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Armond White

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Saint-Narcisse Satirizes Political Narcissism and Perversity

Saint-Narcisse (Film Movement) Mischievous Bruce LaBruce vs. Dishonest Pete Buttigieg That appalling publicity photo of politician Pete Buttigieg posing with his husband in a hospital bed, as if they’d just given birth to the two adopted infants in their arms, mocks the biological idea of family. Filmmaker Amanda Milius quipped, “Why not hook them both up to faux IVs and spritz some sweat on their faces?” Another filmmaker, Canadian satirist Bruce LaBruce, takes gay male narcissism as the subject of his new production, Saint-Narcisse. Unlike Buttigieg, LaBruce skewers the pretenses of gender politics. When Dominic (Félix-Antoine Duval) motorcycles to the Canadian town of the film’s title (population 947), his search for the mother who abandoned him uncovers a complex of fears, desires, history, and heredity. LaBruce (a.k.a. Justin Stewart and Bryan Bruce) explores the internal tensions of homosexual identity that dishonest politicians, in their fabricated world of progressive ideology, would sweep away as nonexistent. LaBruce’s film goes deeper than that Buttigieg hoax, starting with a suggestive image like the cover art for the Rolling Stones’ Sticky Fingers album. Then he pierces that libertine tease with advice from Dominic’s Québécois grandmother: “A family, that’s what you need.” But provocateur LaBruce doesn’t indulge the secular cant favored by outsider-activists who are intent on demolishing the traditional family in favor of political tribalism. Dominic finds his mother Beatrice (Tania Kontoyanni) in a makeshift new relationship and a twin brother, Daniel (Duval, again), lost in a cult. These discoveries expose the traps and insecurities in alternative family choices. But they’re also part of a fantasy — contradictions that LaBruce very happily, mischievously indulges. Saint-Narcisse, a place of the imagination, is an ironic destination for LaBruce’s protagonist, who loves to take pictures of himself. Duval looks like a Marvel superhero: curly hair, curious eyes, gym-fit body (part Chris Evans, mostly Sebastian Stan). His arrival in Saint-Narcisse evokes certain gay cultural signposts, from Aubrey Beardsley–style ink-drawing flashbacks to the erotic-art film Pink Narcissus. It’s a combination of myths — from mother dominance to same-sex narcissism — once used to either explain or represent homosexuality. LaBruce adds his own mythology, evoking Brian De Palma’s 1973 thriller Sisters (which starred Canadian actress Margot Kidder as twins Dominique and Danielle), playing with the idea of split personality to further tease queer pathologies that are either inflicted or alleged. “Everyone despised us for what we did and what we were — your grandmother, the church,” Dominic’s witch-artist mother explains, defending her own transgressions. LaBruce’s post-Stonewall, post-Warhol sensibility never shies away from transgression, which is why he has made the bravest, most emotional films about gay experience by any artist in the Western Hemisphere. His only rival is Mexico’s Julián Hernández. In the sequence where the two suedehead twins confront each other in the woods, they share curiosity, frustration, and desire. Their yin-yang postures in postcoital Last Tango stills are daringly cinematic — like the montage of Sebastian reclining against a tree, which dissolves to a rippling lake, leading to the classical mythological image of Narcissus seeing himself reflected in water. These beautiful contemplative moments, more sensitive and sensual than in LaBruce’s 2017 film The Misandrists, are unexpectedly classical. But LaBruce must interrupt classicism with agitation in the form of institutional critique: Brother Daniel’s sexual identity is derailed by the rapacious priest (Andreas Apergis) in an order of eccentric monks whose seclusion (“Evil grows in the dark,” by the Poppy Family) features S-M rituals and manic self-flagellation. Scenes of monks disrobing and swimming at a pond are like Claire Denis’s Beau Travail finally directed by a gay man, while the corrupt priest’s death is the payback François Ozon tastefully avoided in By the Grace of God. In Saint-Narcisse, LaBruce works through decadent sexual identity by confronting its corruption. Critic John Demetry pointed out a connection to De Palma’s Carrie (a great movie not generally appreciated for its profound satire of sexual-social-religious guilt) in the scene where an arrow-pierced Saint Sebastian statue (often a gay objet d’art) looks down, comically condemning a perverse supplicant. LaBruce matches that with his own pop-culture jest: Sly and the Family Stone’s “It’s a Family Affair” (“Blood’s thicker than the mud”) during the climax which clears away sorrow, confusion, and narcissism. Saint-Narcisse doesn’t show De Palma’s mastery of suspense tropes but moves from obsessive self-regard to open embrace. Brothers Dominic and Daniel escape the high-priest hypocrite whose lust is stronger than his love, just like LaBruce’s honest, gay-identity horror-satire triumphs over the political blasphemy of Buttigieg’s lust for power.

