Writing

Archive of posts about Category: Movies, Music, TV

Computer Show

This series is so damn funny. Starring Rob Baedeker of the extremely awesome Kaspar Hauser sketch group (seriously, go find their podcast in iTunes and listen to Mundo de Perros! and Spicy Pony Head).

Roger Ebert on The Exterminating Angel

Then, in a series of subtle developments, it becomes apparent that no one can leave. They make preliminary gestures. They drift toward the hallway. There is nothing to stop them. But they cannot leave. They never exactly state that fact; there is an unspoken, rueful acceptance of the situation, as they make themselves comfortable on sofas and rugs.

This is a brilliant opening for an insidious movie. The tone is low key, but so many sinister details have accumulated that by the time the guests settle down for the night, Bunuel has us wrapped in his spell. ...continue reading...

OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies

Such a funny movie. Great parody of the James Bond-type genre, like Archer meets The Pink Panther. I love anything with a bumbling French protagonist, one of my favorite characters to watch and play. Really beautiful composition and art direction too. ...continue reading...

Some people find the taste of pilgrim guts to be too strong

One of the most arresting moments of Dream River comes in ‘Ride My Arrow’ when you sing, “Some people find the taste of pilgrim guts to be too strong/ Me, I find I can’t get by without them too long.” Yet the same song seems to be explicitly pacifist: “War muddies the river/ And getting out we’re dirtier than getting in”. What’s the meaning of this contradiction between the sentiment expressed by the song and the violent imagery within it?

BC: There are different kinds of violence. Some of them are excellent. A ripping away from blind, unfeeling or greedy tentacles. That is radical. ...continue reading...

Wild Tales (Relatos Salvajes)

This is the best comedy I’ve seen in a long time. Maybe the best movie I’ve seen this year, although I’m not ready to put it above Inherent Vice just yet. It’s an anthology film apparently, which is a term I didn’t know until I started reading about Wild Tales. Great use of Advance & Continue, which is a term that Keith Johnstone writes about in Impro for Storytellers.

The stories push just far enough in one direction before coming back in the other (sometimes literally, like in the highway vignette). It’s dark and light and every story starts mostly in a light place before going to a really intense or dark place. But it’s fucking hilarious throughout; I can’t remember the last time I was in a theater where people were laughing so much. Actually I do remember and it was Almodevar’s I’m So Excited (Los Amantes Pasjeros), which is a movie that nobody I’ve ever met has seen and I just looked up on IMDB and has a rating of 5.6 so I don’t know what that’s about, that movie was really funny.

Anyway, what was I talking about. Oh, Wild Tales. One thing I loved was how high the stakes were in every vignette. It was mostly about normal people behaving in extreme circumstances or escalating to extreme circumstances, but it never felt forced or unbelievable. And the writing and acting was so rich that even when it got serious or deadly, the human behavior was so real or honest that it was hilarious. At least that’s what I thought. The kind of movie I wish I had written. And the final vignette, the wedding scene, was really brilliantly written, acted and directed. Little touches like the cook in the background telling his buddies about what happened on the roof were so good.

Nice play on words too — “salvajes” means wild but it also means savage, something that gets lost in translation.

My review of Grown Ups 2

If you’re wondering why I would even bother to review this movie, then you haven’t been listening to The Worst Idea of All Time podcast. Which you should because it’s so damn funny. The hosts, Guy and Tim, are watching Grown Ups 2 every week for a year, analyzing the movie, and slowly going insane.

After listening to 40 episodes in the last week, I bit the bullet and finally watched it. Here are my thoughts, my absolutely dead-serious, not at all tongue-in-cheek thoughts.

This is Sandler’s foray into experimental filmmaking. He’s in unchartered territory and in over his head, but you have to admire the bravery– he’s experimenting with anti-narrative and anti-humor but packaged in a completely commercial vehicle (even the excess of product placement is a joke in itself).

Look at the hard, unmotivated cuts, the unexplained actions, the furious randomness of the whole thing. He’s trying to tell us something about the world–something that he tried to tell us (presumably, I haven’t watched it) in Grown Ups that we just didn’t listen to.

And the joke is on us–he set out to break the comedy genre and the expectations around it and then was squarely rewarded for it, for all the wrong reasons. If that’s not a meta-commentary on our society, then I don’t know what is. This is not a man failing at comedy, this is a man asking the question “why is comedy?”

The obvious comparison is Godard’s Weekend. A non-linear or non-existent plot. Unmotivated cuts. Bizarre, unintelligible characters. Violence without motivation or consequences. Horrific accidents that happen for no reason, with no effect on the plot and no empathy evoked.

The climactic party scene, with all its fantastical elements (Shaq’s blue pee, a dog bonging a beer, and the surreal violence to name a few) and characters in costume, is a clear nod to Weekend’s fantastical use of famous historical figures showing up in the woods.

Let’s delve into the big party scene. It has all the trappings of a major climax–action, noise, excitement, proximity to the chronological end of the movie. But it’s a cargo cult, it’s empty. You think this is a failure of execution but no, you’re dead wrong. It’s exactly what the film calls for–an anti-climax, a charade. It’s as if to say “this is not a traditional story! look how empty it is!” And you, by not seeing it, are empty too.

Which brings us to the question: is Sandler content with genre-bending or is he actually trying to say anything? I say yes. The film wrestles with (sometimes literally) the changing notions of masculinity, sex roles, father- and motherhood, and the sometimes heartbreaking struggle of children trying to grow up with well-meaning but obviously not-up-to-the-task parenting. If anyone is going to deliver that message and get people to listen, it has to be Sandler himself, the poster child (no pun intended) for men-children everywhere.

