Friday, April 12, 2019

'Little' Big Woman

How many schoolbooks can fit inside a Birkin?

I've often had the fantasy of going back in time to junior high or high school, with all the knowledge I have now, and then basically doing everything different. But what I never fantasy about is suddenly being 13 now, and having to traverse the modern world as a middle-aged woman in a teenager's body. That's a scenario likely to land someone in jail, not to mention I wouldn't last a week against today's social media-wielding mean girls.

It's that latter scenario which  is the premise of Little, a gender and age flipped version of Big, which, yes, means it's a comedy and not the nightmarish horror movie such a set-up brings to my mind.

Marsai Martin, who reportedly, at age 10, pitched the movie to her Black-ish boss Kenya Barris, stars as the movie's little heroine, and she also serves as an executive producer on the film (the youngest in Hollywood). Seeing the movie, its origins make perfect sense, as too often Little feels like a clever concept not fully realized.

When the film opens, Martin is Jordan Sanders, a smart and eager 13 year old in 1993 junior high. After suffering a humiliation (and frankly, an assault) at the hands of the school's mean girl, she vows to no longer be a victim, and grows up to be the very rich and very mean head of a tech company in Atlanta.

Regina King plays the big version of Jordan, and she is so convincing and entertaining as the boss from hell it's hard to believe that just a year ago she was the benevolent and almost angelic boss in the under-appreciated Support the Girls.

Issa Rae co-stars as April, Jordan's long suffering assistant, who must always be available to take Jordan's calls--which inevitably include screaming--and make sure everything in Jordan's life is to her meticulous liking, such as arranging slippers and coffee cups within very specific parameters. (Rulers are involved.)

Jordan's employees scatter and hide when she enters the building and require anti-anxiety meds to get through team meetings. April can't bring herself to share any of her ideas with her as she's seen what disappointing Jordan can get you. (Slapping; shoving; the tossing of your bagels into the trash).

Obviously, Jordan is in need of some lesson learning. Enter the magic wand wielding daughter of a local food truck owner, who wishes Jordan were little. And the next morning, she is.

Young Marsai Martin is preternaturally gifted, and scarily good on Black-ish, and there's no doubt she's got a movie career ahead of her. She's got the grown woman trapped in girl's body swagger down perfectly, mimicking Regina King's walk and mannerisms so well that it never feels like you're watching a teenager just pretending to be a woman.

Which is why it's so disappointing to see three such funny females in a movie that doesn't live up to their performances or talents. Little is afraid to go big, perhaps too beholden to its PG-13 rating and too reliant on its comedic premise to actually flesh out some solid humor.

And I'll admit I was a little nervous about how the movie would handle the whole "horny older woman trapped in a kid's body" thing in the scenes with her middle school teacher, played by Justin Hartley. It does manage to skirt the issue before it gets too far into ick territory, but that's also the problem with the movie as a whole; it skirts too much, never really pushing any boundaries, which results in a lot of awkward and flat jokes.

For instance, there's a scene where little Jordan and April are having dinner, and what Jordan wants more than anything is a glass of wine. April, obviously fearing both the optics and legal aspects of allowing Jordan a drink, refuses to give it to her...Awkward cut to Jordan singing along to a Mary J. Blige song while laying on top of the bar.

Wait a minute. Did she get that wine? Is she drunk? What's happening? The movie kills the joke with confusion by avoiding a shot of Jordan drinking that wine.

Issa Rae, so funny on HBO's Insecure, also feels stifled because the movie is torn between two protagonists. Is it April's story? Or Jordan's? But perhaps the film's biggest loss is that, because of its concept, Marsai Martin and Regina King never get to share any screen time together. That is something I know would be worth seeing. Someone get that movie rolling! Marsai, you're a producer now! Do it!

Friday, April 5, 2019

'Shazam!', Gaaahh-lee!

Drinking that famous "COLA" Beer.

For those excited for Shazam! because they think it's the long-awaited re-release of that genie movie starring Sinbad, you're going to be disappointed. And for those excited for the big-screen debut of the Whiz/DC superhero once known as Captain Marvel, well, I've got good news and bad news.

The good news: Shazam! is not another emo-filled, murkily filmed, depressing entry in the DC universe. It's light, both in its visuals and its story, includes a superhero that doesn't take himself too seriously, and at times it reminded me a bit of the 1977 Superman, back when comic book movies weren't a genre we were expected to revere.

