“Maybe you think comics are pictures of people walking and talking and beating each other up. Well, comics are art, which means... new ideas, new innovations.” A rarely seen 1978 documentary about the comics business has shown up online for the very first time, and it’s must-watch material for folks who want to see…
So, turns out that Seth Rogen and the Lonely Island crew are working on a movie about a music festival going to shit. Talk about serendipitous timing, given they couldn't ask for a better marketing campaign than the dumpster fire that was the Fyre music festival.
"This seems like a good time to mention the movie we are making with [the Lonely Island] about a music festival that goes HORRIBLY WRONG," Rogen tweeted.
The Lonely Island followed up with a tweet in which they jokingly said they were thinking about suing the people behind the festival.
For the few people uninitiated into the glory that is the Fyre Festival here's a little catch up: The festival was sold as a "luxury" music festival for loaded young people—one where they could mix with "influencers" and models. It was co-founded by Ja Rule and Billy McFarland. When some peeps showed up early to the festival they found not luxury but an complete and utter shitshow.
The tents weren't fully constructed, garbage was everywhere, there were apparently sharks off the coast, and, among other things, the exquisite culinary experience they were promised turned out to be a salad and some bread with cheese thrown on top. The festival goers went to Twitter to express their horror with the event and the internet, overdosing on rich kid schadenfreude, had a heyday.
As for Rogen's movie, the details remain scarce but it's going to be an uphill battle to write anything funnier than rich millennials 'gramming their bread and cheese plates.
Follow Mack Lamoureux on Twitter.
Kitty Green grew up in Australia watching American television. Although her favorite sitcoms presented the US as idyllic and family-oriented, her favorite show taught her the exact opposite could just as easily be true. After six-year-old beauty queen JonBenét Ramsey was murdered in Boulder, Colorado, on Christmas Eve of 1996, a young Green became one of the millions of people around the world transfixed by the ensuing investigation.
"This case punctured that image for me," she says. "I was 11 or 12 when it was on TV, and as a kid I was obsessed with it."
That obsession apparently followed her into adulthood. Green, now 32, is the director behind a new JonBenét movie premiering today on Netflix. Like American Crime Story and Made in America did for the O.J. Simpson saga last year, Casting JonBenét introduces the story of the Ramseys to a generation who missed the original media spectacle around it. The film is a hybrid of documentary and scripted narrative––a CliffsNotes version of an important piece of Americana.
Part of the reason Casting JonBenét defies easy categorization is because Green has never felt comfortable in either genre. She says that, as a young woman, it was hard to be at ease around the large gaffers and grips that typically populate huge cinematic productions; after making a documentary about a feminist group in the Ukraine in 2013, she missed the control she felt while working on narrative films at school in Melbourne. To solve her dilemma, Green pioneered a liminal genre in 2015 with Casting Oksana Baiul, a short film about Ukrainian women who derived feelings of strength from the titular gold-winning figure skater.
While it's tempting to suggest that Green is riffing on the JonBenét case as part of a larger, multi-work meditation on how different societies treat their young female performers, she says that any thematic similarity is merely a coincidence. Instead, she says that JonBenét is more accurately described as a meta commentary on the community members who were affected by having an infamous true crime story take place in their hometown. For instance, the film starts off with a scene of matriarch Patsy Ramsey dialing 9/11 to report the murder but then transitions into a montage of casting tapes. Each prospective Patsy talks into the camera about her personal connection to the case––whether it be experience as a pageant contestant, as a teacher with students who knew JonBenét, or simply as a mother.
Perhaps it's to be expected that the acted bits seem straight out of a Lifetime movie. After all, the people trying out for the film are not professional Hollywood actors by any means, but largely blue-collar workers like grocery store managers or cops. What's interesting is not whether or not the actors are being convincing in their portrayals of the crime's players, but rather how their lived experiences inform those portrayals.
Green told me that she spent 15 minutes with each actor who showed up to her casting call pitching the premise of the film: There was a three-page treatment and no script. Casting tapes would be used in the film. Multiple actors would be playing each role. It was an experiment––a sort of choose-your-own adventure meets community playhouse––and would they like to participate?
She attributes the almost-universal enthusiasm to the notion that Americans love to talk in general. Amplify that by the fact that nothing's really going on in Boulder, and she had people talking about their experiences with murdered family members, molestation, and more within the span of a 45-minute interview.
"They've been living in the shadow of this crime for 20 years and they're a little sick of the media coverage, so they've tried to make sense of it themselves," she explained. "So it was nice to have someone ask them about their experiences and how they've found closure. I think they found it a little cathartic."
