Sunday, September 28, 2014

Jandd Hurricane Iniki Messenger Bag

0. Introductionalizing Maunderings / Methodological Preliminaries / Theoretical Foundations

Rain. It was rain that brought Jandd into my life. I'd quit the rains of Portland for California sunshine, but a year or so in, my secondhand first-generation Timbuktu was disintegrating badly, and my college-era Bean Turbo Transit pack had proven itself inadequate against hard winter precipitation. I was working 10 hours of overtime a week to be able to afford not hating every second I wasn't at work: the winter had begun with me treating myself to the then-new Chinese Democracy, which I could barely afford. —I knew I needed the bro price on whatever I tried to buy, so I just asked a then-popular social networking Web site if anybody knew about a strongly weatherproof bag option for bike riding they could help hook me up with.

My pal Mike came through. Didn't get to choose a color, but I did get to specify "biggest available", and one day in what I remember as early April of 2010 (but was actually 14may2009), I got the package, and took it to Bushrod Park in Berkeley to drink sunshine beer after work and open it up.

I've used it daily, with a couple of breaks here and there, since. The bag is a Jandd Hurricane Iniki. It's in a colorway approximating blue/beige, which is probably described as "thick ocean/mushroom" or "sex iris/olive" on the site. (I looked it up: midnight/bark.) It's still holding up well, still in daily use. It's got some significant cosmetic defects at this point, and at least some functional wear that indicates that, while it's lasted 5+ years to this point, it's not going to last another five. Or anyway suggests it won't. The thing has surprised me before.

This review is of a messenger bag, judged from the point of view of a bike rider. I ride exclusively: my concerns are how the bag works when I'm no the bike, when I'm carrying the bike (up stairs, say), when I'm locking up the bike. My uses for the bag are carrying things to and from work (office job) or my girlfriend's house, or the grocery store, or a ride to the beach for a picnic, or the bar, or the coffee shop, or wherever. The bag's performance outdoors is all I really care about, not its appearance indoors. It's worth noting that I carry a lot of shit on a day-to-day basis. Including but not limited to: shaving kit; Nalgene; coffee thermos; notebook/pens; book or kindle plus the new LRB or Harper's; phone charger; walkman; U-lock and cable lock; spare handkerchief and chamois; sunglasses; hat; next day's socks/underwear/work shirt; lights/gloves/pants clip; lunch; layer against the weather. I mention all this because it's a specific perspective on a specific set of requirements: most bag reviews I see seem to site the bag in the passenger seat of a car, or on a bus, and in an office; these reviews thus don't speak at all to my concerns. This review is also based on a quantity of experience most reviews don't have.

The bag is big. It holds a lot.

It's not too uncomfortable to carry heavy loads. I do my grocery runs with it, which means a lot of canned goods (beans) and beer (I like beer), and it's fine. (Those heavy loads are starting to pull the strap through the body of the bag, and that's what killed the Timbuktu.)

It's fairly waterproof. When the rain really comes down, the seam across the top, holding the rain flap to the body of the bag, leaks. There's a drawstring inside the body of the bag that's meant to close the bag against rain, but it's unfortunately prone to capillary action, which draws water into the bag. The rain flap and the body also aren't fitted to each other that well: there's often a gap open at each end, which is another rain problem.

The lining is thick and black and helps ensure that the bag is waterproof—or at least -resistant. But I will say that the white lining I see on my friends' bags is awesome, and I'm jealous, because it's easier for them to find shit in their bags than it is for me in mine, particularly in low-light conditions. (If you don't think I care about finding things in low-light conditions, you don't know me—and you don't know Mike Watt:

The pattern of pocket fabric should be at a 45-degree angle from the shirt's front pattern so you can find them in low-light conditions. Also mandatory, dual pockets and button-down flaps — dropping stuff out of my pocket and plumber's crack are my most embarrassing things on stage.

The lining on the storm flap is peeling badly. This is a very minor functional issue, so far at least, but it is a quite significant aesthetic issue.

There are thin leather discs sewn over the four bottom corners. They don't look great, but they are great. A wonderful idea that probably adds a year to the bag's life all by itself.

(The bag loaded.)

(The bag partially unloaded.)

(The bag's load. NOTE: this load was in addition to the daily carry.)

1. Some Minor Flaws

Most of the design elements are good. It's sound against the sky-wet; it's strong with the heavy; it's made out of phenomenally, ridiculously durable materials. But it also lags behind more modern bags in some important ways. I suspect it wasn't designed by somebody who actually uses a bag like this. It's heavy, but it's floppy, not stiff: it won't stand up on its own, and it doesn't really hold its shape very well. The bottom of the bag is square: just square enough to beg for things to fall all around it, but not square enough to be a platform for the bag and its contents to stand up. This matters because it makes the bag much harder to use. With a light load, you have to strap the bag very tightly to your body to keep things from moving around. (I.e., your thermos or bike lock ending up pushing directly into your kidneys or back.) This means that the bag's too tight to get into in the intended way: swinging it around your body and opening up the flap. Instead, you have to loosen the bag a bunch, which lets the contents shift around—hello again, bike lock! How pleasing it is to feel you jabbing my trunk again. Also when things shift around, they snag each other when you try to pull one or another thing out of the bag: your lock will snag your book, and it will fall on the ground, and you will curse.

