Friday, December 01, 2017

Be Very Very Afraid

As far as there might be one the weak spot in Guillermo Del Toro's The Shape of Water (out this weekend here in New York, and which I already reviewed right here) is in its villainy, which has a vague sense of also-ran to it. Michael Shannon's Strickland (I mean, that name) is tasked with the weight of no less than Curdled American Exceptionalism as his symbolic thrust, and we get it quick and move on to the swoonier bits that are pushing back.

That's not Shannon's fault - he oozes his mania out of his beautiful bug-eyes, and Del Toro shoots him with a nicely sinister sexed-up leer (as he did also for Sergi López in Pan's Labyrinth I might add - Del Toro is thankfully not afraid to make Evil kinda hot). But The Shape of Water flies high as a romance (and it flies very very high as a romance) while the particulars of Strickland's devilry don't entirely cohere. We knows he's awful from his very first scene, basically - Del Toro expounds and twists that in some atypical ways, but The Shape of Water is a movie that comes most alive when maneuvering its way through its band of plucky outsiders and their decency and friendship for and with one another.

But if you're looking for real villainy this weekend, brother have I got the movie for you. The New Radical is a new documentary about Cody Wilson, the inventor of the 3D printed gun, and Amir Taaki, one of the bright minds behind BitCoin; these two teamed up at one point to create DarkWallet, an app that allows people to use the latter technology to obscure all of their transactions from prying (read: law authority's) eyes. 

And they're awful. These two come across here as just the worst empathy-free automatons of political theory above the actual meaningful day-to-day human existence of people just trying to survive in the world. They want to burn it all down without a thought of making anyone else's lives actually measuredly better - Taaki is the type who prides himself on having never worked a day in his life, thoughtlessly exploiting everyone around him for his continued survival. Both are adolescents choking on the fumes of their spoiled testosterone; these are the type of people I have spent my life avoiding like the plague. I don't think I've ever wanted to throw my computer across the room as often as I did watching this documentary and listening to these two weave word-salad out of their endless self-justifications for assholery.

Wilson and Taaki (but especially Wilson, who doesn't seem to make it far at any point away from the anonymous anywhere-America apartments of an eternally loveless sophomore) are boundless narcissists who've seen fit to create antagonism in their lives out of thin air - as young single men with apparently nothing much else to worry about - and pushed their obvious abilities (they are both too smart for their own, or the common, good) into the darkest corners of possibility. 

And the thing is, I could not look away. There is real debate worth considering about the limits of our freedoms, self-imposed for that communal good, in The New Radical, even if you find the self-satisfied  dudes delivering that debate here pretty despicable. And the film to its benefit stays staggeringly even-handed, even at times frustratingly so - we're so often spoon-fed how we're supposed to feel about the people we're being shown on a screen that that the trained part of my brain kept aching for more push-back, a comeuppance.

But that wouldn't exactly be honest to where we are in American Discourse now, would it? The film honestly brought back the sickening feeling in the pit of my gut from Election Night 2016, and that's a night that actually plays out in the film itself; just this time with us privy to watching these fiends smugly happy about the chaos that's been wrought via "The New Trumpism," as they call it. We watch as Wilson eases, with unsurprising great ease, into the signifiers of the Alt-Right, Pepe the Frog's dumb face pinned to his wall, and it sinks in - this is the real American Horror Story right here. And no matter how bad we want to throw our computers across the room we can't look away from it any more. 

The New Radical opens in NYC and LA 
today and hits VOD on Tuesday.

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