Whether you find all the noise Dunham generates to be cacophonous or harmonious, don’t let it drown this out: Girls was great. Over breakfast with an assigning editor (Hannah eats breakfast, the editor has a coffee), Hannah blithely explains, “I feel like I’m perfect for the aesthetic of Slag Mag, because my persona is very witty and narcissistic … and the other thing about me is I give zero fucks about anything, yet I have a strong opinion about everything, even topics I’m not informed on.” And we’re off. Her bad attitude is transformed by a chillaxed surf instructor (Riz Ahmed), who convinces Hannah it’s easier to love things than to hate them, sending her back to New York with a more positive outlook on life and the cheeseball anthem “She’s So High” ringing in her ears. Having to make one public apology is usually enough to cow a celebrity into safe politesse, but Dunham is indefatigably, uncontrollably impolitic and political, racking up inadvertent controversies and their subsequent mea culpas like pinball points. Get those Think Piece Club Cards out! Some people will inevitably react to the hubbub generated by this episode with a bit of eye-rolling: yet another Dunham-adjacent to-do! The new season is shiny and sharp, a neon-colored candy with a puckish and puckering quality. Before Girls even began, feelings about Lena Dunham, its then 25-year-old creator, ran almost inconceivably hot. Girls, when it first arrived, was praised and critiqued as a kind of millennial ethnography, a reaction encouraged by the realistic tone of the very early series, long since abandoned. For the aforementioned editor, she heads to Montauk surf camp. After some nice physical comedy involving spilled sunscreen and wetsuits, Hannah discovers she hates surfing. After all, the irony of Dunham’s persona is that there is nothing that redeems it quite like watching Girls, something that Dunham-haters are unlikely to do. If Hannah was once taken to be a thinly disguised Dunham, Dunham is now seen by some as a thinly disguised Hannah, a talking, tweeting aggravation, much more likely to put people off her show than the challenging heroine in her show is. Peppered throughout these episodes are perfect, hilarious details: Elijah’s (Andrew Rannells) wardrobe, which includes an impeccable double-breasted white blazer and an “I survived season three of Ally McBeal” T-shirt, paired sans pants; Ray (Alex Karpovsky) and Marnie’s passive-aggressive exchanges of “baby”; an unbearable but accurate dissection of Paul Krugman; Adam and Jessa’s house of sexual horrors; naked yogurt-eating; and another contagiously energizing dance scene, a Girls specialty. Swiftly, Dunham and her co-writer and producer, Jenni Konner, began to write their way out of this particular corner with glorious malice, turning Girls into a blood-letting satire inhabited by enormously watchable characters who could never be mistaken for aspirational ones. In the five years since, feelings about Dunham have not cooled, but they have stabilized, a roiling pot that has kept roiling—often swamping the television show that started it all and that begins its final, fantastic sixth season this Sunday. Hannah was imperfect, but dancing to Robyn late at night after crafting the perfect elliptical tweet for her 26 followers, she was also recognizable and relatable. Heralded, decried, beloved, dismissed, Dunham was, depending on whom you asked, brilliant, unbearable, fearless, privileged, racist, fat, a product of nepotism, the voice of a generation, or some combination of all of the above. As Girls’ Hannah Horvath has become a fully fleshed comedic creation, firmly controlled by Dunham and Konner, Dunham has become the more controversial figure of the two. All of this leads up to the excellent third installment, a bottle episode co-starring Matthew Rhys as a literary giant accused of sexual impropriety, that is a provocation to the think-piece economy, likely to be eye-rolling only to those who judge it merely by its premise. As the new season begins, there are thankfully no monsters on hand, only fools. Over the course of Girls’ run, the protagonists have occasionally tipped over from being cartoonish into ultra-horrendous beastly besties, behaving so badly they barely resemble humans. And they say there’s nothing left that unites this country! In the second episode, Hannah takes a road trip with Marnie (Allison Williams) and Desi (Ebon Moss-Bachrach, who is so wonderfully awful as a self-dramatizing goofball that it’s hard to remember he was introduced as a dreamy, if self-obsessed, romantic lead) that turns into a laugh-out-loud send-up of a horror movie. The first two episodes send Hannah out of the city on delirious adventures. In a time when many celebrities strive to be as inoffensive as possible, Dunham is, instead, indomitably herself. From the beginning there has been a conflation of Dunham and her alter ego, the monstrous, hilarious Hannah Horvath. Hannah has just published a Modern Love column in the New York Times, about