I'm constantly encouraged by the movie fandoms on Tumblr.
True, Tumblr lends itself to a certain degree of pretentiousness. The social justice aspect of the blogging site also tends to strike some people as being just as arrogant and narrow-minded as the people and social structures many on the site are rallying against. It really can be arrogant and narrow-minded from time to time (or all the time, if your blog identifies as an MRA). If you’re not really sure what the big deal is with someone like Tom Hiddleston or Benedict Cumberbatch, their respective Tumblr fan bases are going to terrify you.
But any of the big Tumblr fandoms deserves respect up to a point. All of them create impressive, passionate communities of people who love what they watch/read/play. Many of them aren’t afraid to explain the problematic elements of those things, if there are any (and there usually are). I don’t agree with all the theories and opinions I encounter for the various movies, TV shows, bands, and video games that get the most attention, but I’m almost always intrigued. I’ve had more food for thought with Tumblr than I have ever had with Facebook.
And how can you not love gif sets? A thirty-second scene broken down into a few moving panels has often given way to thinking something like “You know, I haven’t seen that movie in a while.”
Tumblr users are big on contemporary things like Sherlock, Dr. Who, Supernatural, Leonard DiCaprio, and various music artists. I’ve been moderately addicted to the site for a couple of years, and I follow just a shade under 500 different blogs. I’ve come to decide that it’s just about impossible to avoid running into the things mentioned above. Although I wouldn’t call myself a fan of Supernaturalor Sherlock, mostly because I haven’t given them much of my time, I can’t help but admire the zeal of the people who reblog gif sets, discuss the people involved, and venture fantastic theories about the stories and characters.
I like all of that in a general sense, but what really keeps me hanging around the site, besides the porn, is the enduring love people have for classic film.
A number of the blogs I follow love filmmakers like Godard and Hitchcock. They celebrate long-dead talents like Buster Keaton, Louise Brooks, and Marlene Dietrich. They also bring up things like the lack of female directors in Hollywood, movies that deserve more recognition, and even actors/writers/directors and others who are making the movies that will likely become classics and icons in their own ways in the future.
Tumblr is primarily a young person’s game, and people can quite frankly be complete dicks in expressing how they feel about something, but neither of these things dampens one of the most appealing aspects of the site. People love what they love, and they rarely lack the interest in telling you more. There are dozens of movie blogs on Tumblr, run by people of various ages and backgrounds. The best ones try to distribute equal attention to the past, present, and the future of cinema. It’s a promising suggestion that people of all ages are still watching, studying, and arguing about movies of all kinds.
Teenagers who genuinely love black and white movies or foreign films, as much as they love the Harry Potter franchise, makes for an extremely encouraging notion to me.
Inside Llewyn Davis (2013): A+
One of the things I heard about Inside Llewyn Davis is that it would have the Coen brothers celebrating folk music, in the way that O Brother Where Art Thou? celebrated gospel/folk/bluegrass music. In that regard, Inside Llewyn Davis is triumphant. The music featured in the film isn’t merely background noise for the story of a struggling Greenwich Village folk singer in the early 1960’s. The movie’s soundtrack is not designed to give us something to do when people like Oscar Isaac, Carey Mulligan, Justin Timberlake and John Goodman aren’t delivering perfect performances. The songs create a character as essential to the plot and atmosphere as the actors and the early-60’s New York scenery. Joel and Ethan Coen have a talent for making films that have the freshness and energy of something we’re actually witnessing in real-time. While it is both funny and sad in virtually every single scene of Llewyn Davis’ struggles to become commercially successful in his craft, Inside Llewyn Davis is equally great in how it depicts a time period without a trace of nostalgia. We’re not watching something that looks back on the 1960’s with glossy fondness. We’re watching something that may as well have happened yesterday. Time is fluid but not dusty in this film. Like a lot of movies the Coen Brothers have made through the years, the movie creates a world that is a wonderful place to visit. It never feels like we’re just wandering through a museum.
