Saturday, June 30, 2012

New Penzance and the Original Path of the Old Chickchaw Migration

I'm late to being a fan of Wes Anderson's films. I still don't think he's earned the right to try to be dark. The success of Moonrise Kingdom arises out of its bright telling of the classic hero journey.

The compositions in the Bishop family home are brilliant. The dolly tracks are flat and recall the golden age of studio production. (Dolly tracks occur continually throughout Moonrise Kingdom and are similar to each other--always wide lens + same speed + flat background.) The compositions in Moonrise Kingdom are not flat in the sense of being dull; but, this descriptive language seems potentially ineffective or flawed because flat can also be used to describe dull images, which is also subjective, and I cannot say I found a single shot in this movie to be dull. The shots are flat in the sense that objects are usually seen from the frontal perspective, not showing receding lines, or, lines imagined to trail away along the z axis. But, something about the way Anderson's used this technique since The Royal Tennenbaums gives me an impression of showing audiences what's inside his prized toybox. The images are so organinzed, clean, and also like a collection of toys, somehow representative of a chance to use a plastic vehicle to imagine you were somewhere safe and full of creative possibilities like Richard Scarry's Busytown. The opening scene in the house builds a pattern: the dolly tracks, like instruments in an orchesta, are joined by pans. The pans are also brilliant. Then finally there's a crane up. The crane/camera boom up totally reminds me of the one in 7th Heaven (1927, Frank Borzage) and makes me wonder why I can't think of anyone other than David Fincher or Gaspar Noé who indulge so assuredly in floating through walls like Max Ophüls or Stanley Kubrick used to. The command of symmetry and fluid camerawork are all I can think to say, but I wish I could say more about the simplicity's boldness. The art direction is as bold as a box of primary Krayolas. Bob Balaban's a ton of fun as the narrator of the nature films--I wish I could see more of him (not really, but that's my way of saying he's a great character. Maybe I should say I found his brief sketches lively and stylized in the right way, re-creating all of the fun associated with old 60s forgotten innocence illustrations of Norman Rockwell type adventures--the kind that are more fun to look at than actually partake in). And I find the shot reverse shot classically refined because even if it's not the typical repetition between two actors, it's what I'd like to think of as an economy of setups. Anderson to me is like a post card designer--he gets it all in one frame.

The first half of the movie totally sucked me in. I was even caught up wondering about the missing boy myself. That's one of my favorite narrative devices in Moonrise Kingdom: I was thrilled when I realized, "wait, this is a movie, even though everyone is looking for the missing Khaki Scout, I'm in the audience and get to see where he is and what he's up to even though no one else on screen can." Okay that might sound moronic, but I really don't try to predict movies and that was a delight when it hit me.

At forty five minutes, I had to look at my watch.

As I had thought, the midpoint was timed perfectly. In three act structure, the midpoint is said to occur halfway in a screenplay and mark a "point of no return" for the protagonist(s).

So if the first half of the film was all adventure and romace, the second half is the same, but with obstacles. And it worked. Personally, I like movies with unsympathetic heroes like (TV's) Kenny Powers from Eastbound and Down or Mavis in Young Adult (2011, Jason Reitman), and that may be why I never liked Anderson's ensembles until recently. I felt like he used to have flawed characters, but he was just too coy about obviously thinking they had an inner nobility after all. That's like cowardice to me: if you're gonna show some dark side, don't be afraid to make 'em bleed. But Moonrise Kingdom gets away with this because it's about children. There's a scene of violence in the film that Anderson, fittingly for him, refrains from showing the graphic imagery. Like Kubrick in A Clockwork Orange, Anderson places a couple of still images of a pair of scissors to replace an offscreen scene where Suzy stabs a boy--in the Kubrick film there's that bludgeoning of the Cat Lady where he inserts the still image of the laughing clown mouth.

I discovered the music of Benjamin Britten watching Beau travail (1999, Claire Denis) where the Billy Budd opera serves as backdrop for Denis's restaging of her own nautical adventure. The Britten tunes in Moonrise Kingdom are similarly regal in their grandeur and give the movie an even greater sense of the drama building like an approaching hurricane.