Historically, there have been two camps of people who follow the JonBenét case: those who think she was killed by a home intruder and others who that thinks a family member did it. Both theories are deftly explored by Green without her giving obvious preference to either one. In a later scene with the Patsys, a series of actresses reads from The Death of Innocence, which is the memoir co-written by both JonBenét's parents. One stops reading practically mid-sentence when confronting a self-aggrandizing passage about Patsy's past as a former beauty queen. Another reads the same part but then thinks aloud that JonBenét herself clearly wanted to participate in the contests and wasn't the victim of a so-called pageant mom trying to relive her glory days. Montages of people contradicting each other's theories are woven throughout and become more complicated and compelling as each actor or actress reveals more about their backstory.
One theory about the murder is that JonBenét's older brother Burke accidentally committed the murder and that the parents covered it up. Green gets the kids trying out for Burke's role to talk about teasing their siblings and intercuts that with actors trying out for patriarch John talking about dangerous games they played as kids—games that could have easily resulted in her accidental death. Later, the little boys hit a watermelon with a flashlight until it bursts––and the preceding interviews make this the most disturbing and clever portion of the film.
The film ends with a scene of the Ramseys on the night of the murder with different sets of actors playing out several possible scenarios all at once. The camera pans across them, giving the viewer an experience that's not unlike attending a performance of an immersive play like Sleep No More. While it's a wonder that Netflix picked up such a bizarre, genre-defying movie, it's perhaps even more insane when you contemplate the amount of work the company's legal team must have gone through in order to make sure that the film didn't result in a libel suit. After all, when CBS aired The Case of: JonBenét Ramsey last September, Burke Ramsey sued the network for $750 million in a case that's still working its way through circuit court in Wisconsin. In that docuseries, investigators hired a random 10-year-old boy to hit a pigskin-wig contraption with a flashlight to prove a child could have committed the murder.
Green says that it wasn't hard to not promote a specific theory, though, and that's because she genuinely doesn't have one. Although she read every book and watched every film she could get a hand on before going into production, she claims she went in with an open mind. And even after talking to more than 200 people in Boulder about who they thought killed JonBenét, she said that she's still no more closer to the truth than when she was 11 and watching the investigation happen in real time.
"There's not enough evidence to know who did it, so you have to live with this uncertainty and ambiguity," she says. "And that's what the film became about."
Follow Allie Conti on Twitter.
When asked which three directors most influenced him as a filmmaker, a young Paul Thomas Anderson (Boogie Nights, There Will Be Blood) replied: "Jonathan Demme, Jonathan Demme, and Jonathan Demme." Demme, who died yesterday at 73 from esophageal cancer, will be missed. He was one of the last great iconoclast authors of American cinema—a genre-bending filmmaker who could turn a road-trip rom-com into a film about escaping neoliberal capitalism (Something Wild), spin Neil Young concert documentaries into decade-spanning portraits of an artist's evolution, and transform a wedding farce starring Anne Hathaway into a deep study of addiction and guilt (Rachel Getting Married).
Demme is one of the most imitated filmmakers of the past 30 years, yet no one else has managed to reproduce his dizzying balance of hyperrealism, grounded exaggeration, and cinematic gesture. All of which are on full display in his timeless 1991 masterpiece, The Silence of the Lambs—which more than holds up to a rewatch in 2017.
The first thing you notice when rewatching Lambs in 2017 is how theatrical it is. It's John Waters by way of Douglas Sirk, layered with the pulpy psychoanalysis of the hefty airport-lounge paperback it's been adapted from. It's a melodrama but with face eating.
The theatrical factor is usually associated with Anthony Hopkins's Hannibal Lecter or Ted Levine's fantastically ridiculous Buffalo Bill, but there's more to the pastiche than that. Demme's opening scene immediately establishes the film's trademark—uncanny realism—as Jodie Foster's Clarice Starling is alone on an FBI obstacle course, while Howard Shore's bombastically morose score crashes in with chunky strings, smothering Clarice in a peculiarly sudden foreboding. Demme heightens our senses from the outset; he saturates us in the logic of his aesthetics and the language of his vision. And as such, he makes sure we're buckled in when things turn to lotions, baskets, and a skin-wearing man singing karaoke.
This dip into a heightened sensory experience is made totally effective by the fact that we're literally dropped into the mind of Clarice. As she navigates the plot with trepidation, cynicism, and a growing sense of unease, so do we.
Demme was always brilliant at drawing out empathically feminine perspectives from hypermasculine narratives (see Something Wild or even the skewering of machismo in Philadelphia.) Clarice is a small woman dwarfed by her setting and the larger-than-life characters she deals with. In one shot, she takes us into an elevator filled with burly, red-shirted FBI agents, and we feel her unease. As a passing extra looks her up and down in a tracking shot through the airport, she covers herself gently with her suitcase. In a later scene, we get a first-person view as county cops leer at her.
