In Captain Fantastic Director Matt Ross smuggles his audience beyond the bosky banks and redwood rows of the Pacific Northwest, indoctrinating us into a baby-faced tribe armed with clenched fisted salutes that ‘stick it to the man’. Baptised through the blood and mud of the opening scene, we become part of a family unplugged from society. Our adoptive father presents an idyllic way of life where The Swiss Family Robinson meets The Communist Manifesto. It’s a life of fashioned patchwork quirks, where books are stacked as high as the trees that chirp. ipads are traded in for IQs. Self-reliant and self-sustained, a harmony is struck between human activity and the grandeur of nature. Days are spent enduring harsh physical drills while the night sets stage for impromptu singalongs by firelight’s flicker.

It’s not soon after our introduction that tragedy hits, shunting the ‘kumbaya’ lifestyle out of tune. News comes through of the family’s mother, Leslie, who after leaving the forest to undergo mental health treatment commits suicide. This fatal blow catapults Ben and his six children back into modern civilisation with a mission to ensure Leslie is given the Buddhist cremation she always wanted albeit against her parents’ wishes. Throughout their journey cracks start to appear across our utopian family’s grand design. Kids that were trained to question everything begin to ask questions of their captain. The film’s simple premise explores what life would be like if you devoted every waking moment to your children. It aims in making us question our own parental choices, and re-evaluate our hopes.

Matt Ross is a director who is seemingly more interested in ‘character’ over anything else, which is no surprise considering his successful acting career. “I fundamentally believe that most people’s experience with a film is through the actors. It’s a way to connect with our fellow human beings” Ross told DP/30. This belief is delicately threaded through each aspect of what makes Captain Fantastic an enjoyable film. Shot by the very talented Stéphane Fontaine—who previously worked on such films as A Prophet (2009) and The Beat that my Heart Skipped (2005)—brings his organic touch to the screen once again. Fontaine’s cinematography crafts character in a film that could have easily turned into an over stylised farce. His frame pulls the actor’s ability to the foreground, highlighting quality performances throughout. Each of the six children puts on a stellar show from start to finish. They initially approach us like mechanized parrots, squawking back Ben’s anti-capitalist credo, “Power to the people / stick it to the man” but soon realise that the ‘man’ in question might be their own father.

Viggo Mortensen nimbly tiptoes the line between ‘best dad in the world’ and cult leader. Ben’s approach to his family may be somewhat dangerous and deluded but we can’t help but admire his undoubtable devotion to his children. Scenes of negligence and theft trespass our funny bones, tickling all the right places. We shouldn’t be on his side but that’s where we find ourselves. Mortensen’s prowess lies in his close-ups, using subtle glances and nuanced gestures to peel through the layers of thick skin, revealing a single father’s desperation to preserve the memory of his wife.

Though the film is not however without its flaws. Ross seems relentless in tugging on our heartstrings, daring them to snap. Family jam sessions turn lilting sentiment towards schmaltz and for all of the ‘edginess’ on the surface, Captain Fantastic finds an all too neat ending which left me sadly unconvinced. The comedy, though abundant, mostly centres around the same (fish out of water) joke: the family’s inability to comply with the social norms of the outside world. It’s an inevitable gag that works well initially but soon grows tiresome. The comedic moments that really work see the family grow closer as a result. In one memorable scene taking place in the Family’s dilapidated bus named Steve, the children have to think quickly when conning a police officer. The officer hops aboard poking around and asking questions only to be met by a surrounding chorus of evangelical preaching. Mistaking them for Christian fundamentalists, he quickly burrows back into his squad car, never to be seen again. It’s a funny and unexpected turn that shows the children are always at hand to help one another out.

The character of Leslie’s father, Jack (Frank Langella) who initially appears to be the film’s antagonist, a wealthy, upper class fat-cat hell bent on sinking his claws into Ben’s family, but we soon come to hear him as a voice of reason. Though he might be the antithesis to Ben, essentially they both want what’s best for family. In what seemed at the outset a film facing off the left and right wings of America, it ultimately fuses both by focusing on the bigger issue. How should we raise our children?

The film poses questions, leaving the answers for us to figure out. But one thing is for certain, the most compelling part of Captain Fantastic is the skipper himself. He’s an ordinary man doing extraordinary things for the well-being of family—a guardian to many and a part-time menace to society. Ben’s Captain Fantastic isn’t a superhero but he’s getting there.