Usually I don't buy movies that are too obvious about indulging my fantasies. This is an exception to that. Yeah, the weirdo who nobody likes and who does whatever he wants somehow finds true love with a really cool girl and is able to defeat a gang of thugs when he has to and can deal with his problems by running away from them, sure. But, it's a nice placebo to take every once in a while. You know, to feel for a little while like life's really like that.

In closing, I've always found something hilarious about the one movie I can ever remember with a premise involving a boat cop. I've always thought that was ridiculously boring. A boat cop? Seriously? Well that movie was Striking Distance (1993, Rowdy Herrington) and as you know doubt'll remember, starred Bruce Willis. I won't even comment about why I am so crazy about how much I think this is genius, but I do.

Bruce Willis plays a boat cop in Moonrise Kingdom.

--Dregs

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Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Paul Walker has a stock ringtone

Introductory Maundering

I have already forgotten how exactly I stumbled over the Flophouse Podcast. But I did find it, and I have spent a lot of the last few days working my way through their capacious archives. What they do is watch a non-great movie, then talk about it, taping the while, and unleashing a podcast of that talk. Which is to say that what they do is damn' reminiscent of some classic Reviewieran goings-on. The podcast reminds me so intensely of hanging out w/ Tinzeroes--and, often, Greggums & Pierre Idiot Trudeau and others--that I almost can't listen to it, because it makes me wish for those old, old days of B3, or Giant Turtle Patrol, or whatever else we felt like calling it when we'd say "Kiss my ass" to the outside world, grab a sixpack of tallboys, and watch somebody's failure. (I have a half memory that we once perpetrated a double feature of Alone in the Dark and Badlands. This may not have happened. I drink. And that explains at least some of what you will encounter below.)

Not all of it, though. Not all of it. I curled up with my fictional housecat and fired up the ol'd DVD player.

Fat Sits Through Fast & Furious

It begins! Let us have some kind of highway heist, yes? Yes.

Michelle Rodriguez & Vin Diesel share what had to be a world-class awkward kiss.

To-be-heisted driver is, whilst driving, reading a magazine & sharing a candy bar w/ an iguana...he's armed! The driver. The iguana is not in fact armed. (So far, he's much much better than anybody from Ghost Road Black Dog.)

M-Ro appears to be wearing something from the Resident Evil collection...

Abe the Professor: Hey man don't go judging so fast.

Fat: I AM FURIOUS.

Pierre Idiot Trudeau: Fast Five is like The Italian Job, but entertaining. Though...I did see it on a Mexican bus.

...

Many minutes pass. Paul Walker's in a footrace in downtown L.A. The only part of this that bears any resemblance to physical reality is the commitment to product placement.

Walker explains some plot to his skeptical boss & Rushmore's girlfriend, who is smirky. She is really not great at walking. The hell. I have no idea what's going on.

Back to Vin: somebody's been murdered. Time for a little funeral montage.

Apparently M-Ro's too expensive, as she is No Longer With Us. Vin's making out w/ a car or something & hanging out w/ some cheaper model of M-Ro; no particular distinguishing features. PW discovers M-Ro's death; Vin visits the crash site and I suspect the two threads are about to intertwine--PERMANENTLY.

Vin is a crash whisperer: he can somehow sense that M-Ro was shot after the crash, not killed in it. I'm buying this.

JESUS FUCKING CHRIST CAN I GET A CHASE SCENE PLEASE?

Vin knows he's a fugitive from like...all the countries. He's been told there are stakeouts. His low-pro move is to hang out exclusively w/ known associates & relatives while driving a bright red muscle car. He is currently having a long heart-to-heart with a relative in front of her house in her car. He just pulled a U-turn. He is, also, the size of a double-wide trailer. I feel that he would not be difficult to find.

Now he is assaulting figures in the scene. (The, you know, underground cars-working-on scene. It's a pretty well-regarded scene, from what I can tell.)

Oh. Apparently the non-descript chick is Vin's sister & Walker's ex-betty. She plants a seed: MAYBE HE'S NOT A COOL GUY MAYBE VIN DIESEL IS A COOL GUY.

Food for thought there.