Jessa (Jemima Kirke) and Adam’s (Adam Driver) relationship, and it has jump-started her career. Hannah and her friends broke free from the bonds of realism and the handcuffs of likability to became riotous grotesques, larger-than-life narcissists stomping around New York like self-harming Godzillas. Girls’ satire is grounded in familiar human traits—the self-obsession, the gnarly striving, the destructive sexual passion, the competitiveness, the unexpected dashes of love—but these qualities are twisted and amped up, ordinary seeds tended into wild, disfigured, possibly carnivorous jungle plants. But those will be the people who don’t watch the episode, which is funny, measured, and capped by a thought-provoking floppy penis gag. Hannah’s (white) friends were based on Lena’s (white) friends, Hannah’s tattoos were Lena’s tattoos, Hannah’s body was Lena’s body, Hannah’s voice-of-a-generation joke was maybe a not-quite-joke about Lena’s own. Who has two thumbs and an opinion on Lena Dunham? As often happens with work made by women, Girls was not received so much as fiction but as memoir. Horvath was taken to be a thinly disguised, lost version of Dunham herself—an ambitious but directionless Oberlin graduate with artistic aspirations kicking around Greenpoint on her parents’ dime, having complicated sex and waiting for life to happen. But actually watching Girls has always been extra credit when it comes to being a member of the overenrolled Girls Think Piece Club. On Girls, Dunham skewers exactly the kind of blind privilege she is accused of having and makes the case for exactly the sort of stumbling learning she is constantly doing, all contained within a funny, self-aware, prickly television show that has—over its six seasons—proven Dunham’s talent, not her knack for sticking her foot in her mouth.
But check this out. Maybe, just maybe: if you put together a stellar cast of big-name (and social-media savvy) actors to tell a previously unsung story of the kind many people have long clamored to see, and do so in a compelling and easily accessible way while marketing it smartly and vigorously—you’ll discover that white faces and narratives aren’t the only ones that can appeal to a mass audience. And look at this. Can’t forget this, either. And this. And then you’ve got something like Hidden Figures, which is inspiring little girls everywhere, racking up major Oscar nods, and bringing in bank. However it does on Oscar night, the effect of the movie’s influence both within the industry and popular culture will (hopefully) linger on long after. Oh, and there’s this. Over this past weekend, Hidden Figures brought its box office total to $119.4 million, surpassing La La Land ($118.3 million) as this year’s highest grossing Best Picture nominee. For years, there’s been this prevailing notion among the bank rollers and gatekeepers of Hollywood that films with predominantly black casts don’t do well at the box office (unless they happen to star someone named Will, Denzel, or Kevin).
For a while now, FX’s Cold War thriller The Americans has occupied a bittersweet place in the television landscape: The series is regularly dubbed the best drama on television by top critics and publications, but it can never seem to fully click with audiences. The series takes place at the tail-end of the Cold War, depicting officials in Russia and the United States as they play a dangerous, indefinite game of tag—one that involves nefarious spycraft, biological weapons manufacturing, and meticulous murder plotting. (Plus, lots of beautifully modulated domestic drama—but that doesn’t bring in big crowds.) It imagines an era of escalating tensions between two world powers as cooler heads struggle to prevail. But now, there’s some reason to be optimistic for the show breaking out with viewers, too. The Americans Season 5 premieres March 7 on FX. But the series’ alignment with the troubling era we’re potentially entering into should hopefully convince a few. The exemplary quality of The Americans may not be enough to get anxious comrades to tune in. The Americans has already been renewed through its sixth and final season—to air in 2018—and so executive producers Joe Weisberg and Joel Fields now have the flexibility to write their story and characters toward an endpoint, without the fear of cancellation and other network shenanigans. With awards bodies, at least, it finally found success for Season 4, netting its first major Emmy and Golden Globe nominations in 2016. (Weisberg’s brother, Jacob, is the chairman and editor-in-chief of the Slate Group.) The network is still apparently pushing for new viewers, however: Newly released promos for Season 5 home in heavily on the glowing praise The Americans continues to receive, essentially letting the unfamiliar know that they’re missing out on a really, really good show. There’s also the fact that The Americans has taken on, well, some new relevance.
One USA Today editorial referred to Iron Fist “kick[ing] Asian representation while it’s down.”
