What You Missed in the Summer of ’15

Dear Readers,

Remember me?

No worries if you don’t. It has been a slow summer of criticism for me, and for a variety of reasons. First and foremost is that, as I get older, I have less and less patience for the slew of commercial crapola that Hollywood spews out during the warmer months, and so I’ve spent much of the summer reviewing indies that would otherwise get little attention. There were some great ones this year, and I’ll link to my favorites below; the only catch is that you have to live somewhere near an independent theater to see them.

But the second, more complicated reason that my output has slowed down is I’ve been taking some time to re-examine my critical perspective. There was a Twitter incident (Twincident?) last month in which I commented on Bernie Sanders and the Black Lives Matter movement, and was subsequently hit with a barrage of supportive retweets and angry outrage. It was a difficult moment for me; I was supported by racists and non-racists alike, and called out by strangers and friends for my white supremacy. Few suggested I was racist myself; rather, they argued I was displaying an inherent white bias that rendered my opinion on the strategy of the BLM movement condescending and patronizing. I understand now why they were upset; white bias is part of the problem – not the solution – and the incident has made me think twice before writing again about race or any other social justice issue.

I’m not sure what the right thing is here. With a little imagination, it is not difficult for a white film critic to imagine what it feels like to be oppressed based on the color of one’s skin, their gender, or their sexual identity. If so, nothing should prevent me from writing about these issues, as long as I continue to be respectful and not prescriptive. On the other hand, I get the sense that people don’t really want that right now. Editors and activists alike want people of color writing about racial issues, women writing about feminism, and members of queer community writing about LGBTQ equality.

If so, what is my value is a critic? I guess what I’m saying is: I’m trying to figure that out, and I wanted to let you in on that process. In the meantime, here are the best essays and reviews I wrote this summer. Enjoy.


Why the Hell Isn’t Sam Rockwell a Movie Star? (Esquire)

“We generally like our movie stars to be one thing, or at least one thing at a time, and Rockwell seems firmly, almost pathologically opposed to singularity.”

Mad Max‘s Scarily Accurate Take on Climate Change (Talking Points Memo)

“By building a post-apocalyptic world using contemporary symbols of both climate change and religious fundamentalism, Miller is creating a correlative link between the two for the viewer, but is there evidence to back up his assertion? ”

We’re Living in a Golden Age for Pro-Science Pop Culture (Wired)

“In between its rom-com conventions, [‘Aloha’] casts a sharp critical gaze at the realities of American space policy in the era of privatization, even name-checking the Outer Space Treaty of 1967 as a key plot point. Who would have thought Cameron Crowe, the writer/director of Jerry Maguire and Almost Famous, had trenchant science policy criticism in him?”

How Obama Blurred the Line Between Hollywood and Washington (The Guardian)

“The Hollywood community has effectively become a financial arm of the Democratic party, and a much-needed one in the wild west era of political fundraising brought on by Citizens United.”

Does the N.W.A. Biopic Mark the End of the White Savior Movie? (Talking Points Memo)

“If the film buries the white savior, it does so by also praising him. It explores the archetype with honesty and compassion, an even-handed approach that feels like a revolutionary act of love in our racially-divisive times. ”


I loved Heaven Knows What, a New York indie about young junkies.

Infinitely Polar Bear – a twee domestic drama about mental illness – really shouldn’t have worked, but Mark Ruffalo saves it.

Boulevard is Robin Williams’s last starring role, and it’s a doozy.

I really enjoyed Do I Sound Gay?, a thoughtful, funny, and soul-searching documentary about the “gay voice.”

The Stanford Prison Experiment was my top film of the summer. Gripping, claustrophobic, and emotionally intense, it is also a dizzyingly resonant allegory for our time.

Everyone else liked The End of the Tour. I didn’t.

The Diary of a Teenage Girl is a radical work of feminism that also happens to be hugely entertaining. A must-see.

We Come as Friends is a haunting and elegant documentary about the new colonialism in South Sudan.

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