DON’T BREATHE

(2016, Fede Alvarez)

From Green Room and The Witch to The Babadook and It Follows, it’s no secret that indie horror is currently having a pretty big moment in terms of regularly delivering some of the best films of any given year. As far as big studio offerings go, however, we’ve mostly been seeing the usual suspects of boring franchise continuations, found-footage disasters, and lame conventional flops (anyone excited about the upcoming revival of the Ring franchise?). Don’t Breathe marks a rarity in that climate, as an original, and for a refreshing change incredibly intense horror film from a major studio that brings its fair share of thrills to the big screen. Directed by Fede Alvarez, the Uruguayan director who got his big break with the surprisingly entertaining 2013 reboot of Evil Dead, the film utilizes the well-tread home invasion premise to get its start, but quickly turns things on their head when the invaders are the ones in danger. Don’t Breathe may not have the same sense of humor and ridiculously fun OMG moments of the director’s previous feature (barring one excellent one that I won’t spoil), but it’s still a blast, and a welcome respite from the dismal slate of most modern horror from the big studios.

A group of young friends (led by Alvarez’s Evil Dead star Jane Levy, along with Dylan Minnette, and Daniel Zovatto) have been making some cash as amateur house thieves, and we meet them right on the cusp of executing their typical final score that’s going to allow them to move to California and get away from their small town hell. The first twist in their plan is that the man they’re robbing (Stephen Lang), a war veteran who scored a huge settlement after his daughter was killed in a traffic accident, also happens to be blind. The second twist is that he’s no feeble elderly blind man, but rather a dangerous, armed menace of his own, with plenty of secrets that only puts the survival of these kids at more risk. It’s pretty hard for any horror film to come off like a true blue original these days, and there are definitely shades of Wait Until Dark, or even this year’s Hush, in this one-location with a main character down one of their senses premise, but Don’t Breathe certainly has one of the more intriguing hooks of a major horror movie in recent years, and Alvarez is for the most part able to take advantage of the potential in there.

While the film was done some serious disservice by its trailers, which not only spoiled a major twist that would have been a great surprise if they hadn’t (I seriously can’t stand marketing these days), as well as preparing the audience for the majority of the big jump scares featured here, Alvarez still manages to create an entertaining, and very tense genre exercise that makes great use of its claustrophobic setting, and the heightening and twisting of the senses. It doesn’t try to be anything more fancy or extravagant than it is, keeping things simple and allowing the thrills to be more visceral and authentic. It’s refreshing to see a horror movie that doesn’t try to overuse any kind of gimmick (Hush, for instance, felt like the creators thought “well what if a Final Girl was deaf?”, and then didn’t bother to put in any effort to beyond that), and there are still some minor ways that Alvarez manages to subvert tropes here, such as the twist on the invaders becoming the ones under duress. Unfortunately, it does collapse quite a bit in the final act, with far too many fakeout moments, and just some ridiculous, and frankly confusing turns, as well as a very misguided ending that leaves things on a pretty sour note (the opening is also very bad, and both reek of studio meddling), but if one can get over these things then Don’t Breathe should be one of the best times you could have with a recent horror movie that promises high volumes of intensity and delivers exactly that.

B-

The Tiff Next Wave Festival, a film festival run by teens, for teens, premiered a stunning and potent film, Lily and Kat. An impressive first effort by director Michael Preysler, Lily and Kat tells the story of the two title characters (played by Jessica Rothe and Hannah Murray respectively), who are fashion students and best friends in New York City.

Lily and Kat Film ReviewThe Pulp Zine

gender subversion in CACW

HERE BE SPOILERS








Here are few scenes that really did seem to invert the way gender stereotypically plays out, especially in big Hollywood summer blockbusters that are chock full of action.


+ Tony’s regret scene where he wishes he had told his father he loved him.  This isn’t an angsty drunken confession, just a sincere and mature emotional wish.  Despite this being deeply personal and despite voluntary emotional sharing being contrary to the stiff upper lip the world expects of men, Tony shares these feelings publicly.  The film could easily have introduced the subject of the older Starks in more private way, but this frank emotional moment was chosen instead.  This is discussed better in the positive example below. 