Even the viewer becomes her pervert. "Don't you feel eyes moving over your body, Clarice?" asks Dr. Lecter. Our eyes watch her too.
Lambs is a film of faces and eyes. Through Demme's vision, we are taken down winding hallways, seated face-to-face in interrogations, handed night-vision goggles, and told kill or be killed. By the time Hannibal becomes the film's epicenter, Demme has conditioned us to hone in on the minutiae of his facial movements: The audience is made honorary detective.
This journey into the bowels of derangement and disillusionment can blind you to the film's greater anger. Demme takes Thomas Harris's pseudo-intellectual thriller and turns it into an embittered discourse about post-Reagan America, the oppressiveness of the patriarchy, and the brutality of late-20th-century loneliness. He doesn't shy away from linking this to politics or American culture.
In 2017, it is hard not to see the woman-killing, basement-dwelling, skin-stitching Buffalo Bill as a cartoonish projection of modern misogyny, something that Demme presciently ties to white nationalism. Bill's home is replete with neo-Nazi iconography, and one poster echoes alt-right Twitter memes, reading: "America: Open Your Eyes!"
Bill exists in quaint suburban Americana. He hides his gun under a handmade blanket, adorned lovingly with silk swastikas. In 2017, Bill would have a hentai pillow, and those swastikas would be Pepe frogs.
Silence of the Lambs is the apotheosis of Demme's genius because it is a film that lends itself to infinite interpretations. Its meaning shifts with the times and its audience. Demme's inimitable knack for blurring the line between viewer and participant gave his films the aura of carnival rides controlled by maniacal carnival-goers. What makes Lambs so complex is its principle of simplicity: of each particular thing asking what is it in itself.
Demme, like Lecter, knows that we as viewers are primed to covet, and we covet what we know. And by blurring what we think we know, he leads us down a labyrinthine basement—in a bucket, lowered down to no one.
Follow Patrick Marlborough on Twitter.
In Early Works, we talk to artists young and old about the jobs and life experiences that led them to their current moment. Today, it's actor Juliette Binoche, who currently stars in two recently released films out now: Bruno Dumont's period satire Slack Bay, and the live-action remake of Ghost in the Shell.
When I was younger, I did some theater with my mother because she had a theater group. But she never wanted me to be an actress. She was worried about me being an actress because of the money and the uncertainty of that path. My father was oblivious to what I wanted to do—he was living in South America doing theater. But I was certain that my passion was so big that they didn't question it. When my mother heard that I wanted to act, she gave me the name and the phone number of a private theater school. I went there when I was 18, after I placed my exams.
I started consciously pursuing acting when I was 17, after I directed and played a role in a production of Eugène Ionesco's Le roi se meurt—that's "The King Is Dying" in French. It's about a king in his realm who's losing power and how difficult it is for him to lose his power because everything's falling apart. It's very political and also human and full of humor; it's absurd theater—Le théâtre de l'absurde.
Afterward, I was aware that I wanted to go toward the theater. I had no consciousness to act in films, because even though I love films, I was not in that world. I was in the theater. I met a casting director through a friend of mine, and he said to me, "Do you want to make films?" I said, "No, I want to do theater," and he said, "You can do both." So I said, "OK then, I'm open." That's how it started.
It was rough, because I had to find a way of existing and surviving. I have to thank my first boyfriend, because I lived with him during my first years of acting. My parents supported me, but they never helped me financially. I got a little bit to pay my first private home when I was 18, and my mother helped me for about a year, but other than that, I was doing everything by myself. So my parents were in awe that it worked out so well, and that I was in Cannes when I was 21. My mother came along, and she asked me at the end of the screening, "How did you do that?" The desire, the passion—it takes you, you know? Nobody can understand it, not even yourself. It's something that's beyond comprehension—a fire that needs to be expressed. There was some kind of energy I had in me that needed to be there, needed to live.
As a young actress [on Jean-Luc Godard's Hail Mary], I was full of expectation. I thought that Godard was going to help me act and go into new places—probably because I just came out of classes where the teacher was actually behaving that way. But Godard was totally the contrary. At the time, I felt that he was going through a lot of conflicts, and that working with conflicts was somehow helping him get into his craft. I wanted to be a good girl and listen to every bit he had to say, but I think that wasn't really what he wanted. I learned not to expect anything from a director—just come on set with your work done and don't expect anything. It was exciting, in a way—it wasn't this nice, warm, mothering or fathering kind of relationship. It was about thinking, feeling, and craft.