Cry Macho Answers Toxic Masculinity

Clint Eastwood and Eduardo Minett in Cry Macho. (Claire Folger/Warner Bros.) Eastwood’s modern Western is wily and timely. Before history gets rewritten by the vicious, some clarity about our confused times might come from the social, political, and humanist idealism in Clint Eastwood’s new film, Cry Macho. Eastwood’s contemporary Western translates the political relations between the U.S. and Mexico into a story about grizzled old white guy Mike Milo (Eastwood), a former rodeo star, who rescues a friend’s young Latino son, Rafa (Eduardo Minett), from below the border. Combining humane and intercontinental concerns, Cry Macho’s folksy metaphor touches on issues of national sovereignty, citizenship, and historical obligation — the confusion that now results from social engineering and calamitous government policies becomes personal. But Cry Macho is less obviously political than it is mythical. Its appeal lies in Eastwood’s familiar play with masculinity and social responsibility, the main themes of traditional Westerns. After the near-masterpiece The Mule — unfairly neglected by the same leftist critics who resented Eastwood’s powerful Richard Jewell — Eastwood doggedly continues his modern-classicism route. This is a different kind of Americana, unashamed about the traditional virtues and lessons of history that movies used to depict — and that were missing from Chloé Zhao’s Nomadland, a failed modern Western. Zhao showed what was happening topically, Eastwood shows what’s happening emotionally and spiritually. Milo’s obligation to his old friend (Dwight Yoakam), an irresponsible patriarch, challenges those specious “humanitarian crisis” claims that some people apply to the current immigrant catastrophe (secretly feigning compassion while manipulating immigration to transform the makeup of the Republic to better fit their ideological agenda). Milo’s intention is to save Rafa from inevitable turpitude — not cornball “toxic masculinity” but the cartel cruelty (inhumanity) found in institutions on both sides of the border. Cry Macho improves on the too-obvious intergenerational drama of Gran Torino. This title is deeper. There’s desperation behind it, sensing each character’s natural, reflexive cry for help. In the central conflict between old man and young kid, Milo teaches Rafa about life. Hell, let’s call it what it is: chivalry, a rare virtue. Eastwood’s gnarly cool differs from Robert Mitchum’s anxiety in The Lusty Men or Robert Preston’s whiskered rogue in Junior Bonner, but interacting with the baby-faced Minett creates a dynamic between old ways and new expediencies. Rafa’s cockfighting pastime (his rooster is named “Macho”) simplifies both men’s human/animal conflict. The point here is their search for conscience — the sense of independence that lockdown culture deadens. Milo’s “We all make choices in life; you have to make yours” is the kind of axiom that authoritarian politicians and media figures no longer defend. Milo and Rafa’s journey home would be praised in a Pixar cartoon, but this film’s real-life quality will probably unsettle anyone who is complacent about today’s crises and their ramifications. For movie-watchers who want to see Eastwood as a conservative icon, compare 91-year-old Clint Eastwood with 78-year-old Joe Biden, then spot the difference between trustworthy self-assurance and teleprompter-reading puppetry. But the Hollywood veteran is too wily to allow himself to be used politically; his public statements duck and dodge expectations. (What movies could be more disgustingly liberal in attitude than the atrocious Million Dollar Baby and Mystic River?) Yet Cry Macho, though minor, confronts the craven politics that pervert parenthood and international responsibility — whether volatile, unresolved concerns at the U.S.—Mexico border or the hasty, humiliating Afghanistan evacuation. When history’s vicious victors prevaricate about how the West was lost, maybe movies such as Cry Macho, Richard Jewell, The Mule, and The 15:17 to Paris will survive to tell a different, more complicated and compassionate story. Cry Macho’s immigrant tale is old-fashioned but surprisingly timely, and its clean, spare style feels classical because it’s fluent and clear-minded. Eastwood seems to be one of the few remaining filmmakers committed to conscientious storytelling. 

Amazon’s Cinderella Is Extra Bad

Camila Cabello and Nicholas Galitzine star in Cinderella. (Kerry Brown/Amazon) And the Cinderella of the insane attends a fancy ball. Amazon’s new Cinderella is radical. Bad as it is, it dares to eliminate even the fantasy basis of traditional ethics, goodness, and scruples. First, this ruthlessly woke Cinderella checklists a Latina heroine (Camila Cabello) and a British prince (Nicholas Galitzine). The casting choices purposely avoid traditional, Anglo-Saxon whiteness, which Hollywood now considers “supremacist” — as if Latin America and Great Britain did not have their old class and race issues. This retelling of the 18th-century Charles Perrault tale flaunts its modernization most spectacularly (insultingly) through the gender-fluid fairy-godmother character (Billy Porter) who grants Cinderella’s wishes. Porter paraphrases the new Tiffany jewelry-store ads: “This is not your mother’s” Cinderella, mother. Amazon’s radicalism is to be expected — but not to be shrugged off, although many will by automatically dismissing it as a sub-Disney version. Still, it’s worth noting precisely how low the Amazon remake sinks. Simply bashing its ineptitude would be predictable, especially after Disney’s insipid 2014 live-action Beauty and the Beast, whose ghastly style director-writer Kay Cannon emulates. The rags-to-riches story is reimagined through faddish politics, going against the idealistic values formerly associated with the “Cinderella” tale. Cannon is never so clever and culturally challenging as Anne Fontaine, in her remodeling of the “Snow White” fairy tale in White as Snow; she merely refutes Perrault’s touching romanticism. Cabella’s Cinderella longs for a career as a fashion designer (a too-soon rip-off of Cruella) rather than consecration and fulfillment through marriage to the handsome prince. Her personal feminist cause opposes what Bruno Bettelheim in The Uses of Enchantment recognized as the “moral education” that once made the fairy tale instructive and enduring. Morality is now replaced by ambition and trite notions of sexual and social “justice.” No wonder this film is so unmoving. Cannon’s hackwork bears no relation to Bettelheim’s idea that “each fairy tale is a magic mirror that reflects some aspects of our inner world, and of the steps required by our evolution from immaturity to maturity.” Fact is, Cannon downplays “inner world” desires in favor of political-world self-righteousness. This turns the fairy tale facetious. It believes only in social justice — not “magic,” which was another way of saying spiritual affect. Instead, Cinderella’s “glass ceiling” aspirations suggest social revolution rather than the perfect copulation metaphor of the glass slipper. In this way, Cannon’s updating is truly juvenile. Watching how she directs the jukebox-musical numbers (overcrowding and ruining Janet Jackson’s “Rhythm Nation” and Des’ree’s “You Gotta Be” with banal, regimented choral choreography) reminded me that Cannon was similarly visually crude in Blockers, an infelicitous movie about the threat of adolescent sexuality, which maybe was the worst film of 2015. Cinderella doesn’t earn Cannon that distinction this year (stay tuned). Aside from Cabella’s flavorless striving pop couturier (Cabella herself is a bland pop star compared with Disney’s quasi-exotic Selena Gomez), the film’s most striking failure is Billy Porter’s high-fashion, high-collared ghetto sprite. Porter in his work always flaunts the transvestite and transsexual issues that now preoccupy woke Hollywood. His drag queen is, as they say, “extra,” yet the queer showcase lacks conviction when Porter introduces himself as “fabulous,” leaving out the word “fairy.” Such politically correct defiance is also obtuse. Our deepest childhood, moral recognition of things is not transformed by Amazon-Disney fiat, but merely renovated according to PC terms: Cinderella’s Stepmother (Idina Menzel) and Stepsisters (Maddie Baillio and Charlotte Spencer) are no longer mean but quite kindly — as if the feminist filmmakers refuse to recognize the Jen Psaki she-devils among their ranks. It all comes down to a pitifully unconvincing Cinderella made for microaggression sensitivities — those who choose to no longer behave ethically because they have lost their moral foundation. Plus, the quasi-medieval costumes are hideous inducements to wealth and privilege, like AOC’s “Tax the Rich” gown at the Met gala ball, in which a cultural gatekeeper and would-be heroine poses as the Cinderella of the insane. 