+ The actual closeness between King T’Chaka and Prince T’Challa: hand clasping and open parent-child expressions of affection are far more common in: mother-daughter scenes, father-daughter scenes and sometimes even mother-son scenes (think of the Star Trek reboot, or how much more easily affectionate Maria Stark was with Tony, in comparison to the Father-Son relationship).  We’re used to seeing love and affection when at least one of those expressing affection is a woman.  Parental and specifically paternal pride is something movie-goers love to see but there is usually a sense of having to earn it first.  A son receiving paternal pride and approval subsequent to some quest of right action or chivalry is something we more often see on screen.  Seldom do we see it given as easily as between T’Chaka and T’Challa.  T’Chaka does not behave as though he is surprised by his father’s open praise and affection.  Neither man is uncomfortable about the fact that this moment is shared in a highly public place filled with important people who may not understand it.

+ The T’Challa grief scene: seldom do you see men so moved by grief in cinema - especially popular cinema of the summer blockbuster variety.  When you do, they tend to be grieving over a woman or a child, never another man.  It’s as though, for men, the expression of severe grief must be justified not by their relationship to the dead person, but by the helplessness or victimhood of the dead person.  But King T’Chaka is a powerful world leader key to the Accords; he is not a character lacking agency.  The pose given the grief-stricken prince is also an interesting choice: clutching, crying, rocking are all expressions of trauma and grief again usually reserved for women onscreen.

+ In contrast to the scene above, we are not given a flashback to Zemo’s terrible discovery of his dead wife and child.  While an easy emotional trigger that can be used to justify male grief and rage, we actually only hear his wife alive on his voicemail.  There are no sad physical talismans in the form of a child’s drawing in a wallet, or a too-small wedding band on a chain.  We are not given the easy mental and emotional crutches used to depict and justify male grief or male rage.  The characters are forced to display these feelings, not merely allude to them.  Likewise, there are no flashbacks about Steve and Peggy.  In part this is owing to the expectation of displaying emotion explained above but also in part because of the considerable world-building in the MCU that means we take the depth of their feeling for one another as given and consequently understand that Steve is upset.

+ Showing male heroes needing/reaching out for emotional support and receiving it.  We see depressed, grieving heroes, sometimes crying or with tears in their eyes.  Steve, Tony and T’Challa are big hitters, but no one jokes about this or suggests their emotions are inappropriate.  More important; THEY don’t try to conceal these emotions or fob them off with humour.  We get to see that Tony’s not ok about his relationship with Pepper being under strain.  When he tells Steve about it, he gets nothing from Steve but sympathy.  Steve does not attempt to make light of these feelings.  Steve needs a hug after Peggy’s funeral - that’s a normal, human emotional need that we see being fulfilled.  It’s a good companion to the scene in the First Avenger when Peggy consoles Steve over Bucky’s death.  While this SOUNDS like a dumb observation to make, stop to consider how much stoic male screen grief we’re used to seeing: solitary drinking, physical rage, lone graveside vigils.  Needing emotional support and actually getting it?  Positively refreshing.  

+ In a riff-off of the kind of emotional hurt/comfort discussed above; a woman making a man’s favourite home cooked meal/much missed meal is a common on screen trope - although more in TV than in film.  Women cooking/baking comfort food in general is.  Slash fandoms love to subvert this so much that romances where characters cook well, learn to cook, try to cook for the sake of another or own a cafe/bakery.  However, this film shows us Vision, who presents as male at least as much as Jarvis did (more if you consider his wardrobe) tries to cook for Wanda to cheer her up.  This is interesting particularly if you consider that in comic canon these two are a couple and even have children.

+ Hawkeye and the power of women.  Clint deliberately puts himself in harm’s way trying to talk Wanda out of her partially self-imposed prison.  He knows he can’t best watchdog Vision.  He knows Wanda can.  He trusts entirely her ability to defend him.  It is so rare, especially in an action film, for the ace up a male hero character’s sleeve to be rescue from a young woman.  Rarer still for it not to be humour; a gag wherein a woman brains an antagonist with a book or frying pan and then she and/or the rescued male character quip about it.  We see more of this Hawkeye (the only character with a wife and a daughter, it should be noted) in the airport fight scene.  Wanda tosses Widow away from Clint.  Widow and Hawkeye had been sparring and Wanda was not happy that Clint had been pulling his punches.  Firstly, you believe that Clint was pulling his punches but you believe it because he and Widow are friends, not because Widow is a woman.  Secondly, Clint doesn’t seem very worried about Widow being injured by Wanda (he knows how tough Natasha is and trusts Wanda).  He just seems to accept the rebuke for what it is and moves on.  Clint’s trust in the women around him isn’t showy, it reads more like his character than a film’s teachable moments, making them easily overlooked but more authentic.

