Monday, February 29, 2016

yesterday this day's madness

Twelve Monkeys starts with some lame text-exposition--

"...5 BILLION PEOPLE WILL DIE FROM A DEADLY VIRUS IN 1997...
THE SURVIVORS WILL ABANDON THE SURFACE OF THE PLANET...
ONCE AGAIN THE ANIMALS WILL RULE THE WORLD..."

--but then makes it awesome by tagging it as "Excerpts from interview with clinically diagnosed paranoid schizophrenic, April 12, 1990 - Baltimore County Hospital." Great counter to get us going.

The movie doesn't really leave much room for James Cole (Bruce Willis) to actually be insane--far too much detail (as one might expect in a Terry Gilliam film) in the future opening and later future scenes. But, as long as we can understand that Cole might question his reality later, the drama works fine in that regard. Meanwhile, we get what is probably the best time travel movie ever, or high on the list certainly. Like Timecrimes, Twelve Monkeys never contradicts its time travel. It doesn't play with time and the ability to alter the past. It just offers up a fractured sort of loop in time. Cole goes back because he always went back. The movie ends where it begins. It's never about fixing what went wrong.

And, James Cole is an easy mark as a cinematic Christ-Figure... So easy, I'm not sure I even care to calculate it. At a certain point, I just gotta decide that I know the Kozlovic-Black scale well enough to just call it. And, sometimes, it's just obvious.

I'm tempted to talk about the Oscars anyway. This year's Oscars were tonight. I correctly predicted only 18 out of 24 categories. Twelve Monkeys was nominated for two Oscars two decades ago--Brad Pitt for Supporting Actor and Jules Weiss for Costume Design. Brad Pitt also won the Golden Globe for his role as Jeffrey Goines here. It's a showy role, a lot of misplaced energy, overwrought hand gestures, manic speech patterns. Like Leonardo DiCaprio in What's Eating Gilbert Grape (Leo, of course, finally won an Oscar tonight for his role in The Revenant) or Jamie Foxx in The Soloist, Pitt has an award-bait kind of role.

In context of the story, here, it's interesting how Cole is actually quite damaged mentally, prone to violent outbursts especially, though he is not insane in the way the doctors think he is. He's also not astute enough to play sane to get out of the hospital. It's like Time Travel 101--you don't keep claiming you're from the future, especially when they already have you in a mental hospital. You tell them what they want to hear.

That is not actually that different from everyday life, of course. Not to claim profundity or anything, but that's Life 101, too--you tell people what they want to hear when they are in a position to mess with your life.

Goines' rant about germs, taken at a different pace, without his weird gestures and tics, is actually quite informative. This movie plays right and left on how people interact with the world, in sane or insane ways. As Goines says, "I'm a mental patient; I'm supposed to act out." The film blurs the lines between the two, sane and insane, quite deliberately. Like Kathryn's (Madeleine Stowe) excitement later when she calls the voicemail to the future; that excitement is crazy.

(A reminder of Gilliam's The Fisher King, toying with the idea that insanity might just be the right response to a world that is crazier than you are.)

Time and our experience of it goes hand in hand with that craziness. A commercial on the television in the mental hospital just said, "Live the moment," and showed a couple in the water in the Florida Keys. It's playing on creating moments in time, imagining time outside now. And, the commercial used Santo and Johnny's "Sleepwalk" over the visuals. Then, as a Marx Brothers movie plays on that TV, chaos ensues in the ward, with plenty of comedic visuals, as Cole tries to escape. One reality echoes the other.

 

 

 

 

 

"Sleepwalk" and a call to Florida come again when Cole makes it to 1996 later.

 

 

 

 

 

Subtitle this section: "The Hamster Problem"

The hamster problem is also a documentary (that I have only seen part of on YouTube) included on the DVD for Twelve Monkeys, but first it is a label for a) the madness of Gilliam directing and his attention to detail and b) life's ability to not go as planned. Early in the film we see Cole drawing his own blood and there's a shadow of a hamster running in a wheel. Reportedly, this brief scene took an entire day to film because the hamster would never run when Gilliam needed it to run. On the one hand, this gets us B from above, life not going quite how you want it--outside the context of the film--to echo the trouble Cole has in the film. On the other hand, Cole is like that hamster, sent back by the scientists in the future, sent with a simple job, but mostly just moving in place, accomplishing nothing until it is too late... Except, it isn't too late, because he is not supposed to change events. He is just supposed to find a sample of the original virus and return to the future, a hamster in a time loop. A hamster, ultimately, with nowhere to go and nothing to do. Very very little to do, at least.

Subtitle this section: "the Indiana Jones problem"

If you watch The Big Bang Theory or have ever really thought about Raiders of the Lost Ark, you know how inconsequential Indiana Jones is to the plot of that film. All he does is slow down the Nazis a little. Ultimately, it's deus ex machina that stops the action. Jones does next to nothing. We're used to time travel movies where events get changed, of course. Terminator 2 (but not the original Terminator), Back to the Future (and increasingly its sequels), Time Cop (or was his job as cop to keep people from changing things? I can't remember), About Time... Actually, now that I'm double checking a list of time travel movies, I realize that many of them actually don't involve deliberately changing events. Star Trek IV, for example, they just want to steal a whale and change the future. It's fairly close to the plot of Twelve Monkeys in a way. Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure, they just want to borrow some historical figures for a little while. The Butterfly Effect, of course, is all about changing things. I think I'm thinking of time travel stories always being about changing things because I'm thinking about TV. "The City on the Edge of Forever" episode of Star Trek, every damn episode of Seven Days or Quantum Leap... But, it's what we expect. At some point in a time travel story, we expect someone to try to change events. (And, to be fair, the villains in the Terminator films are trying to change the past even if the heroes aren't.) But, Timecrimes, Twelve Monkeys, that last jump in About Time--there's no one trying to change the past at all.

 

 

 

 

 

"Sleepwalk" again when Cole returns from 1996. Then the scientists sing "Blueberry Hill" and they've got a painting hanging over his bed. It's surreal. Deliberately. And this is when Cole finally questions his reality. Meanwhile in 1996, Kathryn is starting to buy his story.

Subtitle this next section: "the red herring problem"

What we have in Twelve Monkeys is a character-driven story wrapped around a time loop plot. In the end, the plot is just background to the story, and Goines and the Army of the Twelve Monkeys is barely connected, just a coincidental tie--Goines' father's (Christopher Plummer) lab just happens to be the source of the virus but Goines has nothing to do with that. The punctum here, the moment that makes this movie really work for me, is that call I mentioned above; Kathryn is the source of the wrong information because Cole has brought the wrong information back in time and told it to her. It's an infinite loop, with no source.

 

 

 

 

 

In the end, the only real confusion should be why ads for the Florida Keys keep showing up. Except, practically speaking, the Florida Keys are nice (reportedly; I've never been). Plus, the ads mean the idea is in Cole's (and Kathryn's) head, so of course they would pick that destination. So, even that part makes sense.

But, the best part is this--one of the many themes of the Groundhog Day Project in a nice bit of dialogue:

That's just like what's happening with us. Like the past. The movie never changes. It can't change. But every time you see it, it seems different because you're different. You see different things.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

even if we never answer the phone

Instead, we get to Beginners from August: Osage County, the opposite direction of the original plan for this month. Things go backward sometimes. Plans fall apart. Marriages end. College plans get changed. A particular movie isn't available so a month has to be reconfigured so it will all still elicit the same poetry it was supposed to from the start.

Poetry may be overselling it, but we'll get to that.

(In the meantime, an aside: tomorrow is the Oscars, yesterday I saw the last of the nominees--Foreign Language Film nominee Embrace of the Serpent. This is only the second time I have managed every nominee. I've got a party of a sort tomorrow, but I don't even know how many people are coming. A speech tournament and a conference and a whole lot of sickness will be keeping people away. But, no big deal. Whoever comes comes, and we'll eat, drink, and be merry and I'm sure I'll tweet a whole lot (under my personal account, not the Groundhog Day Project one). It will be a good day.)

And, Beginners starts us off with some voiceover--well, first Oliver (Ewan McGregor) is talking to a the dog, Arthur (Cosmo), then there's some voiceover. (I like to imagine that the voiceover is just more of what Oliver is telling the dog.)

(I need to invent a name for that bullshit introductory (and sometimes conclusionary) voiceover. It is far too common a thing in movies, and I really don't like it.)

I like this voiceover. Maybe because I can imagine Oliver is talking to the dog. Maybe because it offers context and perspective. It offers an ending to come. It offers real characterization instead of simple information we could better receive another way.

And the dog talks back with subtitles. But, I'm fairly sure Oliver's not supposed to understand it (though in a couple instances later he clearly does understand). That actually makes it more interesting to me.

Sometimes, not being able to understand someone adds a level of... excitement, I suppose. Certainly mystery. Like the introduction of Anna (Melanie Laurent) here. At a costume party, in costume, and so is Oliver.