Fauci, a Phony Big-Screen Doc

Dr. Anthony Fauci speaks to reporters after briefing Senators on the coronavirus outbreak in China on Capitol Hill, January 24, 2020. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters) Deconstructing National Geographic’s propaganda pitch You might be one of those people who never want to see Anthony Fauci’s face on TV again — or not. But it’s likely that the man himself will be broadcast and rebroadcast continuously, using the power status that Fauci has attained to further the current administration’s COVID protocols. There’s no better insight into this ideological puffery than the publicity campaign for the new documentary Fauci. This fascinating aspect of film culture is crafty and demands close scrutiny. Presented by National Geographic, the same outfit responsible for Genius, the other Aretha Franklin biopic, Fauci is being sold with similar veneration. It’s not a film about science but about “following the science” of public leadership — as when politicians assert cant such as “Don’t question my authority.” You don’t expect cant from NG. The trust built up from decades of that iconic yellow-framed print magazine, with its vivid photographs of natural phenomena, makes us susceptible. NG’s film division is now the opposite of informative and wide-ranging; its political bias now resembles NPR’s. The Fauci doc typifies the continued narrowcasting of popular media into the congealed “mainstream” perspective. And the pitch behind Fauci shows how. NG sneaks past old presumptions about the idea of “documentary.” (Blame the genre’s degeneration on Rob Reiner’s fictitious This Is Spinal Tap, where popularizing “factoids” — familiar legends and speculations — rather than truth created that new phony genre of the “mockumentary.”) The selling of Fauci mocks our credulousness, increased by high-pressure COVID-19 fear-mongering, another advertising phenomenon. Fauci’s press release urges viewers (and media hacks) to accept the doc on the filmmakers’ non-objective terms: “With his signature blend of scientific acumen, candor, and integrity, Dr. Anthony Fauci became America’s most unlikely cultural icon during the COVID-19 pandemic.” Gullible reviewers are unlikely to suspect this seemingly innocuous description: “A world-renowned infectious disease specialist and the longest-serving public-health leader in Washington, D.C., he has overseen the U.S. response to 40 years’ worth of outbreaks, including HIV/AIDS, SARS, and Ebola.” The doc leans on Fauci’s role during the AIDS crisis to suggest he’s empathetic. (He’s shown reading the New York Times, quoting The Godfather, bragging about his Brooklyn roots.) Scamming media naïfs, the release boasts the doc’s exclusivity, claiming that it’s “crafted around unprecedented access to Dr. Fauci.” That should be the giveaway for any sharp viewer not on the NG payroll. The word “access” means collaboration from a brigade of celebrities. The lineup of their names makes for the release’s most startling clause: The film features insights from former President George W. Bush, Bill Gates, Bono, former national-security adviser Susan Rice, National Institutes of Health director Dr. Francis Collins, former Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director Dr. Tom Frieden, journalists Laurie Garrett and the New York Times’ Apoorva Mandavilli. These aristocrats affirm Fauci’s bona fides and give tribute. They’re what gossip columns call “boldface names,” and they’re also all partisan, as is the film’s tagline: “a revealing portrait of one of our most dedicated public servants.” As so many media outlets have done, NG dispenses with the old journalism rule of balance. It refuses to be thoroughly informative. Fauci was directed by John Hoffman (Sleepless in America) and Janet Tobias (Unseen Enemy) — woke doc-makers now come in gender-posturing pairs. So do Fauci’s producing partners: Alexandra Moss (Not Done: Women Remaking America) and executive producers Dan Cogan (Icarus) and Liz Garbus (The Farm: Angola, What Happened, Miss Simone?), a veteran from the old days when docs probed for information about not-obvious subjects. Anthony Fauci has become one of the most contentious personages in the history of American politics and medicine, but the press announcement avoids any challenges to the film’s agenda. There’s no indication that Fauci’s health policies provoke even an iota of displeasure or opposition. His fame is promoted in connection with his political tenure. That list of D.C. wonks attest Fauci’s careerism (implicitly his “brilliance”), while there’s no mention of the gain-of-function controversy — his deceit about directing research funds to the very lab in Wuhan from which COVID-19 likely emerged — now plaguing his career. NG’s copy reads like a campaign ad, implicitly endorsing Fauci’s directives (even his fluctuating mask mandates, which Candace Owens perfectly likened to the kindergarten game “Simon Says”), as if his every thought and word are beyond reproach. Spielberg’s Lincoln was hardly less worshipful. At this moment of enormous social, medical, and ethical disagreement, NG’s Fauci presents one-way thinking. NG’s pomposity climaxes in the press release’s final proviso: “Dr. Fauci had no creative control over the film. He was not paid for his participation, nor does he have any financial interest in the film’s release.” The term “interest” is used ineptly, anticipating allegations of payment. But, really, it dodges more important issues of vanity and corruption. Propagandists who work at the behest of media corporations and institutions willingly bow to authority, and NG idolizes Fauci as the face and voice of that authority. Instead of investigating Fauci’s despotic sense of moral superiority to enlighten the general public, NG’s narrowcast promotional doc chooses persuasion over education. 

