A struggling entertainer invents a character and catapults to underground success.
Directed by Craig Brewer
Starring Eddie Murphy, Da'Vine Joy Randolph, and Wesley Snipes
Review by Jon Kissel
Eddie Murphy’s had several attempts at comebacks in the 21st century, all of which peter out into an inability to capitalize on the reservoir of goodwill that keeps those comebacks alive. His wild onscreen choices and his offscreen antics keep prompting the need to go away and reemerge. Murphy was all set to win an Oscar in 2006 with his role in Dreamgirls, but that was supposedly blown by the release of Norbit in the midst of Oscar voting. He was awarded with the Mark Twain Prize for American Comedy in 2015 and later appeared on SNL’s 40th anniversary telecast, but he didn’t even crack a joke when the audience was thirsty to embrace him. The reception to Dolemite is My Name and the forthcoming sequel to Coming in America place Murphy at yet another turning point, where he can stay in the good graces of a public that so badly wants him around or capitalize on this moment by taking a bag full of money to do some hacky high concept comedy where he plays a dozen different roles.
Nicolas Winding Refn works at two opposite poles, with raw crime stories at one end and deliberately frosty exercises in audience estrangement at the other. Whether he’s making Drive or Valhalla Rising, there’s always going to be a mostly silent protagonist surrounded by people Refn largely doesn’t like and a lot of red, both in the lighting or as an aftereffect from some grotesque act of violence. For the Danish director’s 10th film, The Neon Demon is a balanced medium between what makes him compelling and frustrating. It tells a coherent story with recognizable people in it, but it also contains surrealist touches that are included because why the hell not. A film set in fashion and modeling is going to have the requisite amount of style and misanthropy, because making fun of the fashion world is low hanging fruit. That I can describe a film with corpse fondling and cannibalism as middle-of-the-road suggests what kind of filmmaker Refn is.
Darren Aronofsky is a director who lives in the extremity of human experience, for good and ill. Something like Requiem for a Dream tracks the depths that people are willing to descend to for their narrow definition of happiness, while his self-described Perfection duo, The Wrestler and Black Swan, are both about performers dedicated to feats of physical excellence despite the damage this does to their psyches and bodies. He’s also an obvious devotee of body horror master David Cronenberg, a guy who made his bones by taking the psychological ailments of his characters and manifesting them in decaying flesh and pulsing tumors. Black Swan is Cronenbergian body horror shot through with Aronofsky’s bravura directorial flourishes, a film about transformation and transcendence that includes breathtaking moment after breathtaking moment. It’s also campy and melodramatic and soapy, and maybe sexist depending how one views it. Nine years after its release, Black Swan is still a thrilling and powerful watch that holds up cinematically even as I wonder if it holds up thematically.
The 21st century golden age TV shows have introduced the culturally aware to the idea of the ‘bad fan,’ the usually misogynist viewer who takes exactly the wrong message from whatever they’re watching. Rick and Morty has them, clogging up Twitter and reddit with gibberish about how much they see themselves in Rick and remembering how awesome the show was before women were hired in the writer’s room. The era’s inaugural hit, The Sopranos, had them until the end, perpetually wondering when a series that started in a therapist’s office was going to erupt in a bloodbath between mobsters and missing Russians. Breaking Bad had the most vocal bad fans, prompting series co-star Anna Gunn to write an op-ed defending her character from morons who chose to interpret a megalomaniac’s evil deeds as a beaten-down man living into his most empowered self. The showrunners and creators of all three aforementioned shows disavowed their bad fans, but in two of the three cases (David Chase wrote his disdain for fans of all kinds into his show), there are traces of blood in the water that kept them going.
JUST SOME IDIOTS GIVING SURPRISINGLY AVERAGE MOVIE REVIEWS.
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