Thursday, December 18, 2014

Against the Day Mixtape Track 5

 

"Well, it turns out we got a anti-Tsarist crowd of our own, right up here in San Miguel County, and we call em the Finns. Is who's running their native Finland these days, is that same all-powerful Tsar of Russia. And make no mistake, they just hate his ass."

Against the Day, p. 331-332.

Against the Day Mixtape Track 4



The expression on his face was one Lew had noted from time to time among the British, a combination of smugness and self-pity, which he still couldn't explain but knew enough to exercise caution around.

Against the Day, p. 271.

Against the Day Mixtape Track 3



Out of that night and day of unconditional wrath, folks would've expected to see any city, if it survived, all newly reborn, purified by flame, taken clear beyond greed, real-estate speculating, local politics - instead of which, here was this weeping widow, some one-woman grievance committee in black, who would go on to save up and lovingly record and mercilessly begrudge every goddamn single tear she ever had to cry, and over the years to come would make up for them all by developing into the meanest, cruelest bitch of a city, even among cities not notable for their kindness.

Against the Day p. 171

Against the Day Mixtape Track 2


"Suppose it were to happen to us, in the civilized world. If 'another form of life' decided to use humans for similar purposes, and being out on a mission of comparable desperation, as its own resources dwindled, we human beasts would likewise simply be slaughtered one by one, and those still alive obliged to, in some sense, eat their flesh."
"Oh dear." The General's wife put down her utensils and gazed at her plate.
"Sir, that is disgusting."
"Not literally, then . . . but we do use one another, often mortally, with the same disablement of feeling, of conscience. . . each of us knowing that at some point it will be our own turn. Nowhere to run but into a hostile and lifeless waste."
"You refer to present world conditions under capitalism and the Trusts."
"There appears to be little difference. How else could we have come to it?"

Against the Day p.164-165.

Against the Day Mixtape Track 1

 
 No double talking you like the plutes do, 'cause with them you always have to be listening for is the opposite of what they say. 'Freedom,' then's the time to watch your back in particular - start telling you how free you are, somethin's up, next thing you know the gates have slammed shut and there's the Captain givin you them looks. 'Reform'? More new snouts at the trough. 'Compassion' means the population of starving, homeless, and dead is about to take another jump. So forth. Why, you could write a whole foreign phrase book just on what Republicans have to say."

Against the Day, p.104.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Wow. That's like a nightmare.

[In which I indulge in overanalysis]
SLIDE ONE:


Doc Venture just finished (while wiping off his glasses) recounting his 16th birthday poolside party and an incident with a shrink ray. He is still in his pajamas and Hank is shirtless so both are unshielded and vulnerable and intimate in that sense. Hank is visibly distraut at his father's trauma. His eyebrows peak questioningly as he submits his judgment on his father's recounting. Doc's scowl and furrowed brow speak of deep, complicated feelings, and also a frustration that Hank has incorrectly but innocently misinterpreted his feelings on the experience.

SLIDE TWO:

Doc's eyebrow arches. His face still holds a sneer, his brow is still knitted. Observe his legs akimbo, as if he has scooted forward on his seat, or is leaning forward as he gives vent to his frustration.

SLIDE THREE:

Lot going on here. Hank's hands are shoved into his theighs, a vulnerable or unsecure gesture: his father is letting him into his inner life and Hank doesn't want to appear judgmental, just attentive. Doc's torso is now straight and tall. He uses finger quotes, typically a mocking or sarcastic tool (from a man who is commonly mocking or sarcastic or mean) but his upright posture and facial expression (grievance aired), and his on-edge legs akimbo stance indicate that he speaking quite seriously.

SLIDE FOUR:

Doc's arms fall between his legs. His torso slumps. The furrowed brow looks not so much frustrated (see Slide 2) or contemplatative (Slide 1) but rather inquistive instead. Consider his passive body stance. This is a confession, but the arched eyebrows and scowled mouth indicate that empathy or even sympathy is not sought.