The pockets play into this issue. Inside the body of the bag, there's a panel on which are mounted two pen pockets, a glasses case pocket, and two trade-paperback (slash bike lock) pockets. I use one of the trade paperback pockets as a bike lock pocket, but gravity and the bag's floppiness makes the lock weigh the bag's opening shut: the whole bag just collapses in on itself. (This also more or less happens if you throw a nice, heavy book into one or more of those bigger pockets, which you will want to do, because putting a book naked into the gaping maw of a bike bag is a good way to Beat That Book Absolutely To Shit.) This makes the bag harder to load, unload, use, etc.

Outside the body of the bag, there are two more pockets. One has a bunch of pen slots, which is good. I love pen slots. This one is good for your walkman, cigs, lighter, tampons, sundries. On that pocket's face is a zippered pocket. The zipper comes with a "stealth pull"—a strip of fabric, instead of a rattly-jangly metal tab to yank upon. This is pretty great! It's light and it's quiet. But it's also long enough to reach, and stick upon, and get torn up by, the hook side of the hook-and-loop closure stuff. Frustrating! Slightly bad design: who wants one part of their bag to get stuck on another? Who wants one part of their bag to fray another? Also: putting stuff in this zippered pocket will make it hard to put things into the pen slots. This is annoying.

Another problem involves the reflective strip. It's designed to reflect headlights and to be a mounting point for a flashy light. But if the bag is on the back of a human on a bike, the strip, or a light attached to, will point to the sky. Completely useless. I have actually had cars stop and stop me to tell me they couldn't see my light or reflectors.

2. Accessories Are Fun

There are a lot of accessories available and I've used a bunch of them.

  • Computer Sleeve
    Sleeve for a laptop. It works well! For a long time, I kept it in my bag to add Structure, and to protect reading materials, (like my precious magazines) and to free up the front internal pockets: with this thing in there, you can tuck your bike locks in between the sleeve and your back, and they don't snag the rest of the bag's contents. But it's heavy, and it's bulk, so I quit carrying it when I wasn't carrying a laptop.
  • Reflective Strips
    Essentially a necessity, given the reflective strip's problematic (useless) placement. They mostly work okay, though mounting them on the bag's compression straps adds some moving parts to the mechanism of locking down the rain flap and seems to make the buckles looser. I've lost at least one buckle, and at least one of the reflective strips.
  • Stuff Sack
    I use these to keep my work shirts clean and wrinkly when I ride to work. They're thick and stout and they keep coffee drips off of my plaids.
  • Pant Cuff Savior
    I didn't really want to buy this: my preferred way to keep my jeans off of my chain is this beautiful stainless steel C that I picked up in Portland and am terrified of losing, but that C isn't actually big and strong enough to handle both thick books and thick expensive denim, which combination I deploy kind of a lot. It's weird to call out something like this as particularly good, but this ankle strap is basically perfect. Ugly as sin and twice as strong, perfect for its function.
  • Seat Bag
    This is how I know some of Jandd's design deserves to be held to a higher standard: while this is heavy and arguably overbuilt, it's got a light-colored lining, unlike the bags. I don't use it often, because leaving things attached to your bike is a good way to get them stolen, but it's great for what it is. (A fun alternative review is here.)
  • Strap Pouch
    Just picked this up, and it's good. It's hot here, often, and I like to ride with a walkman in—this lets me put that walkman someplace besides a shirt with a pocket, saving me a layer and some sweat. Not sure it's waterproof, but otherwise it's smart: well built, well designed. Works.

3. Conclusionary Expansions

Every Jandd product I've bought shows up with a little card attached. One of the things the card says is:

At Jandd Mountaineering our primary objectives are in this order: functional, strength and design, and aesthetic appearance. Endless craftsmanship and attention to detail can be seen throughout each product. We are proud to say that we have the finest packs around.

I think Jandd mostly hist the marks they're aiming for. Mostly. The craftsmanship is more than evident: the materials they use and the techniques for assembling those materials are matchless. The aesthetics take a back seat, but the colors are quiet and attractive, the lines well-suited for the purpose. All this means that the durability and most of the functionality is off the charts.

But the day-to-day use is often marked with frustration, and this is because some of the design is amateurish. Small bonuses, like a white lining, are nowhere to be found. Errors persist that testing or experience would have revealed, like the useless reflective strip. Actual usability is sometimes lacking, as in the shapeless bag and the problem of hoisting out one and only one item.

I spend a lot of time looking at and for other bags. I have used this one, and used it hard, for around 1,500 days, and I have often been very frustrated with it. That said, I have a deep reservoir of affection for it: around the edges of this bag lurk the sloppy brushstrokes of amateurism, to be sure, but the center of the object is strong and full-hearted and incredibly well-intentioned. It's a bag I think about, but it's a bag I never have to worry about. My next bike bag is probably a year or more away, and it will almost certainly be another Jandd Hurricane Iniki, as it is, I judge, impossible to get a bag of higher quality for anything close to the price. Why would I buy anything else?

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Thursday, September 25, 2014

I Have Complicated Thoughts About Getting Paid for Work

Some Quick Thoughts on Having a Job, Being a Dick, &c.

