Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Pen 15 Club: A Big Pen 15 Club Day

Crossed a personal Rubicon last night, as I became, officially, the sort of person who speaks angrily at a City Council meeting. Entering that new phase of my life may have been the worst part of my day, but the most upsetting part of my day was surely missing National Ballpoint Pen Day! Luckily, sterner minds than mine were thoroughly on the case:

To mark National Ballpoint Pen Day , U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal made an appearance at BIC headquarters in Shelton Monday morning to meet and greet employees and thank BIC for its efforts in sponsoring educational programs as well as creating the writing utensil people have come to know and love.
"The ballpoint pen, what it means, is so important," said Blumenthal.

Bummer to have missed it, of course, but my day was not however entirely free of marking the occasion, nor did I fail to enact a rich celebration of ballpoints: viz., I actually finally killed my Zebra F-301's first load-out of ink! Perhaps predictably, I did so while taking jaw-clench-inducing notes on somebody or other's pusillanimous ditherings, forcing me to swop pens on the very fly.

Luckily, I had a pen to swop to.

Anyway, the Zebra F-301 is a good lil' pen! I always like a refillable option, the ink is decent, if not quite Bic Crystal (thinner line, maybe a little less blobby?), it's maybe a little too heavy, but there's just something enjoyable about a stainless steel tool, the fact of it. If you are interesting in throwing away fewer things, maybe give one a try! Or do something else, but whatever you do, please: A Merry Ballpoint Pen Day to us all; Pens bless us, every one!


Tuesday, June 04, 2019

On getting out of jail: free and forever

Further to my desire unstinting to discover and display praxis enhancements (commonly known in certain degraded circles as "lifehacks"), it occurs to me to share that:

  1. No matter how egregious your driving offense, as long as you do not actually contact another person or their property, it is actually illegal -- as a matter of Natural Law -- for anyone to be upset with you, so long as you proffer a half-apologetic little "whoops!" wave as you drive away
  2. No matter how impossible a person you are, no matter what difficulties on your surroundings you create and impose, so long as you occasionally drop in a quick "I appreciate you", you're totally off the hook and it will be impossible for anyone to mark your behavior and conclude that you are, e.g., a complete asshole
Got any wonderful tips like these that YOU enjoy to employ?  Sound off in the comments!

Friday, May 17, 2019

A Comprehensive Review of the Good Things About Age/Lifestyle-Related Chronic Illness/Injury, Compendious in Its Correctness (Also It Is: Indisputable)

A Comprehensive Review of the Good Things About Age/Lifestyle-Related Chronic Illness/Injury, Compendious in Its Correctness (Also It Is: Indisputable)

  1. Always have a big, bold bottle of ibuprofen handy, so can always be like "Hey, you said your blank hurt—do you need an ibuprofen?"
  2. That's it. There are no other good things about age / lifestyle-related chronic illness / injury.

(A big, bold bottle of handy ibuprofen.)

Monday, May 06, 2019

Dark Star

When I ask myself if VFX comic book franchise movies that cost a few hundred million dollars, online streaming services, TV, shorter attention spans or the obsolescence of movie cameras shooting on film stock mean that movies aren’t as good as they used to be my answer is no. And Claire Denis is proof.
Beau travail (1999, Denis) is so fun to watch I get excited just thinking about it. The same goes for Trouble Every Day (2001, Denis) and The Intruder (2004, Denis).

