Go on and laugh your Benetton, Kumbaya, Kashi, quinoa laugh, but it’s true: The most progressive force in Hollywood today is the ‘Fast and Furious’ movies. They’re loud, ludicrous, and visually incoherent. They’re also the last bunch of movies you’d expect to see in the same sentence as 'incredibly important.’ But they are – if only because they feature race as a fact of life as opposed to a social problem or an occasion for self-congratulation. (And this doesn’t even account for the gay tension between the male leads, and the occasional crypto-lesbian make-out.) The fifth installment, 'Fast Five,’ comes out Friday, and unlike most movies that feature actors of different races, the mixing is neither superficial nor topical. It has been increasingly thorough as the series goes on—and mostly unacknowledged. That this should seem so strange, so rare, merely underscores how far Hollywood has drifted from the rest of culture.

The Rap Year Book Launch Party
WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 14, 2015 at 7pm / FREE

Join author Shea Serrano (staff writer for Grantland and author of Bun B’s Rap Coloring Book @rapcoloringbook) for an evening celebrating rap music. Joining him on a panel are contributors to the book Jon Caramanica (The New York Times), Wesley Morris (Grantland), Meaghan Garvey (Pitchfork), Brandon Soderberg (Baltimore City Paper), and Jeff Rosenthal (has written for Rolling Stone, Vulture, and more), followed by Q+A, signing, and music from DJ Black Helmet. Free and open to the public, with drinks courtesy of Abrams Books, and books for sale from our friends @wordbookstores.

If U Seek Amy: The Grim Grossness of David Fincher’s ‘Gone Girl’

“The movie doubles as a snide contradiction of the serious conversation Americans have been having lately about men, women, exploitation, and violence. Gone Girl isn’t complicating that conversation. It gets off on thumbing its nose at it, using a vengeful false accusation to exploit an old trope of the terrifying femme fatale.

One of the ladies in Nick’s life happens to be played by Emily Ratajkowski, a model made notorious for appearing to enjoy herself while frolicking nude in Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” video. Ratajkowski doesn’t have a large role here, but it’s significant to the plot. Her presence reminded me how much of the song and the video, like a whole strain of rap and R&B, hinges on a woman being a “good girl,” which in turn hinges on a kind of permissiveness toward the performer who’s paying the compliment. In the music, the good girl is also a “bad girl.” There’s virtually no difference.

The debate about rape and “rapeyness” in pop isn’t a new one. But it has new resonance on college campuses, where protests, vandalism, and lawsuits have challenged the long tradition of silence and slow action in issues of sexual assault. A Columbia University senior named Emma Sulkowicz has become a symbol of the refusal of assault survivors to be cowed: She’s been dragging an actual mattress around campus and vows to continue to do so until the school expels the classmate who raped her. This isn’t the first time that female student activists against assault have insisted on being heard (one need only recall the Take Back the Night rallies of the 1990s), but the protests have gained broader resonance. They’re more confrontational and less tolerant of what can seem like patriarchal or, at best, bureaucratic foot-dragging and opacity. They’ve swelled beyond campuses to include criticizing even the conduct of once-untouchable professional athletes. The release of the Ray Rice video brought men into a conversation that for so long happened mostly among women. Recent investigations into domestic violence and assault in the military, police force, and even small-town Alaska have created a feeling that maybe, just maybe, the country is turning a corner on a serious and divisive issue. And then along comes a major work of Hollywood fiction based on a huge best seller written by a woman about a woman whose greatest power is to cry wolf.”

the inherent misogyny of this film/book offends me less than its rote, bored execution, but as wesley morris contends, the timing of such a narrative is pretty unfortunate.

Fatal Attraction. I saw that movie five times in the theater. I was eleven. I don’t know why that movie affected me the way that it did…I’ve seen it as an adult and it’s a really well-constructed thriller. If it came out tomorrow it would be just as big as a hit as it was in 1987. But there’s something about the sex in that movie; it’s really amazing sex. And you’d never see Michael Douglas and Glenn Close fucking 2014. You just wouldn’t see it. I’ll give movies credit, you might see Bradley Cooper and Amy Adams fucking like that in 2014, but you would never see those two people in Fatal Attraction. They wouldn’t go near Fatal Attraction. And in 1987 movies were still just interesting enough to get a major movie star like Michael Douglas at that exact moment, at his peak, and an actress who was basically at that point and up-and-coming star, Glenn Close. I don’t know if Paramount would make it today.
—  Wesley Morris on why Fatal Attraction was so influential to him, from the Longform podcast
Patriot Act

It’s possible both to like the comic-book movie they’ve made and to be driven nuts by how terrible it looks. It’s the sort of thing you notice only when people are fighting. That, of course, is a problem. People are often fighting, and the fights have been shot in the chaotic manner of bad action movies. The camera jitters and jumps and cranes and whips. What it never seems to do is sit still. That hostage rescue on the ship occurs at night, and, in 3-D, the drabness of the ship and exterior darkness turn that sequence into murk. The editing grinds up motion into meaningless bits. The shots don’t match and the images come at us so hectically that the editing can barely keep up with itself. At some point, we’re no longer watching an action movie. We’re watching mirepoix.