Jeff, Who Lives at Home (2011): B-
One of the big similarities shared by the Coen and Duplass brothers is that they make character studies. They simply go about it in very different ways. Jeff, Who Lives at Home has been called the most mainstream film by Jay and Mark Duplass to date. I don’t know if I would necessarily agree with that, even though the movie features a more well-known cast (Jason Segel, Ed Helms, and Susan Sarandon all deliver consummate performances). Jeff, Who Lives at Home is certainly relatable in its depiction of two brothers at different turning points in their respective lives. Even so, it is another fine example of Jay and Mark Duplass’ fascination with people who are suddenly facing the fact that they have been killing themselves with small compromises for far too long. The trademark idiosyncratic humor found in much of their filmography is very much in force here, particularly in any scene with the characters played by Segel and Helms trying to find some sort of common ground. The general consensus that Jeff, Who Lives at Home is the Duplass brothers seeking a wider audience perhaps comes from how they execute a somewhat broader story than usual with recognizable actors. Although it does lag at times, the movie maintains wonderful humor through its writing and performances. There is an appealing sweetness to how those things work well more often than not.
Westworld (1973): B+
It will be interesting to see what HBO does with this cult classic, written and directed by Michael Crichton, if it is indeed developed into a series. Westworld only sometimes feels like a cinematic product of its time. For the most part, it remains a satisfyingly tense experience. Richard Benjamin and James Brolin are both fine, as two men stuck in a malfunctioning theme park, designed to let people live out their dreams of living in another time period (they choose the Old West). The two actual stars of the movie are Yul Brynner, still eerie and captivating, as a gunslinger robot methodically hunting them down. The other star is the wonderful, tense atmosphere of the movie. Brynner’s android character is frighteningly singular in its purpose. It never stops. As Benjamin and Brolin’s characters alternate between fleeing and fighting for their lives, we understand why they’re scared. The gunslinger is programmed to know the terrain, and won’t stop until he finishes what his haywire mechanics demands of him. As things get worse and worse for the people trapped in Westworld, we begin to severely doubt their odds of survival. Yet we remain wholly hooked in to their dire situation.
A Safe Place (1971): D+
Henry Jaglom has made some fine films. A Safe Place, which is included in the Criterion Collection’s beautiful BBS box set, is not one of them. Tuesday Weld’s character is baffled and overwhelmed by her past life choices and current surroundings. The problem with that is how Tuesday Weld seems just as confused by the slow, pompous way in which the movie depicts her spiritual journey. Jack Nicholson and Orson Welles occasionally wake us up, but even the presence of those two can’t save this dull, marginally curious artifact of independent filmmaking in the early 1970’s. America Lost and Found: The BBS Story is well worth picking up, but A Safe Place is only worth watching as a piece of the production company’s unique history. On its own, it has scarcely a redeeming feature.
Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues (2013): B-
If you didn’t like the first Anchorman, then don’t even bother with Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues. If the mere existence of Will Ferrell makes it possible for you to audibly hear your soul dying, then nothing about Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues is going to change that reaction for you. Everyone else should be pleasantly surprised at how well this follow-up to the shockingly-durable original is pulled off. The story picks up after the events of the first film, bringing back all the essential characters, while leaving room for new ones (especially Meagan Good as Ron Burgandy’s new boss and love interest) to make significant comedic contributions. While it’s great to see the gang back, and it’s a relief to find that Anchorman 2 does works in both familiar and new jokes, the biggest plus for the movie is that it never runs out of gas. A movie with so much in the way of deranged humor and non-sequitur moments usually can’t sustain itself all the way through. Not only is Anchorman 2 hilarious to the last, particularly when Burgundy responds to a crisis by going on the bender to end all benders, but it actually leaves you wanting more. If we don’t get a third, that’s fine. We already have two that are almost guaranteed to make you laugh in spite of yourself. Anchorman 2 is a very specific comedic achievement for Ferrell, Adam McKay, Paul Rudd, Steve Carrel, and everyone else involved. It is proof that humor in film can still be both extremely broad and clever in equal amounts.