Film, Partisan Cinema, Writing

Partisan Cinema: THE BIG SHORT (2015) – Broken Economics

In a recurring feature called Partisan Cinema, A. J. Black looks at movies from a political slant, gleaning insight from them about how they relate to society then, and indeed now…

America very much feels like a country which has powerfully lost sight of its own morals, ideals and values. This has become apparent over the last two years since the rise of Donald Trump to the Presidency, and there’s an argument it has been escalating and building since the death of John F. Kennedy ushered in a darker era of sociological tragedy for the American experience, as discussed when I talked about 1993’s In the Line of Fire.

If there has been a modern trigger, an encapsulating moment for the loss of American belief in idealism, then it’s arguably the 2008 global recession explored in The Big Short. Though presented as a jet black, if not indeed cold-hearted, satire, Adam McKay’s movie is concerned with reminding American audiences in particular just how close they came to economic Armageddon, and how a group of quite remarkable money men almost got away with the ultimate long con against their own people.

The whole project stemmed from a book, The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine by Michael Lewis, which blew open the biographical tale of the stock brokers and Wall Street financial number crunchers who saw the writing on the proverbial wall when it came to the American, nay global economic market. From a narrative perspective, it’s a goldmine of a story; the ultimate heist tale, in its own way, about a group of somewhat amoral individuals working out a crippling deficiency in the housing market and planning a way to exploit it to make billions–yes, billions–of dollars off the backs of homelessness and unemployment.

McKay’s adaptation, written alongside Charles Randolph, doesn’t shy away from that moral conundrum, but equally doesn’t quite want you to take what is a very serious matter all that seriously while doing so. Continue reading “Partisan Cinema: THE BIG SHORT (2015) – Broken Economics”

2000 in Film

SHAFT: super-empty but super-cool thrills (2000 in Film #24)

This year, 20 years on from the year 2000, I’m going to celebrate the first year of cinema in the 21st century by looking back at some of the films across the year at the turn of the millennium which took No #1 at the box office for their opening weekends.

This week, released on the weekend of June 16th, John Singleton’s Shaft

Once again, this week, I’m handing over to the recurring spectre of 2013-era Tony who last looked at Shaft and devoted some thoughts to it, and once again I’m forced to make a confession: I still haven’t seen the original 1971 Shaft.

As a result, what I continue to wonder is whether I got from the 2000 sequel Shaft–and we must so denote the year as there now, as of 2019’s third sequel, three movies all in continuity and all just called Shaft–what I should have taken, not being conversant in the original. This Shaft, of course, wants to place a stamp on popular culture at the turn of the millennium by replacing Richard Roundtree as lead with Samuel L. Jackson, arguably sailing at the height of his career following his legendary turn in Pulp Fiction, a career that has never entirely faded. Jackson has made a fair amount of dross in the subsequent two decades but he remains in that elite tier of stars who are still A-list, still a household name, and thanks particularly to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, still appearing in the biggest films in Hollywood.

Sadly, we did lose before his time the film’s director, Singleton, who died just aged 51 in 2019 and remains a sad loss not just to African-American cinema, but Hollywood in general. Not all of his films were great, indeed Shaft itself is by no means a great film, but he remains influential to the burgeoning, potentially great black filmmakers of the 2020’s – Ryan Coogler, Steve McQueen, Ava DuVernay etc… all of whom have taken the gauntlet lain down by directors like Singleton and Spike Lee and ran with them. Shaft, in that sense, deserves to be remembered much like its well-known, 1970’s predecessor, and that is perhaps why this version is both a remake of sorts, *and* remains in continuity (a trick repeated by the 2019 Shaft), which was rare in cinema then and remains rare now, to serve both of those masters.

Time then to turn over to 2013-era Tony for his thoughts on whether Shaft lives up to the hype. Let’s find out…

Continue reading “SHAFT: super-empty but super-cool thrills (2000 in Film #24)”

Film, Writing

Film Review: LE MANS ‘66 (2019)

Akin to most movies about sport, Le Mans ‘66 aka Ford vs Ferrari is not really about the field in question, motor racing. It is about men. James Mangold’s movie is almost obnoxiously masculine in an era where, and not without good reason, it is far from cache to be so. It is, quite deliberately, a throwback.

Mangold’s film, which tells the real-life story of the British driver who helped an American racing firm win the famed Le Mans race in 1966 for the Ford Motor Company, is a muscular slice of high octane drama. Following the sun-dappled haze of 1969 in Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Mangold gives us a hot, bleached Los Angeles slick with oil and tarmac; a mid-60’s in the throes of a culture war. Ford, headed by Tracy Letts’ iron clad descendant Henry Ford II, are bastions of pure-blooded American conservatism, a Stateside corporate aristocracy who consider modern pop-culture icons such as James Bond “a degenerate”. Christian Bale’s British-born mechanic and driver, Ken Miles, is an unashamed team player. “He’s a beatnik” a Ford executive describes him as but, in truth, the family man Ken simply isn’t on brand.

Le Mans ’66 is, therefore, about masculine individuality. In some sense, David works for Goliath in this story, and the conflict isn’t really Ford vs Ferrari at all. That’s not the beating heart of Mangold’s film, and is only being sold as the title in the US because of the lack of modern associations with the name Le Mans. Framing the film as a conflict between the most famous American car company and legendary European racing firm in the world is an easy read, but the real battle is between individual American exceptionalism and a growing corporate hegemony in a post-war, pre-neoliberal space. Henry Ford represents a world people are still battling against in the Western hemisphere and, oddly enough, Mangold’s film doesn’t necessarily reflect a universe in which the little man can win.

If Le Mans’ 66 is a David v Goliath story, make no mistake… Goliath wins.

Continue reading “Film Review: LE MANS ‘66 (2019)”