The Iron Fist trailer sets up a conflict between Danny and David Wenham’s Harold Meachum—shown at one point with a face covered in blood spatter—for control of Danny’s father’s company, but it also highlights the roles played by Jessica Henwick, a British actress of Chinese and South African descent, and Wai Ching Ho’s Madame Gao, a returning villain from Netflix’s Daredevil series, and it features a shot of Jones and Henwick navigating the streets of Chinatown in the middle of the Lunar New Year celebration. (In this version of the story, they die in a plane crash.) Although that’s more or less always been Iron Fist’s backstory, some comics fans pushed for Marvel to re-envision the story with an Asian-American hero at its center, a demand that grew more urgent after Doctor Strange, whose hero is similarly a white man soaked in Asian mysticism, did an end-run around the Fu Manchu caricature of his mentor, the Ancient One, by casting Tilda Swinton in the role instead. With a little over a month to go until Iron Fist’s March 17 release, Netflix has given us an extended look at its take on the Marvel Comics hero with a new trailer for the series. Danny Rand, as comics fans know, is actually returning from the fictional Asian country of K’un L’un, where he was schooled in the martial arts after the death of his wealthy parents. Whether that means the series, which was created by showrunner Scott Buck, is seriously wrestling with the politics of representation or just using a hodgepodge of Asian cultures for window-dressing is not something the trailer reveals, but it is certainly something fans will be watching for when the full series arrives. The funky opening music draws a subliminal connection to the Blaxploitation-flavored Luke Cage, but that stops abruptly when blonde, curly-haired Finn Jones strolls into frame in bare feet and a Baja hoodie, looking like he just got back from smoking a ton of dope on spring break.
Noah’s a comedian, sure, but he seemed especially at a loss as to how to spin jokes out of Trump’s undermining of democracy. Bush—and, in turn, he described just how disturbing Trump’s attempt to discredit him really was. soil. And Trevor Noah, finally with the chance to respond on Monday night’s The Daily Show, could barely feign a smile as he dug into the disturbing details of Trump’s continued quest to “take a bad situation, and make it worser” (to use, in Noah’s phrasing, “alternative words”). In doing so, Trump reiterated his bizarre notion that the judicial branch of government has no right to put checks on his various, unconstitutional executive actions. “Trump’s threatening the judge by blaming any future terror attack on him—and that’s not an accident, it’s a strategy,” Noah explained. “It’s a strategy straight out of the authoritarian handbook … He’s laying the groundwork to subvert an entire branch of government.” Yeah, there’s just not much to laugh at there. Donald Trump lashed out at a universally admired, Republican-appointed federal judge over the weekend, going so far as to preemptively blame him for any terror attack that might occur on U.S. Noah honed in on the credentials of Judge James Robart, an appointee of former President George W.
As Michael walks out of the LSATs, he has a pained look on his face, suggesting that maybe he didn’t perform as well as he’d hoped. This post contains spoilers for Jane the Virgin. But he survived, he and Jane finally did have sex, and Season 3 brought the pair new challenges as Michael worked through his recovery and grappled with having to find a new career now that he was unfit for police work. Still: And that’s the most shocking twist of all, because on Jane the Virgin, characters don’t just die—they’re shot, or found dead in their jail cell clutching a bible, or thrown from a window and impaled on an ice sculpture. Then, just as Michael and Jane were starting down a new path, he died, and what makes that death all the more wrenching is that it’s so very un-telenovela, and thus so uncharacteristic of Jane the Virgin. “After talking to grief counselors, this felt like the right time to reenter Jane’s journey. She’ll always feel Michael’s absence (and trust me, we will too), but it opens up our storytelling in new and exciting ways, while allowing for the light and bright Jane world that we love to write.”
It will be intriguing to see how all of this, time jump included, changes the show. And we are only at our midpoint.”
