Quentin Tarantino’s Revisionist History

Over the weekend I saw Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, which is supposed to be director Quentin Tarantino’s last film (but he keeps signing on for more films). This experience was different for a few reasons namely that it was my first time going to a theater on my own and secondly that it was one of the first times in a while that I had gone to see a Tarantino feature in theaters. I’ve long since said that Tarantino is my favorite director but I skipped recent theatrical releases of his last two films; but I had a free ticket from Alamo Drafthouse to celebrate my birthday so I decided let’s see a movie and let’s see a movie that I had some mild hype for. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood centers around a mostly washed up actor (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his somewhat sketchy stuntman/friend (Brad Pitt) and it’s all set in the backdrop of Hollywood in the late 1960s. It’s a movie about not being as good as you used to be, an ode to cinema and film-making and a glorious, damn near mastabatory look at the late 1960s through fashion, places and making us all see that apparently you could smoke on airplanes and honestly, everywhere for that matter. As far as the movie goes: I liked it. It’s far from my favorite Tarantino but still is an enjoyable romp with some damn good action. Tarantino is nearly meta in his fetishization of feet (almost like he’s in on the joke now) and the soundtrack is solid and the shots are beautiful. But there are a few things in the movie that kept going back over in my mind and that means I’m going to spoil this movie so here’s your warning but the thought was: wow, Tarantino has a hard-on for changing history. Let’s go over Once Upon a Time in Hollywood’s attempts at revisionism first. So there’s one thing about the movie that’s hard to put into words and that is the tension in this film: another character that is heavily featured is Margot Robbie’s version of Sharon Tate. For anyone who has put the pieces together of Sharon Tate, late 1960s and California then cool, you’re thinking what literally everyone else was thinking. Manson and Manson Family nonsense runs rampant through the film, it’s honestly a little distracting and it made me very anxious. At every moment I was concerned about the hippies that may be murderers and as Sharon Tate becomes a more important character I felt like watching a Death Note background character, just sort of waiting for her to be brutalized but she doesn’t. She’s okay. She survives. In fact, the two male leads of the movie kick some serious cultist ass in this weird violent fever dream of a conclusion. It was a shock for sure and it was surreal to think of a scenario where Sharon Tate walked away okay. The movie also indulges in a little bit of great white man fantasy by having Brad Pitt kick the ass of an at his prime Bruce Lee (who honestly in this movie is a bit of an asshat) which is just a little insulting but hey, power fantasy gotta power fantasy. 

In isolation, this movie is a love letter to a bygone era but if you take this movie as part of the Tarantino filmography then a pattern emerges: Tarantino hates history so much that he has to write fanfiction about it. Hot take aside, it would seem like Tarantino has a thing for revising history. Two of my favorite of his films both take a strange power fantasy approach to two of the worst times in human history: World War II and Slavery in the Antebellum South. Inglorious Basterds is entirely about Jewish-American soldiers taking revenge against Nazis and Django Unchained is the story of a black man who takes revenge against the white systems of oppression in place.  

I think this form of revisionism is fascinating because it feels a little like fanfiction. It feels like Tarantino as a director being able to comment or change an aspect of history that is shameful and subverts expectations by giving power to those who typically in those historical situations were powerless. That was what was so brilliant about Once Upon a Time in Hollywood was sort of waiting for Sharon Tate to perish and especially in a post #MeToo-era, I was worried about seeing nothing but an excuse for Tarantino to work out some sexual violence against women (which he seems to enjoy) and honestly, I was happy to see a story where things turned out okay for Sharon. It’s a radical moment and one I didn’t respect to find so empowering. By taking the power away from the Manson Family, Tarantino; like he did in Inglorious Basterds and Django Unchained takes away power from those who are at this stage mythological as far as terror goes.The last battle of frantic, sloppy and insane and takes away some of the legend and horror from a force so monstrous that when I said that I was listening to I Am the Walrus when I was in high school, my aunt told me that I could not listen to that song and I saw fear in her eyes for the first time in my life. 

Restraint is not something I’d expect to say about Tarantino but his choice to have a fairly happy ending at the end of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood was shockingly touching and I was able to release my held breath when Sharon spoke over the intercom of her gated driveway asking if her neighbor was okay as she was not the victim of the Manson Family’s violence but her neighbor, DiCaprio’s Rick Dalton and his stuntman Cliff Booth are the recipients of that violence and they do in fact conquer over the darkness that would cloak Hollywood for decades in paranoia and fear. 