I really recommend this review of Captain America: The Winter Soldier by Wesley Morris, who is, as those of you who keep up with these things know, one of the best film critics around. I think he is slightly less charitable to the action sequences in the film than I am, but reading his review really got me thinking about the movie and my feelings about it as a work of craft. I.e. not as a fangirl but as a viewer with a brain, and eyes. (The two can, happily, coexist, and sometimes even serve each other.)

When I came out of the movie, I was excited by what I felt were well-directed action sequences, and said so as much on here. I still think that, on some level, this is true: unlike in most action films these days, you can actually follow what is going on in these scenes, quite clearly; because so much of the action takes place at close range, it feels like actual people are doing the fighting (and so they are); and finally, due to what I think is a fairly impressive script, despite its defects (too much action, not enough character, particularly for people who don’t have the comics background to fall back on), the action sequences generally move the plot forward in a way that is useful and illustrative, instead of just being an excuse to watch things explode.

But look, folks, the man speaks the truth: this movie looks like a pile of garbage.

Also as he says, it’s less noticeable when they’re just driving around, or talking to each other; at those points in the movie, you’re thinking about other things. This is not an excuse, exactly, but it is what it is. It doesn’t matter as much. When you come to the action sequences, though, you cannot help but notice. Even if you are not consciously noticing - either because you are too caught up in the adrenaline rush of what is going on, or because you just don’t pay attention to cinematic language (and I don’t say this in a pejorative sense; most people do not because they have not been trained to) - on some level, you are aware. That is the beauty of the cinema: you do not need to be trained to know when something is working or not; it gets at you in the deep parts of your brain. These actions scenes work because they clobber you over the head, and because they get from point A to B with a level of effective clarity that most films lack.

But they look. Like a pile. Of garbage.

Consider, for instance, every second the Winter Soldier is on the screen, but particularly the two fights on the street, when he first really appears for extended periods of time. The camera sort of follows him around jerkily. There is no mood to the way this is shot. The music does not swell, there is no slo-mo, the lighting does not change, the framing is in no way interesting. We could have followed him in from behind, through the smoke, his hair blowing, his machine gun held up in his good arm, in slow motion, with foreboding music swelling. I’m not saying this is the only way to do it - this just a fairly typical villain entrance, and it’s typical because it works. We are supposed to be scared of the Winter Soldier, but we don’t feel the fear, and not just because we all know it’s Bucky under there: we don’t feel the fear because the filmmaking never tells us to be afraid. It does not convey fear. He’s just a guy walking around the street with a gun - which, yes, is a frightening sight indeed. But the camera is not afraid, and the diegesis of the film is not afraid, and that numbs the viewer’s fear. (Compare this, for instance, to the way Christopher Nolan shoots the Joker in The Dark Knight, if you’re looking for a parallel. I think you will see what I mean.) Atmosphere, mood, and tone are sorely lacking.

Marvel has had this problem fairly consistently, but this was really, really not a good example in this respect; it is disappointing they have hired the Russo brothers back for the third installment of the series. (I initially attributed this to monetary concerns, and then realized how silly this was: how many credible indie directors would jump at that opportunity? And they would not exactly ask for a mint.) It disappoints me for the same reasons that the trend of excessive action scenes in lieu of character moments disappoints me: it takes the audience for granted. I don’t think they aren’t trying to make good films - of course they are, and they (typically, but not always) succeed. But they could be making much better films, and I think they probably, on some level know it. And they aren’t.

R. Kelly has made a career — remember, he’s been at it since the early 1990s — out of exposing the lie of popular music. There are no blurred lines for him. He doesn’t mind making love. But he really likes to fuck. Kelly knows that if he’s going to do a song called “Mirrors,” it won’t be a metaphor for love or self-obsession or whatever it is that Timberlake is going on about. Kelly’s “Mirrors” would include cleaning instructions for the housekeeper and the mirror would be on the ceiling.