Part Zero: Introductionalizing Maunderings

The astute reader may note that there are some redactions below. This is because, like Guy Debord before me:

I obviously cannot speak with complete freedom. Above all, I must take care not to give too much information to just anybody. [...] Some elements will be intentionally omitted; and the plan will have to remain rather unclear.

Part One: God Bows to Math

  1. If I have a job, then I work for someone (the employer).
  2. This means the employer gets to tell me what to do.
  3. But if I have a job, I was hired.
  4. This means that the employer has chosen my ways of thinking, my ways of doing, and my ways of being.
  5. This is why I get to say "No." to an employer.
  6. If I say "No." to an employer too often, or about something that is too important, I will likely no longer work for that employer (= have that job).
  7. This is because in this (vaguely) capitalist system, I am, as the man says, ""doubly free".

For the conversion of his money into capital, therefore, the owner of money must meet in the market with the free labourer, free in the double sense, that as a free man he can dispose of his labour-power as his own commodity, and that on the other hand he has no other commodity for sale, is short of everything necessary for the realisation of his labour-power.

Part Two: An Anecdote

Over the past couple days, I threw some online tantrums. I was a dick to Bethlehem Shoals and to Tomas Rios. These are two men I like and respect. I owe Bethlehem Shoals whatever small "career" I have had in writing about sports online; I once collaborated with Tomas Rios, and quite enjoyed it, and him. The reasons for these tantrums were related, and related to work.

Shoals made the (common and most likely correct) point that the range of possibilities in sports writing has narrowed dramatically since his blog's heyday:

No real problems here: it's a claim I've not infrequently made myself. But it still set wrong with me. Especially because what I actually saw first was this:

I cannot easily explain why this irritated me so much. My best guess is that it's a contradictory mix of the following response thoughts: (1) Old man laments how there are no young men any more; (2) "Wanna know why things changed? Because you quit, buddy."; (3) "Oh, okay, the one guy to get a book deal and some magazine gigs out of sports blogs thinks the money ruined everybody and everything." Not my most charitable set of responses. So I pissed and moaned for a while, and got helpful responses from some, less helpful responses from others, and went on about my day.

Later, Colin McGowan, who recently left Sports.Vice.com because he hated working there, published a very Colin-McGowany piece about his leaving. In it, he hinted that an editor had told him what he was doing wasn't commercially viable, and noted that this had helped him decide to bail. The current EiC of Sports.Vice.com, Tomas Rios, began subtweeting furiously.

When I responded to him, he continued his subtweet avalanche.

My point was not well expressed. Probably I should have listened to some Dillinger Four records and gotten on with my day. Certainly I should have skipped reading his further subtweets (and responding with some of my own).

So let me try to express my point a little better: yes, of course I have complicated feelings -- and, I trust, complicated thoughts -- about getting "*paid*" for "*work*". Some of those thoughts and feelings are expressed in Part One, above, about jobs qua jobs. Some are about writing in particular, and are admittedly contradictory:

  1. who the fuck told anybody they'd get to get paid to write just what they wanted?
  2. you can pay me, but that doesn't mean you own, or even rent, me -- so tread lightly, boss man
  3. a job, is indeed a job, and for that, again, see Part One

A lot of my thoughts and feelings about getting "*paid*" for "*work*" have to do with not liking hierarchies, or bullies. I felt and feel that what Tomas Rios was doing by addressing Colin McGowan without addressing him was demeaning, rude, and indicative of an obvious power differential: the differential between the boss and the employee. I felt that his actions removed dignity from his former employee and were likely to stifle the freelancers who presumably still want to write for Sports.Vice.com. I did not feel that Tomas Rios' self-description (below) was accurate.

I still don't. Nor do I think "disagreeing publicly" with somebody without naming them is worth a whole hell of a lot.

Part Three: Some Backstory [Redacted]

I wrote for Sports.Vice.com for a bit. [] --It is not the job of my employers to make me feel good about myself; nor can my employer begrudge my wanting to be treated differently and better.

[]

Punchline of backstory: So maybe I'm being unfair. Maybe I've got some sour grapes. Maybe every point I've tried to make here is completely invalidated because I am not a world-class writer, or a journalist of any kind, or an employee whose reliability and availability perfectly suits the needs of the employer.

Maybe.

Part Four: Some Funny Things I Found

To write, I use Vim. Well, gVim, but you get the point. One of the cool things about Vim is that it has 26 registers, which is effectively 26 separate clipboards. Every so often, I remember that I can look to see what is in all those clipboards, and so yesterday I found the following thoughts about work. They make me laugh. Most of it comes from Bogdan von Pylon, who is a never-ending fount of smart insights into the nature of work. I'm leaving them here because they are Important. Hope you like them.

A.
"Sorry doesn't cut it anymore Scotty. Sorry is for assholes!"
-Larry "the Badger" Employerstein (I cant remember his fucking last name)

B. (From Bogdan to me, when I was actively trying to burn some work bridges)
Dude. Can you stop unloading the entire weapon into your foot for one minute today and just go the fuck home early?

C.
Have you ever wanted to tell someone:

You have exhausted your lifetime allotment of words, please shut the fuck up.