If Trouble Every Day is a horror movie about sexual depravity, then High Life (2018, Denis) is a horror movie about sexual deprivation. Deprivation is something the characters aboard the ship in High Life share in common. They were all “on death row or serving life sentences” on Earth. They have no contact with anyone on Earth because they’re too far to receive communications. And the baby has no mother, no friends—no future.
I realize that if I were to get into an argument with anyone who’s seen High Life they would say it’s not a horror movie, and I also realize I’d lose that argument. Although I posit that High Life is a horror movie not in the traditional sense of eliciting a physical reaction of terror, but instead one that causes an emotional fear in the viewer.
In Heat (1995, Michael Mann) I wept every time I saw that ending when NEIL MCCAULEY (Robert De Niro) dies at the end. There’s a lot to analyze in that moment. First of all the title Heat comes from Neil McCauley’s principle rule: “Don’t let yourself get attached to anything you are not willing to walk out on in 30 seconds flat if you spot the heat around the corner.” And lastly, McCauley’s dying words are: “I told you I’m never going back.” So because he has this one fatal flaw (Waingro revenge) he gives up both his chance to drive off into the sunset with a woman whom he is in love with and loves him in return with enough money to be set, and his mortality—because it’s established this character will not return to prison.
My sorrow is triggered in movies thinking about characters whose only future is life in prison, then opt for death instead, because it reminds me how any one of us could run out of options. Anyway that’s what hooked me in High Life, what engages me with these characters: they’re headed on a one way voyage away from Earth into a black hole, by their own choice, to avoid life in prison. This is how to craft tragedy, and leaves me with a tremendous sadness and fear. So yes, I’m calling this a horror movie. And to be sure there are some terrifying scenes of sex, violence, sexual violence, and lactating. Dude Claire Denis is in top form and in full command of her art here.
The ending is transcendent. Depicting how contrary man’s nature is to be capable of hope while approaching oblivion is sublime. Needless to say, whether this is optimistic or pessimistic is subjective. 

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Wednesday, May 01, 2019

After 25 Years in the Making

After Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998, Terry Gilliam) the work of Terry Gilliam began to decline. Brazil (1985, Gilliam) is my favorite cult film. The Fisher King (1991, Gilliam) is his best work—great cast, script and crafted out of raw emotion. And Twelve Monkeys (1995, Gilliam) is a cool, enigmatic sci-fi story of time travel and tragedy.
And what makes Brazil the quintessential cult film is that it’s not really that good but I enjoy watching it immensely nonetheless. That’s why I don’t really consider Pink Flamingos (1972, John Waters) a cult film: it displays too much genius. Brazil is that rare thing in movies, that is, bizarre in a good way.
The Man Who Killed Don Quixote (2018, Gilliam) isn’t as bad as Gilliam’s other work from the last 20 years, but that isn’t saying a lot. It was a fun diversion and I’m glad I went to see it in a theater, but I can’t imagine wanting to rewatch it. On the other hand if I heard there was a screening of Brazil coming up… When? Where?
The Man Who Killed Don Quixote is surprisingly focused narratively for Gilliam. It has a theme. What if a person used their imagination and lost perspective on the difference between fantasy and reality, and what if that were contagious to a skeptic? Or wait, is that a theme? Maybe, mythology deconstructed through idealism vs. cynicism approaches?
Also the pacing was great. The movie really gains a momentum that makes it past the finish line with aplomb. The Spanish countryside, sets, costumes, wide-angle compositions, Dutch angles and spectacle is all there, but… The Man Who Killed Don Quixote takes us to another world, but it’s just not one I really wanna visit. And like Bridges' character in The Fisher King notice how The Man Who Killed Don Quixote's protag the Adam Driver character sports that signature top ponytail down at the sides doo Gilliam does in real life as an autobiographic touch?

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Monday, April 15, 2019

Fat's HEAVY TUNES of the Year 2018

Fat's HEAVY TUNES of the Year 2018

0. Introductionalizing Maunderings

Christ, this has taken an eternity even to start not working on.

I. List + Links (TD;LR crowd)

Fairly complete playlist here. Missing: Philip Glass, The Tirol Concerto; "Cheree" by Big Business; "Amulet of the Weeping Maze"; "Shadows" by Blood Candy; and maybe most gallingly, "London Town" by the Nocturnes.

II. Fat's Diary Action

One of the things that dominated my musical year was using live shows to drive what I listened to. In the run-up to my buddy Dan's visit to my town to help me (and thousands of others) party down (see below), I spent a lot of time listening to a lot—I mean a lot—of Wolf Parade. Their show that night was phenomenal, and I recreated the setlist on a streaming platform I won't link to here, for reasons I'll get to later. But mostly I didn't listen to that set too many times, I just bashed my way through their records over and over again. The new, or anyway the then-new, one Cry Cry Cry is incredible and gets all the fullest recommendations. I mean, so are and so do the others. But shit, you probably know those already.