Turning down Jurassic Park was not an easy decision. You don't have Spielberg calling you every morning and asking you to be in a big blockbuster. At the same time, taking risks is in my roots—as an artist, you want to go to the new. Of course, Jurassic Park that would have been totally new to me. But I was so touched by the story of Three Colors: Blue, because a friend of mine who had lost her husband and child, so for me it was a dedication to her. Even though I didn't know her son before he died, I somehow felt connected to him.
I mean, of course I'd loved to work with Steven [Spielberg]. Who wouldn't? But what I'm missing sometimes in the filming side of humanity is female energy. I wish I was actually in his films, giving that a little bit of that layer. I talked to him about it once, and he said, "No! In my early film there was only women in the film, lots of women." I don't know exactly which film he was talking about, but I felt that's what we need in films. That's why making Ghost in the Shell was so important to me—because it's about two women and their relationship.
I feel bad, in a way, that I didn't say yes [to Jurassic Park], but maybe we can work together one day on something. When I think back, I think my choice was right, because Three Colors: Blue was a very important film in my life. Actually, when I spoke on the phone with Steven [about Jurassic Park], I said, "I can play a dinosaur; I'd love to do it." And he laughed. It was my way to make him laugh and not feel bad. But I don't think he needs me. Everybody wants to work with him, so that's good.
I loved the experience of making Clouds of Sils Maria. Working with [Kristen Stewart] was the best—discovering her as an artist, because she has so many talents. I think that we bonded. It feels that we will always work together while we're growing old. The film itself talks about an actress, and we were laughing a lot doing the shooting because my character is a little ridiculous. She's full of pride, and she has to descend from that pride in order to grow in another way, which was very interesting. So we laughed about the subject matter, and the mix of what's true and untrue. Having to play in this sort of film was exciting as an actress. It's interesting how we age.
By shooting with women, [Clouds of Sils Maria director Olivier Assayas] explores his feminine side, which I think is really wonderful for a director—that he has this curiosity and passion to know in the opposite sex. What's in there? What's serious about this side of ourselves that is more difficult to catch? The male side of ourselves is the force, the passion, the fire, the going, the showing up, the power. But to descend from that and go into other layers takes courage, it takes love, and a lot of emotions.
Jonathan Demme, the Oscar-winning director behind The Silence of the Lambs and frequent Neil Young collaborator, died Wednesday at the age of 73 from health complications, IndieWire reports.
Over his prolific filmmaking career, Demme directed everything from major motion pictures to episodes of television shows and shot documentaries and music videos. As a Hollywood filmmaker, Demme is probably best known for directing Philadelphia, an emotional film about the AIDS crisis starring Tom Hanks, and The Silence of the Lambs. Lambs earned Demme an Oscar for directing in 1991.
Demme also worked with a slew of iconic musicians. In the 80s, he directed Stop Making Sense, a documentary about the Talking Heads. He also worked with Neil Young a number of times, directing Neil Young: Heart of Gold (2006), Neil Young Trunk Show (2009), and Neil Young Journeys (2011). If that wasn't impressive enough, he also helped direct two music videos for Bruce Springsteen—"Streets of Philadelphia" and "Murder Incorporated." More recently, he directed the 2016 documentary Justin Timberlake + the Tennessee Kids.
In his later years, Demme worked with Anne Hathaway, directing 2008's Rachel Getting Married, and explored the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in the 2011 documentary I'm Carolyn Parker: The Good, The Mad, and The Beautiful. He also lent his hand to directing a few episodes of the true-crime television drama The Killing.
In 2010, Demme was first treated for esophageal cancer and heart disease. It wasn't until recently, in 2015, that complications from the diseases began to rapidly deteriorate his health. He died in New York on Wednesday morning, and he is survived by his wife, Joanne Howard, and his three children.
From BET's Rebel to Colson Whitehead's Pulitzer Prize–winning novel The Underground Railroad, popular culture has taken notice of the Black Lives Matter movement and the ongoing discussions about black bodies, often using it as a plot device. Oprah Winfrey jumped into this conversation with her HBO production of Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, a film about the journey to understand the legacy of extraordinary cells that transformed biomedicine. The movie, which premiered over the weekend, was fascinating—especially because the production has been embroiled in controversy over who has the right to tell the story of a family whose agency has already been abused by the medical system.
Henrietta Lacks "is not the first body that has been used. There's a long historical context," Daina Ramey Berry, an Austin-based historian at University of Texas, told me. Her book The Price for Their Pound of Flesh documents the commodification of enslaved bodies—including the body-snatching industry evoked by Whitehead—using black bodies for medical research at institutions that thrive to this day. "The field of medicine has long taken black bodies at will without consent. This shows there's a larger historical continuum for these kinds of practices."