Walker & Vin have a quick mo'. Vin is gonna kill the big bad; Paul wants to catch him. This is quite a conflict. Paul kicks the shit out out of one of his fed buddies for no reason I can fathom. (Oh, Vin demonstrates his commitment to killingering in fine PG-13 fashion by dropping a dude out of a window. Guy doesn't die, due to extremely plausible catching-pant-leg-on-drain-pipe shenanigans. So far, 31.58 in, we have had one car chase and two out-the-window scenes WHAT FRESH HELL IS THIS?)

Car-working-on montage. Vin's alone; Walker's a team man, w/ a 'standard-issue tracking device' installed.

Vin & Paul are gonna race to get a job working for the big bad. Vin's pulling rank. Unclear whether or not anybody recognizes him--but wasn't he like Lord of the Roads!? Bow to Road Lord, you busters! ("Busters" is Fast/Furious-world slang for...person like Paul Walker. I assume that it's at least as reliable a "say-this-and-get-punched-in-the-nose" epithet as "motherfucker".)

A computer is now assigning the directions. These are some of the most emotional line readings we've had in the film to this point. 38.25; finally we get some driving of cars. Which is immediately undersold by representing it Tron-style as colored lines on a computer screen. You know, like in Bullit and Blues Brothers--when you want a truly riveting chase scene, what you want to throw in to the mix is a solid dose of abstract representation.

Beardo & Black Guy the first casualties.

Really unsure about this GPS thing. Not like this is Drive or anything--thank fucking hell--, but is not some of the point of fast-drive smugglerizing for a driver to know where they're going? I mean, it's not helping the audience any either, being buffeted by "turn left now" (car turns left) and "turn right now" (car turns right) with no idea whatsoever where the damn'd cars are supposed to be going.

Other Black Dude now down.

Vin wins the race. Vin gets the lady. GPS explained--easy narrative way for the big bad to remain faceless WHAT IF IT'S A LADY IT COULD EVEN BE A LADY WE'VE ALREADY MET MAYBE EVEN ONE WE MAYBE THINK IS DEAD OR A COP OR AN UNDERWORLD FIGURE.

Underworld montage. Walker is now planting evidence on people. Given this plus the two on-screen conversations about his criminality we've endured thus far, I'm sorta starting to wonder...maybe Paul Walker isn't a cool dude.

Apparently there's a pretty clear hierarchy about these smuggling driver ring things: one guy goes down, Walker is in. This succession act makes more sense than the U.S. gov't's.

Some unleavened exposition. The cat & I are essentially unimpressed. Little more underworld montaging. Big Bad unlikely to be a lady. Dude Vin dropped out the window is in the club. Think this is bad, as I seem to remember Vin mentioning in front of him 'I am going to kill the Big Bad'.

Vin is now attempting to seduce a vaguely ethnically indeterminate lady. He has rejected her. That will show her. VIN DIESEL HOLDS NO TRUCK WITH THE OCCUPATION OF PALESTINE, MISSY.

Chase scene! Made no sense. Tunnels there are, apparently, linking Mexico to the U.S.

Vin has found the henchjerk who killed M-Ro.

Vin blew up his own car as a sort of don't-think-about-this-too-hard ambush, then I think beat the henchjerk to death. (He basically turned his car into a time bomb, then had a conversation which ended at the exact right time for the bomb to go the fuck off at a very appropriate moment with excellent comedic timing.) Walker saves Vin! Not sure why. Walker is now not turning over the drugs they seized--and (a) checked in to a police impound lot to stash the vehicle with the drugs--"where they'll never think to look", & (b) did so w/ a badge he had on him, & (c) just stole a car from that lot.

 

All of that seems problematic to me.

 

Let's think it through. He's undercover but carrying his badge. I would worry about that. He has checked into a police impound lot. I would assume they probably...write down somewhere who comes into these lots when--and maybe what they dropped off. And probably I'd guess they don't like it when double-wide-trailer-sized Vin Diesel-looking guys smash a window and steal a car. Anywho. Let's bracket this.

