characters are developed how they are. The team assembled by Xavier and Magneto isn’t the “first class” of 1963; the film’s Sebastian Shaw incorporates elements of evil geneticist Mr. Sinister; neither Azazel or Riptide have ever mattered much in the comics. Credit the filmmakers for acknowledging the different universe, and for realizing that diehard fanatics are unable to be completely satisfied.

The prequel versus reboot issue is more complicated. Matthew Vaughn has wavered on how to define his film (to reboot, or not to reboot). Like the Star Wars prequels, there are deliberate references to the preceding films, coupled with a series of minor and major continuity errors. Without spoiling anything, there are a few very obvious references to the Bryan Singer/Brett Ratner trilogy. But can’t these just be fan service for fan service’s sake? The moments are audience-pleasers; isn’t that the point? For what it’s worth, I think it’s a bit of both prequel and reboot, giving the filmmakers the most leverage to tell stories without being hamstrung by the existing films.

How the X-Men franchise continues from here is a mystery, but I have high hopes. Rather than the hopeful note on which the first film in a trilogy usually ends, First Class feels more like a dour midpoint, a la Empire Strikes Back. Xavier is left a broken man, having lost his closest friends and being forced to start from scratch; Magneto’s dark forces are ascendant. It’s an ending that should have audiences begging for more.