I liked this movie. This isn’t my favorite Tarantino as it is a slow burn and I am bored and want more hyperviolence but it’s good. It’s a masterclass in set up and pay off that should honestly be studied in film classes as well as some of the best character acting and cinematography I’ve seen in awhile. It’s a good film and I’m glad I saw it and I’m glad that in this reality that Sharon Tate is okay. 

Before we go, there’s one scene that to most would be a throwaway but as I talked about it with Carlos, it really ended up being poignant. In the film, Sharon Tate visits a theater where one of her movies is showing. She’s asked to pose next to a poster and sits in with the audience and watches her own feature. She smiles as people smile and comment about her performance and she laughs when the audience laughs. But in the film, it isn’t a weird Margot Robbie clone as Sharon Tate in the movie, it’s actually just the film she’s in: The Wrecking Crew. And if you think about it, if you didn’t grow up during this time or if you were a kid during this time, you may never know Sharon Tate as an actress, just as a victim. You know her as a notch in Manson’s belt, not a vibrant and brilliant and talented woman who was lost too soon and that choice to humanize the real Sharon Tate was wonderful and I cannot thank Tarantino enough for the chance to truly see Sharon Tate as she would want to be remembered: not as a victim, but as a star. 

Thoughts from Titan: Thoughts and Musings on Avengers: Infinity War Part 1

I didn’t want to do this.

I didn’t want to be this person.

But today, we’re going to do it. We’re going to talk about Avengers: Infinity War.

This will be a lot like my Black Panther musings and thoughts post. We’re just gonna spitball here a little. And I am not Promixa Midnight and Thanos does not demand my silence anymore. I have been silent long enough. I was not spared from this call to silence and this movie was relentlessly spoiled for me in several places.  

So let’s get ready. I’m going to spoil the whole damn thing.

But before we rip this movie open, let’s go over some history, shall we?

Thanos is a complicated character in Marvel history. He was at first a campy mustache-twirling villain of the Silver Age and he was more an antagonist to Spiderman and the Fantastic Four than anyone else. He wasn’t really a cosmic threat: Galactus was. Thanos’ history was ret-conned a little while ago giving us some of the more interesting aspects of his story and character. As a comic threat, Thanos may have eclipsed Galactus. He’s more charismatic, his goals for better or worse make more sense than he just exists and realistically, he’s a villain who, most of the the time, loves being a villain. He’s up there with Red Skull for me when it comes to Marvel villains and villain canon.

As far as the MCU goes; this is one of the most ambitious things done in film since the transition to color film. The MCU proper has spanned now for 10 years and the first Avengers movie is now a distant 6 year old memory. The movies have been mostly good and they range from movies that I love like Captain America: The Winter Soldier to movies that I hate with a burning passion like Avengers: Age of Ultron. As well as movies that I wish I could ignore like Ant-Man. Infinity War is the cinematic version of one of the most important comic book story lines in history and is the culmination of a decade of dedicated movie watching.

I was apprehensive when the Marvel movies starting getting cosmic. Cosmic Marvel is one of my favorites but I’m also an old comic book fan. I was worried that the cosmic stuff would alienate (puns) mainstream fans but I will say, I’m happy to see some of the most colorful and fun McGuffin devices in all of comics on screen.

With that being said let’s talk about this movie. And as I said before I’m spoiling the whole damn thing so now is your chance to back away.

Because I’m trying to be a better person, we’ll go over the positives first:

  • While I was apprehensive about how Marvel would handle the cosmic stuff for a mainstream audience, I think they did a really good job of explaining as needed weirder aspects of the Marvel canon. They did this by mostly not explaining anything at all and I think that’s one of the best ways to handle it.
  • Again, the cast is what shines as in all the Marvel movies. I don’t think anyone is a poor casting choice and even Brolin as Thanos is a delight.
  • I was really worried when Thor was appearing in this most post-Ragnarok that he’d go back to being the joyless Thor he was in the first Avengers and in any of his solo romps. I was pleasantly surprised to have back the Thor that made Ragnarok such a fun movie.
  • I wasn’t crazy about Dr. Strange as a film but I think the way this movie handles his powers happen to be some of the best I’ve ever seen or could imagine.
  • The fight sequences and battles scenes were some of the best in any Marvel movie and when the film lets these characters be as overpowered and intense as they are, it’s an absolute blast.
  • I wasn’t crazy about Spiderman: Homecoming but Tom Holland is a cinnamon roll and I worry about him and he was great in this movie.
  • T’Challa’s still great, not much has changed.
  • Gamora was always my least favorite part of the Guardians franchise: Zoe Saldana is a great actress, but she reminded me a little of Jennifer Lawrence in the X-Men franchise: just tired of being in that body paint. But Gamora absolutely shines in this movie even though I do not need literally any of the other Guardians except for Drax and Mantis.
  • The effects are pretty solid this movie but I think a lot of the budget went towards making powers and suits look good. There are some places of spotty effect work but we’ll get to that later.

