Friday, July 14, 2017

Hail, Caesar!

What could top the high concept of a planet where apes talk and subjugate humans as their slaves?


War for the Planet of the Apes (2017, Matt Reeves) is a sci-fi big budget vfx ape opera that opens as a road movie about wandering exiles then establishes itself as a The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957, David Lean) war camp drama concerning a wall, with prisoner CAESAR (Andy Serkis) up against Woody Harrelson as a mad COL. MCCULLOUGH who comes straight out of Apocalypse Now (1979, Francis Coppola).

What I came for is delivered as the film begins. Large scale battle raids and heavy doses of melodrama punctuated with tenderness and empathy as Caesar leads his people and his family towards a peaceful home. The lush sentimental orchestral arrangements take me back to Hollywood's golden age and I'm continuously impressed by how they get to my emotions. And the opening battle scenes are breathtaking and executed with a fluid precision that takes full advantage of unexpected angles and dynamic imagining of relating spaces to each other that looks like something out of a manga or graphic novel.

The tone of War for Planet of the Apes is darker, for instance when Caesar passes through a field of crucified apes. And after that we're into the whole Ape-pocalypse now territory and much has been done to craft a believable world where this is the apocalypse. The themes of self-sacrifice are intact but it's never clean and easy for Caesar. And although sometimes the screenplay might exceed the limits of good taste with its archetypes--like McCullough sacrificing his only son so humans could survive--the second half of War for the Planet of the Apes is far from stale, to say nothing of how moved I was by its ending.

So my watery eyes were no match for Michael Giacchino's score at the end when MAURICE is talking about Caesar's legacy. Holy shit. I couldn't find out what the piece was called but I swear it's "Past Their Primates," a track from Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014, Reeves).

Except there's one last thing. I guess this is weird to end on but oh well, the scene where the ape POW keeps throwing his own shit at that human guard got me laughing hard. Well done.

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Great Urinals of the Pacific Northwest

 
 
This is two rows of four urinals facing each other over a chest-height divider wall. 

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Thursday, July 13, 2017

0540

So far Megan Ellison's Annapurna Pictures has released:

  • Lawless (2012, John Hilcoat)
  • The Master (2012, Paul Thomas Anderson)
  • Killing Them Softly (2012, Andrew Dominik)
  • Zero Dark Thirty (2012, Kathryn Bigelow)
  • Spring Breakers (2013, Harmony Korine)
  • The Grandmaster (2013, Wong Kar-wai)
  • Her (2013, Spike Jonze)
  • American Hustle (2013, David O. Russell
  • Foxcatcher (2014, Bennett Miller)
  • Joy (2015, Russell)
  • Everybody Wants Some!! (2016, Richard Linklater)
  • Wiener-Dog (2016, Todd Solondz)
  • Sausage Party (2016, Conrad Vernon and Greg Tiernan)
  • 20th Century Women (2016, Mike Mills)

The Bad Batch (2016, Ana Lily Amirpour) is an acid western romance starring Brit fashion model Suki Waterhouse as ARLEN, a newcomer to a TX wasteland for exiled nonfunctioning members of society. There she meets tatted-up brute MIAMI MAN (Jason Momoa) and his kid HONEY while they all wander along making their best efforts to survive.

The Bad Batch opens with art direction that feels like the music video for "Telephone," by Lady Gaga and Beyoncé (2009, Jonas Åkerlund), with its sexually ambiguous bodybuilders, B-movie genre exploitation, urban street fashions, and pop dance music. There are a few graphic sequences that go a long way establishing tone. First, Arlen waking up bound in a cannibal camp. With only a few of the dozens of close up shots of Suki Waterhouse's crotch and "All That She Wants," by Ace of Base in the background playing, the cult midnight movie exploitation is dispatched post haste. Soon after the orientation into this locale the narrative carries us right into a yard of weightlifters set to Die Antwoord.

This movie is also a road movie about Arlen's path. And it's not really important where she's going because she's still trying to find out. Suki Waterhouse commands the screen excellently. But the strength of The Bad Batch relies on its setting. Amirpour's ability to turn heads with this taboo shock mix of porno mags and cannibalism flesh-is-king aesthetic, set in a dystopian inferno where we as audience are unable to guess where she's taking us, and her realization of this small stake of Texas land are the meat we actually chew on.