That was January. Also in January, I figured out my No. 1 use for a popular streaming platform: thinking of tapes I used to own and making playlists of them. (This started when I didn't want to rebuy tapes, and strengthened with the discovery that my tape deck had become one with the infinite, unbeknownst to me.) The tape-recreation project that sold me on this idea was the Hell On Wheels Tour Sampler, which I was given free at the Sound Warehouse in Aurora, Colorado, somewhere in the mid/late '80s, almost certainly when I was buying a live Whitesnake cassette. Anyway, this project reacquainted me with two songs each by three bands: Grim Reaper, Helloween, and Armored Saint. My basically contemporary notes:

  • Grim Reaper: just DUMB
  • Armored Saint: much better than I remember, but no ... song(s) happening here
  • I think that the only good power metal is deeply ridiculous. I.e., power metal that isn't at least somewhat ridiculous can't possibly be good. "Future World" is, absolutely, both somewhat ridiculous and very, very good.

So there you have it.

(A pair of friends meeting for the first time!)

However, streaming absolutely sucks ass, for reasons technical, economic, and other, as I quickly discovered when I decided I wanted to recreate my favorite Procol Harum cassette from years gone by, called simply The Best of Procol Harum, but which consisted primarily of songs that just absolutely couldn't be found on the streaming platform I was using. So I just bought the fucker on the secondary market and put it my car and all was well. This isn't a great story, I recognize that. But if I can generalize for a second, it turns out that now and again digging out something you haven't thought about in a long time can be a really enriching experience, and it also turns out that listening to early Procol Harum songs like "Homburg", "Quite Rightly So" and "Shine On Brightly" completely rules. (Adverb rock gives me the Yes effect, is maybe what I'm getting at.)

Several years ago, I saw an SF Ballet performance set to Philip Glass' Tirol Concerto, which was probably the most enjoyable piece of minimalism I've ever heard. For some reason, I find it almost unbearably emo, and I love it preposterously much. Amusingly, it is not available on the streaming platform I currently enjoy, but is only findable on the shitty one I used to use.

I also listened through the Killdozer catalog, but it came and went kind of quickly for me this time around. If you haven't heard Killdozer, you definitely should! If you have, you're probably okay for now. But give it a try for yourself, see what you think about how much you need around right now.

Similarly around that time coming and going more or less quickly were the Roxy Music record Country Life and the new Vince Staples. Much later in the year, the new Big Business Tour EP dropped, but I find I have trouble remembering it when I'm not listening to it, except for the wall-of-heart loud ballad "CHEREE", which closes the EP and makes me happy every time I hear it. I pre-ordered the new album, The Beast You Are, but I haven't heard it yet. I spent a couple weeks listening to a lot of Thin White Rope again, which was fun: that was my 1989 or so, just mainlining "Red Red Sun", and again my 1994 or so, obsessed with "July" and "Exploring the Axis" "the Three Song" and "It's OK" and a dozen more. This time through the archive, I decided I mostly agree with the critical consensus, which seems to cohere around the idea that Moonhead is the best, most consistent collection.

Tinzeroes convinced me to give another shot to the Aesop Rock record The Impossible Kid, and it had some moments that brought tears to my eyes in the car, but mostly it kept sending me back to Skelethon again and again. Finally the (then-) new (-ish) EMA, Exile in the Outer Ring started to click with me, largely due to the insanely good outtakes record and in particular the sick af tune "Dark Shadows".

You want to know an amazing record I have been listening to since I heard one song on KALX like 10+ years ago? Little Teeth Child Bearing Man. It's almost all great, but my favorites are "Good Girls and Boys" and "Between My Ears" (called "Behind My Eyes" the first time I heard it). You should also listen to "Amulet of the Weeping Maze". I like it, and so do my neighbors.