Urman is right about one thing, at least: We should have seen this coming. “We’ll be flashing back to those three years and filling in gaps, but mining emotions realistically is something we work hard on and we knew the immediate pain of that loss would overwhelm our storytelling,” wrote Urman. Well, we were warned, but that didn’t make Monday night’s Jane the Virgin twist any less shocking when the writers finally killed off Jane’s beloved ex-cop husband, Michael Cordero, who collapsed from complications of his gunshot wound right as he finished taking the LSATs. A quick, quiet, senseless death like Michael’s, with very little pomp, is about as realistic—and as heartbreaking—as you could ask for. After episodes and episodes of foreshadowing, Michael’s death seemed all but assured at the end of Season 2, when he was shot by Sin Rostro on his wedding night. “Originally, I thought Michael would die earlier,” she wrote. “But Brett [Dier] is such an incredible actor—he gave us such great comedy and drama and first-rate exposition delivery, often all in one scene […] So, we changed some things in the writers’ room. The realization that a character can collapse from something as mundane as aortic dissection is a game-changer in the Jane universe while also serving as a reminder of the very quality that keeps Jane from becoming farce: Despite its wild premise and plot twists, the characters and their emotions feel very real. That said, the show has cried wolf before. So it’s little surprise that fan reaction to the twist was swift and decisive:
So devastating was the decision to kill Michael off that showrunner Jennie Snyder Urman issued a letter timed to the episode’s airing to explain her thinking. But then he falls to the ground, clutching his chest, and in a matter of seconds, he’s gone. They had sex. But this is a telenovela, as we so frequently remind you. They moved into their first home. Jane and Michael’s marriage, with its lessons in communciation and compromise, has long been one of the show’s healthiest, and has kept Jane the Virgin rooted in reality among all the long-lost relatives, shocking revelations, and over-the-top drama. Jane and Michael got married. “Friends, I did say Michael would love Jane until his dying breath,” the narrator cruelly reminds us as Michael takes that final gasp for air, a line Urman reveals was thrown in to force the writers to follow through on the big twist. There’s a second, structural twist in this episode, which is the flash forward to three years after Michael’s death, a strategic move by the writers to avoid getting bogged down in its immediate aftermath. And I’m so glad we did that and I’m so glad all those firsts for Jane were with Michael.
Read the rest of the pieces in the Slate Book Review. “Obama presented a new vision of America, to the world and to itself. Put in more concrete terms, the fact that Obama’s accomplishments will likely endure—the fact that Donald Trump cannot blot them from the record—will not console the Americans who see family deported, who see children killed by unaccountable police officers, who see the richest Americans siphoning the nation’s wealth for themselves. As Chait writes, “Barack Obama’s presidency represented one of those great bursts. Given his place in the landscape of political journalism, however, it’s no surprise Chait makes the same omission. One way to look at this is to say that, in the long run, Grant’s legacy—and that of those black Americans—survived. To show progressives that their pessimism and fatalism is unfounded, and to show that—pace their view of the present—Obama was a success. “It is one thing to notice the persistence of racism, quite another to interpret the history of black America as mainly one of continuity rather than mainly one of progress,” wrote Chait, a line echoed in the book, as he contends that Obama made substantive progress on advancing racial equality. Grant saw genuine progress for black Americans. Eight years of liberal governance yielding a surprisingly comprehensive list of achievements. A bailout of the automotive industry that rescued millions of jobs and saved an entire region from economic ruin. Wary of the dogmatism (and increasingly illiberalism) that now defines movement conservatism, Chait also critiques what he sees as the same when it emerges on the left (or more precisely, to his left). Chait’s triumphalism, his teleological view of American history, discounts what it means to experience that twilight. Writing from first the New Republic and later New York magazine, Chait has long been a strong defender of the Obama administration and Obama-style liberalism, not just from the right, but from the left as well. Audacity is his attempt to correct this error. The era of Barack Obama is over. You could see all of this—his affinity for Obama and support of mainstream liberalism, his optimistic view of the present course of American life, and his wariness toward left-wing critiques—in his 2014 exchange with the Atlantic magazine’s Ta-Nehisi Coates that ranged over topics including welfare reform, the New Republic’s racial history, the notion of a “culture of poverty,” and the question of racial optimism. That sense of tragedy—that sense that those inevitable reversals engender real pain for real people—is vital. Custom House. A financial reform law that established strict new requirements for banks and made consumer financial protection a key priority of the federal government. “When liberals bring up the history of American race relations, they usually emphasize how little has changed, rather than how much.”