(As far as the poetry goes, Melanie Laurent was supposed to tie this movie to Inglourious Basterds in one incarnation of this month. We will instead follow Christopher Plummer out, the opposite of what was supposed to happen originally.)

Anna is also introduced without a voice--she has laryngitis. (Or her costume does. I'm not 100% sure on that one even though I saw this movie in the theater when it was new... Apparently, it is not the costume.)

The age difference between them--he's 38, she's 32 (closer in age than in reality; Laurent is 11 years younger than McGregor)--plays interestingly in their initial interactions because, in his Freud costume, he's playing older, with grey hair and a beard. Later Oliver will lament falling for a girl again when he thinks he may have forgotten how it works.

Oliver processes things visually--he's an artist--so it actually works in his, and her, favor that Anna cannot speak when they meet. She had to write notes and act out answers to questions. He also draws morbid drawings as his father, Hal (Plummer) is dying. When the doctor says Hal has a cancerous tumor in his lung the size of a quarter, Oliver (and by extension, us) imagines that quarter breaking down into change, two dimes and a nickel, five nickels, twenty-five pennies. It's a simple visual but a profound moment, the son trying to understand, and accept, his father's approaching death.

 

 

 

 

 

I love Oliver's tagging--for "historical consciousness, something bigger than myself" he paints:

1985 BUSH FINDS JESUS.

1983 CHICKEN MCNUGGETS.

and

2003 BRITNEY SPEARS MOST GOOGLED.

It's absurd. It's brilliant. It amuses the crap out of me.

Then, Anna returns--she had to go out of town--and it's like she is a completely new character. She talks. She's no longer dressed in a male costume. She bites.

Oliver's mother's (Mary Page Keller) notions about black people and Jews amuse me. And, leaving that line without context for those who haven't seen the film amuses me even more.

How this movie plays with the way we communicate--Oliver talking to the dog, Oliver talking to his house (and responding in its voice), Hal talking to his papers, Oliver talking to the laryngitic Anna then later there's confusion over the word camisole and he asks her to label everyday objects as if he's only learning to communicate for the first time. Oddly, or perhaps aptly, this reminds me of Anomalisa, Michael's inability to connect with other people, except Oliver is clearly playing. (Plus, Anna basically lives in hotels.)

I never finished that sentence. How this movie plays with the way we communicate fascinates me. Like the title--Hal is learning to live again after his wife dies and he admits to his son that he is gay, Oliver is learning to love again with Anna, and when Hal is dying, it's like two different attempts at life intersecting in the wrong direction.

Oliver's "The History of Sadness" comic is almost immediately depressing.

Forty-eight minutes in, the voiceover returns. Images accompany it just like in the beginning. This is how Oliver processes information. This is how we process information because this is what the film offers. Afterward, we see some of those same images again, as part of the album cover Oliver is working on. It's called THE SADS.

(In another month but this one, I just realized, I would put this movie on again tomorrow and maybe the next day and the next. There's room for so many angles here. This month, though, I will move on tomorrow. So, let me just say, while I only remembered the basic beats of this story from seeing it in 2010, I'd forgotten how beautiful some of its beats can be. This is my kind of movie, if such a thing can be said to exist.)

Back to communication, there's Oliver playing Anna and Anna playing her father as they pretend to talk on the phone. Anna does not tell Oliver about her father. Instead, the telling is one step removed. The interesting thing is, I think the movie is suggesting that even the indirect communication is direct. Communication is communication.

(And, I was just talking to my cat when he crawled onto the couch beside me. Go figure.)

 

 

 

 

 

Anna talks to the dog as well, or at least claims the dog talks to her.

Oliver asks Anna to live with him and the voiceover returns... This is what it looks like when she cries and it gets to me. And the film turns to The Velveteen Rabbit and I'm back with Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, I'm back with that rabbit, I'm back with myself in the past, trying to be real. It feels right now as if sometimes the moments, wherever they fall in the timeline, exist in such a way that they are always right now. Certain moments, happy ones, sad ones, the ones that wrench at your heart in some direction or another--they are always in the present. I am always in a park in San Francisco. I am always on the corner by the Burger King across the street from USC. I am always in the hospital room where my daughter first drew breath. I am always standing beside my car after watching A Separation with nowhere to go. I am always happy. I am always sad. I am always trapped in my thoughts, taking me this way and that way, and I am always free from such complications because this moment, right here, right now, wherever and whenever that is, is perfect and finite and complete.

Oliver asks Anna, "Are you happy, here?" She replies after a painful pause, "Well, maybe I'm not perfect at it. I don't really know what I'm doing. But I want to be here." And it's the best response and the worst response rolled up into one. And, it's remarkably, painfully, real. Oliver proclaims, "I don't think this is what I'm supposed to feel like." Anna leaves. And, I'm reminded of a thought and a feeling from when my wife and I first separated--the hurt of being together versus the hurt of being apart... As the doctor tells Hal just a moment later in the film, "Any more treatments will just... cause more pain." That makes perfect sense.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

That is all for now.

Tomorrow probably won't be so introspective.

this madhouse is my home

August: Osage County offers us pseudo-voiceover to start. Bev (Sam Shepard) is talking to, as it turns out, Johna (Misty Upham) who is hiring to help him out--he's getting old. But, she's offscreen until he's stopped talking, until Violet (Meryl Streep) interrupts. It's a cheat. There will, of course, be no voiceover for the rest of the film.

Then Bev leaves and the play gets going. And, it is a play, or was. Only a few scenes early on are really staged differently than they would have to be on stage. This is a talky film, the kind of movie that brings a big ol' family together and lets the sparks fly. Give us a family, throw in a funeral or a wedding or a holiday and the drama writes itself. I saw this two years ago, of course, when Julia Roberts and Meryl Streep were nominated for Oscars, but I actually don't remember much of the specifics anymore. In my head, it's filed away with the likes of The Celebration or Rachel Getting Married, or even Home for the Holidays.

For Streep, one might suspect she went for this role just for the awards-bait. Nominated every couple years since 1979, she'd only won three times, including the year before August: Osage County for The Iron Lady--I never ended up seeing that one for some reason, even with the nomination. Maybe I was sidetracked by life not going so well at the time.

Great cast all around. Streep, Roberts, Ewan McGregor, and for this month, we're seeing Abigail Breslin for the second time, Juliette Lewis for the third. Originally, August: Osage County was supposed to get me from Beginners to Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story... which should give you a clue of what's going on in this blog this month. I've only got a few days to really get into it before this month comes to its end. The presentation of family in this movie makes a good comparison, because so many movies link up to each other in so many different ways. Sometimes, they share blood--filmmakers or actors--sometimes they share themes. Not just this month but, we've seen some of these actors before in this blog. Streep and Cooper are both in Adaptation. McGregor is in Moulin Rouge. Mulroney is in Struck by Lightning, The Grey and Young Guns. (And one Western I that I ended up skipping in my month of Westerns--Blackthorn--starred Shepard.) That's like twenty days worth of this blog right there. Just in this one film. This one family.

Like a family, the movies don't have to have anything to do with one another. Like this past month--you've got science fiction fantasy like The Fifth Element, ridiculous family comedy like North, a biopic like Chaplin, serious historical drama like Selma, zombies in Zombieland, criminals in Fargo, teenagers dancing in Footloose and doing drugs in Dazed and Confused.

Pause for the big dinner centerpiece of this film.

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

I would love to see a stage production of this one. The film version's nice, but I keep thinking how this probably took many days to film just this big dinner scene. Many days, many camera setups, many takes. Stage version has got to be intense.

This kind of setup works so well because I think we can all understand it--how the people you love most in the world under the right circumstances can suddenly feel like the people you hate most in the world. It's a matter of investment, I think. A strange does something I don't like, I might rant about it online, complain about it off and on for a week. But, a family member pisses me off and that's going to get referenced for years. It's going to sit in the back of my mind every time I'm around that person. It's going to taint every interaction we have for a while. If we're lucky, it's a rare instance and life moves on. But, the more of those moments you get with one person, the harder the recovery is going to be. You find yourself like Julia Roberts tackling Meryl Streep to the ground over a bottle of pills. Or whatever the verbal equivalent is...

Or sometimes even family feels like strangers, like Ivy's (Julianne Nicholson) take on it here:

I can't perpetuate these myths of family or sisterhood anymore. We're just people, some of us accidentally connected by genetics, a random selection of cells.

Other times, family is all that matters. And, each person is connected to each other person, like each movie is connected to each other movie for me. And when they don't piss me off, I can lose myself in them--the family or the movie. Barbara (Roberts) just woke up next to Bill (McGregor), and they've been separated up until the timeframe of this film and not telling anyone and I know that moment, waking up next to someone you soon won't be waking up next to anymore. If can find my self in that moment. I've written before in this blog about punctum--that moment where the story becomes real for you, the moment where it really connects. Barbara refusing Bill's hand early in the film, Barbara waking up with Bill's arm around her and then getting out of bed... These moments hit me more than all the drama at the dinner table, though I've seen plenty of family yelling...