+ A man (in this case, Steve) having a close, platonic woman friend and a romantic interest in a woman who is not that friend.  There is no suggestion; as in the traditional romcom trope, that the friends will realise a latent romantic attraction to one another.  They’re just friends. There is also no tense scene between the women.  There is no approval or disapproval by either woman of Steve’s closeness to the other.  This is not novel to the franchise considering Clint and Natasha’s friendship in no way appeared to threaten Laura in A:AOU, and also because we do see Natasha as an active matchmaker where Steve is concerned in CA:TWS, but it was nice to see a continuation in this vein nonetheless.

+ Possibly an unpopular opinion but Bucky is more mcguffin than man - traditionally a role used for women and/or children - the character of Bucky continues to lack agency.   Bucky is the only character in this film indisputedly in need of saving.  He is the metaphorical princess in the tower, the relentless focus of the proposing and opposing sides of this film.  By now we’ve had three films about Steve rescuing, or trying to rescue, Bucky.  Bucky, while dangerous, is also unstable, afraid, physically and emotionally tortured and used as a pawn by people.  While this is understandable from a canon perspective (it’s hard to have agency when you are brainwashed or are avoiding being brainwashed; something we know of the WSP and the Red Room) it is worthwhile to think about how you would feel about the character of Bucky if genderswapped?  I think there would be a fair amount of blowback regarding gendered tropes if it were the case.

Anyhow, I thought these elements were interesting.

Surprised more people aren’t freaking out over Man From U.N.C.L.E.
  • Super camp and fun
  • Beautiful 60s fashion
  • Everyone’s so pretty
  • All the leads have so much chemistry it’s the perfect OT3
  • Women who are allowed to be smart, evil, silly, sweet, secretive…
  • Handles a mentally ill character from their perspective and (imo) in a very empathetic manner
  • Action and fighting, but minimally triggering (there is a war criminal who receives his just deserts, I forgave it, but obvi it differs)
  • The woman and the womanizer have a brother/sister type relationship that’s snarky and not gross at all
  • The hypersexual characters aren’t pressured to change (or is changed by the power of love, which is a trope that always bothered me)
  • A cinnamon bun antihero that rivals Zuko
  • Seriously, the two guys are so queer coded and don’t shy away from making innuendos to each other
  • I was in a theater full of old people laughing my ass off because there was a “top/bottom” joke
  • It’s a reboot of an old tv show that clearly loves the source material *cough cough* JJ Shmabrams…
  • Funny, intriguing, action packed, and rife with shipping, it seems like tumblr’s dream
  • IN CONCLUSION: GO SEE THIS FILM BECAUSE I WANT A SEQUEL
Kingsman vs Heteronormativity

Warning: all the spoilers for Kingsman.

For a week or so now, I’ve been wanting to talk about Kingsman: The Secret Service, which I was finally able to watch, and which I genuinely loved. Not only is it an engaging, well-acted, well-scripted action movie that is funny, touching and littered with pop cultural hat-tips, but it manages the difficult trick of being both an homage to and a biting debunk of the James Bond franchise. Specifically: Kingsman takes all of Bond’s hallowed trappings – the spy gadgets, the sharp suits, the suave badassery – and explicitly removes both the misogyny and the classism that traditionally underpins them. Being a Kingsman, or gentleman spy, as explained by veteran Harry Hart to protégé  Eggsy Unwin, isn’t about having the right accent or upbringing, but “being comfortable in your own skin” – the exact opposite of Bond’s womanising, macho façade and aristocratic heritage.

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“With Fantastic Mr. Fox, Wes Anderson accomplished two personal firsts: He adapted someone else’s work—in this case, Roald Dahl’s children’s novel, enhanced with details from Dahl’s Danny The Champion Of The World and the author’s life—and he tried his hand at stop-motion animation. Giving himself over to Dahl and a team of puppeteers and animators might seem like a departure for Anderson—a necessary one, according to the detractors who harp on his insularity—but Fantastic Mr. Fox is as much “A Wes Anderson Film” as anything else he’s done to date. Part of that is owed to the extraordinary control Anderson exerts over all his productions, an auteur stamp so distinctive that it can be recognized from the first frame. But the film also doubles as a Wes Anderson origin story: Dahl’s influence on the director is so immense that the deeper he gets into Dahl’s world, the deeper viewers get into the roots of his sensibility.”