Finally gave Deafheaven a shot—or maybe Deafheaven finally came through with a seriously amazing song! Either way, if I were going to have a song of the year (I don't think I will?), it might well be "Honeycomb", which is purest, purest candy. The follow-up single was similar, but cranked my crank somewhat less, maybe because it didn't have straight-up pop-punk chords (at literally like 4:20 in! (okay, it's 4:12/4:13)) and hair-metal leads (right after that, 4:39) over the now-standard lush shoegaze/bedroom-metal guitar textures that have been taking my breath away since I first heard Jesu Earth, "Song 6", on a tape my buddy Darren made for me so I'd have something to listen to when I was packing boxes at the warehouse. Anyway, this song is about as good as music got in 2018, and it's nearly as good as the Helium song of the same name, and I don't know any compliments anyone can give that are any better than that. (NOTE: I once looked up a Deafheaven lyric. Never again, extremely NOT RECOMMENDED.)

Around this part of the year, I was really starting to suffer under the yoke of Twitter: corroded, miserable, edgy, argumentative, restless and hopeless all the time. A podcast I liked gave me a very, very concentrated feeling of ... Twitter, and the way I couldn't bring myself to stop listening to it, even as it made me corroded, miserable, edgy, argumentative, restless and hopeless all at once helped clarify my need to quit Twitter, which was good, but not as good as a song they used as interstitial music, Japanese Breakfast's "Diving Woman". Another great thing about this band is how high they rank on the "makes good music, also writes good stuff to read" scale. Would I listen to a podcast that was just Michelle Zaurner and Andrew Falkous reading their most recent articles and playing a couple songs? Probably. Definitely.

I tried out the new Abstracter and all the Abstracter I hadn't previously heard / loved, and decided I'd stick with the Abstracter I'd previously heard / loved. For those of you who didn't read the earlier love notes to Abstracter, that means Tomb of Feathers and Wound Empire. I also had a pretty long moment with the Baroness record Blue, which I checked out from my local library, which is pretty fucking cool. Definitely a rad way to find out about things! Also I was whining to my buddy about how I wished there were Iron Maiden records I hadn't heard before, at which point he gently pointed out to me that I hadn't actually bothered to listen to literally any Iron Maiden records other than Live After Death, and recommended Book of Souls, which I had actually seen the tour of, and which IS ABSOLUTELY FANTASTIC. There just isn't anything like Iron Maiden, and "The Red and the Black" is a perfect Iron Maiden song, both distilled and expanded in incredible ways. Thanks, Pierre Idiot Trudeau.

There's just not such a thing as too much—nor even enough!—Emma Ruth Rundle music around and to hand and playing, and so I ran down her early project The Nocturnes, and there I found "London Town", which is about as good as music gets, to me, in my ears. Sort of a When the Levee Breaks for 90s kids, god that's a stupid thing to say the song is amazing however.

When I'm not listening to music sometimes I go to the movies, and sometimes it turns out that those two things can be sort of combined, and so at some point in the summer Noodles and I betook ourselves to the ol' beer theater and saw Stop Making Sense which made me a Talking Heads fan. Nothing can really compare with that, but the songs are great regardless; they just gain a lot of power from the live performance.

I rarely get to listen to the radio at my place anymore, which kind of sucks. But every once in a while, I remember in the car, and things get good. One morning on the way to the day job, I heard a couple bands that I really liked: Blood Candy, doing "Shadows" and Maktharveskan, doing a song I can't remember and didn't write down, but it hardly matters because about half of their catalog is stunning, perfect raucous pop, and the other half is also wonderful. Best starting songs are probably "Antabus" and "In My Dreams". The latter is big melodies that don't stop, the former is the same but also with a lyric containing the words "in my room", and one of the iron laws of pop music is that songs containing the words "in my room" are always better than songs NOT containing the words "in my room". It's where you listen to music: you need music about that, it's just science. (Also recommended: Vomit Launch. Bad name, some great songs.)