D. (Bogdan's proposed boilerplate for me to use so that designers would stop fucking up my copy)

Please do not key this copy in. It is a delicate, finely polished, and finely tuned machine that needs all of its letters and punctuation, in the order given, to function legally and correctly. I have provided a script for the express purpose of passing on a golden, error-free document which will be flawless in our finished product—by doing this, I have magnanimously assumed all responsibility for its use. If you use it, you are shiny and blameless. If you do not, you are fucking stupid and deserve to die in a fire.

E. (Bogdan's Family Motto)
Misanthropy is a bottomless well of inspiration.

F. (explaining office work to a bartender who asked about it)
The work is broadly comparable. Replace "asked me for something" with "asked me for something", ratchet up the everybody's sober factor...replace "sidework" with "spreadsheet", "passive-aggressive notes" become "passive-aggressive emails", "meetings" become "meetings" only they're near-constant.

Basically, imagine you're with all your customers, except it's day, it's really well-lit, there's no jukebox, the bathroom is slightly cleaner, and you're really really not supposed to cuss. And nobody's impressed by not showering or hangovers, so a person has to keep her mouth shut & get up half an hour earlier than she wants to. But the free coffee is still completely awful, everyone around you is annoying in incredibly specific ways that you can use to bore the tears out of everybody you know, and anybody getting laid is probably being a complete creep to do so/about doing so.

G. (An Exchange)
You know what really sucks? having to make truthful threats—"You've just made a powerless enemy, chum."

"From my desk in this open-plan office, I stab at thee! People you don't know will receive chapter and verse on your failings! TWITTER WILL KNOW OF MY OPINION. Emails, you may be certain, shall be sent. Unflattering doodles WILL fill my notepad during meetings, regardless of your presence, absence, or wishes on the matter. And, when required by law, custom, or job security to interact with you, I will comply, grudgingly, and look for any opportunity to subtly undermine you without making myself look incompetent or hostile."

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Saturday, August 30, 2014

Movie 43

Woody Allen's 42nd film that he has written and directed, Blue Jasmine (2013), was my favorite movie of last year. It's some of his best work since Sweet and Lowdown (1999). I regret to say Woody Allen's output for the 21st century is garbage, except for maybe Melinda and Melinda (2004) and Blue Jasmine.

So I knew his 43rd movie would suck. It just had to. There's no way he could follow up on Blue Jasmine.





Magic in the Moonlight (2014, Woody Allen) is a failure, but Emma Stone as SOPHIE, the psychic, gives the film some classic Hollywood glamour with her on-screen presence.

Colin Firth plays STANLEY, a stage performer whose goal throughout the movie is to debunk the medium, Sophie. He's undeniably a Woody Allen creation from his introduction in 1928 Berlin, where he performs magic, disguised as alter ego WEI LING SOO, making elephants disappear and sawing a women in half. His fans adore him.

The opposing natures of Stanley and Sophie do make for a great scene when they meet, but it's like the only decent scene in the movie. She does this business with her hands as she tries to see her "impressions," and it's no wonder this is the image used exclusively on the poster art for Magic in the Moonlight at home and abroad.

Even though cynical Stanley swears he will prove Sophie a charlatan, by the midpoint he's of course hooked. The more he watches her and tries to figure her out, the more he's stumped.

After some negligible plot twists, Sophie decides to choose Stanley as her suitor over his rich, good-looking, young competitor BRYCE.

Approaching the third act, this whole thing falls apart and it's ugly.

I've been a huge Woody Allen fan since I was seventeen and I have indeed seen every movie he's ever directed, so I might have a little more patience sitting through this in a theatre than others, but not by much.

In real life, as many have pointed out, Colin Firth is 53 and Emma Stone is 25. Emma Stone is radiant, sophisticated and beguiling as a waif ingenue, and she does fit Woody Allen's penchant for old style glitz, but I cannot buy her portrayal of a character in love with the one played by Firth--even thought this is more a flaw on the filmmaker's behalf.

Stanley seems to pose a thesis. Woody Allen's been barking up this tree since Manhattan (1979, Allen) where he thinks a perfect depressive artist type with an enormous neurotic personality disorder embodying complete megalomania that happens to be middle-aged, is capable of attracting the faithful devotion and love of a twentysomething charming young lady. Well, I guess Chaplin and Woody Allen knows whats they likes. A variation on Allen's "the heart wants what it wants," quote is appended as a coda in Magic in the Moonlight: "when the heart rules the head disaster follows..."

Because this chemistry repulses me, the bulk of this film remained terminally unsalvageable. And as tempting as it is to consider what it would be like if say someone like myself, who is a perfect depressive, suffering from a giant neurotic personality disorder, that creates art, would attract the interest of a sweet beautiful and charming young woman, it does not serve as an adequate narrative foundation for a movie. That's the difference between art and reality. And personally I look for good movies, not representations of my deepest desires. I seek great storytelling, not solipsistic virtual reality crap.

So while this crap is maybe one of the worst movies I've seen all year, I'm still a Woody Allen fan and believe he remains our most talented, important American writer-director of all time. That's why it's so disappointing for me that there weren't even funny lines in the entire movie. The huge ego jokes structured around the Stanley character get old quick, and Allen milks this right up until the credits roll at the end. This movie could pass as watchable, but why lower my standards that far?