The plot may seem sparse, but The Bad Batch is definitely the product of intellectual artistic conceptualism. It ponders how close we as a contemporary society are to returning to the Dark Ages and what that might look like. And, well, everything comes across as an artfully evoked creative foray into this visually satisfying sexy shocking shithole of American society.

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Saturday, July 08, 2017

The Virgin Homicides

I've been seriously obsessed with Marie Antoinette (2006, Sofia Coppola) for a couple of years now, after picking up a French forced-subtitled Blu-ray at a record store. For years after that movie had come out I thought I'd never have any interest in it. But somehow I opened up to it and the music finally expressed so much that I'd become intoxicated with emotion.

I'm still hooked on Marie Antoionette's scenes with 80s new wave from the opening Devo, to Siouxsie and the Banshees, Bow Wow Wow, and especially New Order (I actually got into a New Order phase in '06 because of the Marie Antoinette trailer). That movie is constructed with nothing but emotion.

There is no music in The Beguiled (2017, Coppola). There is no color. In Civil War Virginia amid light bird chirping and not too distant mortar blasts, located in the woods, Miss Farnsworth's Seminary for Young Ladies is where the tautly paced Southern Gothic chamber drama The Beguiled occurs.

CORPORAL JOHN MCBURNEY (Colin Farrell) spends the first hour sharing the best of times with the little women. As McBurney's time is about to run out, it's time for him to decide if he's going to fuck Nicole Kidman, Kirsten Dunst, or Elle Fanning. The Beguiled is like The Three Little Pigs with McBurney poised to decide if he'll choose the older refined beauty who has shared a brandy with him one night; or, the romantic young woman whom he's connected with emotionally; or, the teen Baby Doll who's snuck away to come and made out with him one night and doesn't talk much.

The night all the ladies dress up and serve apple pie after dinner, with the fever pitch wanton allure of the 3 little women too impossible to resist, McBurney goes to bed with...

The last 25 minutes are an entirely different world. What has changed? Sex. The Beguiled is about how this isolated community of women are able to function before McBurney, and with him up until one of them has sex with him. And they will function after he is gone. That's the best part of the ending, it's like a reverse denouement.

Framed at 1.66 on 35mm with mostly static shots, The Beguiled is a classic Hollywood prestige costume picture with stars, full of sex, violence, and scintillating pulpy drama. Coppola's blond girl cult in the forest aesthetic proves one of her most charming longest-lasting strengths. And The Beguiled succeeds as one of Coppola's best experiments with art in film.

Kidman's MARTHA in black and white blouses and accents is so cool, and really so much in The Beguiled is intensely evoked without words. Like the moment Martha gives McBurney the spongebath and there's that 70s Warhol porn torso insert. Dunst as EDWINA when she has that private breakdown collapsing horny against the wall is bold. Elle's ALICIA is so awesome in the scene where she pops in and out of McBurney's bedroom with that curtsy Coppola inline-cuts to as she exits. But really all three of the lead actresses do so much and bring so much to The Beguiled.

Maybe it's cause this is my kind of subject matter. Maybe it's because it's a woman's picture. Maybe it's because I love Sofia Coppola. But The Beguiled may be the most satisfying Hollywood movie I've seen so far 2017.

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Friday, July 07, 2017

The New New Hollywood

I've been seriously obsessed with Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010, Edgar Wright) ever since it first hit theaters. I've been having to wait a while for a follow up.

Edgar Wright is like 70s Spielberg meets 80s Simpson-Bruckheimer with a comedic streak of self reflexiveness entrenched in 90s sitcom wit.


Baby Driver (2017, Edgar Wright) is a zippy heist/car chase movie with a cooly protagonist. The pacing is quick and light. The narrative never stalls. The cast are few. The plot is simple. And it's all done cleverly, effectively, with continuously refreshing results.

In Baby Driver the rare occurrence of a colorful fast-food advertisement slick plastic cartoon kid-friendly depiction of the criminal underworld is on display. Remember Sugar & Spice (2001, Francine McDougall)? Why aren't there more of these? This movie feels rated G.