The bad news: it's way, way too long, strives to be funnier than it actually is, and saddles an already lackluster villain with a gang of truly uninspired monsters.

Both hero and villain have an origin centered on a meeting with an aging wizard named Shazam (Djimon Hounsou), in set-ups that take way too long, and never truly make sense. This aging wizard, the last of a council of seven, is looking for his champion, someone "pure of heart" to take over his duties and protect the world from the Seven Deadly Sins, which are, for now,  safely frozen in stone in his chamber.  When a young Thaddeus Sivana  is chosen (for reasons never explained) but fails the test, he grows up pretty bitter about it, spending his life trying to track down that wizard (when he isn't dealing with his extreme daddy issues).

Enter orphaned Billy Batson (Asher Angel), a foster kid on the constant search for the mother who disappeared years before. He's street smart, and always on the run, but willing to try out a new foster home, headed up by the saintly Vasquezes (Cooper Andrews and Mart Milans) and filled with five other foster kids of varying ages and ethnicities, including Freddy Freeman (Jack Dylan Grazer), a superhero aficionado. (He has a certified bullet that bounced off of Superman, who, don't forget, is real.)

The wizard Shazam, who after 40 years, still hasn't found a champion, summons Billy (just why Billy is chosen is, once again, never made clear) and decides to make him his heir, granting him the power to turn into an adult superhero (played by Zachary Levi) whenever he says the word "Shazam!" (And yes, Billy thinks that's pretty silly, too.)

What follows is a superhero version of Big, with Billy confiding in Freddy, and the duo teaming up to figure out just what powers Billy has, and just what they can do with them. Unsurprisingly, early choices include buying beer, going to a strip club, and busking for coin like a Times Square Elmo. The scenes between Levi and Grazer's Freddy owe an obvious debt to the aforementioned Big, though too often I just wished they were funnier. A lot of gags are tossed off like lightning bolts, but not many land.

But the movie's biggest sin is its Seven Deadly Sins. Why, why was the decision made to create completely generic "monsters" that look like rejects from a cheap 1990's film, and are completely indecipherable from each other? They're supposed to represent seven sins (which, why? If Shazam's power comes from Greek gods?), but I couldn't point out Sloth from Lust to save my life. They aren't interesting or scary; they're just loud and brown.

Shazam! is definitely better than the majority of DC's recent cinematic offerings, and I certainly wouldn't mind seeing the character teamed up with other DC characters in future films, but as a standalone movie, it had my inner 14-year-old dreaming of the ability to speed up time, or at least hit a magic fast forward button in the IMAX theater.

Friday, March 8, 2019

'Captain Marvel' Doesn't Have To Prove Anything To You

The dream of the 90's is alive in Carol Danvers

When Wonder Woman opened in 2017, there were numerous reports of women breaking down into tears during the scene where Diana takes to the World War I battlefield, dodging bullets and saving lives, because all the men around her had given up. I was one of those crying women. Finally, finally here was the DC hero I cherished the most growing up, saving the world in a mediocre DC movie, just like all those male superheros had been doing for decades before.

Captain Marvel is the first Marvel movie focused on a female superhero, and if you're thinking "It's about damn time," you're right. While the Marvel Cinematic Universe does have its share of heroines, none have been allowed to carry a whole film until now. And as, essentially, a prequel to Avengers: Endgame, Captain Marvel also seems poised to carry the entire franchise.

But she's kind of a weird character to set up for that, because while Wonder Woman is quite literally a goddess, Captain Marvel is, most of the time, very much down to Earth, and, as the people around her have made sure she understands through each step of her life, just a girl.

As the film opens, our Captain Marvel (Brie Larson) is known as Vers, and she's a Kree, an alien warrior race at war with the Skrull, shape-shifters who are encroaching on Kree territory. Vers has a mentor, Yon-Rogg (Jude Law) with whom she spars both physically and verbally. He's always telling her she needs to control her emotions, while she sarcastically tells him he needs to stop worshiping her. After all, she's got photon blasters for fists, who wouldn't worship her?

After a capture by the Skrull and an escape that has her crashing through the roof of a Blockbuster in 1995 Los Angeles, on a planet she knows as C-53 (a real "shithole" according to her fellow Kree), Vers starts to realize the past she can never remember may have a beginning on this very planet.

