The “Tumblr Generation”, or whatever you want to call them, get a lot of knocks for their apparently terminal case of special snowflake syndrome. The notion that some people, particularly some younger people, are too easily offended these days isn’t altogether untrue. I don’t think it’s completely accurate, but I think there is some truth to it. It could just be that I don’t have enough empathy to go around. It could just be that I’m a selfish, unfeeling bastard. At any rate, there are some complaints about problematic films, characters, or people that I understand, and there are others that I don’t understand.
A good example is the Every Single Word Spoken Project. No, it’s not the project itself. I like the hell out of it. What I don’t understand are some of the reactions to it that I’ve come across. The project is not a complicated one. It simply takes a film or a franchise, gathers up every instance of a person of color speaking, and compiles them into a video. That’s it. One of the reasons why I like the concept so much is because it simply exists. It doesn’t scream. It doesn’t demand you boycott the film. It doesn’t even try to make you feel guilty for being a fan of the film or franchise in the first place. All it does is make a case with obvious evidence. The rest is left to the viewer. Currently, a compilation for the entire Harry Potter series is the latest one making the rounds. Its mere existence simply asks “Why? Why was this case? Why are non-white ethnicities so poorly represented in a series about wizards and dragons?” A similar question was posed to the Hobbit movies.
And guess what? It’s a perfectly fair question. It’s not a question that should make you feel bad for liking the movies or books. The video isn’t demanding anything except your attention, and perhaps some conversations on the main question it asks by virtue of being made at all. I like those conversations. They afford me the opportunity to listen, which is something I have tried to do more of in the last few years of my life. The conversations often wind up generating valuable information. And guess what? I still love the Harry Potter movies. That hasn’t changed one bit. Even if the video did scream and protest, I would still love those films. It’s still nice that question is simply posed through evidence. I’m left to make my own questions, and have my own conversations on the subject of diversity in casting.
But guess what? A surprising number of (mostly white) people are mad that someone is making these videos. Immediately, it is taken as an attack on something they love. At least a few of these people who are so angry at having their favorites questioned are the same ones who deride those who are apparently too sensitive. They aren’t interested in conversations. They don’t see a problem with diversity in casting. If you suggest that there is, you’re either a social justice warrior, suffering from white guilt, or looking for non-existent issues to complain about. If you’re lucky, you get to be all three.
Okay, so that last part is clearly something that has bothered me personally. I go between thinking some of the more defensive reactions to this video are either hysterical, or enormously depressing. Both revolve around the notion that we either can’t talk about broader casting choices for film or television like rational adults, or we can’t talk about it at all. Everything is perceived as an attack. Apparently, everyone is suffering to some degree from special snowflake syndrome.
Is there a cure? Fuck if I know.
Ant-Man (2015): B+
As much as I wish Edgar Wright had stuck around with Ant-Man, the film we actually got is certainly a solid one. At this point, if Ant-Man proves anything, it’s that Marvel is capable of creating an enjoyable film with any of their properties. No one is going to claim that this movie is better than early Marvel Cinematic Universe hits like Iron Man or the first Avengers film. Nonetheless, it takes a fairly silly concept, that of a man who gains the powers of an ant, and creates something that continues the trend of Marvel being the place to be for good superhero movies. Although Ant-Man suffers from having one of the weaker villains in the Marvel canon, it more than makes up for that with good casting everywhere else, and a crucial sense of humor about the nature of the story.
Paul Rudd, Michael Douglas, and Evangeline Lilly all turn in great performances, with Rudd being more than perfect for the hero role. There are also tons of cameos that are well worth paying attention to (hey, Garrett Morris!), and the movie does a fairly brilliant job of connecting Ant-Man to the larger MCU. The movie isn’t flawless, but with distinctive special effects and consistent energy, it’s a worthy addition to the Marvel film library.