Vin's having a moment w/ a scrapbook abt M-Ro. Walker is worried that maybe nothing matters b/c he doesn't have a code. Nondescripta blinks. The nation joins her. Not sure she has any lines, actually...I kinda doze off when she's onscreen.

 

Vin is kicking the shit out of Walker. The nation cheers. Obligatory bad MMA, as Walker decides the way to defend himself is with an...arm bar. Movie teases Vin picking up Walker and dropping him on his head repeatedly. The nation holds the nation's breath. They stop fighting to talk. The nation mutters "Aw fuck." Walker was using M-Ro to infiltrate the big bad; prolly why she's dead; she was working w/ the Feds to clear Vin's name. Vin's not forgivish. I genuinely cannot parse the morality here.

 

Plan comes together. A person says 'Stay frosty, don't move a muscle'. Henchjerk was beaten up, not to death, as he is back. Big bad shows up, has a strong vibe of Most Interesting Man in the World. The nation yawns. --Guy Walker beat up makes a bad plot-enhancing decision, is probably a bad guy; predictably, the Big Bad is somebody we've known about all along BUT I'M NOT SAYING WHO.

The plan that came together falls apart in a brief and dull scene.

An unfathomably dull scene follows. Vin grieves, probably for what little narrative momentum this thing ever had.

Walker shows up, points out to Vin that maybe it's a bad idea for an on-the-run guy to be at his sister's house. This point is shrugged off quickly.

Vin & Walker decide to pull one last job--a job from which THERE IS NO COMING BACK. Oddly suicidal vibe here: maybe this scene was filmed after the test screenings hinted at the strength of the franchise going forward?

Sex and death continue to mingle as Walker PG-13ly fucks Nondescripta on the kitchen counter. She hugs her brother, and the boys head for the border. This literally all happens in the same night. Everything since the scrapbook has been the same night...

I forget where the cars came from. But the boys have appropriate and attractive automobiles.

Ethnic lady hands the big bad to Vin. I fucking knew telling her he wasn't interested in her was gonna pay off. Nicely done, Mr. Diesel. And no--I wasn't surprised.

We are in Mexico. It's fucking hella sepia up in Mexico, if you didn't know. Also Catholic--big bad just paid a priest for a blessing. Is there no depth to which he will not sink? I mean...heroin smuggling? That is one thing. But indulgences are plain and simply fucked. Vin just ambushed the big bad and sneered 'You're not forgiven.' Big bad comes up with 'You and me, hermano...we're not so different.' This script is surging with excellence.

Low, low, LOW-grade plot twist.

1:28:00--car chase. Henchjerk chases Walker. Vin's on the scene. Muscle cars are apparently excellent for bitchin' off-road action. Still hella sepia. Vin has a shotgun. It has some intriguing relationships with physical reality, in that when it shoots downward at a tire, the car attached to that tire flies up into the air and generally lands on its roof.

I'm into it.

Driver yells 'Come on!' while driving for about the eighth time. The chase scene is the same as the last one. :(

Henchjerk & his widehawk are about to fuck up some Paul Walker, who is such a shitty driver he has caused his car to be upside down. This orientation--this mis-orientation--has completely compromised his vehicle's fast and or furious properties.

Vin is being shot at. He responds by ensuring that the bullets hit the impregnable undercarriage of his totipotent vehicle. Definitely a good place for the bullets to go, I'd say. I know very, very much about how cars work. This is about the fifth 'my car can do a wheelie' moment. I used to be pretty good at poppin' wheelies on my Schwinn. Vin notes that the henchjerk is a 'pussy'. Seems reasonable. Henchjerk in fact had a widehawk. So, you know: math checks out.

 

Credits mention 'action', 'driving', and 'car play'. For the first time, I am uncomfortable. But hey: I did make it all the way to the credits! Car play. Gross.

Summing Up

According to the director's commentary:
(a) "I really love sequels"
(b) this is the fourth movie in the series--not the Fast Five Pierre Idiot Trudeau mentioned above (I honestly didn't know)
(c) the purpose of the first scene--the truck heist--is to make us care about the characters.

Only one of those characters is actually still in the movie after the 10-minute mark.

The oil derricks in the film represent Michele Rodriguez. The director said that out loud. I have it on tape, if you want to hear it.