Marvel’s Shang-Chi — Crouching Cinema, Hidden Agenda

Simu Liu in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. (Marvel) Its anti-Western formula will find favor in China. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is sly, globalist trash. Marvel-Disney shamelessly attempt to repeat the same segregation bonanza it pulled off with the silly ethnic hoax Black Panther. Problem is, Black Panther’s relatively novel concept imagined the faux African kingdom Wakanda, whereas Shang-Chi pilfers from already familiar and much more original and artistic Chinese martial-arts genre movies — reducing them to the level of Marvel junk. San Francisco car-hop Shaun (born Shang-Chi, played by the nondescript but athletic Simu Liu) at first reluctantly reclaims his family’s superpower legacy, particularly that of his wayward father Xu Wenwu (Tony Chiu-Wai Leung). This juvenile heroes-and-villains, back-to-the-homeland setup overloads the Marvel Comics trademark with phony indigenous-culture gravitas. Black Panther’s naïve fans let Marvel get away with portraying Afrocentric fantasy as both pretend-history and the Afro-punk future (catnip to an ignorant generation so desperate for any folklore to call its own that it submits to Hollywood’s escapist propaganda). But Shang-Chi will need viewers who pretend they’ve never seen better than this poor Hollywood imitation of Hong Kong movie mastery, which has a long tradition. After enjoying Hong Kong movie thrills, whether A Touch of Zen, Chinese Ghost Story, Ashes of Time, Hero, or even Ang Lee’s synthetic Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, the mangy copycat Shang-Chi can’t help but seem third-rate — if not downright foreign. Running longer than two hours, Shang-Chi makes narrative detours into the past, initially to pad out its protagonist’s character but mainly to display bogus ancient Chinese characteristics (such as the titular “Ten Rings,” which are exotic, magically empowering talisman). It exploits ethnic ethos to make Shaun/Shang-Chi blend into Marvel’s franchise of motley eccentrics. Another market conquered. Yet there’s clearly a bigger intent than just entertaining the kids with sci-fi enchantment. Through the enervating excess of trite jokes and inane fight scenes, Marvel and Disney also practice insidious racial indoctrination — Karate Kid–level piety that, for the non-Marvel fan, pounds the brain like an ersatz form of Chinese water torture. Behind Marvel’s affectation of comic-book/wuxia worldliness, one spots a scheme of arch tribalism and, inevitably, self-conscious exoticism — the exact opposite of celebrating “diversity.” Marvel’s Asian emphasis is not simply respect and parity. Again, as Black Panther demonstrated, this is really an exercise in national disaffection — where “anti-racist” (if not anti-American) fashion morphs into superiority of the other. Hollywood’s extreme political correctness shouldn’t be ignored by regarding Shang-Chi as innocuous escapism or diversion. Notice the political settings of Black Panther and Shang-Chi, both originating within ideological proximity of the progressive Bay Area. Note, too, the specifically chosen personnel: Director Destin Daniel Cretton (Short Term 12, Just Mercy) and his co-writers Dave Callaham and Andrew Lanham (Wonder Woman 1984), who are proven, second-class proselytizers for liberalism. They fit Hollywood’s new quotas for ethnic- and gender-based hiring — as if racial identity itself guaranteed a particular quality or aesthetic essence. (That idea used to be considered racist.) At its third-rate best, Shang-Chi merely reminds one that exquisite moments by Chinese filmmaking powerhouses — Tsui Hark to Stephen Chow, King Hu to Wong Kar-wai — were genuine artistic expressions, not cartoonish fabrications of ethnicity. And the tokenistic inclusion of Tony Leung (wily here but suave and soulful in Happy Together, 2016 and Infernal Affairs) and Michelle Yeoh (dynamic and intelligent in Yes, Madam, The Heroic Trio, and The Lady) is no less insulting than Disney’s bait-and-switch casting of Gong Li in the live-action Mulan. None of these memorable veteran players receive their due from Hollywood, but Shang-Chi makes it indisputable that the globalist product coming from Marvel and out of the Disney maw of exploitation is ruthlessly demeaning to all global cultures and should, in decent marketing terms, be wholly unacceptable. Using Shang-Chi and Black Panther as models from homogeneous cultures to rival, contrast with, and outwit heterogeneous American culture is a foolhardy errand that can only please a Hollywood-CCP alliance. 