Three-quarters of the way through my year, a work assignment broke the hell out of my routine: I went some miles away, to a city not mine, to work on a strike with workers I don't usually represent or work alongside, for a few days. One night, in the hotel room, just ... needing ... something, I paid for a music streaming service, which I had never done before, relying on ad-supported versions (and complaining wildly about them the while). My first downloads were Yes, Fragile, and some Talking Heads, salve and fuel, respectively. (I also watched Super Troopers at least twice in that hotel room, but we don't need to talk about every single little thing I did or did not do on that work trip.) Having access to a more convenient and controllable form of streaming than picking a station and methodically tuning it or trudging through duplicate versions of individual songs to create playlists one song at a time was a lot of fun, and offered a lot of freedom.

Unfortunately, I'm not very creative, and not very used to freedom. (Thanks, society!) So mostly what I did was think of things I hadn't heard in a long time and listen to them again. That was probably the theme of the year. But anyway, I revisited the incredibly good jangle+reverb-intensive hard pop Caterwaul, which had absolutely dominated a year or two in high school for me, with huge vocal melodies, gorgeous flouridated fog banks of guitar noises, and just enough shrieking to keep it all interesting for a young AC/DC fan like me. Turns out that early-90s me was wrong, and Portent Hue is not better than Pin & Web, tho both are excellent and heart-expanding. Think early R.E.M. with some Kate Bush / Siouxsie Sioux vocals, maybe? From Pin & Web, side one as a totality gets a high recommendation: if you remember the echoey 80s at all fondly, you will find something to like here, from the lighter, airier "Hummingbird Whir" (prom music in some gothier alternative universe (season one of the OA, maybe?)) to the faster/harder core Caterwaul moments of "The Sheep's a Wolf" and "Dizzy Delirium". But the best is the hopscotch-melody of "Not Today", which absolutely, positively, should have been a hit on some chart somewhere, and still should. Mostly I like my guitar rock a little dumb, but Caterwaul gives me doses of guitar rock that are clever and interesting (and insane howling vocals that earn the shit out of the band name help a lot, too (and so do the weird mandolin-heavy songs that still seem vaguely ... Shakespearean?)). Probably 20 years after I first heard them ("Alex' Aphrodisiac", off of Portent Hue, on the college station I could hear from suburban Denver), I think I might still be the biggest Caterwaul fan I have ever met.

New Windhand, Eternal Return, dropped and made me SO happy. Just such a monumental, mammoth piece of work, heavy enough to crush, but beautiful (not pretty) enough to buoy. As repetitive in its own way as Philip Glass, and as good at never ending up boring, the whole record is more varied than it sounds, and even the very, very long songs don't make you wish they were shorter. I spent much of the year actually singing along to this record. I may not know what any given song is about—I'm fairly certain I don't!—but I know that raising my voice to, maybe, harmonize along with "I wish you would I wish you would I wish you would I wish you would" again and again made me a happier, and maybe better, person this year. Sometimes you just got to tell the motherfuckers, motherfucker, I wish you would. And if you happen to have grinding churns of guitar underneath you, so much the better.

With streaming and stretching out into the past comes weird rabbit holes and unexpected enjoyments. Having always cordially loathed Trans Am, I naturally spent a couple months listening to little else. The first record (self-titled), mostly, but also no little Surrender to the Night. The first record is just fine background music, and later songs like "Motr" and "Carboforce" are lovely Krautrock with like, New Order lifts here and there, and sometimes that is a really good thing.

It would be literally illegal for me to do a Fat's HEAVY TUNES roundup without inordinate quantities of Emma Ruth Rundle, so it turned out that On Dark Horses was a slower grower for me than some of the past records, but even before I had gotten my heart fully around what was on offer, I went to bed as often as not with "a life spent ... uneasy" rolling around between my ears from "Fever Dreams" or "they say what doesn't kill you will just keep you alive" from "Dead Set Eyes". It's maybe a slightly less dynamically varied record than a couple of the previous ones, but there's her amazing melodic guitar textures everywhere and her giant choruses, just oceanic waves picking you up and doing what they will with you. Great record.