This is a Captain Marvel origin story, but it's also a Nick Fury (Samuel. L. Jackson) origin story as well, because in 1995, he and Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) are two very smooth faced agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (CGI de-aging effects work better on Jackson than on Gregg, who I just assumed was some kind of android imposter for at least five minutes.)

Brie Larson brings an effortless breeziness to her character. Perhaps heeding the advice of her mentor, when Vers first lands on Earth C-53, she seems to be keeping her emotions in check, not letting much phase her, from the agents who want to question her, to the aliens who want to capture her, to the asshole on a motorcycle who tells her to smile (nice). This lightness also feeds into her scenes with Agent Fury, allowing Jackson to bring some comedy to his character. They have some great moments together. (Though none are as great as Jackson's moments with a cat named Goose, who basically steals the whole movie.)

The Marvel movies have been superior to DC movies in a number of ways, but the biggest reasons for me have always been their humor, perfect casting, and character authenticity. Captain Marvel has all three down, with much help from Annette Benning as a spooky AI god, Lashana Lynch as Carol Danver's best friend Maria, and Ben Mendelsohn as a very funny Skrull in a turtleneck. As tends to be the case with most of the Marvel movies, the big battles are never as entertaining as the quieter moments.

If you're a Gen X'er, the film's 90's setting is going to hit all your nostalgia buttons, from that Blockbuster, to the flannel shirts, to the music, which is heavy with girl bands like Garbage, Elastica, and No Doubt (though the use of "Just a Girl" is a little too on the nose). Misogynistic fan boys have had a field day hating on the movie, for a variety of "reasons," and that made me realize the 90's is the perfect era for Captain Marvel to land in. It was the last time women could make noise without having to immediately hear a response from a dozen men screaming about their own alleged suppression. (The Internet ruined everything.)

I'll be honest. Carol Danvers is an endearing and admirable character, but Captain Marvel is not the most exciting superhero. When she comes into her full powers (which happens too late in the film), she's basically unstoppable, and as a result, there's not a lot of tension in those later battle scenes.

And that in itself is fine. Just because Captain Marvel is the first female led Marvel movie doesn't mean it also has to be flawless. Both Thor and the Hulk were allowed to have their own meh movies, and go on to become beloved characters in the universe. The same should be allowed of Captain Marvel. She's here, and she doesn't have to prove anything to anyone.

Friday, March 1, 2019

'Greta' Isn't Great, But Isabelle Huppert Is

She still has CDs. Clearly she's nuts.

Greta is a pretty standard stalker-centered horror film that does nothing new, and yet, because of its pedigree, almost feels fresh. Isabelle Huppert, who has, apparently, never met a crazy lady character she didn't like, stars as the titular Greta. Oscar-winning director Neil Jordan films it like one of his dark fairy tales, setting it in a calm, dark, and quiet New York that's home to mysterious carriage houses with secret rooms, and young women who, when they come across a lost handbag on a subway, don't pocket the cash and toss it away, but instead track down its owner, all the way to picturesque Brooklyn.

Chloë Grace Moretz is the naive Frances, bag finder. Originally from Boston, she's living with her rich friend Erica (Maika Monroe) in Manhattan, working as a waitress, and trying to get over the recent death of her mother. When Frances returns the handbag to Greta in her Brooklyn carriage house, she finds a lonely French widow who misses her daughter, who is close to France's age, and away studying music in Paris. Both women have very obvious voids in their lives that they're aching to fill, and their meeting seems like a fortuitous accident.

Frances offers to help Greta get a dog, joins her on lunch dates, and takes joy in the friendship, all while her friend Erica tells her it seems a little...weird. Of course, Erica is right, and Frances soon learns her meeting Greta wasn't really an accident, and Greta is not the type of woman who takes France's attempts at ghosting lightly.

If you've ever seen a "Crazy Lady" movie, you can guess what follows. Crazy lady won't be ignored! Animals won't fare well. She'll have an uncanny ability to show up everywhere, silently. One sequence has Greta stalking Erica while texting photos of her to Frances, a thrilling bit of filmmaking that's both a modern take on Rear Window, and a sly nod to Maika Monroe's previous appearance in the horror movie It Follows.