Chait’s self-positioning in the ecosystem of American politics isn’t mindless contrarianism. A teleological framing of history tends to discount what it actually means to live through and experience setbacks. Chait is correct to argue that all major social programs are inadequate at the start (Social Security was threadbare and designed to appease Southern segregationists in the Roosevelt coalition), but that doesn’t erase the impact of what that means in the moment for actual people. It is a lived experience, one that can consume entire lives—whole generations—before the “arc of the universe” begins to move back toward progress. And in the wake of recent events—the election of Donald Trump, his inauguration, and his rapid move to implement an ethno-nationalist, plutocratic agenda—it’s almost a comforting argument. This gets to the general problem with triumphalist narratives, and Chait’s brand of triumphalism in particular. For as much as the Affordable Care Act has been a success—and Chait details all the ways that is true—he gives short shift to glaring problems like inadequate subsidies (premiums and deductibles are still too high for many millions of Americans) and the absence of actual universal coverage. You could lodge a similar complaint about Chait’s own treatment of heath care reform in this book. And an ambitious plan to reduce carbon emissions and spare the world from the worst consequences of global climate change. He fails to tackle the more sophisticated critiques of the administration, from both the left and the right, typically aiming his counterarguments at Obama’s weakest critics instead. Republicans are just now, for example, beginning to see the massive political challenge involved in repealing the Affordable Care Act and upending the health care system as it presently exists. Even if we recover from the policies of the Trump administration—even if a new liberal era emerges in response—it won’t change what ordinary people suffered through; it won’t restore the loss. Perhaps, if liberals like Chait—or even myself—were more attuned to that possibility of profound loss, then maybe we would have better anticipated the present moment and all the pain it promises. And in its confident defense of the mainstream liberal consensus, it fits comfortably into Chait’s oeuvre as a writer and a thinker. “The growing awareness of racism among liberals during his presidency gave new force and prestige to a belief that racism was endemic not only to [America’s] history but its very character,” he observes. health care system and extended coverage to millions of Americans. Yet the progressives who produced these victories have lived them as deflating failures. A stimulus program that stanched the bleeding of the Great Recession and set the stage for an extended period of job growth and rapid innovation in key sectors of the economy. Or at least, that’s the argument New York magazine’s Jonathan Chait makes in his early retrospective on the Obama presidency, Audacity: How Barack Obama Defied His Critics and Created a Legacy That Will Prevail. Yes, there was progress, but at the cost of generations of pain and suffering. They secured voting rights and won federal protection from racist vigilantes; they elected leaders to the House and Senate, and built thriving communities for themselves. But Chait, in his optimism, understates the force of backlash, of the fierce reaction that always meets progress and often overtakes it, both as it exists and as it can exist. It puts confidence in its proper context, revealing that—even if we are right about the direction of the world—we cannot forget the suffering that comes in those “zigs” and “zags” of history. —
Audacity: How Barack Obama Defied His Critics and Created a Legacy That Will Prevail by Jonathan Chait. His enemies rage against and long to restore a past of rigid social hierarchy or a threadbare state that yields to the economically powerful. And so, on the recession and housing crash, Chait spends his time dueling with tendentious and partisan opponents like Amity Shlaes and Charles Krauthammer—who slammed any stimulus as unnecessary and harmful—rather than critics like journalist David Dayen, who argues that the administration dropped the ball on housing relief in a way that prolonged economic pain, undermined the recovery, and contributed to the discontent that nearly derailed Obama’s presidency at several points, and may yet derail his legacy. In that debate, which he recapitulates in somewhat veiled form at the beginning of Audacity, he endorses Obama’s view of racial progress against Coates’ more skeptical and circumspect position. But he, not they, represents the values of the youngest Americans and the world they will one day inhabit.”
There is no doubt that some portion of Obama’s presidency will endure. “The American state of the present day has a dramatically more progressive cast than it did a half century ago, and it had a more progressive cast a half century ago than it did fifty years before, and on and on. A huge one. But here’s where the problems begin. It comes from a sincere belief that liberals (and the left more broadly) are too stubbornly fatalistic to see that Democratic presidents, and Obama in particular, make real headway on their goals and priorities, despite inevitable obstacles, setbacks, and failures. And his confidence that Obama’s legacy will survive gives short shrift to how backlash isn’t just a bump on the road to a better future. Audacity is a work of triumphalism, hardly diminished by the outcome of the presidential election. Which is to say it suffers from the same overconfidence that led those same liberals—Obama included—to discount the threat of Donald Trump. A health reform law that, despite its flaws and problems, patched critical gaps in the U.S. In that he’s not too different from Obama himself, whose soaring invocations of a “more perfect union” often understated the costs of backlash, even as he acknowledged the possibility. What’s missing from Chait’s analysis, put simply, is a sense of tragedy. This was dismantled in fairly swift fashion by a backlash of conservative politics and while vigilantism. It’s not that Chait doesn’t have a point—although, this point may have been stronger had Hillary Clinton prevailed in the presidential contest—but that he overcorrects, understating the real political and policy failures that marked Obama’s tenure. It was a vision and incarnation of an American future. Within each of these, you could find smaller programs that brought outsize impact, seemingly modest initiatives that, if they happened under any other Democratic president, would be praised as major achievements. The story since that period has been one of slow progress built on those gains and experiences. But the other way to describe it is as a long twilight, where black Americans struggled under the weight of oppression until circumstances and events allowed them to recover and reassert earlier gains. They have made the same errors of perception again and again,” writes Chait. The eight-year administration of Ulysses S. Committed to a teleology of progress, albeit open to the reality of historical irony, this liberalism lacks a visceral sense of the tragic. And he had, to a degree hardly anybody recognized at the time, made his vision of a new America real,” writes Chait.