I commented on an article the other day on Facebook, some guy's notion that film needs to be enjoyable. That doesn't work for me. Sometimes, I need film to be painful. I need it to hurt. Gotta balance out the joyous moments. If film can only be joyful, it just wouldn't be honest.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

i can't believe i shot bill murray

Zombieland is an example of how you use voiceover properly. Columbus' (Jesse Eisenberg) voiceover adds significant content to the film.

 

 

 

 

 

I've already just been sitting here and writing nothing, and I'm gonna keep doing that. It's been a long day--subbed two classes, attended a rally/protest, watched some Republican debate, and after being sick all last week, I'm still not 100%.

But then Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson) just called Bill Murray "the tippy top of the A-list" and I couldn't help but comment on it. This is the Groundhog Day Project, after all. Bill Murray is like royalty here.

When Little Rock (Abigail Breslin) asks who Bill Murray is and Tallahassee responds, "Hey, I've never hit a kid before," I get that. There is no excuse for such ignorance.

 

 

 

 

 

This movie is awesome.

I love that Wichita (Emma Stone) knows what her first R-rated movie was (Anaconda). I have no idea what mine was. Too early in life, and too many movies in the intervening years.

Not that "too many movies" is a thing.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

what makes you think coloured people need your help?

The Help is the kind of movie about black folks that we--white folks, that is--like. We like 'em as slaves or ex-slaves, as servants or in some way magical. And, in recent years, we occasionally like them as cops or, well, God. Or funny. A few black actors have made the grade for big box office--Denzel Washington, Morgan Freeman, Chris Tucker I suppose. But, mostly, if they aren't in a film that's really about white people--like The Help is about Skeeter (Emma Stone) playing the saviour and collecting the stories of the poor black women--we mostly just don't care.

Straight Outta Compton, Creed, Tangerine, Chi-Raq--these are a little too black for us. Creed passable because it's attached to a beloved series about a white guy. And, of course, we nominate that white guy at the Oscars.

For The Help, we nominated two black women--Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer--but balanced that out with one of the white women--Jessica Chastain. Spencer won. The film was also nominated for Best Picture and lost to The Artist. I'm not sure there's anything but white people in that movie. <,p> 

 

 

 

&tbsp;

The thing is, there are plenty of good performances here, Spencer, Davis, Chastain, Stone, Bryce Dallas Howard, Allison Janney... Emma Stone's Skeeter seems genuinely interested in the stories from the Help, and I think that author Kathryn Stockett genuinely set out to do something good with her book (it's easier to justify Skeeter's book within the story than it is to justify Stockett's) and the filmmakers the same with their adaptation. But, like The Blind Side, like The Soloist, there's a slippery slope between wanting to help and implying that white folk helping is the only way out.

It's a problem, for example, that structurally, Yula Mae (Aunjunue Ellis) being arrested matches up to Celia (Chastain) being rejected by the proper southern ladies.White privilege and whatnot. A little social rejection equal to going to jail.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

i want a new thing

Sometimes, things don't go as you plan. The movie I had planned for today--it turned out it was unavailable. Couldn't even steal it, not that I'm admitting I would.

Watching What's Eating GIlbert Grape the week that DiCaprio is going to, as they say, finally get himself an Oscar, seems appropriate. It was even on one of the earlier incarnations of this month's schedule.

Then, it had to start with some unnecessary voiceover. It's like a sickness. Like Hollywood doesn't have confidence in its ability to introduce a story without some extra exposition...

It occurs to me now that I'm doing the same here. You don't need to know that the order of movies got mixed up. I could just jump right into What's Eating Gilbert Grape. To be fair, this blog is not a movie. Also, I have never written a screenplay that used voiceover.

Plus, I'm not sure there is a main action today. I hadn't planned for this movie--combine that with it being a movie I like and this will be one of those entries where I go like this:

 

 

 

 

 

It's like a dissolve in a film. We've just jumped forward in time and I'm just sitting here enjoying the movie.

I'd forgotten about when Gilbert (Johnny Depp) nearly hits his sister with the truck. On purpose.And, Crispin Glover and John C. Reply as Gilbert's friends are fairly amusing. I'd forgotten they even existed.

 

 

 

 

 

Another dissolve.

Sometimes, I feel like I'm failing at blogging about movies when I do the dissolves, like I didn't have enough to say. But, I have written so many entries that went above and beyond my usual goal word count in the past 2 1/2 years. I think, on balance, I am still very much ahead. Plus, there are two points: 1) this month in particular, I don't mind the empty space so much. Like I'm drifting in and out of this seemingly random series of movies. If you're paying attention, maybe you see it. But, you're not supposed to see it until later. 2) I think next month is going to be very wordy. Far fewer movies, and far more words.

And, that's as good a place to end as any. Gilbert Grape, alone. That's kind of what he needed, I think--some time away from his brother and his mother and his sisters and his boss and Mrs. Carver (Mary Steenburgen). I've lived in a smaller town than Gilbert does. I am glad that I was not there long.

if you hold onto the past...

I've seen Cape Fear once. The remake, I mean. Also, the original once. I have no idea where today's blog entry will be going. Play by play? Like, that was an awkward way of not starting with voiceover, for example. Juliette Lewis staring at the camera, and is that a blackboard behind her? Is this a report she's doing for school like Lidia in The War? How young is Lewis supposed to be here?

Are they watching Problem Child?

In other news, according to the trivia section of this movie's IMDb page, supposedly Steven Spielberg was attached to direct this remake at some point and he planned on casting Bill Murray as Max Cady--DeNiro's role.

Scorsese is really liking his rack focus--that's when two sides of the scene, that should not be in focus at the same time, are.

In other other news, I may have to finish up my final paper for this writing class early so I can share it in this blog next week. It relates to Groundhog Day and next week is the 2nd.

That also means that this month is coming to an end. I can't just keep randomizing my movie choices--which is not what I've been doing--and writing here and there about the Oscars. (For example, both Robert DeNiro and Juliette Lewis were nominated for Oscars for this film.) It is Oscar month and I've been obsessing about them longer than Max Cady has been obsessing about Sam Bowden (Nick Nolte).

Nothing wrong with obsessing about things, of course. As long as you don't go biting women's faces, or watching the same movie every day for a year. (I've done one of those things. DeNiro just did the other.)

That the Bowden family has some problems is, of course, not a coincidence. (Lori (Illeana Douglas), the woman who Kady bit--Sam's having an emotional, if not sexual, affair with her.) Kady is not just some psycho out of prison, he's the corruption of domesticity incarnate. He's a memory come back to haunt them. The past picking away at the present.

 

 

 

 

 

My teacher--Steve Lopez, mind you, Los Angeles Times columnist, published novelists and author of non-fiction--said my writing has clarity but said the one thing missing was Why Groundhog Day? What makes me connect with it? But, I'm writing about when I went to Woodstock, six months into this blog and I'm writing it now, another 25 months on. And, I'm not sure if there's a clear answer up front to that question. But, I think there may be a clearer answer in retrospect. Maybe only in retrospect. Because the past--or a look back at it, anyway--offers up insight we can never have in the present. Like Max Kady stirring up old hurts. It occurred to me tonight--and this will be in my upcoming paper (which I will be sure to share in this blog this coming 2nd of March)--I know why Groundhog Day.

Just like I know why movies.

I know why school.

I know why teaching.

The big idea that runs through my master's thesis--one of the big ideas, anyway--is how writing regularly can help you invent (or reinvent) your self. I think I forgot lately that I know very much who I am, and my self is doing pretty well. It's one of the points I need to make in my thesis, it's very much a point I made throughout the first year of this blog, but sometimes I still forget it.

The past isn't always more powerful than the present.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

what is that which gives me joy?

(Officially, today we're going back to the 80s to go back to the 20s and 30s with The Untouchables. But, as I'm trying to get over being sick for a week, I wasn't doing much but sitting around the house anyway, and for me that means movies. Notably, Cinderella, Youth, The Hunting Ground and Racing Extinction. If you don't pay as much attention to the Oscars as I do, each of those films has one nomination. I now have just one Foreign Language Film nominee to watch and I will for only the second time ever, have managed to watch all the nominees before the awards. And, that film--Embrace of the Serpent--is in a theater in Santa Monica. Bit of a distance, bit of a cost, without my own car, but maybe I'll borrow one next weekend, get it done just in time for next Sunday's awards.)

The Untouchables was nominated for four Oscars and won one. One of its losers was Ennio Morricone, nominated for Best Score. He's nominated this year for The Hateful Eight. He's 87 years old. Its winner, Sean Connery, nominated for Supporting Actor, was 57 when he accepted his award. It was also nominated for Art Direction and Costume Design. It lost both of those awards (and Score) to The Last Emperor.