This is probably not the moment for Ted 2, a time when a young white man can sit among a group of black Charleston churchgoers for the better part of an hour before taking out his weapon and shooting nine of them dead; one in which the ensuing conversation focuses on whether the cause was racism and why we have to keep going there even after it’s been demonstrated that the shooter was well steeped in white-supremacist concerns. It’s one in which the president can come under fire for saying the n-word as though he were using it the way Joy does in MacFarlane’s movie; and one in which the cross-racial outrage over the racist flag that waves on the South Carolina capitol lawn reached such a political pitch that, for the first time, there’s actually a possibility that it could be removed.

In one sense MacFarlane is just making dick and personhood jokes in a commercial comedy that is gleefully marketed to all. But for the people who own those penises, who rarely, in American movies, experience equal personhood, this can sting. That, of course, isn’t all. Part of the Charleston shooter’s pre-massacre statement apparently expressed contempt for black sexuality (“You rape our women”). That contempt is almost as old this country. But its expression from a 21-year-old unemployed landscaper and a very popular 41-year-old entertainer would seem to suggest that it’s not going anywhere soon.

For people of color, some aspect of friendship with white people involves an awareness that you could be dropped through a trapdoor of racism at any moment, by a slip of the tongue, or at a campus party, or in a legislative campaign. But it’s not always anticipated. You don’t expect the young white man who’s been seated alongside you in a house of worship to take your life because you’re black. Nor do you expect that a movie about an obscene teddy bear would invoke a sexual stereotype forced upon you the way Kunta Kinte was forced to become “Toby.” MacFarlane goes a step further, daring to commit a defensive racial consecration along the way. When Ted and John lift the bedsheet over Tom Brady’s genitals, they’re bathed in the same golden light that shined from whatever’s in that briefcase in Pulp Fiction. Calling Brady’s junk holy would be funnier if this movie weren’t simultaneously implying that Cam Newton’s is scary. MacFarlane’s insecurity is what it is: his. But in that fertility clinic, he has aimed some of that sense of inadequacy at a multiracial family with diverse sexualities that, unthinkably, through its very public existence, has come to represent revolutionary love, compassion, and social imagination. So to see Wahlberg wailing in a pool of semen is to recognize a great truth that still appalls disparate pockets of this country: We’re all Kardashians now.

In the end, it might not be Barack Obama who drives us into the future. It may just be Vin Diesel and The Rock.
—  Wesley Morris, film critic for the Boston Globe, became the 2012 recipient of the Pulitzer Prize for Criticism. This Fast Five review was one of the submissions that won him that.
The Song of Solomon - Wesley Morris

For as much as the movies have elided blacks from the center of their narratives, it has also padded a cozy nest for white audiences. Racists have tended to be vanquished by white heroes so that a black audience could feel a kind of gratitude. That was the alternate kick of blaxploitation: It redrew the lines of hero worship. Black audiences could cheer for themselves. The 1970s were a bonanza for predominantly black movies. Playing Harriet Tubman, Jane Pittman, the mother in Sounder, and Binta in Roots made a saint of Cicely Tyson. That era didn’t last. In the 1980s, black culture accelerated its permanent crossover into mainstream America, but the movies are still figuring out what, beyond comedies and action movies, that means. When it comes to race, Hollywood tells stories from the past or relies on ancient formulas because the familiar is easier to parse. The future? It tends to look a lot like After Earth.

I waited to post this essay - which is easily the best thing you will read on 12 Years a Slave - until it was in wide(ish) release, but seriously: read this. Read it now. There are some spoilers but it’s not hugely spoiler-heavy, if I recall correctly, and is as much about the cultural impact of the film as it is about the film itself, if not more so. I don’t agree with every point he makes, but that is beside the point. It’s a remarkable essay and one of the best things on film in general that I’ve read in a long time - an absolute must-read.

I also really enjoyed Mark Harris’ piece (also on Grantland) on the film and the Best Actor Oscar race, which comes at it from a completely different angle. He has a very different opinion of the film, some of which I agree with and some of which I don’t. Mostly I’m just thrilled to have a movie that is inspiring such a high level of discourse. May we get more of this as the season continues.

How does a talentless, lying hack like Wesley Morris get paid to write by Grantland?

I don’t get it. I just don’t. I’ve had problems with his work in the past but his review of American Sniper was the equivalent of taking a shit on the keyboard and hitting the send button. It’s a dishonest and completely gutless hatchet job that has everything to do with his personal politics and nothing to do with the actual film. It’s the leftist version of a Fox News hit piece and Grantland should be ashamed of itself for employing this punk.