Isabelle Huppert has excelled at playing unhinged women for decades, and compared to someone like Ericka in The Piano Teacher, or Hélène in Ma Mère, Greta may seem downright tame. In fact, it is when Greta is at her most calm that she is scariest. Watching her stand silent and still outside a restaurant window for hours is much more chilling than her screaming and flipping tables.

All the performances in Greta are better than the material deserves, including Moretz's kindly and then terrified Frances, and Stephen Rea (it's a Neil Jordan movie, after all) as a very tired detective for hire. (If they ever do a live action version of the Droopy Dog cartoons, he's your man.) As the story gets more and more ridiculous, enjoyment comes less from the surprises of the plot, and more from the continuing surprise that is seeing an actress like Isabelle Huppert in a slasher movie. It's almost like watching one of those commercials movie stars will film in Japan but never in the U.S. You wonder what the hell they're doing that for, and yet, you can't stop watching.

Friday, February 15, 2019

'Happy Death Day 2U' Makes A Birthday Wish Come True

In an alternate universe, that shirt says "FML"

Last year's Happy Death Day was a charming surprise, a horror comedy that ultimately turned into a romantic comedy, cleverly using horror movie tropes in a Groundhog Day-inspired loop of murder, survival, and blossoming love. So how could a film that centers on repetition not spawn a sequel, that genre of film that almost always relies on repeating those things that made the first film a hit?

And indeed, Happy Death Day 2U, does just that, much to the absolute exasperation of heroine Tree (Jessica Rothe) who, at the end of the first film, thought she had finally survived her never-ending birthday/death day. 2U begins where that film ended, with Tree and her new boyfriend Carter (Israel Broussard) celebrating a day that is finally not the 18th only to find Carter's roommate Ryan (Phi Vu), seems to be experiencing the same time-looping Tree just survived.

Turns out Ryan has been working on a science thesis that centers on a quantum reactor nicknamed Sissy. It was this reactor that set off Tree's original time loop, and when Ryan and his fellow science nerds attempt to correct his own looping by firing up the reactor again, it sends Tree back into her loop, but this time, in an alternative universe. So now while Tree is still fated to be killed at the end of each of her never ending days, the killer appears to be someone different. Also different? Her relationship with Carter, and the fate of another very important person in her life.

Just as characters in the first film openly compared what they were going through to the film Groundhog Day, this time they see their dilemma as more akin to Back to the Future II. Happy Death Day 2U also pays as much tribute to John Hughes as the original did, but this time it's Weird Science, not Sixteen Candles that you'll be nostalgic for.

And just like Weird Science, it's best not to overthink the science behind that reactor, and its multiple "algorithms", which require multiple tries, and thus require Tree to die multiple times so she can reset the day and they can try over. (These multiple deaths result in a peppy suicide montage that features Tree gleefully jumping out of a plane without a parachute, drinking poison, and leaping into a wood chipper, all painful forms of death I'm not sure I'd opt for, even if I knew I was going to wake up alive.) And as nonsensical as the scientific explanation for the time loops and multiverses may be, interjecting science fiction into the plot is a great way to keep the sequel feeling fresh.

Also, of all the movies 2U brings to mind, I think the closest match this time may be 2015's The Final Girls, another slasher comedy that was able to use the tropes of the genre to generate both thrills and genuine, tear-inducing drama. (Go stream it now!)

I was worried at the beginning of Happy Death Day 2U that Jessica Rothe was going to take a backseat to a new character and his time-loop story, because it was Rothe's comedic timing, rage, and her relationship with Broussard's Carter that were probably the best things about the first film. Thankfully, the beginning is a bit of a MacGuffin, and 2U is very much Rothe's movie. As long as she returns, I'll gladly repeat the experience for the Happy Death Day 3(D?) that is promised by film's end.

Friday, February 8, 2019

'What Men Want' Is The Usual

"I predict...I'm going to steal every scene of this movie I'm in."

Of all the supernatural powers a bonk on the head might give you (and apparently, that's a very common side effect for women with head trauma), hearing people's thoughts is both the one I'd least like to have, and least like to be in the presence of. Both scenarios seem like a living nightmare, so it always perturbs me a bit when the set-up is used as the basis for a comedy.