The movie begins with local celebrity Al Capone (Robert DeNiro), being interviewed. For the papers while he's getting a shave. They ask him outright about violence, but it's like they're more amused by the possibility that his guys might use force than at all horrified by it. This is a guy that people like. They are harder on Eliot Ness (Kevin Costner) at his press conference.

I like that that the first thing the film has Ness do is fail.

Then we get to see just how well off Capone is. It's a simplistic contrast but it works.

This is a movie I've seen many times--we had it on videotape when I was a kid. Not as many times as more fun fare like Romancing the Stone or Halloween, but it came up in the rotation from time to time. It's one of those movies I'm comfortable just sitting and watching. For me, this was Kevin Costner coming off Silverado, so the horses and gunplay at the Canadian border would've worked well on 11-year-old me. Four men versus the mob staged as modern western. Plus, I was probably nerdy enough to appreciate Wallace (Charles Martin Smith) going gun crazy. I knew Connery from his Bond films, well, Never Say Never Again, at least. And, Highlander. Juan Sanchez Villa-Lobos Ramirez. I loved Highlander. Saw that movie at the United Artists theater that, alas, is now a school supply and partly a restaurant. The Untouchables--we probably saw that. at one of the theater's in Hastings Ranch.

I don't think I'd seen a DeNiro film at that point in my life, though I would have heard of him.

I was even watching the Oscars already, though not obsessing about who might win or lose just yet.

I like that at 11, I could sit through a nice drama like this, a comedy like Mannequin, Innerspace, RoboCop, Predator, Lethal Weapon, Harry and the Hendersons, The Princess Bride, Spaceballs, Moonstruck, The Lost Boys, Dragnet, La Bamba... and more. So many different movies. Not sure my kids have the patience.

I also wouldn't know about. Battleship Potemkin until I was at USC, but the stroller bit here was awesome as is. Stone (Andy Garcia) on the floor, balancing that stroller on his leg, taking that last shot. That is 80s film gold right there.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

as long as we got hope...

Elijah Wood, especially as a kid, has a tone to his voice that limits his vocal range that doesn't mean he has to be as ridiculous and melodramatic as he was a few too many times in North.

Today: The War. Same year as North, but a much better showing from Wood. The film doesn't have too many notes to hit, and it hits them in such obvious ways most of the time, but I have loved it since I first saw it at a free screening at USC just before it was in theatres proper.

(Full disclosure: I also used parts of this film in two different interp speeches my first two years competing in speech and debate, so I'm a little attached.)

It's got this nice combination of childish innocence and a keen adult sense of how horrible life can be. Something I loved about some of Stephen King's early novels, a tone I put into the a few of my own. I guess it's easier to explore some of the darkest of the see through eyes that don't understand it, because we all love to imagine that we don't understand violence or the urge toward it.

And, I'm not sure I even mean to make any bigger point than that today. I mean, that's probably why so much of our cinematic fantasies include violence and war--we can pretend that's not reality. When even our childish games can turn to conflict and war.

Or maybe there's the opposite point to be made as well--the positive side. As Stephen (Kevin Costner) just told Lois (Mare Winningham):

Well I don't want our kids growing up thinking they're powerless because of me. Everything they do in this world has a consequence. Our children still believe in miracles. They still believe anything is possible. As long as they believe like that, they're gonna be something. They're gonna make a difference in the world. That means I made a difference.

An urge to violence might be an apparently natural thing, but so is an urge to peace, an urge to friendship and love and building rather than destroying. And, that's what this movie does to me--it brings out the bleeding-heart liberal hippie I was born too late to be.

(As if that's a side of me that doesn't come out all the time in this blog.)

Friday, February 19, 2016

like that's a good thing to have happen

I want to love North just to be a contrarian. (I did see it when it was new (on video, not in the theater) but I don't remember it.) This is the movie about which Roger Ebert quite famously wrote:

I hated this movie. Hated hated hated hated hated this movie. Hated it. Hated every simpering stupid vacant audience-insulting moment of it. Hated the sensibility that thought anyone would like it. Hated the implied insult to the audience but it's belief that anyone would be entertained by it.

Oh, and this, regarding the sequences with North's potential new parents:

They are all seen as broad, desperate comic caricatures. They are not funny. They are not touching. There is no truth in them. They don't even work as parodies. There is an idiocy here that seems almost intentional, as if the filmmakers plotted to leave anything of interest or entertainment value out of these episodes.

Personally, so far, twelve minutes in, North (Elijah Wood) having just talked for the first time to Bruce Willis (this first time as the Easter Bunny), I have found one thing amusing. Willis' line upon hearing North's name. "See your name on maps. Very impressive." That's funny.

But now, the school newspaper kid, Winchell (Matthew McCurley), who takes his journalism too seriously is... not funny. It almost should be. It's a nice idea, but....

 

 


 

 




 

Maybe kids would like... some of this. Little kids might like North's parent's frozen and falling over at the news that North is suing to be rid of them. There might be room to explore the sequences here as serious satire about America, if they weren't so inane. I mean, the Texas parents (Dan Aykroyd and Reba McEntire) breaking into song and dance--

And, I gotta interrupt that attempt at a thoughtful critique because Winchell's line--"Now is the time to says, 'Just because you were born 25 or 30 years before me, it doesn't make you smart, it doesn't make you right, it just makes you old!'"--is funny... Then he adds, "It just makes you smell worse in the morning" and it feels like too much.

 

 

 

 

 

Texas wants things big. Hawaii is barely a state. The jokes are quite sophisticated, here.

Thing is, I think the brief bit in Top Secret! with the fancy house with the garage on the tropical island is a better satire of the American ideal of domesticity than the white picket fences and lawnmowers outside the igloos here or, well, anything here.

They seriously did Eskimo-face makeup to darken Kathy Bates' face?

"No wonder we stopped for lunch 49 times" should be funny. But the line reading by Wood, the framing, the timing... something is wrong about it.

 

 

 

 

 

Did they have copies of his parents for no reason whatsoever?

 

 

 

 

 

I think the real problem with this movie is not that it is, strictly speaking, bad. It is. But that's not the problem. It's not trying to be some great film for the ages. It's trying to be a nice family film that, I guess, would brings kids and parents closer together. The problem is this coming from Rob Reiner, it's starring so many actors who have been so much better in so many other things, and it's just to... pointless. The film has no energy. I prefer my bad movies to be entertaining--something like The Room (609 610 611). So bad it's good. This is just so boring. It doesn't have the energy to be a fairy tale. It's got jokes about balls sticking to legs, and North calls Winchell an asshole. So, it's not a kids film. But it's got kid-level humor throughout, so it's not a film for adults.

And, ultimately, North's parents haven't changed, the it-was-a-dream twist is a copout (and doesn't make the offensive caricatures forgivable), and North should not take rides from random strangers he saw dressed as the Easter Bunny.

I don't hate this movie. I just don't care. It was a waste of an hour and a half... Except I'm glad I watched it again. Good to have the mediocrity of it fresh in my mind.

Something better tomorrow.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

what a lovely ballet ensues, so full of form and colour

I forget to begin as The Fifth Element involves the ancient from 1914 Egypt. We'll jump the the future soon.

First, some adorable aliens? cyborgs? robots? (They're not German.) Tiny little heads, giant bodies, and they waddle like penguins.

And the madness of The Fifth Element begins. It should be no surprise that so much of this film was in the director's head when he was young. This is like every kid's crazy version of science fiction and fantasy writ large. You've got absolute evil. You've got monsters. You've got a brave hero, a beautiful heroine, comic relief. You've got fantastic visuals and profound concepts shoved into tiny, easy-to-understand boxes. You've got black goo that come out of folk's foreheads when the big evil... thing approaches. Hell, you've even got (briefly) Luke Perry.

Okay, maybe Luke Perry is not a part of the quintessential science fiction fantasy world of every (pre-)adolescent.... (Pardon the sexism, but I'm going to use me as the example) ,,, every (pre-)adolescent boy. How many times I invented a new version of absolute evil to defeat and a new way to defeat it, I could not tell you. How many different alien races. How many monsters. How many guns.

Even, ridiculous weakness is such a cliche. This thing needs to adapt to our living conditions in order to... destroy us? And the absolutism. Life turns to death, light to dark, forever. Scary stuff. Forever, really, don't mean shit. I think I shared (at least) once in this blog my own story in which the villain has this jewel that will destroy all of reality and the hero is like, go ahead. Won't matter anyway, once you do it. Plus, you know, how can you be sure it works? It cannot have been tested. But, screw logic when you've got the fun of priests and soldiers and aliens and a hapless taxi driver all getting pulled into action that will save the universe as we know it.

Then I forget to continue as Leeloo (Milla Jovovich) meets Corbin Dallas (Bruce Willis) and the plot really gets going. Future city, flying cars, and the world building is not dumped into dialogue. It just is.