I wanted to give Thanos his own paragraph. I think he deserves that.

Humanizing Thanos was the best worst decision possible. Thanos is a complicated character and we can never go back to the Thanoscopter days of comic books but giving him such an arc was strange, forced but powerful. But the problem I have with Thanos is very similar to the issue I have with Killmonger in Black Panther. His ideas in this movie are extreme but by no means insane sounding considering today’s climate both politically and socially. The Mad Titan is mad because his ideas should have never made sense but in this movie, he is almost entirely too human. You can, weirdly, empathize with a genocidal California raisin. And that’s a problem. 

Enough positive stuff; that isn’t why you’re here. Let’s talk about the parts I wasn’t so crazy about.

  • Peter Quill is still my least favorite part of any Guardians and while him being an emotional, reckless and annoying waste of space is very in character: I wanted to punch him in the mouth for ruining the flow of the film.
  • I also would love to know when and where between Guardians 1 & 2 did Gamora and Peter get to “I love you” status. The romance seemed rushed and awful considering how slow and deliberate the relationship had been up until that point.
  • Scarlet Witch is useless in this movie and if she simply vanished, I would not bat an eye. While her feelings are valid and emotional, her powers are so intense and strange that there should be zero conflict in this movie.
  • My biggest fear going into the movie was that this would be quips the film and it absolutely was. Quips and snark work in a lot of the standalone movies because it is often one offended to a room of straight men. Tony Stark is snarky and it works because Steve Rogers is so sincere and Black Widow is so tired that it works. It does not work having Star Lord and Iron Man and Spiderman and Dr. Strange all throwing quips. It emotionally undercuts how intense many of the scenes are.
  • This movie requires you having watched all the other movies. For comic book fans, that’s fine. I’m used to having to pick out every single detail but this is a lot for a mainstream fan. This movie was nothing but pay off and it matters a lot if you’ve been working through that build up for a decade but if you just started in Phase 2 or Phase 3 when many did this is an insane and punishing ride.
  • Thanos looks like an angry California Raisin. There, I said it.
  • Mark Ruffalo is one of my favorite actors to play Bruce Banner and he’s a great Hulk. He is hot garbage and waste of space in this film.
  • I checked out around giant “dwarf” Peter Dinklage.
  • Captain America is wonderful but he is a waste of space in this movie as well, really a lot of the Avengers are just not needed. This film is packed and I know it’s supposed to be but in the nature of writing, it’s hard to give each of these characters something to do.
  • If you had told me that a movie involving the Children of Thanos would end with them being mostly easily defeated by B-Tier Avengers, I would have punched you in the neck for lying.
  • The end credits scene made me swear under my breath.

And now, we’ve reached the end. Let’s talk about Death.

So many beloved characters die in a flash. Without mercy, without thought, without care. I wish I felt something. I wish I had cried. The audible gasps in the theater were enough. The countless posts on social media from friends I thought would be enough. But you know what? I felt nothing. Because here’s the thing. I am a long term comic book fan. Death means nothing. And that’s what I felt during the scenes of watching some of the characters I love more than some members of my own family fade into cold and unfeeling dust.

It felt hollow, disrespectful and cruel. For so many, comic books are a safe space. We find honor and meaning in the heroes we grew up with and facing such a existential threat and watching them fade away felt like I lost a part of myself.

But I survived Death in the Family, House of M and many more cataclysmic comic events. Hell, even by the standard set by the comic book Infinity Wars, this is tame. So why am I so upset this time around?

A lack of tension.

We know Tom Holland will be back. We know T’Challa is coming back. We know that many of these characters that vanished will return. I mourn Gamora. I even mourn Loki a little. But because of the slate of movies, I know at least a few of these characters will return and I know at least a few that are still alive as of the end of Part 1, will be gone come Part 2.