At the end of the year, I discovered Tangerine Dream. I like Tangerine Dream. Kind of a LOT. Similarly Lana del Rey. I started with the first record, which I had never listened to. I had long thought "Video Games" was one of the greatest singles of my lifetime, and after spending a while with Born to Die, I am convinced that (a) I was right about that, and (b) it's not even the best song on side one: "Blue Jeans" is the best song on side one. (It's a better song, but it's not a greater song: cultural impact matters, and pop is always a little paradoxical anyway.) Anyway, best one-two punch I heard this year, probably.) Her songwriting is next-level to me: probably no record on this list does more to convey and create specific moods, images, and the sense of a coherent, consistent vision.

Okay, songs of the year: "Blue Jeans", "The Red and the Black", "Honeycomb", "Fever Dreams", I dunno. Doesn't matter, probably. What were yours?

III. Conclusatory Thinkery

Two things I don't want to talk about here, but do want to talk about sometime: (a) the bad streaming service debacle; (b) so ... I'm starting to feel like ... I ... don't really want to listen to men sing anymore? I've been thinking this off and on for a couple years, and I think the year-enders back this trend up, but I don't really know what it means, and I don't know exactly what to think or how to feel about it. Anyway, now it's down on paper, so maybe I can start the work.

IV. Previously in Years in HEAVY TUNES

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Wednesday, April 03, 2019

Those Who Don't Have An Interest Don't Deserve to Know

Tim Burton is my security blanket of nostalgia. The first movie I saw multiple times in the theater was Batman (1989, Tim Burton). And at this time there was a kid who lived on my block who was a couple years older who was obsessed with Beetlejuice (1988, Burton) and urged me to watch it—this was the first time in my life I became aware of a movie director. It was the first time I realized that if you found the elusive, something to get excited over kind of movie, it was possible to get more where that came from. This might be another convenient way of defining the auteur theory. Didn’t Fat and I once have a conversation where we agreed that auteur theory was more or less a shopping guide? Seeing Edward Scissorhands (1990, Burton) in the theater preserved Burton as the one director whose work I discovered during my childhood.
30 years later, the only film Burton has done that I am still in love with is Ed Wood (1994, Burton). I continually derive inspiration from the undying optimism, romanticism, and nostalgia of the weirdos who love making movies, and in glorious black and white. Also when I think of pathos my connotation is Landau’s performance in that film.
I have discriminating tastes in movies. I spend more time reflecting on what I respond to and how and why than I do making or watching movies. And between the greats and the sucks there are thousands in between. One group I’m still trying to categorize arise from my being a snob and wanting to fill the void left by wishing I could enjoy the lavish hundred million dollar spectacles from directors working in our current studio system, which is why I can’t pass up anything by Burton or Ridley Scott (and here I’ll throw in most Michael Bay). But I also need Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005, Burton), Alice in Wonderland (2010, Burton), Frankenweenie (2012, Burton), and Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (2016, Burton) because after all the depressing social or domestic drama, artistic innovation, crime genre darkness, western savagery, and explorations of sexuality, sometimes I just wanna feel like a kid again. And well, Sleepy Hollow (1999, Burton) Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007, Burton) and Dark Shadows (2012, Burton) are just rad gothic fun.

Dumbo (2019, Burton) is an escapist fairytale that assures us it’s possible to find acceptance without fitting in. And the red and white candy-striped bigtop with its crowds gathered in the dark to see the big show is the same aspect of our culture that brings us into the theater—the sweets that Celine and Julie magically find.
HOLT FARRIER (Colin Farrell) returns from WWI missing an arm to his children MILLY and JOE, who are missing their mother. Most of Dumbo is about being patient and ready for your opportunity to find happiness, despite adversity. And the best thing going for the narrative is Milly’s passion for science and reluctance to use this as a means to perform in the circus as a common trait with Dumbo through which they form a friendship. For the macro narrative though we get MAX MEDICI (Danny DeVito) as an impresario who cares about his talent pitted against heartless, avaricious V.A. VANDEVERE (Michal Keaton), and it is their conflict that creates the arc of the film. Vandevere’s showbiz empire is called Dreamland, and its spectacular opulence ending up in flames before his very eyes is a fitting sight as Dumbo’s cautionary lesson.
And the narrative’s darker elements are why Dumbo feels like a Tim Burton movie. Eva Green as COLETTE, Vandevere’s bride, in an opportunistic marriage with a rich maniac that allows her to soar into new heights of fame and fortune only to realize there’s no safety net when she finally looks down is a strong metaphor. But also after Dark Shadows and Miss Peregrine’s, Green is now part of Burton’s stock company.
Dumbo plays it safer than much of Burton’s other work, but as a fairytale it has just the right escapist tone of coming of age joys and terrors to make you feel like the show was worth it.