In “Miserable Mill,” he pops up in drag pretending to be a ditzy assistant, dropping his pen for an exaggerated bend-and-snap that is somehow more obvious anything Elle Woods ever attempted in Legally Blonde. The world, full as it is with complacent adults, might be rigged in Count Olaf’s favor, but luckily, the Baudelaire children aren’t fooled. Darth Vader. Mostly—and this is what Harris’s performance emphasizes—it’s because Count Olaf thinks being evil is fun. It’s all so very obvious, but the adults never notice. His malevolence is closer to the surface, but his motivations are more hidden. In the 2004 film, Jim Carrey took every part of Olaf to broad extremes. He’s in it for the sake of money, supposedly, but also revenge against the Baudelaire family. In the Series of Unfortunate Events series, as in the books and not-so-great 2004 film, most of the world is a big sham. Sham often seems to have a Sean Connery–esque brogue. What makes it so fun is that Count Olaf’s brand of evil is a big, obvious performance. As a character, Count Olaf is hard to reconcile, at once farcical and terrifying. After the Baudelaire children’s parents die in a fire, in each new chapter of the story (which equates to two episodes of the show) they’re sent to live with a new relative who is totally oblivious to Olaf’s painfully obvious new disguise. While playing Olaf and his many alter egos, Harris is hammy, obvious, and a little annoying. That’s the two-sided nature of Count Olaf’s bad acting: It’s unsettling to watch Olaf’s obvious disguises go undetected, but his performances also push the show into the comfortably absurd. The repetitive structure of Lemony Snicket wears on you as the plot moves forward—you know what’s going to happen as soon as the kids meet their next sucker of a guardian—but the variety of nonsense Harris brings to the screen keeps you engaged. The fun along the way comes from the story’s off-kilter sensibility, seen in the narration, provided by Patrick Warburton, who pops up with his melancholy baritone to provide exposition and define a word or two, the surreal production design (a marriage of Barry Sonnenfeld and Bo Welch), and Harris’s on-the-nose performance. They eventually unmask him, escape, and the cycle continues once again. Without a few spoonfuls of levity, this would just be a show about helpless kids fleeing a psychopath who’s murdering their relatives one by one. Satan. In one episode, he decides to marry Violet by recruiting a real lawyer to perform a real wedding in the middle of a sham play. In the fifth and sixth episodes of Netflix’s Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, Harris plays Captain Sham, a lonesome sailor who’s looking for love with Alfre Woodard’s neurotic Aunt Josephine. Of the many comfortable forms of pop culture available to you in recent months, one of my favorites involves watching Neil Patrick Harris pretend to be a sailor, badly. In part, Olaf’s hamminess is just there for humor. Lemony Snicket is a kids’ show and kids love kooky disguises—a weird sea captain? Harris is a showman (author Daniel Handler mentioned that he loved Harris’s hosting work at the Tony’s), and he leans into the idea that what Count Olaf loves, above all things, is a good show. A reptilian assistant with giant glasses? He doesn’t know anything about boats. But Olaf’s bad disguises, and his obvious acting, also makes the imbalance of power between himself and the Baudelaires all the more stark. Lemony Snicket) on A Series of Unfortunate Events, Neil Patrick Harris, and Seeing the World From a Kid’s Perspective Plus, watching a work of fiction, we have the comfort of identifying Olaf’s chicanery from a distance, even if other obvious liars are swindling us in real life. It ends up being the right choice. Of course, as is obvious to both the audience and the show’s protagonists, the Baudelaire children, Captain Sham is really the nefarious Count Olaf in disguise, following them so he can get his hands on their fortune. Evil loves an audience, and in a sinister way, the fact that it compels an audience reinforces its power. Wisely, in the Netflix show, Harris’s Olaf has more contradictions. This article originally appeared in Vulture. In “The Bad Beginning,” he goes from performing a musical number about his very evilness to slapping Klaus at a dinner table. That’s power.” In not hiding his nefarious plans—or at least not bothering to hide them very well—Count Olaf is bragging about how much he can get away with. Great! Think of supervillains monologuing in action movies, or in an unsettling real life example, Steve Bannon saying,“Dick Cheney. Neither, of course, is the audience of the show. None of the adults in Lemony Snicket want to believe that anything evil is happening, even if a villain like Count Olaf is right in front of them with an obvious fake beard. See also: Daniel Handler (a.k.a.