American Sniper is not a political movie. It’s the story of a man who goes to war and is good at it, and the deleterious effects it has on his personal life. The fact that it was a war we had no place starting is beside the point. Not for Wesley Morris, though. He’s apparently so bothered by the fact that the filmmakers take a neutral stance on the war that he felt obliged to trash the film.

Morris either flat-out lies about the content or is a completely clueless moron. I’m not going to dignify his garbage writing with a full-on rebuttal but I will give you one example. Morris describes an early scene wherein Kyle has to decide whether or not a young boy is a legitimate target. It’s a deeply nuanced scene, the heart of which is watching an innocent looking boy who may be about to commit an act of violence. In an attempt to be dismissive and reductive Morris describes the kid as “shifty looking”. Nothing could be farther from the truth. This paragraph alone tells me that Morris is either the least perceptive viewer since Mr. Magoo, was distracted by the negative review he was already composing, or is simply a lying piece of shit.

It’s truly unfortunate that Grantland continues to pay this man to write. Conversely Will Leitch wrote an excellent piece on the same film. It is perceptive and nuanced and tells all the truths that Morris lied about. Don’t bother with the garbage Grantland published, read Leitch instead:


it’s hard to leave McFarland, USA feeling that it means anything but well. It’s for sheltered audiences — for the Whites in the film and the ones watching it — who lack the capacity or opportunity to see Latinos as more than service-class citizens or illegal invaders. It’s also a movie for Latinos who wouldn’t mind a glimpse at even scarce approximations of a fuller screen self.
—  Grantland’s Wesley Morris in “Run This Town: Ridiculous Tolerance and Real Heart in ‘McFarland, USA,’ Plus ‘Hot Tub Time Machine 2’”
The Year We Obsessed Over Identity
2015's headlines and cultural events have confronted us with the malleability of racial, gender, sexual and reputational lines. Who do we think we are?
By Wesley Morris

CultureMEDIA: Wesley Morris - New York Times Magazine, October 2015 #longreads

A tremendous cultural retrospective on the year from black Pulitzer-Prize winning writer, Wesley Morris. He uses some of the year’s most talked about events to delve into this incredible moment in American cultural identity. Topics include Obama, Trump‬, Key & Peele, Rachel‬ Dolezal, Mr. Robot (‪#‎spoilers - skip‬ this section unless you’ve seen entire season) and a searing take on Go Set a Watchman and Atticus Finch. Tremendous piece. A few pull out quotes:

On Obama
“Barack Obama’s election was the dynamite that broke open the country. It was a moment. It was the moment… He was hope. He was apocalypse. And he brought a lot of anxiety into weird relief. We had never really had a white president until we had a black one.”

On Trump
“Trump is the pathogenic version of Obama, filling his supporters with hope based on a promise to rid the country of change… On Trump’s behalf, an entire wing of conservatism — the so-called birthers — devoted itself to the removal of a mask that Obama was never wearing.”

On Go Set A Watchman
“The public hand-wringing was a perverse refreshment because, even if only for a few days, it left white people dwelling on race as intensely as nonwhite people. This new Atticus was a betrayal of white liberal idealism, feeding a suspicion that that idealism was less than absolute.’

On Key & Peele’s instant classic, “Negrotown”
“It was a rebuke to both racial integration and ghettoization. I cried with laughter at the joke of this obviously fake place as a kind of heaven. I cried with sadness, because if you’re in Negrotown, you’re also in a special ring of hell.”

“We’re a vertical nation moving horizontally. We’re daring to erase the segregating boundaries, to obliterate oppressive institutions, to get over ourselves… The transition should make us stronger — if it doesn’t kill us first.

Racism is like TV right now. There’s too much to follow. Where does anybody start with this? Only now, for instance, am I halfway through Season 1 of Game of Thrones. It’s a similar thing with Donald Sterling. I’d heard stuff here and there but had never experienced all of it. So, courtesy of Deadspin, some writers’ sites, and cable news, I binge-watched, more or less, decades of this guy. I’ve just removed my hazmat suit and am ready to type. First: Where do you start?
30 Rock was always going deeper. It understood the phony limitations of race even as it grasped how much a part of American life it is. This is what separated it from Chappelle’s Show, which grasped how racism was a fact of life — its glass-half-empty gleaning of race in America was the source of its nuclear power. But 30 Rock’s characters’ ability to live alongside each other is an acceptance that institutional and incidental racism and sexism and homophobia are part of how we live. We can survive by laughing at them.