And that slap in the face is nothing more than a careful little insurance policy to make sure that my butt is back in the seat come Part 2. That is why I was so violently angry.

To put very bluntly, this is what I said in the car with Amber after seeing this movie:

Whatever bullshit they have to pull to make this all work out by Part 2, is gonna be some bullshit.

I left the theater angry, ranting, screeching but also somewhat hopeful. I cannot say this is a bad movie. I cannot say that I didn’t enjoy parts of this movie. But I can be disappointed in the cheap trick and the 3 hour long slog-fest of mindless payoff that was Avengers: Infinity War Part 1.

“But wait, Amanda!” someone I’m sure is going to say. “You’re a comic book fan, you should be used to this.” You know what, Straw Man? I am. I am used to this. But even in talking to friends about this, this level of death just feels unneeded. This was a Jason Todd level gut punch and I don’t think we deserved this as much as we did the death of Jason Todd (Rest in Power, Jason.). And knowing that children cried in theaters, that mainstream fans are confused and that long-term fans are just tired is why this whole movie exhausted me emotionally.

With a villain so overpowered, with a threat so big, it almost didn’t feel important. And I struggle to think of a movie where most of the main cast and without exaggeration, half of the people in that universe simply vanish into dust and it didn’t make me feel emotional at all; well, I think that film has a serious problem.

And now, after sitting and ranting about this movie for more hours than I like admitting, I feel mostly hollow. Do cool one-liners, fanservice beyond belief and awesome fight sequences a good movie make?

Does a plot with little sense if you haven’t invested 10 years of movie watching and/or decades of comic book reading, at times too intense violence and watching a villain “win” make a bad movie?

This movie was an emotional rollercoaster of cheering, screaming and bitter disappointment but also immense hope. With this clean slate, who knows where things can go. While my gut says this will end with some nonsense, it’s a comic book movie, it might just be fun nonsense. I know for sure I will be there to see Part 2 but whether I’ll be there happily or out of obligation is the bigger question.

 

Thoughts from Wakanda: Musings after Seeing Black Panther

I was afraid to see this movie.

I was afraid that people were going to cinnamon roll the hell out of this film. I was afraid that people were only going to see a diverse cast and ignore any flaws or faults in this film and mostly that has not been true.

Dear reader, I really liked that movie. I loved that movie. It isn’t perfect, but while it’s still fresh in my mind: I wanted to pen down a few of the thoughts about The Black Panther and what it means right now to be black, to be African-American, to be a nerd and to leave a movie theater while pterodactyl screeching.

  • Okay, so Alamo Drafthouse decked this movie out with some of the best promo material and all. Seriously, I’m getting spoiled to the Drafthouse. And all the previews made me giggle.
  • I had the pleasure of seeing this movie with my friend who is also named Amanda and she is white and real talk: she was way more excited to see this movie than I was and we spent a lot of time talking about the fact that this movie is objectively more important to me but she was the one screaming about Wakanda.
  • We also got to have several moments where she wanted to compliment women in beautiful African dress but didn’t feel it was right, so in those times I acted as her surrogate: not that I didn’t also find these outfits beautiful, I’ve seen them before and they don’t hold the same meaning to me.
  • Additionally, I don’t think much of Africa: I came from a family that was never much tied to our own blackness. Remembering Africa meant remembering Slavery and my family chose to focus on bettering their lives than remembering a land so many of us didn’t know.

Here’s a good place for me to talk about my position on and history with Black Panther before the Marvel movies. Truthfully, my favorite run of his was during the 90s and 2000s when he was very much rooted in radical Afro-excellence while also still being very much the blacksploitation character he was created to be. I never had an issue with that as a youth but also fully know we cannot have the superhero equivalent of Coming to America now in 2018.
Let’s actually talk about the movie now: there will likely be spoilers.