Apparently there was a sequel. I'm as surprised as you are. Vin, in all seriousness: you are better than this. Paul Walker: you are not. The gag reel consisted mostly of Paul Walker giggling at inopportune moments of filming. Nothing else to report at this time. Live long and prosper, everybody.

--Fat, for whom awful movies will never not be meat and drink

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Monday, June 11, 2012

Snow Crash



by Neal Stephenson (1992) .

Snow Crash is a book of superbly written and unprecedented cyberpunkian-near future tech-geek set action pieces book-ended, often akwardly, by juvenile linguistic theory intertwined with Sumerian mythology and history, and various descriptions of the Raft, a floating slum-refugee-city in the Pacific Ocean powered by a private-owned nuclear-powered aircraft carrier.  Also included is a vision of a franchised corporate America of sometimes-former criminal organizations, heavily dependent, like the main characters Hiro Protaganist and Y.T., on jokey tongue-in-cheek humor and/or names (the mafia now runs a national pizza chain, etc etc).

The opening chapters are adequate and things get somewhat interesting with the introduction of a computer virus called Snow Crash and Hiro's subsequent investigation of the same, which leads him to Sumerian mythology and linguistics. However, the book hits its first big speedbump right there, as the Sumerian diatribe ambles for too long. I'm a fast reader but I found this shit repetitious and boring. I plowed on and the plot moved, or at least the locations changed. The ultimate purpose of the Snow Crash virus is revealed to be pathetically boring (crazy rich guy wants to rule world). The virus is defeated by Hiro writing a program. Full stop.

There's some tech/gear-porn stuff to look at while on your way this book of let-downs - a super-motorcycle, a super-gun, a super-hoverboard thing. Oh, and in case you didn't catch it the first time around, you can read the whole Sumerian thing a second time when Hiro has this big pow-wow with Uncle Enzo and some other people and explains it to them. There's an awful section where YT makes a delivery that's an ambush by federal agents which basically solely exists so you can read the exciting action set-piece of her escape. You could tear that whole chapter out of the book and not miss a beat.

And speaking of set-pieces, the best one's at the end but features a character you don't even meet until the last 100 pages or so (Uncle Enzo, who owns aforementioned pizza chain), who kills Raven (super-eskimo who can throw super-harpoons, has a nuclear warhead attached to motorcycle) on an airport tarmac.

The whole thing feels like a series of essays and excerpts strung together (poorly), all the while oozing gear- and tech-porn coolness. Hiro is cool - he's the best hacker in the world and plays with samurai swords and lives in a storage unit. Y.T. is cool - she's a teenage smart-skateboard courier. The world is cool - its all ironic juxaposition of crass commericalism and collapse of functioning civil government. Cool cool cool but I don't give a shit. Hiro and Y.T and Raven are action figures battling it out on the world's coolest playset. When they talk I want them to shut up, and the rest is like watching some other kid play with his toys - boring and no fun at all. The worst book I have had the pleasure of finishing.

-d.d.

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Thursday, June 07, 2012

SLADE! GATEFOLD EDITION!


D.D. TINZEROES

A prelidiction with the British glam rock genre of music, appropriately perhaps, is cobbled together from the best bits of a couple different vectors. First and foremost is love of the historical period, let's say roughly 1971 to 1974. '71 is a good concensus start point, with T. Rex performing "Ride a White Swan" on Top of the Pops in late 1970, wherein (if I'm correct) Marc Bolan put glitter on his face for the first time (and wore a decidedly feminine outfit). The moment itself seems pretty unremarkable looking back, but record buyers ate it up (the single was #1 in the UK for six weeks, and kicked off a string of four #1 singles for T. Rex, ending with a four week stint for "Metal Guru" in 1972). Slade's "Coz I Luv U" single also hits #1 in late 1971 and starts a string of six #1s ending with "Merry X-Mas Everyone" in '73. David Bowie's Ziggy Stardust is released in the spring of '72.The end definitively is in 1974, with T. Rex already completed bottomed out and the release of David Bowie and Slade's final glam-period records (Diamond Dogs and Slade in Flame, respectively).