Zorg (Gary Oldman) is such a strange character, but Oldman embodies it well. And that little creature inside his desk is adorable.

Speaking of Zorg, he's surrounded by circles. Dallas, on the other hand, is surrounded by squares and rectangles. I must admit I didn't discover this myself, but I have been noticing it, especially the circle thing around Zorg. Circular Windows, circular lights, even circular hallways. Dallas' apartment is all boxes in boxes... The circle/square thing reminds me of another madness that I love--Sam Kieth's comic Zero Girl. Main Characgter's feet leaked liquid when she felt bad, but that's (obviously) not the connection. Circular things had a tendency o to be good for her, helped her. Squares were the opposite; they tended to hurt her. The thing is, I'm watching this, and the police--whov'e got big circular lights on their uniforms, made Dallas (and the guy they thought was Dallas) put his hands in two circles on the wall. The circles are like foreign objects in Dallas' home. Leeloo's ornage suspenders have circles cut out of them. Zorg's surrounded by circles. And, the thing that's going to destroy the universe--it's a bit spherical. Circles are, at the same time, elements of disorder and chaos (for Dallas, anyway) and links to things ancient. Like the circle is the more natural form, the square unnatural. Or maybe I'm just going off on meaningless tangents, but that is the madness sometimes. Give me a film that embraces it's strange and still offers a strong set of characters with a clear cut plot, and that's leagues above some of the shallow cookie-cutter bullshit Hollywood spews out sometimes.

And, there's a flaw in that whole tangent, anyway, because the elemental stones are square.... Or maybe that's the philosophy of the film--love is more natural (or more powerful) than earth, air, fire or water.

There's the cheese.

A little cheese and madness. Is that too much to ask of a fantasy film?



Wednesday, February 17, 2016

you just gotta keep livin', man. l-i-v-i-n

Interesting thing. I'm watching Chaplin the other night and I'm too sick to really get into some preachy, self-help-style rant about being creative, being yourself, and all that jazz. Tonight, I'm watching Dazed and Confused and it occurs to me I could pull the same sort of message out of this film. I mean, that is the point to, say, Pink's (Jason London) throughline, yeah? That's what the freshmen are doing heading out to party with the older kids. That's even what Wooderson (Matthew McConaughey) is doing hanging out with everyone younger than he is. They're all trying to just hold onto some ideal form of self, to enjoy a life full of possibilities and...

("I wanna dance," indeed.)

See, it could turn cheesy, easy.

And then I get distracted, because cheesy rhymes with easy and I thought maybe I should replace it with corny and then I got to wondering what was the difference between cheesy and corny. And, I'm feeling like Slater (Rory Cochrane) and I'm just on a little bit of DayQuil.

A nice sprawling film like this, lots of characters, lots of tangents--when done well--is an amazing thing.

 

 

 

 

 

To be fair, I am still sick, but that isn't why I'm saying so little. Every scene here amuses me in some way, and I'm just not sure I can say anything that the film doesn't say better. So, just watch the damn movie if you haven't seen it already. And watch it again if you have.

I saw a thread on IMDb, someone complaint about the child abuse and property damage. Like, how dare a movie about teenagers and drugs include pranks or violence. We gotta save the violence and property damage for our superhero movies.






Cynthia (Marissa Ribisi) understands:

...if we're all gonna die anyway, shouldn't we be enjoying ourselves now? You know, I'd like to quit thinking of the present, like right now, as some minor, insignificant preamble to something else.

Or is it Dawson (Sasha Jensen) who gets it?

Well, all I'm saying is that I want to look back and say that I did the best that I could while I was stuck in this place. Has as much fun as I could while I was stuck in this place. Played as hard as I could while I was stuck in this place. Dogged as many chicks as I could while I was stuck in this place.

 

 

 

 

 

It's not even that the film really makes an effort to let us know who every character is. But, whether it's Linklater's direction or the actors' and extras' performances, you get a sense that each of these people is someone. Like no one's acting. They just are.

 

 

 

 

 

I think what's interesting about Dazed and Confused is that while it includes a whole lot of drunk and high people, it doesn't seem designed for a bunch of drunk or high people. Movies that fit the latter category--I don't much like them. I prefer a film to give me the experience, not make me work (or smoke) for it.

 

 

 

 

 

The one bad thing, I suppose, is this: O'Bannion (Ben Affleck) probably thought he was being his ideal self, too. The asshole. Probably gonna end up running for president forty years later.

the last battle of the american revolution

Stephen Spielberg knows how to start a film. From the storming of the beach in Saving Private Ryan to the revolt here in Amistad, he can pull you in.

I also like how he avoids subtitling Mende.

I've said in this blog before that I don't like to deal in "snubs" when talking about Oscars, but damn it, looking at the nominees that year, I can barely fathom how Djimon Hounsou was not nominated. In fact, you've got a bit of the #OscarsSoWhite problem. For this movie, very much about the experience of its black characters, the acting nominations (at the Oscars, anyway*) are limited to Anthony Hopkins.

(* Hounsou was nominated for a Golden Globe.)

Also in the supporting category, you've got Robert Forster, white guy, nominated for Jackie Brown, a film led by black actors. Of course, a) Anthony Hopkins is amazing in this movie and b) a nomination for Director or Best Picture wouldn't have mattered in the year of Titanic.

I think there's a familiarity to it. Not just a racial thing, though it gets at that as well. Anthony Hopkins, we know him. We've seen him in many films. We've nominated him before. This was Hounsou's first film and he doesn't even perform in English.

Then again, why are they more familiar with the white guy? Leave Hounsou out of it for a moment. Take Morgan Freeman, instead. He's got a less showy role than Hopkins but (probably) more screen time. Same with Chiwetel Ejiofor. They've got their moments here, nothing as big as Hopkins' 7-page monologue, but they've got their moments.

But we like the show. We like the familiar. Bonus: this film has the white characters saving the black ones. It would take another couple decades before we would (or will) get a movie about, say, Nat Turner. Birth of a Nation, which was big at Sundance last month, is about Nat Turner.

 

 

 

 

 










I'm trying to find the right way to phrase this. I've already spent thousands of words on #OscarsSoWhite in this blog. I think it should be clear that I think the Academy has and has had a problem when it comes to race. And a big part of that comes from Hollywood having an even bigger problem when it comes to race. And, that comes from an even bigger problem in the nation at large. In the fictionalized version of John Quincy Adams' speech before the Supreme Court--

(While his monologue here is seven pages long, in reality, Adams spoke for seven hours over the course of two days.)

--he's got the line I used as today's title. The way I see it, though, maybe we still haven't fully fought that battle. When a Super Bowl halftime show can have people up in arms, we cannot claim that we have, as some unfortunately dim people suggest, moved beyond racism. The latest thing going around--that we were doing just fine until Obama came along and divided us--angers me. I mean, we are so shortsighted that we forget riots and protests and murders going back year after year, decade after decade, that we forget images of dogs and firehouses, let alone the reality thereof.

And, that is without even going as far back as enslavement. This country claimed equality before it recognized women. It claimed equality before it recognized people of colour. We can claim equality until the cows come home. We have yet to truly justify its use.

Monday, February 15, 2016

you want to understand me, watch my movies

The opening of Chaplin is a perfect opening. It almost feels cliched, but it's honest enough that it manages. We begin with Chaplin (Robert Downey, Jr.) as the Tramp, coming into his dressing room and taking off his costume, taking off his makeup. This is director Attenborough letting us know where we're going--into the life of one of the most famous men, behind-the-scenes.

Because 1) I am still quite sick, spent most of the day in bed and 2) it has been a while since I've watched this film, I may say very little here.





I love this movie. That bullshit magic bit and the boring scene that follows when he creates the tramp character is brilliant.

 

 

 

 

 

Downey, Jr. Was nominated for a Golden Globe and an Oscar for his role here and he won the BAFTA.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

but then i don't have a story

I can forgive the voiceover initially in The Soloist because the real-life Steve Lopez not only writes a column for the Los Angeles Times but also has done several narrative stories on TV as well, which involved him reading a lot of what would be a column out loud. Now, if it doesn't continue throughout the film, The Soloist and I may have some words like Horrible Bosses and I did yesterday.

(I wish my head were clearer tonight. Came home rather sick after seeing a couple Oscar-nominated Foreign Language Films--Theeb and A War. Watched the BAFTAs a little feverish, going to have to double checked what movies won things tomorrow.)

I have seen The Soloist. Once. In 2009. I remember dismissing it a bit the way I would dismiss The Blind Side later in the year. White savior for a black man in trouble. (To be fair, technically, Steve Lopez is not white, but Robert Downey, Jr. certainly is.) Having read the book recently and having spent a few hours with Steve Lopez every Monday lately--he's teaching a class at CalState Los Angeles, and though I didn't need anything more than thesis units this quarter, this class sounded like something right up my alley. And, it has been fun so far. Tomorrow, we're supposed to have the producer of this film as a guest speaker. And I think Catherine Keener is playing a fictionalized version of an editor (amalgamated with a nonexistent ex-wife) who came to our class a couple weeks ago.