Together’s First-Responder Drama

James McAvoy stars as He, and Sharon Horgan as She in Together. Stephen Daldry digs deep into the lockdown. Stephen Daldry’s Together, the first mainstream movie expressly about the COVID lockdown, takes its title from the annoying public-service announcement “We’re in this together.” That misery-loves-company plea hides the surrender-to-government overreach that has taken place in many private middle-class homes. Screenwriter Dennis Kelly dramatizes it through the close-quarters friction between a London couple (James McAvoy and Sharon Horgan) who are no longer in love but cohabit for the sake of their school-age child. Their bickering shows exhaustion as much as familiarity. Most importantly, they act out that good-sense corrective: “No, we’re only in this simultaneously.” Daldry’s quick and clean production could have been about Brexit. Instead, the reality of COVID is a presence though not the film’s subject. It’s “this thing” that weighs on the couple’s domestic contract and compounds their troubles. Over the course of a year — from the March 24, 2020, beginning of Britain’s lockdown to the start of mass vaccinations and social reopening on March 21, 2021, Daldry keeps a firm, multiangled focus on the pair as their household temperaments evolve. At first Together feels like a “two-hander” stage play, but Daldry (best known for the film and stage versions of Billy Elliot) never gets claustrophobic; moving from vestibule to the fuchsia-walled kitchen is all the opening-up needed. Daldry’s method cries “theater” owing to the perfectly reasonable fact that right now there is no theater in the classic sense of a communal activity gathering performers and audiences to share the artful expression of experience. Even before COVID, millennial theater folk had turned propagandistic and hive-minded, with playwrights, producers, and performers all preaching to the choir. So Daldry breaks through the proscenium pretense to let his characters talk to the camera (us). And this cinematic, visual intimacy is preferable to watching Brady Bunch–like, Zoom-style squares. It emphasizes intermingled political points of view: McAvoy’s character is Tory, Horgan’s is Labour. Daldry achieves latitude by balancing invective with humor in confrontations that are always honest and leveling. The vitriol recalls Albert Finney and Rachel Roberts as domestic warriors in E. A. Whitehead’s Alpha Beta (1974). Meanwhile, brief cutaways to the couple’s enigmatic son show him listening to adult wrangling beyond his ken (but when he sings “In the Bleak Midwinter” it brings Daldry’s usual juvenile ache). The pandemic pressure of public fears in private places reveals what Together’s middle-class partners don’t have in common. They argue about Jeremy Corbyn, socialism, and their own privileges — all soon to be shaken by COVID’s ravages. Their arguing confirms that Together is not more PSA propaganda. Whether McAvoy confesses his clash with an ethnic store clerk or Horgan complains about “affording the vaccine before frontline workers in Sierra Leone,” Kelly and Daldry refuse to flatter the narcissism of their potential audience surrogates. Instead, they expose flawed people who voluntarily shelter in place, certain that their upscale self-sacrifice is for the benefit of humanity. At this moment, when the film industry pretends that, besides testing new means of content delivery, nothing has changed for its elites, Together dares to differ. (Two previous COVID films, Doug Liman’s Locked Down and Jay Roach’s Coastal Elites, were trite, self-congratulatory, and uncinematic, so they don’t count.) Resentful reviews in the trade press and the paper of record suggest that Together must be doing something right: McAvoy stepping forward to comfort his distant mate; the couple coyly admitting to “bolts-from-the-blue” makeup sex; and Horgan’s monologue cursing the government for citizens “killed by stupidity, by dumbf***ery.” We’re reminded that good actors often squander their talent on junk (especially McAvoy, wasted in Split, extraordinary here), but this is first-rate first-responder art. Together resembles the two-person holocaust that Ingmar Bergman conceived when crafting an artistic response to Sixties cultural trauma in his magnificent Shame (1968). The couple in Together experience society’s collapse (“Oh, please don’t let us be like Italy!”), then confront themselves just as do Bergman’s duo. Leaving aside the mystery that Horgan calls “13,000 COVID Patient Zeroes” and the issues behind government failure, Together records universal private truths. Maybe the sequel will be called “Dissent.”