blockbuster, there’s a lot in it that Hollywood could learn from. The sequence turns out to be a dream, but the movie that follows is only slightly more constrained by the rules of logic. Hark stages the action cleanly, and he doesn’t clutter up his shots with digital debris. box office. If the action is engaging enough, the fate of the world doesn’t have to hang in the balance to justify the spectacle. At only $60 million, The Demons Strike Back’s budget doesn’t come close to that of a major Hollywood action movie. Only blockbusters have post-credits scenes.”
That the confrontation actually took place in the post-credits scene of The Demons Strike Back—and that the movie, which has taken in over half a billion dollars worldwide since its January 28 opening, decidedly is a blockbuster—is all part of its ramshackle charm. If the action were set in the real world, the lack of surrounding detail might be a distraction, but by the time characters are throwing mountains at each other, you’re long past caring whether there are enough clouds in the sky. But what its computer-generated spectacles lack in verisimilitude they more than make up for in clarity and inventiveness. They explode into pieces that turn out to be much smaller spiders, and then recombine to form one big spidery beast with a constantly roiling surface and dozens of glowing red eyes. A sequel to 2013’s Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons, whose $215 million earnings made it then the most successful Chinese film of all time, the new movie is hardly a low-profile production. (It still fell short of $1 million in the U.S., but Sony more than tripled its initial 35-screen release.) It’s long been the case that while the U.S.’ biggest movies are also its biggest exports, foreign smash hits rarely make a dent at the U.S. Those fight scenes, though: Hoo boy. “This isn’t a blockbuster. And despite its feints at a romantic subplot, the movie seems helpless to figure out what to do with female characters when they’re not luring our heroes into danger. Imagine a world-upending battle as wacked-out as X-Men Apocalypse where you can actually tell what’s going on, or a version of Doctor Strange’s cosmos-rending conflict without the fun-killing Sturm und Drang (or, for that matter, the whitewashing). There is little plot to speak of. The market for Chinese movies is growing at a fast clip—the top 12 grossing Chinese movies of all time were all released in the last 12 years—and stopgap measures hiring Zhang Yimou to direct an action movie about the Great Wall and then casting Matt Damon in the lead seem destined to end up pleasing no one. Tang and his crew encounter demons, usually in disguise, and defeat them; when they’re not fighting demons, they fight with each other. But if The Demons Strike Back doesn’t have the obvious makings of a U.S. Hark and Chow make a vague attempt to continue Conquering the Demons’ storyline, but those scenes feel tossed-off and convictionless, as if they’re just there to give people a chance to grab a soda or check their texts between fight scenes. During one battle, Tang and his crew discover that the house full of seductive women they’ve been lured into is actually populated by disguised spider-demons (or, as the subtitles call them, “hairy crabs”). Blockbuster directors are increasingly making movies for Chinese audiences; they could stand to pay closer attention to the movies those audiences already love as well. China remains a major market for 3-D, and Hark uses the format far more aggressively than Hollywood filmmakers; two characters are given infinitely extensible limbs just so they can shoot out of the screen and threaten to poke you in the eye. In the ensuing melee, several of the spiders, whose human torsos still hang from beneath their abdomens, are grabbed by their jets of sticky silk, smashed upwards through the house’s roof many stories above, and then down through the floor, revealing a vast infernal hive beneath it. At times, it feels like a Sergio Leone western that’s been recast with the Three Stooges. It’s all terribly silly, the polar opposite of Hollywood comic-book movies and their perennial apocalypses, but it turns out the movie-industry wisdom about “stakes” doesn’t really hold true. (Opening weekend gross: $467,000.)