I like newspaper movies. Spotlight being the latest big one. The Paper being one of my favorites. This isn't really going to be one of those.

Nor does it seem like the voiceover is going to continue. Damn movie!

There's a little bit of voiceover as Lopez (Robert Downey, Jr.). searches for Nathaniel (Jamie Foxx), so maybe it will be okay.

There's some nuance missing from the backstory with Nathaniel playing cello instead of bass. When he was young Nathaniel's father left (or got "put out" his wife, anyway). At one point, Lopez describes (in the book), why Nathaniel picked the bass:

It was a skinny young man who liked the idea of an instrument so tall you had to stand up and wrap your arms around it, an instrument that spoke in a deep and powerful voice you could feel coming up through the floorboards. Nathaniel Anthony Ayers, all of thirteen years old, was mesmerized by this instrument the size of a good strong man. (p. 155)

A few pages later, Lopez writes:

I'm the one he calls now, the one who, when it comes to music, is student rather than teacher. He calls me at work, calls me at home, calls me on my cell phone. Sometimes it's something specific he's after. He needs rosin or a new strin, or he wonders if I can find a particular piece of sheet music for him. Other times, it seems as though he calls just to know that I'm there. "Hello, Mr. Lopez," he always begins, asking about every member of my family. (p. 175)

They're only two years different in age, same as Foxx and Downey. But there does seem to be an almost automatic patriarchal role in Lopez' urge to help Ayers. But, do we fault such an urge over race? Or should we all, regardless of our own race, set out to help anyone in need, regardless of theirs? In fact, the book does a better job, as you might expect, of painting a friendship between Lopez and Ayers. Lopez told NPR,

his friendship with Ayers has "always been a two-way street, it's not just me doing for him."The writer explains that the musician re-ignited his passion for journalism adn gave him a sense of well-being: "You know, there's this humility, there's this good feeling I have from giving something," Lopez says.

(Movie Lopez is kind of a jerk, getting (more) mad at Ayers when he doesn't want to leave his cart behind.)

What Ayers gives Lopez might be summed up in what Lopez tells Mary (Catherine Keener):

I'm telling you, it was such an unbelievable experience, the whole thing, the whole day. And if you had seen him, if you could have felt him... I mean, it's the same hall. We're listening to the same goddamn music, but... But, no. You see him, it's one thing, but you feel him... I'm watching him. He's watching the music. And, while they're playing, I say, "My God, there is something higher out there. Something higher out there, and he lives in it, and he's with it." I've never experienced it, but I can tell... I don't even know what you fucking call it.

Mary tells him that is "grace."

The film is trying for something profound, but I'm not sure the camera flying with the birds or the flashes of colour quite get there. Nor does the raccoon stuff work as a particularly good metaphor.The flashbacks with Nathaniel are a bit melodramatic...

Voiceover disappeared, too.

let's not have jokes for two hours

(An apology before I get into today's film... Today's official film; I also watched the Oscar-nominated The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared. (Think Forrest Gump by way of Sweden if in the present Forrest inadvertently stole millions from some criminals instead of telling his story to random people at a bus stop.) Today's film is Horrible Bosses--and no, not as some thematic link to yesterday's Swimming with Sharks. In fact, I've never seen Horrible Bosses so I'm not even sure how related the two might be. Horrible bosses, obviously. But, that's a big part of so many movies. 9 to 5, for example. And, that is where we get to my apology. For, you see, yesterday was Day 925 of this blog, and I did not plan ahead so that I would be watching 9 to 5 on that day. And, watching 9 to 5 on Day 925 is just... poetry. Like if I had not watched 300 on Day 300...

Which is a despicable example because I did not watch 300 on Day 300 because I was still watching Groundhog Day every day--)

Ugh, we begin with Voiceover. Does it tell us anything that a line or two of dialogue couldn't tell us? Now, if this dialogue continues as commentary throughout the film, I can forgive the opening, but if not... Then it's just better left excised--

Ah, I spoke too soon. Not only does Nick (Jason Bateman) narrate, so does Dale (Charlie Day). This could be fun.

(But, had I not been watching Groundhog Day every day then, 300 would have been perfect for Day 300.)

Kurt (Jason Sudeikis) as well. This better a) continue throughout the film and b) ADD TO THE DAMN MOVIE. Just saying.

(The thing with this third year with the blog has been me winging it a bit. I'll figure out certain movies ahead, but day to day, I could watch whatever, write whatever. I find themes and I explore them, but I do not plan out the entire month like I did in the second year.)

Back to Nick and he's not narrating anymore. Was this just the usual opening narration times three? Damn it, movie!

(Anyway, these parentheticals--my point is, I am sorry that I did not account for the potential poetry. Especially when I actually did plan this particular month quite meticulously. In fact, four times I have adjusted the plan, including an overhaul of the entire rest of the month yesterday, removing a few of the films I had planned and inserting a few different ones to maintain the setup for the month... Which at this point, you would just have to figure out for yourself because I don't want to explain it just yet. (That photo yesterday, though, was a good clue.) Meanwhile... Horrible Bosses.)

A tangent: Nick refers to his grandmother as Gam Gam while talking to his boss, Dave (Kevin Spacey), and it occurs to me that a) that is silly, and I don't mean that Dave laughs at it; I mean that Nick says that in adult company that are not also relatives. I mean, have a cute nickname that you've probably been calling your grandmother since you were too young to be able to say "grandmother" but don't force that crap on the rest of the world. Like Mike Birbiglia's La Quinta Inn line, you can't make me speak cute, I didn't press 2. And, from my tone here, you could probably guess b) my family didn't really do nicknames. Not for grandparents, barley for kids. My mother only called my Little Robert because my father was also named Robert. One grandmother--the one that lived here in California--was just Grandma. The other was Grandma Black. (In case you're new to this blog, note that my last name is black. That wasn't a race thing. Plus, for the record, I'm only being all defensive about it because I thought that would be funny. If I wanted an actual race thing, today, I would complain about how all three main characters here are white guys with brown hair. Typecast much?)

Meanwhile, I haven't said much about Horrible Bosses so far but to complain about the utterly pointless, and in retrospect rather inane and stupid, triple voiceover that opened the film because, I guess the few really funny bits that have come since (like Bobby (Colin Farrell) telling Kurt to "trim the fat" at the company by firing the fat people) were... I was going to say someone more clever than whoever wrote the opening of the film, but really, I'm not sure how clever any of this is. Given the parenthetical reference to 9 to 5 above, I'm not sure that the plot here is particularly clever or novel. It's a nice excuse for some people to say and do some very bad things and we get to laugh because the movie is telling us that they are bad people. But, that opening... It's just lazy. Like, I don't know how to tell you who my characters are so I'll have them each give a quick intro/bio. It's screenwriting 101, for Phil's sake. Seriously--and I quote:

RULE #1 - YOU DO NOT HAVE A CHARACTER NARRATE AT THE BEGINNING (AND MAYBE END) OF YOUR SCRIPT JUST BECAUSE YOU ARE TOO LAZY OR LACK THE CREATIVITY TO CLUE US IN TO SAID CHARACTER'S PERSONALITY TRAITS AND LIFE SITUATION WITHIN THE CONTEXT OF ACTUAL SCENES, AND REALLY, IF YOU DO NOT REALIZE THAT ALREADY, YOU SHOULD PROBABLY GET OUT OF SCREENWRITING AND GET A REAL JOB, MAYBE BE A PRODUCTIVE MEMBER OF SOCIETY.

I have no idea what that's from.

Really, I just made it up. Doesn't make it wrong.

Sudeikis is probably the high point here. Dean "Motherfuckah" Jones (Jamie Foxx) says he doesn't know their names--he's a hired killer and Nick wants to know that the job won't be traced back to them--and Kurt (Sudeikis) immediately tells him their names. You know, just being polite.

Unfortunately, Kurt also makes the overt link between the second half of this film and Strangers on a Train. But, then that gets turned into a joke because Dale mixes that film up with Throw Momma from the Train.

 

 

 

 

 

Some great physical comedy with Charlie Day trying to get under the garage door.

Bateman almost hangs a lampshade on the lame cat scare. Almost. The second cat scare actually makes up for the first one. That shit is hilarious.

The debate over who will be more rapeable in prison... Not so much.

 

 

 

 

 

The Law & Order bit was pretty good.

And, this exchange was a beautiful thing (MINOR SPOILERS):

Motherfuckah: You guys ever see the movie Snow Falling on Cedars?

Kurt: No.

Nick: I've never seen it.

Dale: I love that movie.

Motherfuckah: What happened was is that I took a video camera into the movie and I bootleg it. They was waiting right outside the exit. They got me.

Nick: You did ten years for video piracy?