Candyman Continues a Blood-Money Franchise

Yahya Abdul Mateen II in Candyman. (Universal Pictures) A remake conceived for the erroneous 1619 Project They’ve taken the fun out of Candyman. The tall black revenant with a hook for a hand, who had been victimized by slave-era savagery then turned his monstrous bloodlust upon future generations in the 1992 slasher/art film by British director Bernard Rose, now reemerges in a remake that’s billed as a “spiritual sequel.” That means Candyman’s myth — say his name five times while looking in the mirror and he will appear, seeking revenge — is further exaggerated, fantasizing another historical offense to fire up race consciousness. As directed by Nia DaCosta from a script co-authored by Jordan (Get Out) Peele, Candyman spreads the pall of urban misery unlike the original film’s Nineties liberal consciousness where the scare tactics actually coped with racial memory and made it a cult favorite. Here, the story is based in more skittish black bourgeois art-world elitism. Anthony (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), the black hipster protagonist, moves into Chicago’s notorious Cabrini-Green housing projects, now a series of gentrified row houses but a site forever haunted by America’s racist past, represented by the monstrous Candyman (Tony Todd reprising his original boogeyman role). Anthony’s paper cut-out artwork proclaims his hypersensitivity in the style of celebrated race-baiter Kara Walker. Anthony’s depictions of police violence indicate fashionable awareness. (His neighbor Colman Domingo tells him “The police come around; that’s when I saw the true face of fear.”) Hip black artists seem to have no inner lives; caught up in superficial activism, today’s black artistes resign themselves to self-exploitation as a way of seeking reparations, fame, and acclaim. This “art” subtext vies with the film’s tabloid sensationalism, promoting black victimization itself as a form of art. (Suggesting that up-to-date attitudes about racial politics might be self-destructive is DaCosta’s only insight.) Abdul-Mateen personifies the perfect cluelessness of BLM Millennials — he’s primarily a victim of fake news and the 1619 Project. His “collective memory” is shallow, indifferent to the varied disgraces of public housing and ignorant of historical specifics, such as Chicago mayor Jane Byrne being ridiculed for deliberately choosing residence in Cabrini-Green in 1981 as a way to pinpoint and improve its problems. #inline-newsletter-nloptin-612f5e11cda47 .inline-newsletter-subscribe__cta label { font-size: 1.2rem; line-height: 1.5rem; color: #000000; } #inline-newsletter-nloptin-612f5e11cda47 .inline-newsletter-subscribe__cta p { font-size: 1.05rem; line-height: 1.45rem; color: #000000; } #inline-newsletter-nloptin-612f5e11cda47 { background-color: #ffffff; border-width: 1px; border-color: #cccccc; } #inline-newsletter-nloptin-612f5e11cda47 .inline-newsletter-subscribe__email-submit { border-color: #e92131; background-color: #e92131; color: #ffffff; } #inline-newsletter-nloptin-612f5e11cdd9c .inline-newsletter-subscribe__cta label { font-size: 1.5rem; line-height: 1.7rem; color: #000000; } #inline-newsletter-nloptin-612f5e11cdd9c .inline-newsletter-subscribe__cta p { font-size: 1.05rem; line-height: 1.45rem; color: #000000; } #inline-newsletter-nloptin-612f5e11cdd9c { background-color: #ffffff; border-width: 1px; } #inline-newsletter-nloptin-612f5e11cdd9c .inline-newsletter-subscribe__email-submit { border-color: #eba605; background-color: #eba605; color: #ffffff; } #inline-newsletter-nloptin-612f5e11cde27 .inline-newsletter-subscribe__cta label { font-size: 1.3rem; line-height: 1.5rem; color: #dd9933; } #inline-newsletter-nloptin-612f5e11cde27 .inline-newsletter-subscribe__cta p { font-size: 1.05rem; line-height: 1.5rem; color: #2d2d2d; } #inline-newsletter-nloptin-612f5e11cde27 { background-color: #ffffff; border-width: 1px; border-color: #999999; } #inline-newsletter-nloptin-612f5e11cde27 .inline-newsletter-subscribe__email-submit { border-color: #dd9933; background-color: #dd9933; color: #ffffff; } #inline-newsletter-nloptin-612f5e11cde9d .inline-newsletter-subscribe__cta label { font-size: 1.5rem; line-height: 1.7rem; color: #0f733c; } #inline-newsletter-nloptin-612f5e11cde9d .inline-newsletter-subscribe__cta p { font-size: 1.05rem; line-height: 1.45rem; color: #2d2d2d; } #inline-newsletter-nloptin-612f5e11cde9d { background-color: #ffffff; border-width: 1px; border-color: #cccccc; } #inline-newsletter-nloptin-612f5e11cde9d .inline-newsletter-subscribe__email-submit { border-color: #0f733c; background-color: #0f733c; color: #ffffff; } But Peele and DaCosta’s alternative is to blaspheme old-time civil-rights-era gospel when Anthony is warned about the Candyman myth — “He has a purpose for you.” The godless paranoia that separates social justice from morality and spirituality can be seen in this film’s showy, demonic set-pieces: each one stylized like a gruesome Steve McQueen gallery installation. Anthony internalizes Candyman’s curse, eventually taking on the revenant’s lingering wound and characteristic aura of swarming bees, harbingers of vengeance. It’s intended to give serious weight to generic horror, yet the woke remakers actually ignore the political/racial reality that stigmatizes Chicago. The specter of Candyman, and all the blame he brings about the racist past, looms over DaCosta’s Chicago as if Barack Obama, conman Jussie Smollett, and ghoulish Lori Lightfoot never existed to wreak their own forms of strife and confusion. The original Candyman followed the horror genre’s psychological “return of the repressed” tradition — where history, suffering, and revulsion resurface in contemporary life. Bernard Rose was sophisticated enough to not ignore black advancement but look deeper. He was of the Ken Russell school where shock was used to provoke thought — even shame — not just white guilt or black self-pity. (Rose’s low-brow enlightenment included the use of a high-brow Philip Glass music score.) It’s offensive that these remakers (and adulatory reviewers) use tragic race history to promote their opportunistic, self-righteous political conceits. And, oh yes, to make blood money. DaCosta spills blood without respect for its cost; she’s from Peele’s cheap thrills-for-virtue-signalers school. This unfunny version of Candyman continues Hollywood’s woke methods of manipulating race — like the political vaudeville acts surrounding Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Freddie Gray, Brianna Taylor, and George Floyd that became part of mainstream media’s shameless power plays. DaCosta and Peele take what Malcolm X called “the hate that hate produced,” then trivialize that tragedy. Presenting Black Lives Matter as a Halloween movie is a trap we’ll never get out of.