  • The casting is AMAZING. There is not a single role that feels out of place or wrong. There is no one role that stood out more to me but dammit everyone was great.
  • I will say it was powerful as hell to see a movie full of beautiful, strong and important black people on screen. So powerful that I did not know that was something I needed until I saw it.
  • The action set pieces may be some of the best done by a Marvel movie: and while they’re actually pretty scarce: this is not as action-heavy as say Civil War was, it was still amazing.
  • The new suit is great, the special effects are great and the soundtrack was great.
  • I did not expect this movie to take me on the emotional ride it did. This movie is not dead parent approved but I am okay with that.
  • Also, how dare another comic book movie make a villian that ends up making more sense than the hero.
  • Andy Serkis is a treasure and it’s so good to see him on screen.
  • Martin Freeman is also a treasure and his American accent is quite good.
    • I was very impressed by this.
  • It was AMAZING to see women of color use technology and be more brilliant than Tony Stark in places.
  • The entire plot of how to deal with African wealth vs. African-American struggle hit me like I did not expect a comic book movie could.
  • I was giddy over the use of Zulu weapons and formations.
    • Seriously, this was like a LARP of the Deadliest Warrior episode that pitted Shaka Zulu against William Wallace.
  • SEEING WARRIOR WOMEN MADE ME SCREAM.
  • Stick around for that post-credits scene. It did upset me but it also did make me smile a little bit.
  • Killmonger is a very human character and his deadpan reactions to things added levity in places there needn’t be levity.
  • There was not a single character that felt out of place and that’s good for a Marvel movie.
  • The small cultural touches made me giddy. Killmonger’s scarification, the tattooed heads of warrior women…lip plates. ALL OF IT made me so happy. Yes, it is pan-Africanism but in the moment it was AWESOME.
  • There are lines in this movie that are so well-delivered that I almost choked on my Mr. Pibb several times. And that’s a damn good thing.

Now in this confluence of praise, I do have some issues with this film:

  • Killmonger is complex and his narrative is very interesting…is a word…it very much did remind me of the actual Black Panther party for better or worse. There’s just one problem with this: we have learned from history that militant African-Americans is not the way to promote equality. And his words ring so true in this era that many people likely will not see this as a problem: and that is the problem.
  • That’s actually just a general issue I had with the film that it does seem like the “villain’s” point of view is likely now one shared by many and in making such a sympathetic antagonist, his viewpoint: which mind you is wrong, seems very okay and normal and a valid way to feel.
  • This is a minor nitpick but the pan-Africanism did start to wear on me as the movie went on. There are so many different languages, religions, clothes and mannerisms that make each country in Africa unique so to see them all sort of just appropriated for the sake of a cool shot: it’s a minor pick but it did wear on me. And while in one breath I can say it’s cool, it also isn’t ideal. And yes, I know this is a fictional African-land but you’re in my world now, so deal with the nitpick.
  • Also there’s a Gorilla tribe that says to be loyal to Hanuman, who is a Hindu deity, which irked me. Not to say there are not Hindu people in Africa: but I’m sure the screenwriter needed a monkey god and just happened to find one.
  • This movie is tensionless. That isn’t a bad thing but despite all the hardship: we know T’Challa will be okay. We know he’s gonna be in Infinity Wars. But a lack of tension isn’t all terrible: just an annoying part of the whole franchise thing.
  • That post-credits scene did upset me a little because it didn’t seem like it was doing much but setting up the next movie and normally I’d be okay with that but as of yesterday, it made me the angry.
  • Some of the humor is meta and out of place and even though I laughed, it is still weak writing.

But all of that side, this movie is iconic and important. I never felt attached to being of African descent but for a moment, in a theater full of people in their finest cultural garb or even those of us just in dresses from Forever 21. I felt an attachment to a fictional place like no other. I felt beautiful and strong for being African-American and I didn’t feel weird for being black, being a geek and loving technology. This movie was the film we needed right now with our current…concerns as a nation and planet. And sure, I had problems with this movie but I am not going to let my personal issues with it diminish how important this film must be to people of color and people in general.
This is the opposite of Wonder Woman for me. Wonder Woman was a passable movie that you couldn’t critique because of how important it was. Black Panther is a great movie that also happens to be very important and while it isn’t perfect: it’s very easy to ignore those flaws.
But this movie is very much a product of today, right now and where we are as a nation, as people and as humans on this planet. It’s one of the biggest reasons I do not think this movie will age well: I think it so perfectly encapsulates what it means to be of color in an unkind world right now. This is not a perfect movie but considering that I walked in assuming that I would not like it and left hooting should tell you just how I feel about this film. It’s political, emotional and real and all coming from a character most only know because of his brief comic book marriage to a more iconic superhero.
I won’t say Wakanda Forever, because that isn’t the goal and shouldn’t be the goal. The goal is to be kind to each other, be better people and help when appropriate. So with that being said: Wakanda For Now.
And long may T’Challa reign.