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New Pollution #5: Childish Things, or It's a Boid! It's a Plane! It's Super-stan!
𝘡𝘢𝘤𝘬 𝘚𝘯𝘺𝘥𝘦𝘳'𝘴 𝘑𝘶𝘴𝘵𝘪𝘤𝘦 𝘓𝘦𝘢𝘨𝘶𝘦 • 𝘬𝘪𝘥90
The possessive is earned, yet Zack Snyder’s Justice League (now streaming on HBOMax) is interesting mainly as a point of contrast. We have an inferior theatrical cut overseen by the DC/WB overlords and their disgraced lackey Joss Whedon, as well as a glut of numbing superheroic cinematic/televisual product (mostly courtesy Marvel™), against which to compare. The bar is so low an earthworm couldn’t limbo beneath it. But yes, by this debased metric, the “Snyder Cut” (and boy is he! watch your back, Eli Roth!!) is a distinctive work of art. Which just furthers my belief that one of the greatest challenges we face as a society (in which we live) is how easily we settle for crumbs.
In Snyder’s world, of course, the seed from a sandwich roll can take on the proportions of a galaxy. And its slo-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-mo plunge to the ground can be juxtaposed quite beautifully with Barry “The Flash” Allen’s (Ezra Miller) split-second-prolonged gaze into the eyes of his future beloved, Iris West (Kiersey Clemons). This is a singular vision, not a corporately collective one, with all the attendant quirks of personality. But let’s not forget that the Snyder Cut was in part willed into being by a toxic social media campaign, mob rule begetting a mystical monocultural object that is finally much bigger than its ostensible creator. That many in the fandom also raised money for suicide prevention as a way of honoring Snyder’s daughter Autumn — whose death occasioned his stepping away from the first version of Justice League and to whom this new cut is dedicated — only shows how muddled the morality of the horde can be.
The jumbled-up nature of being a god among men is the great theme of Snyder’s Man of Steel–Batman v. Superman–Justice League trilogy/aborted pentateuch. All of ’em are kinda-sorta Jesus, with Superman (Henry Cavill) and Batman (Ben Affleck) as the Heaven-Earth dichotomy (Supes strikes yet another Christ pose above the rising-sun-speckled arc of the planet) and the rest some variation in-between. Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) is Mrs. Paul Schrader, as we all know (that’s canon). But the movie really belongs to Victor “Cyborg” Stone (Ray Fisher), the metal-machine man whose inner life proves integral to undoing the world-ending “Unity” of the three Mother Boxes coveted by Tim-Curry-in-Legend-looking-motherfucker Steppenwolf (Ciarán Hinds, in virtual voice and body). Fisher was clearly done dirty in the Whedon cut and he deserves every bit of praise coming his way, giving this glum behemoth a poignancy that feels grounded, authentic and often at odds with the overemphatic nature of Snyder’s patented sturm und drag. Even The Flash’s tension-defusing wisecracks seem pitched at 0.25 speed.
Snyder wasn’t lying when he said this version of the film shares plenty with Kelly Reichardt’s period drama First Cow. And I’m not talking about the 4:3 aspect ratio, well-utilized by cinematographer Fabian Wagner for maximum visual overdrive, but the presence here of that much-praised indie’s star, Orion Lee, as a lab tech. Snyder casts consistently well, even in the case of Gadot, whose every-step-a-fucking-adventure enunciation is hilariously adopted by her fellow Amazons. (I never knew I needed Connie Nielsen doing community theater-level cue card-speak until now.) On the flip side is Jared Leto’s wisenheimer incarnation of the Joker, who appears in a newly shot “Knightmare” epilogue that touches on post-apocalyptic alterna-world plot threads likely to remain unresolved. He can go away now. As for Joe Manganiello’s Hunkypatch or Deathstroke or whatever…the keys are in the mailbox, and the bedroom’s up the stairs and to the left. I’ll be waiting. Bring Aquaman (Jason Momoa).
Though Twitter would like to convince us otherwise, it’s hardly a tragedy that Snyder will never see his self-described trilogy-in-five-films come to fruition. (As with every modern-day superhero venture, there’s too much IP in the mix.) Snyder’s best effort remains the wholly original grrrl-power fetish object Sucker Punch (2011), which provocatively poked and prodded fanboy culture instead of catering to it. Not much money in that, as I’m sure there wouldn’t be in Snyder’s long-threatened adaptation, after King Vidor’s swooningly demented 1949 attempt, of Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead, which he said in a recent interview was best left on the back-burner until a less divided country and a more liberal government were in place. See you in, I dunno, fifty years, Zack? Maybe by then you’ll conjure an image as ribaldly resonant as Patricia Neal ascending the shaft of a skyscraper into Gary Cooper’s beckoning crotch.
Soleil Moon Frye’s kid90 (now streaming on Hulu) is breezy on the surface, brutal underneath, though you probably need to be of a certain age (43-year-old me…perfect) to fully connect with the pop-cultural world of the mid-’80s to mid-’90s that it wistfully portrays. Moon Frye — best known for playing spunky Punky Brewster (then and, via a recent streaming channel reboot, now) — was an early practitioner of video journaling, though of the kind uploaded into dusty cardboard boxes as opposed to privacy-detonating electronic nebulas. Now in her forties, Moon Frye has decided to unbox the tapes, scan through the footage, interview some of the surviving participants, and grapple with the past.
It’s all true: There was a time when you could film it and, unless you were Rob Lowe, forget it. And while she put forth a clean-cut, Just Say No! public image (obligatory encounter with Nancy Reagan and all), Moon Frye privately partied hard and lived it up as the Dorothy Parker figurehead of an Algonquin Round Table of Teen Beaters. Here are Brian Austin Green and Mark-Paul Gosselaar, Sara Gilbert and the Lewises (Jenny and Emmanuel), staring out from a low-res vid-capture world that seems like another planet. Though the pain many of them felt, and rarely expressed outside of semi-soused innuendo, is recognizably eternal.
A fresh-faced youth named Leonardo DiCaprio would make it out alive, while another, Jonathan Brandis (whose hard crush on Soleil comes off in retrospect like a cry for help), would not. And that was just the West Coast crew. When Moon Frye traveled to New York City for college, she befriended the street-trained skater posse from Larry Clark and Harmony Korine’s Kids (1995), several of whom, like the vibrantly hard-edged Justin Pierce and Harold Hunter, also succumbed to drugs and depression.
kid90 plays as a nostalgically frothy journey of self-actualization, and Moon Frye can’t help but be the It Gets Better (If You Let It) cheerleader, reframing some of the toughest circumstances, like her tempestuous relationship with House of Pain’s Danny Boy O’Connor, as necessary learning experiences. Yet the footage she filmed speaks for its often queasy self, particularly when it’s of the close-to-home variety, as when teenage Moon Frye, suffering in an assortment of ways from gigantomastia, goes in for breast reduction surgery and her doctor — who never asks for autographs, she swears — asks for an autograph.
These kids were, and to some degree remain, objects treated with more contempt than compassion. Even at their lowest points, noblesse oblige is presumed. The party culture Moon Frye preserved in Hi8 amber was an outlet and a life-line, in addition to a survivalist circling of the wagons that’s much more difficult to attain in this era with its pervasive We-Live-In-Public ethos. “It was our ’60s!” says present-day Stephen Dorff of those lost decades. Once the cruel urge to snort and rebuff fades, you’re prepared to good-naturedly grant him the sentiment.