First and Foremost Baby Driver is an action movie. And the code among these criminals is as dangerous as that found in any 80s R-rated gritty guy movie. I almost thought BABY (Ansel Elgort) was smug, but he's cool I actually really like him. The great thing about the cast because this is a heist movie is that the principals are all bad guys even though each has their likeable qualities--except BATS (Jamie Foxx). Bats is the only real bad guy, because he has no love in him.

Yeah while the best part of Baby Driver is the car chases, it's still mega-syrupy sugary sweet greeting card sentimental at its core. But there has to be a place for the best smartest crime doesn't pay Hollywood action movies yet. And as much as I fell in love with the romance and family drama shit in Baby Driver, I kind of wonder could there have been more car chases? There's really like 2 and a half car chases spread out through the movie. And I worry that the opening "Bellbottoms" sequence is the strongest part of the movie. Oh shit the energy, the momentum, the adrenaline from the beginning of the song--the drifting, throwing the E-brake, faking, swerving wow. Also I love how Baby actually runs into stuff while he drives.

After the "Bellbottoms" sequence the funnest parts were the times during the massacre of the Butcher's crew at the farmer's market when the gun blasts are composed in synch with "Tequila," and the similar device used in the final shootout with DARLING (Eiza González). This type of kinetic visual and aural vocabulary is what's most rewarding about Edgar Wright's work.

I love Eiza. She's so beautiful and does so much little quirky charming sexy gesturing through mannerisms throughout Baby Driver. I've always loved to watch her. Eiza and Hamm are sympathetic cute as the cokehead robbers too. Jamie Foxx is terrifying. But I still laugh when Foxx does the Austin Powers voice. So I buy this criminal underworld and it's a cool one. Just the perfect pitch of Hollywood artifice and stunning craftsmanship.

But I'll close with what to me was the most characteristically Edgar Wright moment in the movie: when DOC (Kevin Spacey) is briefing his crew and reveals, "I just drew a whole goddamn map in chalk while we've been standing here squawking. That's pretty impressive, isn't it?"

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Thursday, July 06, 2017

Alien: Paradise Lost

This summer brings the 2nd entry in the Alien prequel trilogy. The prequel trilogy is great. I'm especially into this reboot because after Alien (1979, Ridley Scott) that whole franchise is a mess; and, because Ridley Scott is directing.

Alien: Covenant (2017, Ridley Scott) is a Gothic nihilistic sci-fi horror thriller exploitation vfx blockbuster. The plot begins with a ship on a colonizing mission that quickly descends into a faster than the speed of sound plummet into disaster.

Two things are going on with the plot: DAVID (Michael Fassbender) gets more evil while the crew get into more trouble. A drawback here is that after all the questions raised in Prometheus (2012, Ridley Scott), Covenant answers almost all of them, quickly. It's realizing that this serialization took all those potential plot discoveries about who created us and instead replaces them with a narrative that says David single handedly killed SHAW, enacted genocide on the entire planet of ENGINEERS and through chemistry genetically engineered the alien, his "perfect organism."

But that's cool. I mean what kind of sucker actually watches a Ridley Scott Alien movie to find out where humans came from?

So maybe it's not so much a drawback. David is the protagonist of the prequel series. And Covenant depicts the shift where we see the inquisitive android turned into some unholy mix of Hitler and the Devil. After more than 10 years since the ending of Prometheus, David has raped and murdered Shaw, exterminated the race of an entire planet; and if we can think of the Engineers as divine creators, David has effectively chosen to leave an existence serving under them to rule a world as leader of his own demonic legions--although, David has an affectionate relationship between himself and the alien.

I empathize with this mad evil monster because we saw him start out so sensitive and brilliant, so full of potential. David is also a character who resonates profoundly with me because I remember once when I was in my teens and I couldn't figure out why someone invented computer viruses that crash other innocent victims' computers. It hadn't happened to me, but I just couldn't imagine what the creator of the virus gains. I'd never come close to an answer. And David for a moment evocatively portrays this type of evil as he becomes obsessed with creating over the point of any boundaries of moral decency. Yet these are the most archetypal parts of what makes David so sympathetic. This is a strong modern horror villain. He's like a shut in serial killer, but desperately reaching out to connect with WALTER or DANIELS.