How Can It Be?
Contrasted to Bolan's rockabilly three-piece and Bowie's experimental sounds of the same period (or Roxy Music or Alex Harvey), Slade's flavor is decidedly populist. "How Can It Be" is an admittedly honky-tonky, bouncy tune, with Noddy Holder reciting rather rhetorical questions which would not be out of place in a modern-day country song. This song is a bit of the odd-ball on Old New Borrowed and Blue (1974), but I like the Slade odd-ball songs because if nothing else they do demonstrate the existence of some sort of range of ability (Bolan's fatal flaw).

This Girl.
"This Girl," from thier glam piece d'reistance album Slade in Flame (1974) (which doubled as the soundtrack to thier feature film of the same name) has more of that populist lyric to it, this time about, well, "this girl" who is out to paint the town red and holds all the men in her sway, despite thier best efforts. I'm usually not a big fan of "over-produced" songs (this was Bolan's weakness when he started producing his own albums - "you know what this song needs? A string section!"), but I love the horn section on this song - I guess horns tend to be more rock-n-roll than strings (see also: Andy McKay of  Roxy Music).

Know Where You Are
"Know Where You Are" is first found as an vocal-less mellow jam session on the first track (titled "Genesis") of Slade's (then called Ambrose Slade) first album Beginnings (1969) (which flopped). Dropping the "Ambrose", Slade's second album (Play It Lound (1970))  featured the same jam but with lyrics and now-called "Know Where You Are." Slade toured relentlessly in this period, and by the time "Know Where You Are" ends up on the Slayed Alive! (1972) album it has grown into a galloping anthem of late-60s-styles philosophic questions. Who can not delight in Noddy Holder hollering to "read a new book - FINISH THE OTHER ONE!" over the wail of drums and crashing of guitars? I am also fond of the lyric "acing the song to make your playing look easy" which I feel is a nod at thier success being connected to thier touring chops.
L. CONTRADICTION

It's not clear to me exactly why Tinzeroes is on this giant T-Rex / Slade kick.  T-Rex I've always basically loathed, and as for Slade?  There's some great stuff there, to be sure, but I cannot say that I ever actually cared about them.  (And the Six by Slade thing he gave me I find unlistenably screechy, pointless and self-indulgent.)
But for a band I don't care much about, they've sure been kinda prominent in my life.  So here's a couple-three Slade songs that always--always--put a smile on my face.

Run Runaway
This was one of the great hits of my pre-musical life.  As I would fiddle with the parental receiver on a sunny sunday Kansas afternoon, not remembering exactly when Dr. Demento came on, I'd hear this, sometimes.  And I would kinda sing along and bop around to what I didn't know was really the last gasp of a once potent power.

hey ho wish you well (representing the cassette Rogue's Gallery)
As I began to make music more and more central to my life, I began trawling the Sound Warehouse cheapo cassette bin.  One day, probably 87, 88, I found this for 2.99 and Ramones Leave Home for 3.99.  Maybe the other way around.  I loved both, for a while, and that was probably the biggest moment I ever had with Slade, headphones on and blaring tinnily, stomping around in my Christmas 88 jean jacket that was so too big that, when I moved from Portland, a full-grown man, it was still too big.  First couple years of high school, it was not uncommon for me to tag things with Slade-spelled
PLEEZ EKSKUUZE ANEE LAAK UV INTELLIJUNCE
Then again, first couple years of high school, I spent most of my time drawing covers for my double concept album, JOHNNY WAS HERE, which was sort of a Zen Arcade meets Quadrophenia teen suicide epic, with, as I recall, one like 8-page long song-soliloquy from Satan.

my oh my
Somehow I had always pencilled this one in as a 70s smash lingering into the classic rock stations of the 80s, rather than a reunited-cash-in move.  But, whatever.  Sometimes a man's in the mood for a power ballad.  And this one is an oddly happy ballad.
In fact, that's what I think Tinzeroes is responding to in and with Slade--it's similar to my perspective on Cheap Trick, which is that some very rare kinds of art operate on a level that's neither formal/aesthetic nor contentual/ethical, but is instead concerned with and productive of: JOY.
More on this anon.