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Sunday, March 31, 2019

If Harmony Korine Remade Spring Breakers...

By coincidence this past week in the same movie theater, on the same screen, I saw the new Harmony Korine movie, shot by Benoît Debie a few days after I saw Climax (2018, Gaspar Noé), which is also shot by Debie. Getting to see the latest new film by Korine or Noé is always a treat because Debie shoots in a saturated palette with an assortment of candy-colored gels that I can only compare to Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s last couple films shot by Xaver Schwarzenberger: Lola (1981) and Querelle (1982).
Cult figure Harmony Korine has a natural flair for gaining attention, is never short on jokes, and has great taste in movies. His screenplays for Kids (1995, Larry Clark) and Ken Park (2002, Clark) are an auspicious pair; his masterpiece is Gummo (1997, Korine);  and the rest of his filmography is uneven, but worthwhile for his fans, or maybe what I mean to say is that while I’m not sure I’m exactly excited about his other films, I’m still drawn to them.

Spring Breakers (2012, Korine) was a huge hit and Korine’s only movie that is accessible to mainstream audiences, but it’s not really a Harmony Korine movie. The Beach Bum (2019, Korine) is his penance for Spring Breakers in that it exhibits his personal aesthetic while confirming poetry is more important than box office.
For example, why does Spring Breakers have all the morality? The worst is Selena Gomez’ character—even she knows she doesn’t belong in the movie and takes a bus home at the start of the second act. And why does Spring Breakers have a conventional story arc? The Beach Bum proudly and successfully makes a statement of being a movie truly representative of Korine’s anarchist vision as a filmmaker. And if you understand this, you understood Trash Humpers (2009, Korine). There’s a reason MOONDOG (Matthew McConaughey) cavorts with a bunch of lowlife degenerate whino junkies; not only is it to visually represent the antitheses of the perfect bodied Disney star twentysomethings in bikinis from Spring Breakers, but when amid the mayhem of destroying Moondog’s mansion for kicks a middle-aged man in an adult diaper swings from a gold chandelier, it is here the ethos of Trash Humpers returns.
But The Beach Bum shows Korine at the height of his powers by also deceiving the audience with the initial appearance of a conventional narrative only to eventually subvert any expectations of such a possibility. There is a turn the plot takes where I was reminded of the disgust I felt watching Don't Worry, He Won't Get Far on Foot (2018, Gus Van Sant) and realized it was a commercial for AA, but luckily it was a psychout. My final concession is that if Gummo and Trash Humpers are anarchist cinema, The Beach Bum is an arthouse comedy built around an anarchist protagonist. And the film also uses poetry to establish the voice of the Harmony Korine who made Gummo and wrote A Crackup at the Race Riots—both as a narrative poem and with Moondog’s verse. It’s been a while since American independent cinema has worked this well.

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You Will Come Down Soon Too

Like Lars von Trier or Todd Solondz, enfant terrible Gaspar Noé’s new films don’t seem to be as inspired lately.  But with cinematography by Benoît Debie, some music by Thomas Bangalter, and a desperate for attention credit sequence, Noé remains faithful to his violent, drug-infused aesthetic of Eurotrash scumbags and romantics inhabiting discotheques and fucking while he dabbles in existentialism.