Motherfuckah: They take that shit so serious, man.

Dale: Not that seriously.

Kurt : We've been taking murder advice... From some guy whose biggest crime is taping an Ethan Hawke movie.

Then, Motherfuckah turns and glares at Kurt.

Motherfuckah: So you do know that movie.

Kurt: Everyone knows the movie. That's not the point.

Love that.

 

 

 

 

 

"You're not gonna shoot us twice or you're not gonna shoots us? Be clear." Great line.

And the Good Will Hunting bit amused me.

But then Nick starts narrating again. This time it's just him. So, not only does Horrible Bosses have useless opening/closing narration, it has INCONSISTENT opening/closing narration.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

all my favorite memories have been of movies

You don't know what's going on. We start with pointless voiceover--

In Hollywood, one of the fastest ways to the top is to work for someone who's already there. The system dictates that one must first be a slave before you can become a success. But this can be a very demanding process. Only a few people have the drive to endure the thousands of indignities and hardships that make up the system. Now, this drive is usually motivated by greed, sometimes ambition, sometimes even love. There are stories of love inspiring success over the most insurmountable of odds. This is not one of those stories.

--adds nothing to what's coming, doesn't reveal anything unique or particularly intriguing, and you don't know what's going on.

The conversation about Shelley Winters, on the other hand, is a fantastic introduction to what's coming. Guy (Frank Whaley) knows his films. It's clear that he is better than his position. Then, we meet his overbearing boss Buddy (Kevin Spacey) over the phone and the dynamic between them is clear. We don't need a voiceover. We don't need some narrator trying to explain some deeper meaning. We just need shit to get going.

The dead body might have been a useful hook, if not for the voiceover Or maybe a shot of Guy tied up from later...

Like, I could offer up this:

And you could zoom in and try to figure out what's going on in this blog this month, but it won't really matter until later anyway.

This movie does start at the end of the story. Guy is fed up with Buddy, finally, and he shows up at Buddy's place and points at Buddy his own gun. Ten minutes in, we're back at Guy's first day on the job. Buddy systematically picks him apart and tears him down. He's breaking him, training him.

Guy: I just thought...

Buddy: You thought. Do me a fucking favor. Shut up, listen, and learn. Look, I know that this is your first day and you don't really know how things work around here, so I will tell you. You have no brain. No judgement calls are necessary. What you think means nothing. You are here for me. You are here to protect my interests and to serve my needs. So, whilst it may look like a little thing to you, when I ask for a packet of Sweet-N-Low, that's what I want. And it's your responsibility to see that I get what I want.

And later Buddy will double down on this when Guy asks him not to yell at him in front of the entire office. Kevin Spacey only has a few notes that he hits on a regular basis but the ones he's hitting here he is hitting perfectly. Buddy Ackerman is a character worth studying. Especially after the speech just now, Guy leaves the office and Buddy sits down and he's not angry. He's amused.

But, Guy is the one I relate to. He links his first job to Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, his first car to Rancho Del Rio (that's a Buddy Ackerman film so it doesn't really exist). Dawn (Michelle Forbes) asks him what movie links to his first kiss and he's got answer for that, too. Me... My first kiss there was no movie nearby in time or place. But... first date: Scent of a Woman. First movie at the United Artists Marketplace, where I would later work: Heartbreak Ridge. First time having sex: Foolish. First movie I watched in a bowling alley: Groundhog Day. First movie I watched in a bowling alley more than once: Groundhog Day. First movie I watched today: Deadpool. (It was amazing.) Oh wait, the clock just hit midnight. So, first movie I watched today: Swimming with Sharks... (Actually, by that standard, the first movie I watched today was Pulp Fiction.)

I don't know the first movie I saw in a theatre. I know I saw Raiders of the Lost Ark in the theatre and I was only five when that came out. I know I saw Halloween in the theater, but that was a rerelease so I'm not sure how young I was. I remember the day we had to walk out of Born on the Fourth of July because my mother was offended by it (I'd see the whole thing later on cable). I remember the night my friend Alain and I were going to see Indecent Proposal but got kicked out of the theatre--it was rated R, so we had tickets to a different movie. We ended up seeing Born Yesterday that night instead. I remember going to see Stephen King's Sleepwalkers with some friends, walking over to Rosie's Diner afterward, eating a lot of fries, drinking milkshakes, and shooting toothpick umbrellas into the ceiling tiles. (That was a thing.) I remember manipulating my father into taking me to see Project X. I remember walking home after midnight from The Blair Witch Project and my sister acting afraid. I remember going to see Valentine and The Mummy Returns in the one theatre in Forrest City, Arkansas when I lived near there for a few months; the only movies I would see in the theatre for months before or after. I can remember sitting down to so many movies over so many years. I know at what theatre I saw almost every movie. Some of them blur together.

I didn't see Swimming with Sharks in the theater. It was April, which I was about to say was not a busy movie season for me, but... I saw The Basketball Diaries that weekend. The underground in Old Town. I also saw While You Were Sleeping--I think that was at the Mann Theatre in Hastings Ranch, might've been the Pacific theatre in the same neighborhood. Crumb also came out that weekend, but I think I saw that later at the Academy second-run theatre. Already in theatres that weekend: Bad Boys--saw it at the underground; Rob Roy--saw it at the Marketplace, maybe; A Goofy Movie--saw it at the Mann Hastings Ranch; Tommy Boy--Pacific Hastings Ranch, I think; Circle of Friends--don't remember; Outbreak--underground; Forrest Gump--Marketplace, probably; Dolores Claiborne--Mann Hastings Ranch.

People talk about how back in the day--and for the record, I hate that phrase--going to the movies was more of an event, like in Annie--"Let's Go to the Movies" and all that. But, nowadays--hate that one too--it's all multiplexes and around L.A. they're a dime a dozen. Movies are just mindless entertainment. Hollywood celebrities are just spoiled millionaires and complaints about shit like the #OscarsSoWhite thing are just rich brats whining... Except, fuck that. Any movie, any theatre, can be an event if you just put a little fucking effort into it. I want a movie to make me think. And if the movie doesn't demand it, then I think about that. I think about what went into it, what it tells us about who we are, what it tells us about the human condition, what it tells us about ourselves, what it tells us about life or movies or both or neither.

Whenever someone dismisses movies because they're just entertainment or some approximation thereof, it pisses me off.

And, I kinda want to tie them to a chair and torture them like Guy does Buddy here.

Kidding.

Mostly.

Friday, February 12, 2016

i'm trying real hard to be the shepherd

Sunday morning, October 16, 1994, the underground theater in Old Town Pasadena. Officially, it's called the AMC One Colorado. Throughout the 1990s I would go there a lot. This time, I'm there for Pulp Fiction. I had only recently started my subscription to Entertainment Weekly so I'm fairly sure I knew about this film this weekend because I read the review in the Los Angeles Times that Friday morning, sitting in a classroom in Waite Phillips Hall. Discussion section of an anthropology class. I had the Times delivered daily back then, even made an effort to read it, especially the Calendar section. And, I made my way to Old Town for movies as often as I could. I wouldn't work at the United Artists Marketplace a block from the underground theater until '95.

Thursday night, February 11, 2016, my living room floor. Groundhog didn't see his shadow last week so winter's over and it's been hot this week. Got a fan to my right, my son Kieran sitting in the chair to the left--he loves Tarantino films. On the other hand, the more I watch of them lately, the more I'm noticed how few tricks he's really got. Like this bit with Jules (Samuel L. Jackson) and Vincent (John Travolta) at Brett's (Frank Whaley) place (I think it's his place; he's the one Jules is talking to)--structurally, there's a bit of The Hateful Eight (the entire Mimi's Haberdashery section of the film) here. A bit of the opening to Inglourious Basterds. Reminds me of--

Sunday night, September 29, 2002, our apartment on Maple Street here in Glendale--small place, one bedroom only. Oldest two kids were in there. (My then wife and I slept on a futon in the living room. We'd upgrade to a sofa bed later, and upgrade to a larger apartment on the other side of town even later.) Third child wouldn't be born until December. A TV show called Boomtown premieres. It's basic premise is that the stories will come in pieces, not necessarily out of order, but... Well, for example, in that pilot episode--and Jules was just explaining what a pilot was to Vincent not too long ago--a pair of cops are chasing a perp and they get separated... Maybe they were chasing two perps. I don't remember exactly; for reasons I will explain in a moment, I never really revisited that show like I would many others. Anyway, the show follows one of them first then goes to commercial break or something, comes back to the moment where they separated and we follow the other guy. Both parts mattered but instead of doing some crosscut editing and risk confusing the viewer they let each chase play out on its own, let them breathe. It's like the opposite of how action films were getting editing by (and since) then. But, even better, at the end of the episode we flash back to the perp, a bit about how he got into the situation, and we even flashback to when the perp was a kid or something... I actually wish I remembered the specifics as much as I remember loving the episode. Or as much as I absolutely hated the show by the third or fourth episode because the gimmick turned cheap right away. Like the reveal of who the bad guys are in The Hateful Eight; nevermind my problem with the sudden voiceover, that flashback doesn't really add much to the proceedings. Or the dude coming out of hiding at Brett's place in this movie later. It's as useful as using a cat for a jump scare in a horror film; a brief surprise then back to normal. Another episode or two into Boomtown and there's the same sort of gimmicky reveal of a guy hiding out in the attic of a house. Just having him show up suddenly would have worked fine, but no, we get a flashback because, hey, that's the thing that's supposed to set this show apart from other cop shows. I stopped watching soon thereafter when I realized the show was never going to use the broken structure for real character moments like the end of that pilot episode.