To end with, Woody Allen's films of the 90s hold up better than ever for me: Husbands and Wives (1992), Bullets Over Broadway (1994), Mighty Aphrodite (1995), Everyone Says I Love You (1996), Celebrity (1998), and Sweet and Lowdown (1999) especially. And while these works are ridden with the weird Woody Allen chemistry: Juliette Lewis falling for Allen in Husbands and Wives, Mira Sorvino (as good as she's ever looked) falling for Allen in Might Aphrodite, or Winona Ryder pursuing Kenneth Branagh's character in Celebrity, the quality of the film overall overshadows and rounds out these blemishes.

And Woody Allen's natural tendency to avoid coverage, shooting in all masters practically (no one else anywhere does this ever), undeniable talent and charming knack for dialogue and neurotic characters, eye for locations, performances and taste in music, will remain his legacy.

--Dregs

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Friday, August 29, 2014

No Shark

Anton Corbijn's music videos include Depeche Mode's "Enjoy the Silence," U2's "One," Danzig's "Dirty Black Summer," and Nirvana's "Heart Shaped Box."

His Joy Division movie is really cool. The American (2010) is cool to look at. I also don't like espionage thrillers or anything from the spy genre. So far the exception is Zero Dark Thirty (2012, Kathryn Bigelow).





Anton Corbijn has a distinct quality when photographing European exteriors. He's great with water, imposing cube structures, and exotic urban backdrops. In A Most Wanted Man (2014, Anton Corbijn), Hamburg through his eye frequently shifts from overcast bleak concrete jungles and elevated rail trains to pitch black nights bleeding with bright oranges or greens from street sources.

A Most Wanted Man also has Corbijn flavor due to score by Herbert Grönenmeyer. Dark and cold.

Deceptively this movie wants you to think it functions as a post 9/11 terrorist manhunt procedural, which it does. But, it's not traditionally equipped with an attached clear cut resolution. Phillip Seymour Hoffman stars as GÜNTHER BACHMANN, a forlorn, jaded, chainsmoking bureaucrat German government spy. Günther's completely immersed in a downtrodden, messy, frustrating career. But he's one of  the best in the world at what he does.

Günther tracks a minnow ISSA KARPOV and gets his barracuda DR. FAISEL ABDULLAH, but he doesn't get his shark. There is no shark. This is a Phillip Seymour Hoffman vehicle driven toward a down ending twist that makes sense as apt for the maestro of the dark and cold, Corbijn.

No one else in this movie is any match for Günther. He has no problem getting the Chechin Jihadist to turn; nor, the one funneling the money to Al Qaeda that the American's are also after; or, even the fucking social worker for terrorists ANNABELLE (Rachel McAdams). I love Hoffman in this.

But I didn't get a lot out of this film.

Cut and dry, if I have to choose a single factor to judge whether or not I think a film is good, let's say it is whether or not I want to watch it again. So, this isn't a good movie at all. I was very bored. Movies should be an escape from reality, but watching this I wanted to escape the theatre to reality.

I didn't get the romantic tension between the terrorist and his lawyer either. He's Muslim and she's played by blond Rachel McAdams. How's that going to work? And how does Muslim Russian dude get money to live off of? Seriously, am I supposed to buy that he doesn't want the 10 million euros? I guess.

This movie just felt like a lame diversion and waste of time. Sorry, I respect that there are some people that like simple good spy flicks, but that will never be me.

--Dregs

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Thursday, August 28, 2014

L'Écume des jours

I'm a huge fan of music videos from MTV during the 1990s. It's almost as developed as my passion for cinema. Maybe more. Who knows? Some of my biggest influences and today's most accomplished directors came up from these ranks: David Fincher, Spike Jonze, Michel Gondry, Jonathan Glazer, and Anton Corbijn are the Big Five.

Spike Jonze and Michel Gondry are the most visually inventive in the category of surreal fantasy invention interspersed with whimsical, childlike, spontaneous mazes of optical illusion and explore the world of dreams and memory existentially.

Gondry is more romantic and Jonze tragic. But both struggle to maintain the dramatic gravitas of their first two films after Kaufman. Coincidentally both directors first and second films were written by the then emerging talent, Charlie Kaufman.

Jonze on his own seems to prefer a surreal setting to launch a slow brooding tragic love story. Michel Gondry on his own seems to prefer a surreal madhouse where audiences are baffled and awed by intricate illustrations of places that can only exist in an expressionist exaggeration of his own mind.

Gondry has done some studio work that has resembled traditional movies more than his early inspired original music videos (Gondry invented bullet time a year before The Matrix in a Smirnoff commercial). His first two films were mainly Kaufman and he found ways to throw in his own genius of craftsmanship; but, La Science des rêves (2006, Gondry) was entirely his, from beginning to end, and looked like it could be any one of his surreal masterpiece music videos: Cibo Matto's "Sugar Water," Björk's "Bachelorette," The Foo Fighters' "Everlong," or Radiohead's "Knives Out."

La Science des rêves had an odd tone though. The romance was awkward and the point of the narrative often confusing. But maybe that's okay because it is a fish-out-of-water tale that takes place in someone's dreams. That would be Gondry's last optical illusion featue he shot on film. HD agrees with him as proved by his latest feature...