The movie is based on the best-selling book by Rebecca Skloot (a white writer played by Rose Byrne in the film), who investigated the case of Henrietta Lacks, a poor, black Maryland woman whose cells were appropriated by Johns Hopkins Hospital in 1951 while she was being treated for cervical cancer. Lacks didn't survive, but her miraculous cells turned out to be extraordinary in their ability to live outside the body.
Dubbed HeLa, those cells live and thrive to this day; they've been responsible for breakthroughs in polio treatment, according to Alondra Nelson, PhD., the author of The Social Life of DNA. The cells changed the course of biomedical science, helping to understand cancer and other diseases while earning billions of dollars by companies that have purchased Lacks's cells for research and development. Still, the Lacks family hasn't seen a cent from this research bounty, and some still feel diminished by the well-received book, this movie, and institutions that still benefit financially from Lacks's cells.
"I would be upset, too," Winfrey said on a conference call, noting that she invited the family to help flesh out who Lacks really was. She explained that the trouble with compensating Lacks's descendants is trying to trace drug companies and millions of variations of cells that have been dispersed: "That's a lawsuit I wouldn't want to be in."
With ownership and agency at the center this touching yet controversial story, Winfrey has been careful to characterize her portrayal of Lacks's daughter, Deborah, as the "spirit and essence" and "artful expression" of Lacks's life, because there's no way she could fully depict everything the wife and mother was. Winfrey indicated her goal is to make Henrietta Lacks a household name; even she couldn't believe she'd never heard of her until Skloot's book came out in 2010: "I know if I don't know that story, there's at least a million people who don't know."
Though Lacks's life story is peculiar and particular to the Lacks family, Winfrey explained that many African Americans will be able to see themselves through the exploitation of Lacks and the ethical transgressions documented in the film. "African Americans don't have a long history of bodily ownership," Harriet Washington, a noted medical ethicist and author of Medical Apartheid, said. "This woman could be anybody's relative."
In the aftermath of exploitation, Washington said, African Americans have found themselves vilified and demonized, vested with negative images and stereotypes about their bodies. What bothers Washington is how some people have tried to excuse the behavior that led to the theft and use of Lacks's cells: "People attempt to excuse such treatment: 'That's how things were done back then,'" she said. "That's not how things were done back then. That's how things were done to black people." Even if the medical establishment failed to follow what is called "informed consent," Washington said, there was a physician's' code that would require permission before leveraging a person's own body for research or profit.
The idea that black people don't own their bodies is wired into the American psyche. Ramey Berry's research reveals how black bodies actually were valued during slavery, when they were considered property that could be documented in a financial ledger. Only after the Civil War, when whites couldn't write off the loss of a dead slave or gain from the sale of an alive slave, did black lives become persistently less valuable.
Of course, Ramey Berry argues, the US system of mass incarceration and professional sports continue to commodify black bodies. Inmates, disproportionately represented by blacks, work for meager sums, and the prison system is set up to capitalize on their presence and labor as an investment. And college football and basketball players don't financially benefit from the commercial licensing of their images, names, and likenesses even though their overwhelming presence undergirds the money-making system. This is why Ramey Berry put names and backstories on enslaved people chronicled in her narrative, much like Winfrey's quest to make Lacks's name known to all.
Henrietta Lacks's story still resonates, Winfrey said, as it's still possible in the age of informed consent to have one's cells and other body parts used in research without patients knowing how, where, or why. It's this ongoing resonance and desire to highlight people of color that sticks with Winfrey.
"Every time I find a story where a person of color has made a mark, I feel lifted by that," Winfrey said. "Ordinary people can do extraordinary things through their faith, and through their work can shine the light of goodness on us."
Follow Deborah Douglas on Twitter.
In the age of Facebook, when it's de rigueur to hate-stalk our old classmates' shitty lives, high school reunions have become an increasingly antiquated artifact. Fortunately, on April 25 1997, just at the tail end of their relevancy, they were given a fitting homage in the form of Romy & Michele's High School Reunion.
The film follows Mira Sorvino and Lisa Kudrow as the respective titular characters while they attempt to fabricate interesting lives for themselves in order to impress former classmates at their ten-year reunion. They settle on claiming responsibility for the invention of the ubiquitous, but humble Post-it Note. As we learn in the film, when the girls are called out on their lie, the product was actually developed by scientist Art Fry 20 years earlier.
I got in touch with Art to ask him his thoughts on the cult movie and high school drama.