ALTERNATE INTERPRETATION:

Not a tender confession and show of grudging acceptance by Doc, but rather an egotistical and selfish aggrandization of Doc's adolescent trauma over and above anything anyone else anywhere could ever have experienced much less comprehend. Consider the trials and trauma of Hank and his brother Dean (witnesses or participants many times over to death and violence, thier father's failures and shortcomings, abandonment by Brock): is Doc's public humilation at his birthday pool party truly any worse than what his own sons have experienced? But to follow this line of thought a little further, Doc's insistence of the greatness of his pain in the face of his own sons' arguably equal or greater traumas underscores the depth of Doc's damage. In other words, Doc is a man with ISSUES.

-d.d.

Note: The above sequence is pretty much my favorite sequence in the entire Venture Bros. so far. Nothing encapsulates the complete lack of irony for which I love and adore this program more than this incredibly adult and sincere conversation. Ever since I saw it I've wanted to write something about it, and the sort of slideshow presentation used above is what resulted and seemed to work best.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Great Urinals of the Pacific Northwest.
A true classic! Love the tiles!

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 hits 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?

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."

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

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

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

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

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





Monday, August 25, 2014

All You Need Is Kill

I've kept watch on the career of Doug Liman for practically as long as I've grown up with the movies. Swingers (1996) and Go (1999) were fun in my teens. The Bourne Identity (2002) and Mr. & Mrs. Smith (2005) were larger escalating Hollywood action star vehicles that seemed like he'd lost his individuality or voice.

But now Jumper (2008), along with his new Tom Cruise movie, look like Liman has found a niche with intimate interior conflicts in protagonists who are somewhat reluctantly thrown into a life with new super powers. I know, I'm into it too.

Fortunately for me I actually got to walk into the theatre for this with no idea what the plot was about.

Okay, so I might have remembered scanning across the term Groundhog Day somewhere.

Edge of Tomorrow (2014, Doug Liman) is Starship Troopers meets Groundhog Day. (Okay I should confess I think a good friend of mine told me this a while back and I forgot.)

Oh and Edge of Tomorrow is based on a Japanese source novel called All You Need Is Kill, which I know nothing about whatsoever, but man is that an awesome title--I can't figure out why any distributors would want to change that title here in the US but I ignore it and always think of this movie as All You Need Is Kill.

All You Need Is Kill (2014, Doug Liman) stars Tom Cruise as, great casting here, an asshole officer who wants to avoid combat so in the first few minutes he's thrown right up into the front lines of a huge battle. He pulls it off. It's like the whole time he's a fish out of water, but Cruise is also not exactly the young action star he once was, so that parallel is crucial to the drama.

I'd only just seen Emily Blunt in a movie earlier in the week, The Five-Year Engagement (2012, Nicholas Stoller) but I fell in love with her totally in that. In All You Need Is Kill she's some average citizen who overnight becomes a military hero who annihilates thousands of mimics in combat. (Mimics aren't really important, they're bad guys that are very dangerous.) Blunt's got blond hair this time out and she's so spritely a waif and since a lot of this movie takes place in Paris and other parts of France, she feels a lot like Joan of Arc.

Bill Paxton is like the Ned Needlemeyer of Grounhog Day and he keeps reciting some lines about battle being the great redeemer, the fiery crucible, the only place where true heroes are formed, the one place were all men truly share... blah... blah... blah... But he's got a Kentucky accent and as staff sergeant makes the movie feel like it takes place during the Civil War, which is fun. Also it's nice to see this military group with enormous obstacles ahead in their mission and even more enormous artillery to deal with it setting in someone other that James Cameron's hands. The Paxton-Cruise scenes are genuinely funny, in an otherwise somber action movie.

This movie is like if the Groundhog Day template was refined by Stephen Hawking and turned into a script that fully utilizes that discovery. I mean every which way you can imagine. A disturbing part of All You Need Is Kill is the tendency in some training exercises to reset (by killing yourself or having someone else kill you) and effectively resulting in scenes where some characters die several gruesome deaths in a few quick moments.

There is one tender moment during this where the Cruise character stares at the Blunt character for a few seconds the morning after one of her gruesome resets; however, she is totally oblivious and we the audience of course, are the only ones to get what he feels.