L'Écume des jours (2013, Gondry) satisfies my desire for more Gondryworld. It, like La Science des rêves, was promoted with a trailer showing off all of the sight gags. That film didn't have much that wasn't in the trailer, but L'Écume des jours unbelievably holds up to its promise and floods the screen with mayhem.

And this works because the spine is so simple it's as if it was conceived by an infant: boy meets girl, boy likes girl, boy loses girl. To ape an expression I think I heard someone else mutter in the theatre after the film ended: "it's like a happy love story that's really sad." COLIN is the boy and CHLOÉ (Audrey Tautou) is the girl. Because of Tautou, comparisons with Le Fabuleux Destin d'Amélie Poulain (2001, Jean-Pierre Jeunet) will be inevitable, but it does seem obvious that one potential shortcoming of L'Écume des jours is that it isn't really a love story like the kind Amélie is and clearly succeeds as.

This is interesting. Gondry is French and I'd rather get a chance to experience the delights of his imagination even though audiences might be put off or just not into it. I'm saying movies are hard to make and I love L'Écume des jours.

The opening of the film features a barrage of images, but distinctly (1.) a house with an anthropomorphic mouse (I bet Gondry watched "Beakman's World"), NICOLAS, who is Colin's butler (?),  Colin's friend CHICK, an animated eel named ROCKY who lives in the faucets in the sinks (and soon an animated plate of sushi as lunch in another scene), a bathtub where as Colin bathes he drills a hole through the floor and pink liquid irrigates a plant downstairs that sets off a chain reaction of flowers growing in the downstairs neighbors' house; and (2), a Sixties-looking lecture hall-seating type room with rows of people typing on an assembly line of typewriters that stop briefly before moving on to the next recipient--I think this room is fate because they all type into a book that's called L'Écume des jours. And this first few minutes all to Duke Ellington's "Take the "A" Train."

In the first act Colin wears white leather doc Marten hipster shoes and a slim-cut gray suit that makes him look a lot like Peewee Herman, or maybe I just think that because his house feels so much like Peewee's Playhouse. Peewee, Gondry, and Gondry's male protagonist are all manchild/arrested development hipster types. The first act is swarming with Gondryworld's foundation: stop motion animation (CELLOPHANE!!!), intentionally shoddy looking projection, distortion of scale and space perspectives, and dancing with exaggerated weird rubber legs. And there's a lot of handshaking that is this effect where both parties hands rotate at the cuffs simultaneously (is that a joke, "rotator cuffs?").

I wish I had more time to go into the pianocktail, but umm, it's a piano device that makes drinks based on notes and it's a really great prop gag. Oh man and there's this cake that's construction is animated and when Colin saws into it, it's pink insulation with a section cut out for a bottle of perfume and a telegram that he has a date.

Colin quickly meets and falls in love with Chloé and their ice-breaking is typical Gondry with the guy trying to say something sexual to be charming but it's just awkward. In this instance, I think it's something like: "it would feel better if it was with hands down there." The dream couple get in a swan vehicle that is suspended from a crane that cruises them through the city. They wind up at Les Halles, which is a big construction site that's really toys shot and projected--Gondry loves construction sites. They have an amazing underwater wedding and later a honeymoon picnic with "mixed weather," where half of the screen and scenes are raining while simultaneously the other half remains bright and sunny.

Such a small detail as a photo with "6 months later," inscribed on the back, depicting the happy couple, is next on a wall and it's six months later. I want more of this stuff in movies damnit!

The couple reside in a traincar lodged in between two buildings, high up in the air. There're bunkbeds inside. This is the typical Gondryworld domicile.

The rest of the film follows Chloé's diagnosis and treatment of a terminal illness resulting from a snowflake that flew into her lungs and a 3' water lilly that grew in her right lung. Holy crap that sequence is magnificent. The inside of Chloé's chest is like straight out of Björk's "Human Behaviour," video that Gondry directed. It's all construction paper, cotton and handmade looking.

And while all of this is beautiful, we haven't invested in these characters like Ryan O'Neal and Ali MacGraw or anything like that. It still feels like a music video. But that's Gondry. Chloé even says early in the film, when she first meets Colin and he asks how can she like him, he's hardly spoken a word when she replies, "It's okay, I love blanks." Maybe blanks are more fun, or at least not excluded from a working model of movie storytelling.

The second half grows more despondent and dark. Right around the time Colin refuses to murder a bunny at work, Chick's girlfriend ALISE (Nicolas's daughter) then murders the author of the books Chick reads out of passion. Then Chick is murdered. That's a quick tonal shift.

We get a melancholy black and white epilogue mourning everything Colin has lost and the mouse delivers a flip book, drawn by hand, depicting the moment Colin and Chloé fell in love. That's all I needed to say this works.

I have a minor discrepancy with Drafthouse Films releasing a 94 minute version of L'Écume des jours, released as Mood Indigo and that being the only version available here in the states. I like shorter movies and maybe this thing needed half an hour cut from it, but I'd still like to see the original. Oh well...

Definitely one of the coolest creations of fun art I've ever seen. Love it.

--Dregs

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Wednesday, August 27, 2014

12 Years a Project

The story begins with Richard Linklater shooting a movie about a boy that follows him as he grows up, picking up bits and pieces, at his leisure, for 12 years.