Friday morning, May 6, 2016 (the future... Ooh, spooky). I just saw Captain America: Civil War. And, while it was awesome, pretty much what I was expecting, I really wish they had divided this thing in two parts a la Kill Bill. I imagined a part one built around Captain America, part two built around Iron Man. How cool would that be? Some of the same scenes but from different perspectives, and the plots diverge here and there to show us stuff in one that the characters in the other would not be privy to. (I really should get to The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby next month in this blog to explore how small changes in a film can change the whole.) The big climax could be difficult that way because one film would have to, in the internal timeline, end before the other...

Some Tuesday in fall of 1993. I don't remember which. The Eileen Norris Cinema Theatre on the USC campus. I had a gap between classes every Tuesday afternoon that semester. I would wander into the theatre most of those Tuesdays, see what movie was showing. In the evening, I would have Intro to Cinema in that theater, a lecture and a film every week. I don't know what the afternoon class was but it had something to do with crime dramas, mobsters maybe. I saw Goodfellas that semester. I saw Reservoir Dogs. Missed the first few minutes but got the gist of what was going on pretty easily. Loved the feel of it, the boldness. In retrospect, 22 1/2 years later now, I think the actors trusted their director a little too much and a lot of them read their dialogue about the same as each other rather than really make it their own. This film has that problem some, too. Especially when characters swear. I don't (now) fault Tarantino for this, necessarily. When I was writing fiction every day in my twenties, when I was writing screenplays or novels or short stories, trying to make different characters really sound like different people was one of the hardest parts. If I ever get the time to go back and edit my novel Clubhouse Blues--which I have mentioned in this blog before is probably the best of the bunch--a big part of a new edit would be going back, again, over the dueling narratives separately to make sure Maureen and Jimmy sound like two very different people. Jimmy's the naive adolescent who dreams of being in the military. Maureen's the smarter one, too old for her age and looking for something meaningful well before she's supposed to decide what she's going to do with her life. Anyway, a few of the actors do make the dialogue their own. Bruce Willis, right now, for example. He's got a particular cadence to his talk that makes him sound like a very different character than Jules or Vincent or Marcellus (Ving Rhames).

Some day about seven years ago. That upgrade apartment, a few blocks from this bigger one that the kids (and the cats) and I are in now. I try my hand at a book with chapters out of order. The basic premise--before I changed it not long before I started the actual writing--was that a doctor in Bethlem Hospital in 1880s London has gathered together a bunch of presumed insane patients who all fantasize about the same world, and he is piecing together a larger narrative from their stories in order to find an object called the driftstone. The initial concept was that each chapter would actually come from a different perspective, but figuring out all those characters and making them distinct was going to be too difficult. So it changed a bit. Instead, the chapters were going to be from the same perspective but "recorded" out of order, so the narrator one chapter would have a better idea of what is going on and what his doctor's agenda is than in a later chapter. The opening chapters were some good writing, but unfortunately I got busy with school and only got those opening chapters written.

Thursday night, February 11, 2016. Living room floor. Wondering what our fascination is with stories told out of order. I mean, you can call it postmodern or whatever, but that doesn't explain why we like it. Is it like how we might like a mystery--being able to put together the pieces as we go? Does it make us feel clever? Or do we like the idea of a narrative, or a writer, being more clever than we are? Do we like to make connections between storylines that don't necessarily tie together? I mean, Pulp Fiction violates several rules--insert Donald Kaufman calling them principles rather than rules--of screenwriting. There's no obvious plot from beginning to end, no clear middle. Instead, we get a few main stories interrelated and alternating instead of being intercut. Short Cuts--which is on the blog schedule for a couple weeks from now--does something similar. It's not as cool though. Doesn't have the Tarantino factor, I guess.

And, regardless of his repeated tics or his obvious foot fetish and insistence on steeping his dialogue in profanity, Tarantino does know how to make an entertaining film. Allow me to indulge in a little Roger Ebert. From his review:

Tarantino is too gifted a filmmaker to make a boring movie, but he could possibly make a bad one: Like Edward D. Wood, Jr., proclaimed the Worst Director of All Time, he's in love with every shot--intoxicated with the very act of making a movie. It's that very lack of caution and introspection that makes "Pulp Fiction" crackle like an ozone generator: Here's a director who's been let loose inside the toy store, and wants to play all night.

That Tuesday in 1993. The Norris Theatre. I'm still dreaming of being a film major, dreaming of making movies. Maybe something with the energy of this Tarantino fella. Maybe I won't ever make a movie. But, movies will always matter to me.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

this guy walks into a bar...

No Oscar nominations for Desperado. Still, despite Roger Ebert's suggestion, in his review, that Robert Rodriguez had not yet "learned... How to structure a story so that we can care about the violence on more than a technical level," I think there are characters here worth caring about. Plus, the technical level here is so far above so much else that it hardly matters. The simple take--Ebert's: Rodriguez "has a gift for visuals that can make scenes dance on the screen." The more complicated version: After making El Mariachi for $7,000, using local actors and local, well, non-actors, practical effects and readily available locations--plus the camera thing, which I'll get to in a moment--Rodriguez knows how to plan his scenes, how to stage them, how to frame them. Unfortunately--I think--he got sidetracked later into kids films, but there are moments of genius in some of his stuff.

The camera thing, and I learned this in either the commentary track or behind-the-scenes footage (or both) on El Mariachi, was this: knowing he didn't have money to just shoot whatever he wanted to shoot--because this was not today when a film like Tangerine can be shot on iPhones and be seriously considered award-worthy--he had to plan out his scenes ahead and know exactly when one angle in, say, a two person conversation, would need closeups. While filming, he would pull focus when he knew he would be editing in the reverse angle, rather than film the same scene more times than he needed to. Thing is, yeah, this saved time and money, but it also ingrained in Rodriguez a sense of what shots he needed, what angles he could use, what camera movements would work, well before he got anywhere near the shoot. So, there is not a wasted shot in Desperado.

(For example, Steve Buscemi was only available for seven days, Cheech Marin for six. So, every one of their scenes had to be meticulously planned ahead.)


 

 

 

 

And then there's a big shootout and I lost track of typing. I swear I was making a point... Or had I already made it? Is this a nice short entry instead of my usual ramblings?

And then I find myself reading about The Scorpion and the Frog and The Scorpion and the Turtle because of the scorpion on the back of El Mariachi's (Antonio Banderas) jacket. Sometimes a sidetrack is not fruitful.






The tangent that might be interesting--especially because I have not dealt with box office numbers in a while in this blog--is that this movie played at the movie theater where I worked for six months in 1995. I saw the beginning and end of this film a lot. The weekend this movie came out, we (probably*) had Dangerous Minds, Lord of Illusions, Something to Talk About, The Net and... Hm, not sure if we still had Batman Forever or Casper or Clueless or The Usual Suspects. Probably the latter because it was the most recently released of the four. At the underground theater a block away, they (probably*) had A Walk in the Clouds, Mortal Kombat, Waterworld, Apollo 13, Babe and... a few others; that theater had 8 screens, I believe. We had 6.

(* I say probably because if I don't remember seeing parts of the movie over and over, I assume it was at the underground. But, I may have just avoided it. Something to Talk About, for example--the end was not that interesting to watch and rewatch, so I usually just got to that auditorium as the end credits finished and it was time to clean up. But, I remember that movie being in auditorium three quite specifically. Don't know why. Action sequences like the one at the end of Desperado or Batman Forever--I'd get to the auditorium early, watch the end and wait out the credits or start sweeping in the dark if the audience had already cleared out. Those films I listed above as being at the underground--I know that I only saw each of those once on the big screen, so I know they were not at our theater. I still saw them, of course. If I wasn't willing to pay for the ticket, I could arrange through my manager to the other theater's manager to get in free over there. Saw a lot of movies that summer. Between our two theaters, we got all the wide release movies. I would quit that job about the time that more interesting movies--what I would a few years later and every year since call Oscar movies--would be hitting other, more interesting theaters. As I mentioned the other day, I would only really start obsessing about seeing all the Oscar movies in theaters later. At that point, I was seeing those movies mostly by chance because, you know, I'd already seen everything else.)