Cruise's go to, or his Q, for the weapons and strategies he needs is played by Noah Taylor. All You Need Is Kill feels a lot like Vanilla Sky (2001, Cameron Crowe) in the way Cruise plays a protagonist in a world that is not our own yet so close, and we attempt to understand its rules as a plot device. Noah Taylor functions in a very similar role to Cruise in Vanilla Sky.

The best part of this story, while it's got a great plot, is Cruise's character arc. By the end, around that third act, after he's been through it all and out of time to mess around, when he's become cynical, bitter, hardened, and that soldier asks him,"are you drunk?" we really feel like he cares about shit.

Although one minor potential plot hole for me was that device that the Noah Taylor character gives Cruise that helps him see the real vision of where the Omega is. Did I miss something? Should I need to know more about he just happened to succeed in perfecting this technology?

The opening invasion scene is amazing and the repulsion out of the plane by the flying soldiers is as cool as Jumper's aerial action scenes. Doug Liman's doing interesting work with these two and I think he'll follow up with some more soon.

--Dregs

Sunday, August 24, 2014

The Nightmare Crew

Writer-Director Kat Candler spent a decade honing her craft through shorts dealing with intimate character pieces told with her nurturing, hip, heartfelt touch. She's carefully planned her first big feature with help from the independent filmmaking community in Austin, TX, specifically the Austin Film Society and also from workshops and the eye of the Sundance Institute.

Filmed in October of 2013 on location in Port Neches, Port Arthur, Groves, Nederland, and Galveston, TX, and starring Aaron Paul and Juliette Lewis, an expansion of a short she'd made in 2012 called "Hellion," screened at Sundance and South by Southwest in 2014 with a limited theatrical run and VOD release.

Aaron Paul's character HOLLIS is the least interesting part of Hellion (2014, Kat Candler), but the dramatic anchor in the piece. His brooding performance is what is called for, albeit with its tendency to remain locked in a singular specific tone. It lacks the dimensions that arise elsewhere in the ensemble. I'm not talking about Juliette Lewis's AUNT PAM, Hollis' sister who is ordered by Child Protective Services to take young WES into her custody, although Lewis also delivers a decent performance.

The boys are what this is about and Kat is a master at working with these young actors, most of whom have never acted before. Hollis' boys, 8 year old Wes (Deke Garner) and his older brother JACOB (Josh Wiggins) are front and center the protagonists of Hellion.

Jacob rides with his crew HYDER, LANCE, and ROGER riding dirtbikes, listening to heavy metal, and committing senseless acts of vandalism. In the script, Kat referred to these four as The Nightmare Crew, but they are never addressed as such in the finished film.

The opening of the film is the most destructive instance of the Nightmare Crew's mayhem, scored to a high-octane metal scourge, Jacob leads a demolition job on some cars in the parking lot of a high school football game, using baseball bats and gasoline while the boys indulge in full reverie of their power. It sure looks liberating. This scene is crucial because Kat starts with this crescendo of frivolous violence and matches it with a chain reaction of domestic turmoil that grows parallel in pitch with the Nightmare Crew's potential demise and subsequent survival attempts.

Jacob is vulnerable because he's lost his mother and his dad turned into an alcoholic who tried to abandon his sons, leaving Jacob to take care of Wes, unsure of where his father went or when he would return. His anarchy is an external manifestation of his pain, and Wes wants to be just like him.

It's a tearjerker.

The rest of the crew, like Hyder and Roger, are good kids, but they are delinquents out of boredom. They are even kind of pussies. Except for Lance, the beefy kid. Lance reads skin mags and already in early adolescence has acquired a world-weary misogynist disdain for women other than as sex objects, cusses, and like Jacob, comes from a rough home. Lance is played by Dalton Sutton, a young man who had never acted before, and I bond with his character the strongest (it might be also because I worked on this as Second Second Assistant Director and bonded with him the most in real life. He's a good kid. He's the only one of the boys who really lives down in Port Neches and he plays the only character who is really all bad.) But Lance is what Jacob (and Wes) are doomed for if they don't make some serious changes.

The music here fits the respective character as far as its date and style. I love the scenes with Wes and his pop songs. It says so much without words that he's into sweet good stuff too unlike the other headbangers. There is a huge ethical dilemma in Hellion: if Wes loves Aunt Pam and she obviously is capable of providing  a better life for him, then should he leave his dad and brother?