The new Criterion release of West Anderson’s Fantastic Mr. Fox is, well, fantastic. Read the full review.

Zero Day (Ben Coccio, 2003) follows two boys’ lives in the weeks leading up to a tragic school shooting. This pair, however, happen to be the antagonists in their own story. 

Shot in a mockumentary/found-footage format, we step into the daily affairs of Cal and Andre (Cal Robertson and Andre Keuck, respectively), two adolescents who never appear to suggest any underlying delusions or hints of insanity. They start the film off by deciding upon carrying out a goal and spend the rest of the film living out their lives as their goal gets pushed further and further away. Where they see intent and ambition, we see horror and regret. It is due to this that the film manages to be far more poignant and frightening than the vast majority of thrillers gracing our theaters.

Shot not long after the Columbine Massacre (and closer still, to the events of September 11th), audiences were still quite uneasy with the idea of humanizing two individuals who could be capable of causing such great harm to others. Seemingly trivializing the events, film like these were shunned. However, as we have come to learn, the awareness raised by these films surpasses any harm that could possibly be done by the cast or creators. 

Apart from humanizing these killers, we slowly come to find numerous similarities between them and ourselves. Juxtaposing circumstances and events, we can clearly begin to relate to and admire these two boys as they begin their attempt to make sense of the world that they were placed into. 

Regardless of intent or time and release, this film serves as an important reminder that those who commit even the most heinous crimes are not too far off from the people who inhabit our very homes.

Blanchett and Mara’s first sex scene is a golden-hued triumph of breathtaking eroticism that almost made this viewer burst into tears, but even more indelible is a later shot of Blanchett and Mara asleep in bed, huddled together so that their limbs become very nearly indistinguishable as Lachman’s camera trails down the bed before settling on their intertwined hands. There’s a perfect symmetry to shots like these, just as there is in what may be the film’s defining image: a close-up of Mara’s turned, bowed head, captured from behind as Blanchett rests a soft hand on her shoulder before the two seemingly part for good. You could scour entire decades of movie history and not find a more succinctly ravishing image of bonded and bottomless love.
favorite horror films so far in 2016:

4. The Invitation: The Invitation sits more on the psychological thriller of the line but is close enough to count. It’s about a man and his girlfriend who go to a ridiculously extravagant dinner party at the home of his ex-wife. Throughout the movie, he becomes increasingly paranoid that something isn’t right with the hosts. 

This movie took awhile to hit me. I think it was the next night that I decided yes, I liked it, I actually liked it a lot. It’s subtle without being boring and the lead performance drew me in within the first scene. Also the ending is sort of bitchin.


3. They Look Like People: They Look Like People is about a man who thinks that the people around him are turning into evil creatures. That’s all I’m going to tell you. Also you should know that he’s staying with an old friend during all of this. 

I loved it. I loved it. My whole heart was in this movie. I usually don’t look for that in horror, but it simply happened and was unavoidable. It was also one of the scariest movies I’ve ever seen and the ending had me on the edge of my seat. 

2. The Witch: The Witch is about a family in 1630s New England who live on an isolated creepy farm on the edge of a massive creepy forest wherein lives honestly the scariest fucking witch I have ever seen. The family becomes plagued by witchcraft and possession as the children begin to go missing.

There aren’t enough good things to say about The Witch. From the atmosphere to the cast performances, it was perfect. It stuck in my mind, it freaked me out, and I can’t recommend it to you enough.


1. Southbound: Southbound is a horror anthology film that takes place on a long unnamed highway in the middle of nowhere. The four interwoven stories tell the tales of two men who are running from some floating grim reaper type things, a trio of girls whose van gets a flat tire who are forced to catch a ride with a strange couple, a brutal car accident, and a home invasion. 

Southbound probably isn’t technically the best film on this list, I guess, but it’s my favorite. It may be one of my long-time favorites. The music is perfect, the flow of the segments, the gore and the subtlety. I’ve seen it six times. Six. The accident segment alone is worth sitting through the entire movie.