This interview was edited for length and clarity.
VICE: Describe what it was like to hear that a major plot point of a big movie hinged on the characters claiming credit for your invention.
Art Fry: It was no surprise. As kids, we all pretended to be different sorts of people. Anytime there is a success, there are a lot of people who will step up later to claim part of it. Actually, there are many people who will have the same new idea almost simultaneously, but few have the ability or stamina to carry through on their idea. It is a lucky thing to live in a point of time and have the resources and skills to make those ideas happen.
Have you seen the movie? What'd you think?
I have seen the movie several times and really enjoyed it! I don't have a copy of it, but people are always asking me if I've seen the movie. I think it has become one of those cult favorites.
In the movie, Michelle says, "Ordinarily when you make glue, first you need to thermoset your resin and then, after it cools, you have to mix in an epoxide, which is really just a fancy-schmancy name for any simple oxygenated adhesive, right? And then I thought maybe, just maybe, you could raise the viscosity by adding a complex glucose derivative during the emulsification process, and, it turns out, I was right." How close is this to accurate when it comes to making Post-its?
It was completely bogus, and I claim credit for it. When they were putting together the film, they contacted 3M (the multinational conglomerate corporation that makes Post-its) to see if we would have any objection to it and to ask for some technical sounding description they could use for the show. I wrote out a bunch of stuff that had nothing to do with Post-it Notes, and they used it. It sounds more like something you would use to repair your broken dining room chair than the adhesive required for Post-it Notes.
Would you say you're more of a brainy worrywart Romy or an easygoing, roll-with-the-punches Michele?
I would say that I am a composite of the two but not as pretty as either of them. Probably a lot duller, too. You might call me brainy but easygoing and able to roll with the punches. I'm not a worrywart because I know there are many alternate paths to take in any situation where you are stymied. There is a good future out there; you just need to find it.
Are you a fan of any of Mira Sorvino or Lisa Kudrow's other work?
I have seen Lisa on other TV shows and think she is a great actress. I was on a TV show with Mira Sorvino via Skype just last year. The producer wanted her to apologize to me for claiming credit for Post-it Notes. It was fun, and no apologies were required.
What's the most surprising, beautiful, or interesting use of Post-its that you've seen to date?
The most surprising thing for me is how Post-it Notes unlock the creativity of so many people. After all, it is just a slip of paper that allows you to communicate with others or store your thoughts. Yet people use them in all sorts of ways. As a movable sunshade in cars, as digits to make pictures on the windows of buildings, or as origami flowers where the adhesive assists in their crafting. Elderly folks have told me that they can still function as wives, mothers, and grandmothers because they use little notes to remind them as their own short-term memory fails them.
Follow Justin Caffier on Twitter.
The key to unlocking Everybody Wants Some!!, Richard Linklater's criminally underappreciated "spiritual sequel" to his 1993 classic Dazed and Confused, lies within a character named Willoughby.
The movie follows a Texas college baseball team in 1980 on the last weekend before classes start. The team attends parties of various types, mocking one another with the relentlessness of brotherly hazing as they sweet-talk every woman they see, drink more beer than humanly possible, and just generally dick around. Nearly every scene dissects power dynamics and struggles within the American male sect, seen mostly through the eyes of incoming freshman pitcher Jake (played by Blake Jenner), a purposefully blank stand-in for the audience.
Within minutes of walking into the new house, Jake meets the two guides who'll lead his, and thusly our, way: Finnegan (Glen Powell) and Willoughby (Wyatt Russell). Finnegan's role is straightforward, and along with Jake, the pair become meta-commentators of what's really going on here. When they watch two guys play "bloody knuckles," they contemplate on why the dude-bros always need to compete; when Jake offers befuddlement on their third outfit change of the night, Finnegan compares it to breeding techniques in the animal kingdom.
Linklater's technique in the movie is almost Planet Earth–like, first showing the bros in their natural habitat and then offering commentary on its import. Willoughby, however, offers something else. As played by the Jesus-bearded Russell, he's the latest entry in the "philosophical stoner" trope, sauntering around in the background with enough drawn-out "maaaaaan's" to dream up Jeff Bridges in The Big Lebowski.
Willoughby's a senior transfer pitcher, new to the scene but with a world-wise confidence; he comes from California in his rusty van, bringing along VHS dubs of The Twilight Zone, Pink Floyd albums, the finest kush around, and a general aura of laid-back wisdom. Throughout his time on the screen, he has the mystique presence of a Zen master. When his teammates take girls to their rooms, he's miming pitches in a nude yoga pose while hypnotically chanting "Strike three." When Jake commiserates about the odd divide between pitchers and hitters, Willoughby advises him to embrace his inner weirdness. "When you do that, you bring who you are, never who they want," Willoughby says. "And that, my friend, is when it gets fun."