After a 30 year career, Linklater has never surpassed the promise of his first two features--no sophomore slump for this dude: Slacker (1991) and Dazed and Confused (1993).





Boyhood (2014, Richard Linklater) feels like captured life, especially the nuances of the ordinary normally taken for granted. As a model of filmmaking this is the farthest from my own ideal--spiritual, melodrama, brutality, and subversive exploitation.

Boyhood feels like Bresson without the spiritualism, brutality, or economy (and with pop music).

However, after 2 and a half hours, Boyhood is astoundingly, the uhh stuff that memories are made of.

About 2 hours in it is also apparent how much time MASON (Ellar Coltrane) spends in school, listening to music, changing his hairstyle, and getting to know the various stepdads and stepmoms his divorced parents subsequently shack up with. That's real life. No frills. But, don't movies need frills? This movie stands apart because it's just trying to show life and 4 good people.

Mason, his sister SAMANTHA (Lorelei Linklater), and their parents, played by Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette, are all good people trying their best; but, for real, not like "The Brady Bunch," or "Step by Step."

The real life growth of the actor playing Mason hits you more if you've seen the film twice because it really is something for a character to age from 6-18 in a single narrative feature. Documentaries are different. When the fuzzy-headed little boy asks his dad questions like: "Dad, do you have a job?" or "Dad is magic actually a real thing?" it exhibits something acting alone cannot--the portrayal of innocence by a child whose own innocence is authentic.

The other items on the shopping list are: peer pressure, new religion, first shitty food service job, first truck, and first love. And there's a lot of pop culture references that offer that gimmick where the novelty lies in recognition and nothing more, but it's cute. "She didn't even like any of my favorite three movies of the summer: Tropic Thunder, The Dark Knight, or Pineapple Express!"

Boyhood opens with a shot of Mason laying in the grass as Coldplay's "Yellow," plays on the score. This is the exact time I stopped listening to music. When I was 12 my boyhood had something like "I Wanna Sex You Up," or "Gonna Make You Sweat," as its score. So it's weird, all of the music pop culture references are unfamiliar to me. But this is Linklater's movie and you know, he's sweet. There's gotta be some room for that.

Some Linklater flavor (his accumulated films display his personality) in Boyhood to point out is that the clerk at the gas station where the alcoholic first stepdad sends his kid in is the very same actor Wiley Wiggins buys from in Dazed and Confused, I reckon. And Mason's rant's like about how facebook isn't healthy or important or the NSA matching freshmen according to their private records is told in the subtly Texan accented, Alex Jones-like, Linklater diatribe. Watch Slacker again and you'll get what I mean.

To try not to completely contradict myself, I'm trying to say that I don't enjoy this movie, it's not entertaining, it's too long, and it lacks dramatic conflict; yet, I am impressed by it and even touched.

--Dregs

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Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Can Optimus Defeat Lockdown, his Creators, Galvatron, Dinobots, the US Government, military, CIA, and Steve Jobs?

I am a genuine fan of Michael Bay, due in large part to his last three films: Transformers: Dark of the Moon (2011), Pain & Gain (2013), and his latest, Transformers: Age of Extinction (2014). His fluid large scale set pieces covered in geometrical patterns by strategically placed cameras, dollies, and helicopters, saturated palettes, sexy surface beauty, larger-than-life Steve Jablonsky scores, cadres of tactical swat teams, and intercutting of overcranked cartoon imagery make his films entertaining, impressive, and inimitable.

The first two Transformers don't matter to me at all, but were written by Kurtzman and Orci, while 3 and 4 are written by Ehren Kruger. In part 3, Dark of the Moon, we get a quick revisionist history primer: the Apollo 11 moon landing was really President Kennedy's mission to explore some important Transformers wreckage before the Russians. And while the astronauts landed, they went to the dark side of the moon and encountered Sentinel Prime, who was planning a teleportation bridge to bring Cybertron on Earth--don't worry, Optimus prevented it.





Transformers: Age of Extinction in 3D (2014, Michael Bay) gives us a quick revisionist history primer: the extinction of the dinosaurs was actually the Transformers first visit to Earth and they destroyed all existing life and replaced it with themselves (forming Dinobots, but more on that later...).

This is the first film in the franchise with a serene opening. It's in space, quiet. Cool sunflares come at you in 3D. Then a simple font as the title appears and vanishes. Unlike the previous installment's trademark huge, eardrum-shattering metallic clanking and computer humming, buzzing and title that inexplicably transforms into the title card. I did like those.

We're then in the Arctic just like how The Thing (1982, John Carpenter) opens. Michael Bay photographs the shit out of locations like this.

Next we are in Texas.

One night I was at my Dad's house in Corpus and I came home late, drunk. I flipped the channels and found Dark of the Moon and decided to fall asleep to it. In my state of euphoria a scene played that occurs at 1 hour and 34 minutes into the movie right after the destruction of Chicago where 1300 were killed. It's early dawn and cheesy country music rock ballad music builds. Some poor, honest, real folks at a motel hop in their GMC pickup, then a black dude gets in his GMC pickup in an old commercial sector and as schmaltzy as this stuff is I devoured it. I did a Chevy commercial with Bob Richardson ("Chevy Strong," on youtube) that does this same crap and I'm susceptible as hell to it. I definitely feel that the CADE YEAGER (Mark Wahlberg) scenes in Texas with rolling green cornfields, windmills, weathered barns and blue skies does the trick.