Even in the U.S., there’s a small but dedicated audience for these movies: My screening, at Manhattan’s AMC Empire 25, was largely full despite the $20 price of an IMAX 3-D ticket, Sony Pictures, who released The Demons Strike Back, was compelled to expand The Mermaid’s release last year after larger-than-expected turnout. (It’s actually Chow and Hark playing the main roles in that self-deprecating credits tag.) And the cast was revamped to swap out older comedy veterans for young pop stars and a former NBA player. It’s insanity, but it’s carefully orchestrated insanity. The revered wuxia master Tsui Hark took over the director’s chair. (Although Shu Qi’s character died at the end of the previous film, she shows up in this one a few times anyway, and gives it a jolt of energy and a maturity of performance it’s otherwise desperately lacking.) But the likes of Michael Bay and Zack Snyder would do well to study it all the same. Original director Stephen Chow, who holds the current record for highest-grossing Chinese film with last year’s The Mermaid, returned as co-writer and producer. Meanwhile our heroes are constantly scampering about, and, in the cases of the non-human ones, transforming, somehow prevailing despite constantly nearly getting their heads handed to them. As in the previous film, and in the 16th-century novel on which the movies are (very) loosely based, Tang is joined by the hot-tempered Monkey King, a vain shapeshifter called Pigsy, and an aquatic demon named Sandy who spends a good chunk of the movie in the form of an enormous, perpetually sneezing fish. But you’d never know it from the movie’s virtually unpublicized U.S. release, which began on Febuary 3 in a mere 67 theaters. Conquering the Demons’ mixture of frenetic slapstick and iconic imagery takes a while to get the hang of. Taking its cues from the mo lei tau (nonsense) comedies that made Chow famous as an actor, The Demons Strike Back is aggressively loopy from its opening frames, in which the demon-hunting Buddhist monk Tang (K-pop star Kris Wu) finds himself swarmed, Gulliver-style, by hundreds of tiny people. “There’s no post-credits scene,” grumbled the elderly theater employee sweeping up around patrons lingering after a screening of Journey to the West: The Demons Strike Back on Friday.
Shockingly, camp counselors were too busy making out to even notice. The reboot was relaxing with a joint when Paramount stabbed an arrow through its neck, smashed it in the face with an axe, and decapitated it with a machete before finally dragging it beneath the surface of Crystal Lake. Paramount has shut down production on its planned reboot of Friday the 13th, according to the Hollywood Reporter. Breck Eisner had been tapped to direct, with filming scheduled to start in March for an Oct. Executives were reportedly spooked by the lackluster box office results from Rings. Eisner’s film would have been the thirteenth installment in the long-running franchise. 13 release.
But not without giving audiences a little peek behind the curtain at the way Trump exploits the peg-driven culture of the content industry by piling outrage upon outrage:
I was not going to talk about this story, because it happened last Thursday, and the crazy train had gone way down the track since then, and I figured this tired hobo just missed his chance to jump in the box car. And I will not rest until they don’t! Stephen Colbert has always been at his best in the face of outright liars—you’d expect no less from the man who coined the word “truthiness”—and Kellyanne Conway’s “Bowling Green massacre” story inspired him to return to rhetorical heights he hasn’t reached since the Bush administration. But today the president just gave me a reason to talk about it. Moving to CBS may have softened Colbert’s edges, but it’s good to see he can still take an absurd lie from an absurd advisor to an absurd president all the way to its absurd conclusion. When a senior advisor to the president is justifying policy on the basis of massacres that never happened, that really shouldn’t be a Thursday-only story, even if Trump and his cronies have moved on to wilder things in the interim. … I demand that the media not release the reports they did not do on the attacks that did not occur. But it’s fortunate that Colbert and his staff found an excuse to bring up Conway, because watching Colbert string negatives together like Martin Amis imitating Samuel Beckett is a delight:
I think we all remember where we weren’t when we didn’t hear that nothing had happened. If America isn’t going to be attacked, who’s most likely not to do it? Something tells me that’s going to come in handy over the next four years. Us! Think about it! … Just because it didn’t happen doesn’t mean it wasn’t an inside job.