Love and Mercy (2015): B-
Although Love and Mercy occasionally gets a little too slow for its own good, this is still one of the best music biopics to come out in quite some time. I’ve never been a Beach Boys fan, and I probably never will be. Nonetheless, I wanted this movie to be good. Paul Dano is one of the most underrated actors working today, and it feels like it has honestly been years, since the last time John Cusack was attached to anything worthwhile. Both play Beach Boys leader/pop music genius Brian Wilson at different stages of his life. Dano gives us Wilson during the younger years, right at the beginning of his severe mental health decline. Cusack shows us the shell that Wilson became in the 1980s, under the care of the notoriously abusive, controlling Dr. Eugene Landy (Paul Giamatti may want to go ahead, and write up that Best Supporting Oscar speech now). This is also the period in Wilson’s life in which he meets his future (and current, as of this writing) wife Melinda, which highlights the fact that Elizabeth Banks is a much better actress than she sometimes gets credit for.
Love and Mercy is extremely ambitious in trying to tell essentially two completely different movies. For the most part, it succeeds, with Dano being particularly remarkable in relating us to Wilson’s increasingly erratic behavior being one of the strongest, saddest things I have seen in quite some time. Love and Mercy is not sordid or cruel in its depiction of Wilson’s mental illness. It presents these things with unflinching empathy and honesty, which is not something you’re going to find in most movies about the constant, vicious sadism of madness. Every scene between Cusack and Banks is also well worth paying attention to.
In short, even if you’re not a Beach Boys fan, you’re probably going to love this film.
Mad Max: Fury Road (2015): A+
Not only is Mad Max: Fury Road the best action movie of the year, it is one of the best films of 2015 period.
While the movie could perhaps have focused on Tom Hardy’s portrayal of the legendary Max (first made famous by Mel Gibson, in those giddy days of yore in which we didn’t care that he was insane racist), it’s hard to really dwell on that. It helps that Fury Road is breathless, overwhelming action from start to finish. It also helps that the direction from veteran filmmaker (and the man who helmed the original Mad Max films) George Miller has youthful intensity that is extremely rare in older filmmakers. And it also helps that Fury Road gives us Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa, one of the most extraordinary, badass characters in recent film history. Mad Max: Fury Road is proof that you can make a genre film as good as anything that supposedly wants to be more than that. It shakes you and rattles your very bones. It leaves you in a state of glorious delirium. In terms of what film is capable of as a medium, it quite frankly does not get much better than this.
Plot? What plot? Who gives a shit? Watch this movie. Watch it twice. Marvel at how far we’ve come, and how creativity in the cinema is a concept that is far from moribund.
Ted 2 (2015): C-
Ted 2 is essentially the definitive Seth MacFarlane project. What this means is that there are some funny moments in this story of Ted (once again voiced by MacFarlane) trying to prove he actually exists, and therefore deserves rights normally granted to humans. There are also a lot of parts in the movie that flat-out suck, particularly the relationship between Amanda Seyfried and Mark Wahlberg, who are fine beyond that for the most part. All of it amounts to something that you’re probably going to enjoy, if you already understand how MacFarlane’s projects tend to go, and are at peace with that. Everyone else should stay away, although there are cameos that even the biggest MacFarlane detractors will probably giggle at.
Ted 2 is unpretentious summer comedy entertainment. It won’t win new converts, but it should have just enough to please his fan base. You’ll watch this, chuckle occasionally, and then probably forget you even saw this after the fact. It is a definitive example of disposable, forgettable entertainment, and that’s fine.
Vacation (2015): F-
I think I can pretty safely say that Vacation is one of the most unnecessary sequels/reboots in recent memory.
Even so, I didn’t expect something so savagely inept and unfunny. Ed Helms cements his reputation in my mind as someone who is completely unlikable. Christina Applegate is an undervalued comedic actress, and she is completely wasted in this wretched, ugly piece of garbage. Not even humorous supporting roles from Charlie Day, Leslie Mann, and Chris Hemsworth can save the day. Vacation is loathsome on every conceivable level. The story is boring, the laughs are non-existent, and cameos from Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo are completely pointless. By the time they’re trotted out for a banal passing-of-the-torch scene, you may well be asleep.
The only thing about Vacation that can potentially make me happy is if everyone involved in the making of this horror show are brought up on criminal charges. Someone has to pay. Someone has to apologize for reminding me that a movie this stupid and feeble has the ability to make you wonder if hope and beauty can be found in this fading, dismal world. I didn’t think movies could get much worse than Mortdecai. How wrong I was.