TESSA YEAGER (Nicola Peltz) is Cade's 17 year old daughter and a toned down sexpot compared to her predecessors Megan Fox and Rosie Huntington-Whitely. She does wear some short jean shorts and as she's introduced there's a shot from below and in her legs looking up from behind her as Cade gripes at her about washing her shorts in cold water and air drying them--this is kind of all we need to know about these characters.

Titus Welliver is way cool as the bad guy SAVOY, who is introduced at Cade's house in glorious Bay fashion. We get obtuse roaming coverage of his profile, weirdly off-timed shutter speeds and ominous sound design, along with his entourage of  6 blacked out Escalades and a helicopter. We also get the great Cade line: "We got a saying about messing with people from Texas...". Transformers 4 is darker and less silly than previous entries, as evinced by Savoy putting a gun to Tessa's head ready to execute her.

To escape the barn there's the first exceptional action sequence: the rally car driven by Tess's boyfriend LUCKYCHARMS plows through cornfields, and there's near misses with the Escalades, but really it's the overcranked shot of the rally car flying out of the mound and the wheel peels out on the badguy's face as spittle floats--see Pain & Gain for reference to Bay's previous shots with the Phantom camera and CGI spit.

There's a surfer TNMT type West coast burnout who is unessential, but as the first act ends there's that magnificent Bay shot of the plural protagonist walking slowly away from huge explosions, but the surfer is burnt alive--see, more darkly violent. He's left like the cover of the album "Enemy of the Sun." There's even some guilt acknowledgement as Tess chides Cade: "all you had to do is report it and now Lucas is dead."

Next we go to Chicago.

Stanley Tucci plays a significant lead character named JOSHUA JOYCE STEVE JOBS who runs a company called KSI APPLE that develops technology and has figured out how to make his own controllable matter, transformium, and do everything the Transformers can. I've always liked Stanley Tucci and I think this is great casting here. Steve Jobs is matched against a CIA villain played by Kelsey Grammer and they both "set out to do good," as young boys so they got a parallel-I think the script is pretty decent.

Bingbing Li plays Steve Jobs' business partner and represents interests in the company owned by China (like the movie itself, in real life). She doesn't speak much, and while gorgeous and formidable, Bay doesn't really use her as anything more like a doll for set dressing.

Everyone has a nemesis. Megatron is now GALVATRON, who hunts Optimus along with bounty hunter LOCKDOWN. Steve Jobs has the CIA villain. Wait, next complaint: LOCKDOWN isn't that cool because he's just like slim and built and mean. In Transformers 2, THE DEVASTATOR combined all of the construction vehicles and destroyed the pyramids with its huge spinning shredding metal vortex while he exhausts storms of debris in his wake. In Transformers 3 (my favorite so far) SHOCKWAVE is like the coolest villain ever, with his DRILLER and complex means of demolishing huge buildings, skyscrapers, and anything in his way.

And, Shockwave has that sinister one red glowing cyclops eye.

And, Shockwave makes weird animal noises sound effects when he appears. Man I love Shockwave. But, there's no Shockwave in Age of Extinction. Lockdown is lame and talks with a British accent. The scale of Lockdown's ship behind him in the Texas scenes are visually striking though.

But Bumblebee's nemesis, STINGER, has really cool sound effects, that screeching whistling insect siren.

There's a great downtown chase in Chicago. Man, how'd they get to film all that? Great location work.

Next we go to Beijing.

Geng Han is the dude playing guitar in the convertible that gets sucked up in Shanghai and he is a huge star in China in real life. I know some people who worked on this and there's a funny anecdote about Amir Mokri, the cinematographer, being instructed to offer special treatment to Geng and receiving an explanation about how famous he is, to which Mokri replied: "I don't care. I don't give a shit. I fuck Chinese Justin Beiber in the ass. He's nobody to me..." And there's another story I heard about Bay getting mad and throwing a walkie into the Grand Canyon.

The scenes downtown in Shanghai with the car wrecking while in the back ground an elevated train and ocean liners are pulled up to the sky by Lockdown's magnet are full on Seventies disaster genre homage done right. Wow.

Somewhere nearby Optimus has no chance left but to go recruit the Dinobots, travelling to a conveniently close for the sake of the plot location. Optiums fighting a fire-breathing T-Rex is almost ridiculous, but not when you get the logic of this franchise. It's what we've come to expect.

Back in China Bumblebee uses a pterodactyl buddy to fight Stinger and that's another great sequence.

The conclusion has some good arc. Cade is ready to die for Optimus by the end, as Tess is ready to die to protect her dad Cade, and Jobs buys them a disaster relief home because their's was destroyed.

It's kind of bullshit that Galvatron survives because it feels like we're watching a serial instead of a stand-alone movie. And that Optimus threat to his creators: "Leave planet Earth alone because I'm coming for you," lacks the closure one typically demands from a two and a half hour movie.

I saw this in 3D, twice. And I'm glad I did.

--Dregs





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