A Fairy Tale for Adults

Lou de Laâge and Isabelle Huppert in White as Snow. (Gaumont/Cohen Media Group) Anne Fontaine’s White as Snow challenges the ‘non-binary’ concept of sex. Anne Fontaine’s White as Snow (Blanche comme neige) is a surprisingly entertaining modern fable in which a young woman’s sexual conduct reveals our modern moral conflicts. When Claire (Lou DeLaâge), who works at a high-end spa run by her stepmother Maud (Isabelle Huppert), gets kidnapped, her abduction goes awry, leaving her stranded in a provincial village. There, the attention she receives from a number of unprepossessing men arouses passions — liberties — she has repressed. This setup may sound like a man-hating feminist thesis, but it’s actually an imaginatively updated version of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Fontaine uses the fairy tale’s erotic subtext and political allegory against one’s expectations; its title teases the idea of virginity along with notions about promiscuity, patriarchal judgment, and spiritual purity. Through Claire, Fontaine makes us wonder about standards of individual and social propriety. By fable’s end, Fontaine surpasses the Brothers Grimm to acknowledge French cinema’s romantic legacy. (More on that below.) French female filmmakers differ from their American counterparts, seeming less defensive, less doctrinaire, and not at all misandrist. Fontaine has defended her approach: “I think that to be a filmmaker, as far as sexuality, it’s something that’s really de-sexualizing. That is, you become a bizarre thing when you’re directing a film — during the shooting, you’re neither a man nor a woman, you’re really something strange and very ambivalent.” Her narrative twists and aesthetic turns (airy mountain passes, sunlit fields, and dark forests, all vividly stylized by cinematographer Yves Angelo) create a palpable sentience — unlike the insipid 2012 Spanish update Blancanieves by Pablo Berger, but reminiscent of Neil Jordan’s A Company of Wolves (a 1984 adaptation of Angela Carter’s feminist text The Bloody Chamber, which preceded by one year Margaret Atwood’s schematic novel The Handmaid’s Tale). Fontaine shares neo-feminism with Catherine Breillat, who made the startlingly adult version of Bluebeard (2009). Although not as radical as Breillat, Fontaine comes close, endorsing Claire’s promiscuity while acknowledging troubled male appetites. The seven men captivated by Claire’s presence range from a pair of introverted twin brothers to a classical cellist, a veterinarian, a local priest, and a scholar and his adult son — plus there’s a lesbian barista. Claire intrigues them all. Their lusts, in contrast to Claire’s, attest to tendencies that men and women have in common — their natural, complementary attraction and friction that these days is diminished as “binary.” I realized I was watching something special when, after Claire is told she resembles the models painted by Auguste Renoir, Fontaine observes her character asleep, partially draped by bedcovers, her fleshy torso glowing like a Renoir masterpiece. In White as Snow, Fontaine concentrates on female anatomy audaciously — nubile DeLaâge seems the spitting image of Barbarella-era Jane Fonda, the comic, sci-fi embodiment of Roger Vadim’s burlesque fantasies. But Fontaine emphasizes female seductive wiliness. Even Huppert’s older, sullen Maud wears a red pantsuit and lipstick that matches Claire’s red waitress uniform — the film’s symbolic colors and vibrant sensuality denote more than a sense of fashion. Fontaine plays with what academics call “the male gaze.” An ambivalent feminist, she assigns disapproval to Maud, who envies “girls today [getting] into extreme situations.” Huppert’s villain role recalls her title character in Neil Jordan’s Greta (2018), but Maud’s suppressed malice puts one in mind of what a stand-up comedian said about the ladies on The View: “They’re like Disney villainesses.” That turns out to be a fact of their employment, fitting the cartoonish terms of contemporary political opposition. Maud scolds like a vengeful old-time feminist. But beautiful Claire listens to the local priest’s advice: “Christ had a weakness for women of sin.” She asks, “Do you?” He responds, “For the women but not the sin.” Claire plays vixen games. (“I have passions and am acting them out.”) But is Fontaine playing at the sexploitation satire of Russ Meyer? In her conceit, does she knowingly have the men recall modernist author Donald Barthelme’s 1967 experimental novel Snow White? #inline-newsletter-nloptin-6128c48805114 .inline-newsletter-subscribe__cta label { font-size: 1.2rem; line-height: 1.5rem; color: #000000; } #inline-newsletter-nloptin-6128c48805114 .inline-newsletter-subscribe__cta p { font-size: 1.05rem; line-height: 1.45rem; color: #000000; } #inline-newsletter-nloptin-6128c48805114 { background-color: #ffffff; border-width: 1px; border-color: #cccccc; } #inline-newsletter-nloptin-6128c48805114 .inline-newsletter-subscribe__email-submit { border-color: #e92131; background-color: #e92131; color: #ffffff; } #inline-newsletter-nloptin-6128c488052c5 .inline-newsletter-subscribe__cta label { font-size: 1.5rem; line-height: 1.7rem; color: #000000; } #inline-newsletter-nloptin-6128c488052c5 .inline-newsletter-subscribe__cta p { font-size: 1.05rem; line-height: 1.45rem; color: #000000; } #inline-newsletter-nloptin-6128c488052c5 { background-color: #ffffff; border-width: 1px; } #inline-newsletter-nloptin-6128c488052c5 .inline-newsletter-subscribe__email-submit { border-color: #eba605; background-color: #eba605; color: #ffffff; } #inline-newsletter-nloptin-6128c48805366 .inline-newsletter-subscribe__cta label { font-size: 1.3rem; line-height: 1.5rem; color: #dd9933; } #inline-newsletter-nloptin-6128c48805366 .inline-newsletter-subscribe__cta p { font-size: 1.05rem; line-height: 1.5rem; color: #2d2d2d; } #inline-newsletter-nloptin-6128c48805366 { background-color: #ffffff; border-width: 1px; border-color: #999999; } #inline-newsletter-nloptin-6128c48805366 .inline-newsletter-subscribe__email-submit { border-color: #dd9933; background-color: #dd9933; color: #ffffff; } #inline-newsletter-nloptin-6128c488053f9 .inline-newsletter-subscribe__cta label { font-size: 1.5rem; line-height: 1.7rem; color: #0f733c; } #inline-newsletter-nloptin-6128c488053f9 .inline-newsletter-subscribe__cta p { font-size: 1.05rem; line-height: 1.45rem; color: #2d2d2d; } #inline-newsletter-nloptin-6128c488053f9 { background-color: #ffffff; border-width: 1px; border-color: #cccccc; } #inline-newsletter-nloptin-6128c488053f9 .inline-newsletter-subscribe__email-submit { border-color: #0f733c; background-color: #0f733c; color: #ffffff; } As co-written by Fontaine and Pascal Bonitzer, White as Snow also pays homage to François Truffaut’s saga of female mystery, La Sirène du Mississippi (Mississippi Mermaid), in which Catherine Deneuve entices Jean-Paul Belmondo into marrying her. In their getaway cabin, Belmondo discovers a newspaper comic strip “Blanche-Neige et les sept nains” along with a copy of Balzac’s La Peau de chagrin. These classical references contradict the media’s current non-binary charades. Fontaine honors Truffaut, then goes the master of heterosexual conflict one better when Maud proffers Claire a polished poison apple — and it’s the reddest apple in movie history. Fontaine’s symbolism goes all the way back to Eve. But Claire survives temptation and comes to this intimate realization: “I didn’t know what desire was; now I do. This isn’t fun. It’s life.” 

