Fruitvale Station (#110 of 8)

Macklemore, Warped Queer Advocacy, and Why Dallas Buyers Club is One of the Year’s Worst Films

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Macklemore, Warped Queer Advocacy, and Why <em>Dallas Buyers Club</em> is One of the Year’s Worst Films
Macklemore, Warped Queer Advocacy, and Why <em>Dallas Buyers Club</em> is One of the Year’s Worst Films

A few months back, I was driving out of New York, and Macklemore's “Same Love” came on the radio. It was the rare Top 40 track with markedly gay-themed lyrics that had nothing to do with Lady Gaga. And it was rap. I'll freely confess that music is my weak spot as a popular-media journalist, and I'll admit that I jumped to some serious stereotyping conclusions when I heard the song. Though it didn't have, from what I've gathered, Frank Ocean's cool poetic stylings, I instantly assumed “Same Love” was by Ocean, because, ya know, he's the most popular queer rapper. Perhaps the lyrics marked some hypothetical experiment—an instance of a (mostly) out artist using words like “if I was gay” to reimagine the experiences of growing up closeted (or questioning) through the eyes of a contrived straight person. Regardless of what this knee-jerk reading might say about my inability to discern one rapper's musicality from another's, it all felt, well, nice: Here was a queer artist with an explicitly gay-themed song that, while not even particularly catchy, was getting major play on a major radio station. Inevitably, I quickly learned that my Frank Ocean song wasn't by Frank Ocean at all, but by a white, straight rapper who was ostensibly sticking up for me and his gay uncles. To crudely summarize a swirl of conflicted feelings, suddenly the song wasn't so nice, and, definitely, wasn't so cool.

Oscar Prospects Captain Phillips, the Other Tom Hanks Contender

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Oscar Prospects: Captain Phillips, the Other Tom Hanks Contender
Oscar Prospects: Captain Phillips, the Other Tom Hanks Contender

At present, the Tom Hanks Oscar vehicle getting the most buzz is Saving Mr. Banks, an apparent dual biopic of Mary Poppins author P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson) and some underachieving schmo named Walt Disney (Hanks). Having premiered at the recent London Film Festival, Banks, one of the season's last expected awards players, is netting some glowing reviews, despite such red flags as its insta-baity industry back-patting; the direction of wholesome and Red State-y maestro John Lee Hancock (The Blind Side); and the peddling of an Americans-tame-the-stuffy-Brit narrative. Admittedly, I haven't seen Saving Mr. Banks, and it may well be as winning as Escape From Tomorrow is overconfident, but let's hope it doesn't overshadow Hanks's other contender, Captain Phillips, a film that, regardless of missteps, deserves to appear in a handful of categories.

Oscar Prospects Fruitvale Station, A Contender on an Uncertain Track

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Oscar Prospects: Fruitvale Station, A Contender on an Uncertain Track
Oscar Prospects: Fruitvale Station, A Contender on an Uncertain Track

This is the first film year in a long while that's made me want to applaud Harvey Weinstein. The mega-producer has suddenly become a powerful force in the dissemination of popular, feather-ruffling, discussion-prompting black cinema. The Weinstein Company gave us Fruitvale Station and Lee Daniels' The Butler, and still to come is Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom with Idris Elba. These are just three titles in a year that's uncommonly packed with major black-themed movies, and thanks to Weinstein's backing, they're that much more likely to be seen. That said, Weinstein is still the hungriest and savviest awards monger in the biz, and part of his motive for pushing these movies is, without doubt, their clear Oscar potential. At the risk of suggesting that Weinstein is an outright, opportunistic monster, it was admittedly hard—as a film-obsessed person, at least—to think of anyone else who was more pleased with George Zimmerman's acquittal (apart from Zimmerman himself, that is). Having already serendipitously clinched priceless topicality with Fruitvale's Trayvon Martin parallels, Weinstein suddenly had skyrocketing cultural rage in his corner, rage that a little film about the similarly, tragically slain Oscar Grant might alleviate. The modest Sundance sensation Weinstein acquired was now inextricably linked to one of the year's biggest stories, a story that won't be forgotten come Oscar-nomination time.

Box Office Rap 2 Guns and the Cycles of Popularity

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Box Office Rap: 2 Guns and the Cycles of Popularity
Box Office Rap: 2 Guns and the Cycles of Popularity

When Martin Scorsese takes the time to write a critical piece on legitimating film culture disguised as a reflection on the language of cinema, not only do you read it, but you read it twice for good measure. That's precisely what happened this past week, as Scorsese joined Steven Soderbergh to deliver the second, excellent “state of cinema” address of 2013. Scorsese's prose is packed with an expected degree of passion, reverence, and Romanticism, such as when he lovingly calls cinema “the invocation of life…an ongoing dialogue with life,” and on that premise, he laments the decline of cinema associated with cinephilia, a lack of visual literacy being taught in schools, and the rise of box-office culture as “a kind of sport—and really, a form of judgment,” where “the cycles of popularity are down to a matter of hours, minutes, seconds, and the work that's been created out of seriousness and real passion is lumped together with the work that hasn't.”

To Scorsese's claims I say: absolutely. Box office is indeed used as a form of judgment to determine what films audiences are interested in seeing. Thus, studios act accordingly and try to replicate success through like-minded projects with stars that have a proven pedigree. Nevertheless, the cinema, as a form of popular culture has, more or less, always been a democratic medium, contingent on viewers showing up in support. I think of Mario Van Peebles's Baadasssss! when reading this argument; in that film, Van Peebles plays his father Melvin, whose new film, Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song, is opening in a single Los Angeles theater. A dejected Melvin sits in the theater as no one fills the auditorium on opening night. Suddenly, the doors burst open, and people start flooding in. He's elated because people want to see his film.

Box Office Rap The Wolverine and Post-Comic-Con Malaise

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Box Office Rap: The Wolverine and Post-Comic-Con Malaise
Box Office Rap: The Wolverine and Post-Comic-Con Malaise

While DC and Warner Bros. stole headlines this past weekend with plans to integrate Batman into Man of Steel 2 (a.k.a. Batman vs. Superman, or vice versa, as writer David S. Goyer confirmed), it's Marvel and 20th Century Fox that look to immediately capitalize on all the geekdom hoopla this weekend with The Wolverine, the second standalone film for Hugh Jackman's titular X-Man, which has made him one of the highest paid actors in Hollywood. What's changed since the release of X-Men Origins: Wolverine just four years ago? For starters, it appears that Fox has abandoned plans to make standalone films for each of their comic-book properties, instead offering X-Men: First Class as a means to reboot the entire franchise, while anchoring Wolverine on his own for two films until…wait for it…X-Men: Days of Future Past, which will finally bring all of our favorite mutants together again, marking four X-Men films in just six years.