His biggest scene is likely getting his teammates bonked-out stoned in his room:
But everything changes—for Willoughby, and for the movie itself—at the team's players-only practice. Devo's "Whip It" soundracks the joyous practice montage while Willoughby tosses batting practice. Then, out of nowhere, the team's coach shows up and tells Willoughby to get his stuff. The music cuts out to silence, and we only hear chirping birds and distant crack of batted balls. Willoughby takes one last slow look at his teammates, drops his mitt, and walks off the field. "Well, boys," he says doffing his hat, "here for a good time, not a long time, right?"
An inaudible chat with the coach ends with a handshake, and that's the last we'll see of Willoughby. A few scenes later, we get the story from Nesbit, the weirdo lefty pitcher: "He's thirty years old. And get this: Willoughby isn't his real name. The registrar's office discovered it. They were looking at some transfer hours that looked fishy, they'd been investigating it for awhile and told coach this afternoon. Not only that, but they think he's been doing this at other colleges. Transferring, playing ball."
So, what are we to do with this character? Forrest Wickman at Slate takes a stab at the possibility that Willoughby, if not literally, is a "spiritual sequel" to D&C's Wooderson character (Matthew McConaughey). The ages line up—McConaughey was 24 during D&C and EWS!! takes place four years later, when Russell was 29 years old—and the ethos of the two sort of jive. Writes Wickman: "'Willoughby' is just an identity he made up so that could hang around with the kids who still admire him. In other words, just as Wooderson hangs around and smokes weed with kids who are several years younger because they worship him, 'Willoughby' does, too. That's the thing about college kids: He keeps getting older, but they stay the same age."
But he's not really Wooderson, so much as the equal and opposite reaction: Willoughby is watching everyone get older while trying to desperately cling the same age. In retrospect, it's telling that Willoughby tried to teach the guys about "the space between the notes" in the clip above using an album released in 1971 (Pink Floyd's Meddle) despite the film being set in 1980; it would've been a new discovery for him when he was actually in college. Any of of us has stuff lingering on our playlist or DVD shelf that are there only because they happened to connect at the right time and place, for whatever reason; Willoughby brings those touchstones with him wherever he goes.
But in Willoughby, Linklater is offering something else: a warning about the false trappings of nostalgia. Dwelling on one's past—and, folks, smoking pot is very good (meaning: very bad) for doing this—is an activity fraught with landmines. There's that romantic partner you screwed things up with, that job you should've taken, that time you didn't say goodbye. But in addition to huge Sliding Doors-like timeline splinters, there are also those hazy auras of joy. The American College Experience is a nostalgic siren song for many—certainly, anyone with a baseball scholarship—as it's a uniquely magical space of utter freedom without financial responsibility.
These perfect memories are, of course, bullshit. In an interview with Chuck Klosterman—quoted in an essay in D&C's Criterion release—Linklater talks about the falseness of nostalgia: "Everyone does this. It's like asking someone about Saturday morning cartoons: by some incredible coincidence, the only good cartoons anyone can ever remember are the ones that were on when they were six years old. It's a fucking cultural pathology. People always want to return to something they recall being pure. It's like when people say stuff like 'Let's return to the 1950s. The moral were better. There was no teenage pregnancy.' People just make up shit that never existed."
We all have trappings of those times when things seemed right—or, at least, better—but almost without exception, they're typically false. That romance didn't work out for a number of reasons, that job you turned down would've sucked, and hanging out with that group was fun as hell, but you'd hate hanging out with them now. Even the autobiographical moments captured in EWS!! and D&C—the latter apparently so accurate that a trio of former classmates sued Linklater for defamation—are essentially fraudulent, real-life mixtapes with the boring parts stripped out.
But for the movie's baseball team, it's not tough to imagine a future where most fall for the same nostalgic trap as Willoughby. Besides Finnegan (a Kerouac reader who's constantly exploring), McReynolds (the mustachioed All-American who literally says "this is the greatest day of my life, until tomorrow") and potentially Jake (remains to be seen), nobody on the team has the self-awareness of, say, D&C's Randall "Pink" Floyd (Jason London) when he says, "If I ever start referring to these as the best years of my life, remind me to kill myself." The rest have a quickly closing four-, then three-, then two-, then one-year window of being on top of the social heap, and then, who the fuck knows?
