The Parallax View (1974) Written by David Giler, Lorenzo Semple Jr., and Robert Towne Directed by Alan J. Pakula
Since the colonial period, conspiracy and paranoia have been foundational to the American psyche. Europeans crossing the Atlantic to rape & pillage grew to fear Indigenous people whether they were an actual threat or not. This would continue as closed religious communities struck out against themselves (see the Salem Witch Trials), and Westward Expansion bolstered bootstraps ideology which led to further social atomization.
Blazing Saddles (1974) Written by Mel Brooks, Norman Steinberg, Andrew Bergman, Richard Pryor, and Al Uger Directed by Mel Brooks
There is a statement on Twitter from right-wing ideologies that due to the fabricated idea of “cancel culture,” a film like Blazing Saddles couldn’t be made today. I am confident that anyone saying that hasn’t ever watched the movie or their viewing was when they were a child, and they’ve forgotten most of it. Blazing Saddles may not be able to be made today, not because we are more sensitive to racism, but rather because the system responsible for making movies doesn’t want to produce anything that will elicit genuine emotion from their audiences anymore. Blazing Saddles is one of the strongest anti-racist films I’ve ever seen, one that centers on the experiences of its Black protagonist and doesn’t pull punches on showing the white establishment as complete assholes.
Veep (HBO) Seasons 1 thru 7 Created by Armando Iannucci
If you follow this blog, you know one of my interests is examining how media is used to prop up the legitimacy of institutions in America. Since the early days of film, people have been rewriting history or portraying offices like the President with this sense of eternal nobility. This type of writing, present in the works of filmmakers like Aaron Sorkin, turns my stomach. It ultimately serves as propaganda to admonish activism that pushes for material change and instead pivot the American mindset into being satisfied with shallow sentiment and hollow platitudes. For example, the West Wing constantly presents those who populate the White House as flawed but virtuous, centrists who are always right and debate themselves into wins against conservatives and leftists. When The West Wing was originally airing, I remember someone I knew who liked the show admitting that it was ultimately “porn for liberals.” It provided a comforting fantasy with little to no connection to what happens in reality. Veep is the antithesis of this.
Azor (2021) Written by Andreas Fontana and Mariano Llinás Directed by Andreas Fontana
Something is wrong in Argentina. From the moment Azor begins, you feel disturbing things; the music and images hint at more sinister machinations at work. But on the surface, it seems…okay? The filmmakers have put their audience in the shoes of people attempting to navigate life under a dictatorship in Latin America. Azor is set in 1980 during the Dirty War when right-wing death squads scoured the country of anyone suspected of supporting socialism or other left-wing movements. This military junta killed between 9,000 to 30,000 people. Hard numbers are hard to get because so many of these people were disappeared overnight and never seen again, with no formal record of what happened to them.
In complete honesty, no one should be surprised with how America has diminished COVID deaths. All we had to do was look at how this country reacted to the continuing brutal murder of its most vulnerable citizens. There are numerous mass shootings and school shootings every year, with no changes ever made on a legislative level to stop it. Sandy Hook Elementary was the site of the most chilling shooting, small primary school-age children, and even then, not one leader took material action to prevent another one. Instead, the parents of these victims were struck across the face with conspiratorial accusations that they were false flag actors from the Right, and from the liberals, they received empty wishes of thoughts & prayers. If you still have hope that this epidemic of mass murder will ever end, you have a much more optimistic view of the future than most.
Don’t Look Up (2021) Written by Adam McKay and David Sirota Directed by Adam McKay
The planet Earth is fucked. Our leaders have clearly decided they will let this climate change thing play itself (while ensuring they have bunkers to survive in), with assurances all of us slaving plebs will be “just fine.” How can you not be enraged about this? But at the same time, who has the time to spend their days worrying over a cataclysmic event so cosmically significant that we have no way as individuals to effect change? Adam McKay’s latest film isn’t taking any chances and is as blunt as possible about the absurdity of modern life in the face of impending existential and literal extinction. It’s no surprise that a movie as explicit as Don’t Look Up has carved a chasm through discourse online (such a rare occurrence, right?). This is a movie where your reaction to it says more about you as a person than the quality of the film.
Rorschach (2021) Reprints Rorschach #1-12 Written by Tom King Art by Jorge Fornes
I approached this with some trepidation, not because I’m in the camp that thinks Watchmen should be left untouched, but because it’s always hard to see how someone will be able to live up to the original. I also believe Damon Lindeloff’s Watchmen sequel series on HBO has been the best continuation of the material we’ve ever had, and with that being so recent, it felt odd to go back to the well so soon. Yet, Tom King, despite his flubs (see Heroes in Crisis), is still an intriguing comic book writer, and I knew he’d give readers an unexpected twist on something they likely thought they could predict. This isn’t about Rorschach, the character from the original Watchmen comic, but about people trying to further the ideology of someone like him. It’s a dark political story that remains enigmatic even after concluding.
Recently the Orlando Sentinel published an op-ed by Clark County, Nevada district attorney and human thumb Jonathan VanBoskerck titled “I love Disney World, but wokeness is ruining the experience.” Vanny begins his rant by complaining about Disney’s new employee dress code, which allows visible tattoos, culturally inclusive uniforms, and natural hairstyles. Now, Disney is a demonic megacorporation that should be burnt to the ground, but this is just basic minimum human decency. They will still mistreat employees, but at least these workers aren’t being forced to suppress their race or cultural heritage.
The Falcon and Winter Soldier Episode 2 (Disney+) Written by Michael Kastelstein Directed by Kari Skogland
It should be literally impossible to discuss a piece of Captain America media without the conversation becoming political. This is something that’s annoyed me about the candy-consumption of so much fandom is that they want their entertainment divorced entirely from a discussion about current events and the state of the world. That might work to an extent with Guardians of the Galaxy or the Silver Surfer, but when the characters are very much tied to the government and foreign policy, you cannot avoid it. The fundamental nature of Captain America is a product of World War II-era jingoism. That doesn’t mean he hasn’t been used to tell nuanced stories that make critiques of the United States, but we are simply not going to ever get something like that from Marvel. Marvel has repeatedly partnered with the American military-industrial complex to help mythologize “the soldier” in popular culture. In Black Panther, they couldn’t let Wakanda be autonomous; they had to inject a CIA agent in as one of the good guys. So it is literally impossible to talk about this Disney+ series without getting political.
Assassination Nation (2018) Written & Directed by Sam Levinson
You will probably hate this movie. I can’t say I liked it, but it certainly was a terrible mess like I expected it to be. After seeing the trailer in 2018, I was worried we had another #Horror on our hands, one of the worst “Hello, fellow kids” movies I’ve seen in recent memory. Assassination Nation is nowhere near that bad. At its worst, the film is a little overly ambitious. It’s heavily preachy & on the nose in the final scene, which irked me a little. I think the same themes could have been communicated in just as clear but more subtle manner.