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Iron Dome Funding Bill Passes House Despite Vehement Progressive Opposition

Israel’s Iron Dome anti-missile system intercept rockets launched from the Gaza Strip towards Israel, as seen from Ashkelon, Israel, May 12, 2021. (Amir Cohen/Reuters) Independent legislation that would allocate $1 billion to Israel’s Iron Dome defense system, introduced after House progressives stripped the support from a previous government spending bill, overwhelmingly passed the House on Thursday. Democratic House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Rosa DeLauro proposed the stand-alone legislation on Wednesday, eliciting outrage from squad member Representative Rashida Tlaib, who was one of just nine House members to vote “no.” The progressive congresswoman announced her opposition Thursday, saying she refuses to financially support a “violent apartheid system.” “We cannot be talking only about Israelis’ need for safety at a time when Palestinians are living under a violent apartheid system and are dying from what Human Rights Watch has said are war crimes,” Tlaib remarked. “We should also be talking about the Palestinian need for security from Israeli attacks. We must be consistent in our commitment to human life.” Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez voted “no” on the bill but switched her vote to “present,” which has the effect of an abstention, at the last minute. As the House approved the measure, Ocasio-Cortez appeared visibly upset on camera, as if she were crying. Tlaib repudiated the bill’s reasoning that military aid should be sent to “replenish” Israel’s exhausted defenses after it intercepted hundreds of rocket projectiles that the Gaza-based terrorist organization Hamas launched at the nation’s highly populated centers in May. She claimed that Israel “manufactured” that crisis, triggering it after Israeli Defense Forces soldiers got into an alteration with worshippers at the Al-Aqsa mosque, a holy Islamic site, in Jerusalem. “I firmly believe our country should oppose selling weapons to anyone, anywhere without human rights law compliance,” she asserted. .@RepRashida opposing Iron Dome funding for Israel: "I will not support an effort to enable and support war crimes, human rights abuses, and violence…Palestinians are living under a violent apartheid system…war crimes …Palestinian need for security from Israeli attacks…" pic.twitter.com/C0WG0CRXKG — Howard Mortman (@HowardMortman) September 23, 2021 #inline-newsletter-nloptin-614cd4a73796d .inline-newsletter-subscribe__cta label { font-size: 1.2rem; line-height: 1.5rem; color: #000000; } #inline-newsletter-nloptin-614cd4a73796d .inline-newsletter-subscribe__cta p { font-size: 1.05rem; line-height: 1.45rem; color: #000000; } #inline-newsletter-nloptin-614cd4a73796d { background-color: #ffffff; border-width: 1px; border-color: #cccccc; } #inline-newsletter-nloptin-614cd4a73796d .inline-newsletter-subscribe__email-submit { border-color: #e92131; background-color: #e92131; color: #ffffff; } #inline-newsletter-nloptin-614cd4a737bc0 .inline-newsletter-subscribe__cta label { font-size: 1.5rem; line-height: 1.7rem; color: #000000; } #inline-newsletter-nloptin-614cd4a737bc0 .inline-newsletter-subscribe__cta p { font-size: 1.05rem; line-height: 1.45rem; color: #000000; } #inline-newsletter-nloptin-614cd4a737bc0 { background-color: #ffffff; border-width: 1px; } #inline-newsletter-nloptin-614cd4a737bc0 .inline-newsletter-subscribe__email-submit { border-color: #eba605; background-color: #eba605; color: #ffffff; } #inline-newsletter-nloptin-614cd4a737ce3 .inline-newsletter-subscribe__cta label { font-size: 1.3rem; line-height: 1.5rem; color: #dd9933; } #inline-newsletter-nloptin-614cd4a737ce3 .inline-newsletter-subscribe__cta p { font-size: 1.05rem; line-height: 1.5rem; color: #2d2d2d; } #inline-newsletter-nloptin-614cd4a737ce3 { background-color: #ffffff; border-width: 1px; border-color: #999999; } #inline-newsletter-nloptin-614cd4a737ce3 .inline-newsletter-subscribe__email-submit { border-color: #dd9933; background-color: #dd9933; color: #ffffff; } #inline-newsletter-nloptin-614cd4a737e22 .inline-newsletter-subscribe__cta label { font-size: 1.5rem; line-height: 1.7rem; color: #0f733c; } #inline-newsletter-nloptin-614cd4a737e22 .inline-newsletter-subscribe__cta p { font-size: 1.05rem; line-height: 1.45rem; color: #2d2d2d; } #inline-newsletter-nloptin-614cd4a737e22 { background-color: #ffffff; border-width: 1px; border-color: #cccccc; } #inline-newsletter-nloptin-614cd4a737e22 .inline-newsletter-subscribe__email-submit { border-color: #0f733c; background-color: #0f733c; color: #ffffff; } Shortly after, Democratic Representative Ted Deutch enthusiastically condemned Tlaib’s comment as “anti-Semitic.” “I cannot allow one of my colleagues to stand on floor of House of Representatives and label the Jewish democratic state of Israel an apartheid state. I reject it. Today this caucus, this body, the House of Representatives will overwhelmingly stand will our ally, the State of Israel in replenishing this defensive system,” he declared. Granted additional speaking time, Deutch concluded that leaving Israel vulnerable to assault and destruction from enemies such as Hamas and other neighbors constitutes anti-semitism. “To falsely characterize the State of Israel is consistent with those, let’s be clear, who advocate for the dismantling of the one Jewish state in the world. And when there is no place on the for one Jewish state, that’s anti-semitism,” he said. .@RepTedDeutch after Rep. Tlaib: "I cannot allow one of my colleagues to stand on floor of House and label Jewish democratic state of Israel an apartheid state…my colleague who just besmirched our ally…when there's no place on map for one Jewish state, that's anti-Semitism" pic.twitter.com/kCa5Y5W8EI — Howard Mortman (@HowardMortman) September 23, 2021 Eight Democrats and one Republican rejected the Iron Dome supplemental measure, including Representatives Rashida Tlaib, André Carson, Ilhan Omar, Marie Newman, Ayanna Pressley, Jesús García, Raúl Grijalva, Cori Bush, and Thomas Massie, respectively. Massie, the lone Republican to vote against the measure, opposes all foreign aid. The bill now advances to the evenly-divided Senate for a vote. Send a tip to the news team at NR.
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