Grown men hanging onto their sports-playing past is nothing new, whether it's Springsteen reminiscing about his hot-shot baseball playing friend on "Glory Days," Al Bundy's tale of scoring three touchdowns in one game at Polk High, or whatever your uncle was good at. It really doesn't have to be sports, or males, or even grown adults: any one of us can become lodged in own memory for longer than we should. Willoughby is what happens when you can't get out.
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Personal growth has been the subject of director Edgar Wright's fascination ever since his breakout feature, Shaun of the Dead, wowed critics and gained a cult following among zombie movie fans and comedy nerds. His follow-ups to that film, Hot Fuzz and The World's End, form the basis of his loose thematic "Cornetto Trilogy." All three star Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, and have all traced the emotional contours of a generation of men perpetually stuck in adolescence, their heads in the clouds of an endless stream of pop culture doing battle with the responsibilities of a working life.
Shaun of the Dead and The World's End wrestle with deep emotional pain in a surprisingly honest way, tackling romance and friendship with more subtlety than many dramas. Then there's Hot Fuzz, now ten years old, sitting between the two, playing with those same themes, but making them second fiddle to an almost extreme barrage of jokes, gags, and movie references. The movie is absolutely content to be what it is on its surface: an incredible send-up of the action genre which also happens to be a great entry in that genre. Funniest of all is that, despite allowing itself to be more shallow, Hot Fuzz stands quite easily as the best of the Cornetto films.
Looking back at Hot Fuzz, the film occupies a curious place in the 2007 comedy landscape—a year which also included the Knocked Up, Superbad, Juno, Hot Rod, Walk Hard and more. With his elaborately plotted and edited action-comedy, Edgar Wright balances the spoof with something greater. The long, climactic series of action sequences occur in the film's final act can be placed right alongside many of the era's best action films for sheer thrill. That sets the film apart from the more typical range of comedies of the time, and even above a film like The Heat, which features even more action, but none of it compellingly shot.
It's the technical qualities of Wright's filmmaking that stand above. There's nothing loose about his films, and not a moment wasted. They are tightly-wound, tightly-edited blasts of comedy drawn from a Tarantino-like affection for films and filmmakers of the past. And while the modern milieu of improv-inspired comedy films has shown no signs of slowing down over the last ten years, Wright's intricately orchestrated approach is as rare as ever. His jokes are constructed with precision timing, and often the editing itself is the joke, like when the main characters stop a speeding driver after only a few feet of chase, done with all the intensity of a Michael Bay film. Few other directors can so ably fit so many cuts into only a few seconds, and make it all legible to the viewer.
Wright doesn't just outclass other directors, but with Hot Fuzz he outdoes himself. Shaun of the Dead, his zombie movie parody, has the shape of a romantic comedy, with a warmth and a degree of seriousness. It's a great film, truly one of the best comedies of the 2000s, but sitting next to Hot Fuzz, and given Wright's chops, it feels somehow too small, too contained. On the other side there's The World's End, an apocalyptic body-snatching film that gives Wright all the technical space to go nuts, and a sharper dramatic story of a man incapable of growing up, to the point that it's destroying his life. The film is a culmination, but it's also a touch too in awe of its own emotional ambitions, and ultimately confused about its purpose. It's a comedy with something to say about maturation, but exactly what that something might be is elusive.
Hot Fuzz, meanwhile, takes all the filmmaking prowess present in Shaun of the Dead, ups everything in scale without missing a beat, and then recognizes that it can't possibly replicate Shaun's emotional heft, going instead for all out laughs. And the laughs don't stop. From its opening shot of Simon Pegg slowly and intensely marching toward the camera, Hot Fuzz bombards the audiences with so many jokes and sight-gags that even ten years later you're bound to find new things to laugh at. So many jokes can indeed be overwhelming, making whatever drama that draws the audience in feel incidental, eventually losing their sense that anything in the film matters well before its grand finale. But Wright so smartly plots his film, fitting in emotional beats at just the right moments and unweaving a Wicker Man-esque plot of British horror intrigue with such fine detail. This allows rewatches to reveal hilarious, impressive bits of foreshadowing.
If any criticism can be leveled against Hot Fuzz, it's that it's too perfect. The technical precision in scripting, shooting, and editing has the potential to read as cold, a little too robotic. Wright avoids going over that line, though, through the force of his own good nature. Amidst all the bombast and tight editing, the film still features the same small-town core at the heart of Shaun of the Dead. It's what makes Wright's film so appealing, really: grand genre experiments and send-ups of our favorite movies, made by that fun kid who lived down the road and had a wall of VHS tapes at home. There's a soul in his films. While Hot Fuzz lets itself get carried away by parody more than his other movies, it's all motivated by the same sense of love, making it a true pleasure to watch over, and over, and over, and over again, even a whole decade later.
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