What Men Want is a remake of the 2000 Mel Gibson comedy What Women Want, about a Chicago advertising executive who uses his newfound power to try and take down his female boss. The updated scenario moves the story to Atlanta, and a sports agency where Ali (Taraji P. Henson) is the firm's only female agent.

Working twice as hard as all the men in her office doesn't land her the promotion to partner she'd been hoping for, and when her boss (Brian Bosworth) tells her it's because she hasn't landed a client from the big three (NBA; NFL; MLB), and also because she doesn't "connect with men," she vows to land the next big basketball star by winning him and his eccentric entrepreneur father (Tracy Morgan) over.

If all that sounds a little conventional, it is. What Men Want follows every comedic beat and plot resolution you'd expect it to; nothing about it is very surprising, including the private inner lives of men.

When a combination of a psychic's drug-laced tea and a bonk on the head (partially caused by a collision with a giant inflatable penis), lands Ali in the hospital, she awakens hearing her doctor's thoughts, which are centered on his drinking and drugging problems. Once she leaves the hospital she realizes she can hear all men's thoughts, and, no comedic surprise here, those thoughts are usually centered on things like sex, food, or self doubt.

Henson has some deft moments of physical comedy, and is suitably sympathetic when she needs to be, but the cliched plot forces her character to learn some kind of lesson (which ultimately seems to center on her being less selfish, especially in bed), and that just gives credence to the idea that it wasn't sexism (and racism) that had been holding her back at work. It's a muddled message.

Ultimately, there are really only two reasons to see What Men Want. One is Tracy Morgan, whose inner thoughts are actually less weird than the things that come out of his mouth, and the other, much bigger reason, is Erykah Badu.

Her performance as the psychic/pot seller named Sister is a comedic tour de force, and a revelation. I had no idea the woman was funny! (Turns out, she studied theater in college and one of her first jobs was working for Steve Harvey.) Every moment she's on screen is a gem, and director Adam Shankman knows it, devoting half of the ending credits to her outtakes and improvisations. Turns out, I don't care what men want. I just want more of her.

Friday, February 1, 2019

'They Shall Not Grow Old' Brightens A Dark Past

Pictured left: Not Walt Disney

When I was in college, I saw the short film A Trip Down Market Street for the first time. The mini documentary is a real time, unedited look at pre-quake 1906 San Francisco. The camera is mounted to the front of the cable car as it captures people, cars, and horse-drawn carriages weaving and bobbing out of the frame before it reaches the end of its journey, when the cable car, and camera, does a 180. Newsboys then gather in front of the cable car, mug for the camera, and the film ends.

Watching it was a revelation; it felt like the closest thing to time travel we'd ever be able to experience. Because there's nothing staged about the footage, it captures the feeling of life at the time better than most photographs and film reels from the era can. I had a similar feeling watching Peter Jackson's World War I documentary They Shall Not Grow Old, as if I were seeing a part of history with clear eyes for the first time.

Jackson is able to capture this time travel feeling in ways that are quite different from A Trip Down Market Street. This is not a real time, cinema vérité, glimpse into the past; it's very carefully constructed. Jackson and his crew took over 100 hours of archival footage from the British Imperial War Museum, edited it into a rough narrative, cleaned it up, colorized it, and time corrected it, getting rid of the jerky motion inherent in early 20th century film. Sound effects were also added (the din of artillery fire and bombings is a constant), as well as some dialogue (lip readers were utilized to figure out what was being said in the silent footage). Add 3D to the mix, and you've got perhaps the most immersive look into the Great War that's ever been produced. (Archival black and white footage filmed off the battlefield, in England and the French coast, bookends the film.)

The process is not, however, flawless. CG techniques are sometimes used to define soldiers' faces that have likely blurred and softened in the original old film stock, and the effect is often uncomfortably cartoonish. And it has to be said, there's something slightly ghoulish about meticulously colorizing the wounds on a dead soldier so that the blood is just the right color of darkening red.

What helps the film rise above mere visual effects spectacle are the voices of over 100 WWI veterans that narrate it. The humanity of those voices paired with the reality of the soldiers, marching, fighting, and goofing around like any modern solider might is a powerful reminder that they were indeed real men and boys, and not just silent faces lost to history.

Friday, January 18, 2019

Unbreakable 'Glass' Splits

Just give me some metal to bend and we could end this here!