When first hearing about Climax (2018, Noé) I was a little worried that it would be boring or feel limited in a low budget way because it was going to be about a group of dancers in one room. Those worries were dispelled.
The big problem I had with Climax was that I didn’t buy into the behavior that the people resorted to after the LSD kicked in. In general films have often showed a character on say, marijuana, having wild hallucinations that are excessive and unrealistic, which has bugged me on many occasions. But Climax has a momentum to it, engaging characters, and camera moves that make the POV feel like it’s from an non-diegetic carnival ride—steadicam that frames canted angles, low angles, overhead angles and sometimes positions so ambiguous the action becomes abstract. There’s also an editing pattern that shifts from choppy jump-cuts with dropped frames then on to single takes that last over twenty minutes.
Although by the end I processed the narrative as an existential dissection of real terror inherent within the ensemble unleashed by the drugs. Climax is scarier than Us (2019, Jordan Peele) and not to sound too cheesy but you know, like, the climax of the film is the climax of the high is the climax of these characters’ lives is the climax of life.
And like all of Noé’s films, Climax made me feel emotionally nauseous in a colorful, sexy, dangerous way. 

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Friday, March 29, 2019

The Brigands of Bulwark

Some positive word of mouth brought me to Brawl in Cell Block 99 (2017, S. Craig Zahler) and once I got into it I was surprised at how good it was—particularly its act structure and economy. When I say act structure I’m specifically referring to the way its protagonist’s goal develops and significantly continues changing.
And then this past February, Chung-hoon Chung told me that Chan-wook Park is in New York prepping a project called Brigands and that there was an article in Variety (Chung has been the DP of all of Park’s movies going back to Oldboy, 2003). When I found it online I learned that the article was from 2012, and that the screenplay was from 2006, written by Zahler, and titled The Brigands of Rattleborge. I read the script online and think it’s amazing, especially the handling of its revenge theme and highly anticipate director Park’s vision for it. It’s very dark and very violent.

So when I heard about Dragged Across Concrete (2019, Zahler) I couldn’t wait to see it. Dragged Across Concrete takes familiar motifs from the crime genre—an armored car robbery, mirroring the similarities of cop and criminal—but gives them a fresh take with Zahler’s characteristic flourishes and signature craftsmanship. Notice how the racist jokes aren’t limited to just the cops or the criminals; and how right before the score at the same time both the cops and the crooks both don disguises. This last point is something I’m still pondering. What is it saying? That behind the performances there are no good guys or bad guys we traditionally identify by what side of the law they’re on in the crime genre, but simply, in this modern tale, men? Okay not that I don’t think this is super awesome, but it reminds me of a line from Adaptation (2002, Spike Jonze) where CHARLIE KAUFMAN says: “…you explore the notion that cop and criminal are really two aspects of the same person. See every cop movie ever made for other examples of this.” RIDGEMAN (Mel Gibson) and SLIM (Tory Kittles) are the main characters, and each has a male partner—okay maybe this duality thing is actually the one aspect that isn’t as subtle as I’d thought now that I think about it.
The pace of Dragged Across Concrete is assured, slow, and deliberate; something like Assault on Precinct 13 (1976, John Carpenter). The dialogue is stylized yet efficient, with tasteful humor in a Mamet way. And there’s definitely a Hawksian professionalism among the cast of characters that the drama centers around. Like the Brigands script, Dragged Across Concrete all comes down to a robbery that occurs around the midpoint.  And like much of Zahler’s work the tone is dark and violent. Dragged Across Concrete is also a near perfect film, and all while remaining mostly subtle. The screenplay's greatest strengths are the motivations that define each character, and an endless supply of plot twists or moments that come off as fresh because they go against type.
The armed robber villains here really chilled me too. Something about how serious, efficient, and intelligent these sociopaths are makes me appreciate the way these characters have been crafted. On top of that the pre-recorded audio tape of the demands in the anonymous robot voice is easily my favorite part of the movie.
Okay so yeah, Dragged Across Concrete is a fun, tough, gritty, well crafted cynical modern fresh take on the crime thriller that works and I strongly recommend it.

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