Wes's laugh is hysterically charming because that's the actor Deke's laugh in real life. I swear if you heard him laugh in real life and it doesn't melt your heart than you are a sociopath. I'd worked with Deke on a short a while back and knew him and his dad, Derek. Deke's name is really Derek too, but his dad calls him Deke because he'd loved that name in the Elvis Presley movie Loving You (1957, Hal Kanter) where the King plays Deke Rivers.

The energy and pace of this film has got the intensity of adolescence and the turmoil of small town dysfunctional family hardships to a tee.

The film's not a Hallmark card in the way its denouement leaves open serious questions as to what Jacob's choices are in the future and it ain't no bowl of cherries.

Shot entirely handheld, with lots of long lenses to capture the facial expressions of the actors, the film is a modest success and has cool dirtbike races.

Being on set I definitely shared a huge part of my life with the Nightmare Crew while we were out there and I'm happy I could be there for them. To quote an "Eastbound and Down," line from the first season by Kenny Powers, "I kept it real with those motherfuckers, and they kept it real with me."





--Dregs


Saturday, August 23, 2014

Noah (New and Improved by Hollywood!)

The Bible is cool. It helps to be familiar with the various incarnations that the word of God has gone through over the ages. There's the Vulgate, Septuagint, Hebrew Tanakh with Torah, along with the various apocryphal works and eventually the King James, among others. These were all drafted in different languages and all share similarities and omissions in comparison with each other.

I thought Noah (2014, Darren Aronofsky) might be cool because I like many of Aronofsky's films: Pi (1998), Requiem for a Dream (2000),  The Wrestler (2008), and Black Swan (2010). My dad actually videotaped an episode of "48 Hours," for me in 1998 that followed Aronofsky's process of completing and finding distribution for Pi, sort of like a production diary. Thanks, Dad.

The movie Noah sucks.

First of all we get a creation myth. Okay, cool. Snake tempts Adam and Eve. They eat forbidden fruit, Cain kills Abel. Got it.

But then we are told that "The Watchers," a band of angels, have been sent to watch over Adam and Eve while God created the rest of the world. And The Watchers are giant slow walking rock people. Here's where they lost me, pretty quickly: The Watchers bore me to death for the same reason I don't watch any Peter Jackson Tolkien movies, which is because The Two Towers put me to sleep when trees started walking and talking--it's just so frikkin boring. But The Watchers also came from outer space to "protect mankind," wait isn't that the job of the Transformers and Optimus?

Also Noah takes the serpent's skin from his dad as a birthright and this thread is tied up over the course of the film by the end. But why? Why keep the skin? Why does it glow? This snake skin business is stupid.

Jennifer Connelly plays Noah's wife. She has always been one of the most beautiful actresses around--and I'm really picky about beauty. Here she looks radiant, classically elegant, natural, and her expressions are weighted with the sorrows of a lifetime of adversity and sacrifice. Her dark thick eyebrows, and mole above her left lip delicately complement her tearful visage. Right away we also may root for this handsome couple because they were also John and Alicia Nash once upon a time.

The CGI is amazing. Time lapse photography of the river that miraculously springs forth to find the Ark is one of the early spectacles shown, followed by various classes of animals finding their way to the Ark (first birds, then snakes and reptiles, then all of the beasts that walk on all fours...). These sequences of biblical proportion are the best part of the film. There's also some cool POV shots from the two doves.

Sexy as hell Emma Watson is soon introduced as Ila, who will be the wife of Noah's son Shem.

And Ray Winstone is introduced as a Tubal King who is the heavy Noah must battle. Yeah the Hollywood producers thought Noah needed a bad guy to fight, of course. So, Winstone's character stows away on the Ark (ughh!).

About 80 minutes in the flood occurs.

The movie just totally sucks from here.

Yeah okay, I get the heavy guilt laid on Noah. But I don't buy it. By this point Noah believes he is evil because he would kill to protect his family. Umm, no. Noah also refuses to let Ham bring a wife on board. And by this point I'm fuming because I know there's no way this movie is going to show God telling Noah to kill a pregnant Emma Watson. No frikkin way!