In this case, the title says it all: Grown Ups 2. It’s about adults in America and the prognosis is not good. Perhaps the surgeon does not wield the knife with skill, but he surely sees that the patient is sick.

The fight scene at the party really brings this home. The only character who fits the “real man” archetype, Tommy Cavanaugh (played by Steve Austin), chooses to sublimate his raw physical strength to make the man-child (Lenny Feder/Adam Sandler) feel better about himself. But it’s a sacrifice he makes not for Feder, but for his children.

And so here we have masculinity turned on its head– the dumb meathead is the only man who in the end actually A) thinks more than 5 minutes into the future and B) is willing to sacrifice anything for a child–in his case, it’s his entire identity sacrificed for the sake of another parent’s child.

Not only would none of the other adults in the movie make this sacrifice, the thought would not even occur to them.

He called you out, parents, and not only did you hand him a pile of money, you brought your kids. You think they’re laughing at a guy who burps, farts, and hiccups at the same time. But they’re laughing at you.

The things fictional characters shout upon orgasm

 

From After Hours (1985):

MARCY
On our wedding night -- I was a
virgin -- well...when we made
love...you've seen the film,
haven't you?

PAUL
"The Wizard of Oz"?

MARCY
Yes.

PAUL
Yes, I've seen it.

MARCY
Well...when we made love...
whenever he...you know...when
he came...right at the moment
of...orgasm...he would just
scream out: "Surrender Dorothy!
"
That's all, just "Surrender
Dorothy!" I mean, you know,
instead of moaning or saying
"Oh, God" or something normal
like that...

PAUL
Wow...

MARCY
I mean, you know...it was pretty
creepy, and I told him I thought
so but he couldn't stop. I mean,
he said he didn't even realize
it, can you imagine?? So I just
broke the whole thing off. ...continue reading...

My favorite Deadwood quotes

Done with the Western but I compiled a list of my favorite Deadwood quotes. Apparently I love artful profanity…

“That’s what the fuck life is… one vile fucking task after another.” -Al Swearengen

“Tread lightly who lives in hope of pussy.” – Trixie

“I burnt my fucking snatch!” – Calamity Jane

“The rigor in New York City, whatever the fuck that means.” – Ellsworth

“Can you let me go to hell the way I want to?” -Bill Hickok

“Question I wake up to in the morning and pass out to at fucking night: What’s my popularity with my fellow white people?” – Calamity Jane

Any time Swearengen says “hooplehead.”

 

Watching Westerns This Week

This week I’ve been watching Westerns to get into the genre more. I watched Blazing Saddles (which I’d never seen all the way through), True Grit (the Coen brothers version, 2nd watching), and Once Upon a Time in the West.

I’ve seen most of the Sergio Leone Spaghetti Westerns but I’m not sure how I missed Once Upon a Time in the West–maybe because it’s almost 3 hours long? Anyway, it didn’t feel that long and it’s a great film that really takes advantage of the medium. It’s very much a visual story (and so beautiful) with sparse dialogue and a 15-minute opening sequence that’s full of tension and story with barely a single line spoken. Anyway, it’s my favorite Spaghetti Western now, replacing For a Few Dollars More, although that’s definitely a more playful, fun movie.

True Grit is also beautiful but with sparring witty dialogue as opposed to just letting the images tell the story. I saw True Grit as a film about about overcoming oneself to help another (at least in the end) and Once Upon a Time is about overcoming another to help oneself (and get revenge).

There’s something about westerns that I admire. Or maybe it’s just old movies in general. There’s a certain willingness to accept your fate and face it stoically. It’s theatrical and perhaps not true to life, but there’s a nobility to it, something to aspire to.

On the other hand, I wonder if these men go home and are ever happy. The protagonists never seem to have parents or wives or families or even friends. So the individualistic life is romanticized but I wonder if in reality it wouldn’t be cripplingly lonely.

As for Blazing Saddles, it’s hilarious, but you already knew that. And nobody had to cry. Imagine that, a comedy where no men cry or have awkward sex.

Thoughts on Snowpiercer

I loved this movie for the sheer entertainment although the ending was a bit of a let down and didn’t quite punctuate the action up to that point, if that makes sense. Spoilers below.

A lot of people have been talking about the social critiques and it’s the kind of movie that could be claimed by people on both sides of social/political/economic issues. You can read it as a warning about global warming, but on the other hand, the solution to global warming in the movie basically destroyed earth.

I saw it as a critique of the perils of a social structure that has an underclass for whom meaningful participation in society is impossible. They’re kept down and there’s no way to move forward on the train. In the movie, this is done at gunpoint, overtly. In America, the mechanisms are more subtle. So you feel righteous as the back of the train rises up against oppression, especially against such a decadent ruling class, but the nice little vicious twist is that the revolution, while just, basically ends civilization as they know it. The train derails and almost everyone on it dies.

It’s hard to see the ending and think “this is a great alternative to where we started two hours ago, for all its faults and injustices.” Or did you take solace in the fact that we all get to start over in the snow? Because the missing act in that movie, what happens next, is that two children starve/freeze to death and get eaten by a polar bear, which may be more or less inconsequential to the future of carbon-based organisms on the thawing planet, but it’s not an optimistic picture of the future of humanity.

The (ironic?) thing is that the movie doesn’t really consider a third way–it frames the question in your mind as a binary–society as is, or obliteration? Well obviously you choose status quo because you don’t want everyone to die. But that’s a trick because there’s also an infinite number of alternatives along the spectrum of keeping things similar but changing certain things at the margins. Keep the class structure but make it merit-based. Or keep it and make life more humane for those at the bottom. Or change it entirely to something more egalitarian. Or send everyone at the front to the back and vice versa. Just to name a few.

Why didn’t this ever occur to Curtis or Wilford?