Katherine Waterston as Daniels really does Hollywood magic with her doughy cute cheeks face with girl next door bedroom eyes and bad goth homejob Dorothy Hamill in fun space costumes along with requisite iconic no bra tanktop outfits.

Do you know what movie Ridley Scott directed just prior to Alien: Covenant? The Martian (2015). The Martian is a Hawksian comedy about the crew of a ship's courageous resourcefulness and teamwork on a rescue mission to save one of their own. How fun it is to contrast that with Alien: Covenant's horror about the crew of a ship's helpless bad luck in a string of excessively imaginative evil disasters.

Now that all that quality plot and character development has been covered, on to the good stuff: the set pieces. You know, I love the terraforming exploration, that's always fun, seeing the green mountainous landscapes. But the Gieger-fetishized black S&M rubber monsters impaling victims amid a general backdrop of flesh, limbs, and fluids are what I come to Ridley Scott-directed Alien movies for. Getting to see lots of the alien is fun (no sarcasm here). But the kills felt a little redundant. Maybe it's just the woman alone in the lush garden shower getting murdered by the alien, followed by the woman alone in the shower who starts to have sex with a guy but gets surprise attacked by the alien. (The final shower is artfully ridiculous in how much water is gushing out and from what angles, I mean it's just like imaginary decadence.)

I loved the scene where David horse whispers the Xenomorph. That was really cute.

And I mean I hate to say it but most all of the miniature Neomorph stuff is just cheesy and killed parts of this movie for me.

But in closing I have questions:

  1. What planet was the Engineer on who drank the black liquid in Prometheus?
  2. Does the black liquid always turn into an alien if drank by a host?
  3. Does the black liquid affect humans and Engineers differently?
  4. Does the Covenant crew just coincidentally happen to find the one planet with Engineers on it (aside from the moon LV-223 in Prometheus)?
  5. If aliens were present in Prometheus what changes did David's experiments result in?
  6. What exactly does David think he's "created"?
Oh man I'm turning into such a sci-fi nerd. Stay tuned to Ridley Scott's Prequel Series for more sexy evil sci-fi horror.

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Sunday, June 25, 2017

Song of the Summer 2017: EMA, California

California, by EMA, is the official Song of the Summer 2017. Please enjoy it. It rules. It has everything: excellence, lyrical appropriation, emotional universality derived from textual specificity, rocking guitars...what more could a person want in a Song of Summer?

There was some precedent: in 2014, I wrote about really liking the last Gowns song, Stand and Encounter, which I'd had around for a couple years and had adored. Think like a perfectly curated Velvet Underground tape distilled to 17 pulsing minutes. It's still available as a free download, and it still flays bullshit and cleanses the soul. Somewhere after that, I was aware of this album, Past Life Martyred Saints, coming out and I had the first song off it, The Grey Ship, which I liked but didn't love for some reason. Now I love it. Now, in 2017, I'm smart enough to listen to EMA.

It's been a rough year. This is only the second record to grab me since the calendar turned! I never even managed to type up my HEAVY TUNES of 2016 post, due to a combination of broken hand that cost me many months and much time to write, life changes, general lack of stokedness about music, etc. But with this record on repeat, I am starting to feel again like there might be a little room for good things, for new music.

Might be worth documenting last year's song(s) of the summer: Sabrina Ellis / Andrew Cashen of Sweet Spirit / A Giant Dog doing acoustic versions of a couple of their best-best tunes on The Best Show. I mentioned how moving and wonderful I found these songs once before, I think, always intending to speak more fully about them. Basically I think they're The Children of Fred and Toody: their songs are all heart, and all truth. These versions strip away everything but that heart/truth and their catchiness, and are therefore perfect.

Summer!! Fuck yeah!

In conclusion: California, song of the summer; Past Life Martyred Saints, extremely, extremely good record; music, still has the power to furnish, burnish, heal, or remake a life.

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Monday, April 10, 2017

Today in Romance Comics (#5)

Okay more funny comics than romance...



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Monday, April 03, 2017

Today in Romance Comics (#4)

Monday, March 27, 2017

Great Urinals of the Pacific Northwest

Parish hall, Sellwood.



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