Beware the ides of March, and the films of January, especially if said film comes with the label "from M. Night Shyamalan." No good can come of that, and the proof lies in Glass, Shyamalan's third film in what can only loosely be called a trilogy, one that began with 2000's Unbreakable, and was followed up by the thinly related Split in 2017.

Split centered on serial killer Kevin Crumb, (James McAvoy), a damaged man with multiple personalities, or DID (dissociative identity disorder). One of his personalities is known as The Beast, and he's a snarling mass of shirtless, sinewy muscle with super-strength and possible indestructibility.

Glass takes place a few weeks after the events of Split. Kevin has evaded capture and has four more teenage girls chained up and ready for the slaughter. (Kevin's torture and murder of teenage girls is never given the gravitas it warrants; it's cast aside as just an unfortunate side effect to his disorder, which is obviously far more interesting than some female victims.)

One of those victims was Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy), Split's Final Girl, who returns in Glass, seemingly none the worse for wear after her stay in Kevin's basement a few weeks earlier. We're to believe that since she came from an abusive home, she can recognize the pain that fuels Kevin, and may be be able to save him. So what if he murdered two of her schoolmates! He had an abusive mother!

David Dunn (Bruce Willis) has less sympathy for the killer. In the 19 years since his encounter with Elijah Price/Mr. Glass (Samuel L. Jackson), David has lived the life of an undercover superhero, donning his cape rain poncho to fight crime, garnering nicknames that range from "the Tiptoe Man" to "the Overseer." (He prefers the latter.) His hunt for Kevin, who has been nicknamed "the Horde" by the press, results in a wall and window smashing fight in an abandoned warehouse, and eventual capture by the authorities.

These "authorities" are actually headed up by Dr. Ellie Staple (Sarah Paulson), a psychiatrist "specializing" in delusions of grander. She's determined to prove that both David and Kevin are not as super as they think they are, and what better way to do that than to lock them up in the same facility Mr. Glass has been sitting in, basically comatose, for almost two decades?

She's such a calming presence, with her cream colored sweater dresses, and soft spoken demeanor, that you can almost buy that she merely wants to save these men. (Although, again, one of them is a serial killer, so maybe he doesn't really deserve saving?) But her whole premise, that they didn't really do the superhuman things they think they've done, could so easily be proven wrong--just have David bench press 500 pounds!--that I wouldn't blame you for thinking there might be something else going on. Because of course there is. This is an M. Night Shyamalan movie!

To be honest, I never really understood why Shyamalan became such critical darling, even if it was short lived. The Sixth Sense, which is almost universally recognized as his best film, was a solid enough supernatural thriller that it didn't need to rely on its twist ending to save it (which is good, since I saw that twist coming halfway through). And Unbreakable was a serviceable follow-up, with an intriguing concept--superheros are real, and comic books are their coded history--and an ending that wasn't so much a twist as a sucker punch.

But following those two films, twists and gotcha endings became Shyamalan's thing, to the detriment of story. If you start to think about the plots of Signs or The Village--at all--they become completely laughable. Badly written dialogue and overwrought performances didn't help, and a string of even worse films became the ultimate plot twist in Shyamalan's career: from critical darling to cinematic pariah.

I'll give Unbreakable this: it's succinct. I dare you to watch it now and not be a little surprised at the abrupt appearance of intertitles explaining the resolution. Glass is not so tight, depending on Jackson to spend most of the film's second half on exposition, detailing (again) his theory about comic books and superheros, his ultimate plan, and, in the film's only real bit of comedy, the tropes both comic books and the film we are watching depend on.

There's some satisfaction in seeing the Unbreakable characters again. How can you not root for Mr. Glass, just a little bit, once that side-parted afro, iridescent purple suit, and white ascot returns? And Willis's understated David Glenn, a character who does not scream "superhero," is ultimately just a nice guy trying to do the right thing. (Spencer Treat Clark also returns as David's son Joseph, as does Charlayne Woodard as Elijah/Mr. Glass's mother, in old-age makeup so heavy I was afraid it was going to plop off her face at any moment.)

And both Unbreakable and Glass contain an intriguing concept at their centers: what if there were superhumans and mastermind among us? How would that really play out in real life? But this is a concept that has been tackled more than once in numerous superhero movies that followed Unbreakable, and Glass's take on the subject now feels neither fresh nor subversive.