Plus wasn't it Abraham who was tested by God to murder his own child? This seems like a borrowed plot from elsewhere in the Bible.

So by the end Noah doesn't knife Ila's twin baby daughters (No-duh!). And also during the last hour one can't help but wonder who Noah's male offspring will have sex with (if at all?) if the only women that survive are Ila and Naameh. This matter is resolved somewhat adequately. Ham just straight up splits, but before he leaves there's this shot where he's staring at Ila and her two baby daughters. This moment reminds me a lot of the scene in Your Highness (2011, David Gordon Green) when the Justin Theroux wizard character tells his captive played by Zooey Deschanel that he remembers kidnapping her as a little girl and thinking to himself, "wow that's a baby and one day I will have to have sex with that baby." Sorry, okay? I had to mention it. But those questions loomed large for me and I'm sure I'm not the only one.

And at the film's conclusion Noah presents his surviving kin their birthright, the glowing snake skin! But God appears as a fireball that emits concentric light rings before simultaneously exploding and turning into a rainbow. Yay! See? God does talk!

Great CGI, I'm still a fan of Jennifer Connelly, Ray Winstone, Emma Watson and Russell Crowe, but man this piece of crap is unforgivably ridiculous and silly. At least the ethical dilemma between Tubal and Noah was clear, but fight scenes and weird rock people ruined this movie for me.

Aronofsky's longtime DP Matty Libatique shot Noah on film and it does, as mentioned, look amazing. The scale and detail of the deluge, and animal migrations are ILM magic goodies.

--Dregs

Friday, August 22, 2014

Republic of Zubrowka

My biggest bias to overcome with Wes Anderson's films is the nagging reluctance I have to root for his brand of protagonists which I tend to deem lame White nerds. Don't get me wrong, I think Anderson is one of our brightest auteurs. While I prefer everything after The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004, Anderson), my favorite of his films, I only say that I respect his earlier work (not like). I hated Rushmore (1998, Anderson) even though many of my dear friends adored it. Rushmore for me was always problematic because I couldn't get past the big-headed (ego and cranial mass) manchild in a weird little schoolboy uniform with shorts like Angus from AC/DC used to wear (although in Max Fischer's case seemingly unironic), who treated everyone around him like shit basically.

Then I despised The Royal Tenenbaums (2001, Anderson) essentially because it felt like a failed tragedy on the grounds that all of those good looking rich White brats didn't generate any empathy from me whatsoever and I felt like the only one who wasn't engaging with these whiny pussies.

But The Life Aquatic found Anderson brilliantly mastering artifice. The sets were unashamedly fake in a fun way. The costumes were cartoon inspired. And the location work was exotic and gorgeous. Anderson blends real locations with miniatures all the time now. I love The Darjeeling Limited (2007) and Moonrise Kingdom (2012).

Bigger biases that awaited me for Anderson's latest include the aforementioned lame White nerd contempt but also add that of taking place in a hotel and centering on the bond between a young lobby boy and a middle-aged slightly effeminate single male concierge.

Seriously? People think hotels are cool? Thinking about hotels makes me psychosomatically sleepy. A bond between a man and a boy? Aww hell no.

But indeed Wes Anderson succeeds with his genuine knack and commitment to original storytelling in his latest film, The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014).

The film opens with a layered framing device. An unnamed girl in the present visits a statue of a writer from the Eighties who wrote a book about a hotel owner he met about 20 years prior whom he was told a story about a concierge that worked at the same hotel from '32 to around '38. Or, we're hearing a story of a man that inspired a man to tell another man who wrote it and a little girl read it. Why? Umm, I can't say exactly. Cause it's cool?

Right off we're introduced to M. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes), the head concierge of the Grand Budapest. What ultimately separates this man from other of Anderson's lame White nerds is his proclivity for having sex with several different old dowagers who are all blond, self-absorbed, and rather like himself in these ways oddly. Kind of like Monsieur Verdoux (1947, Charles Chaplin), Gustave is a platform for rather Black Comedy, but Chaplin killed old ladies; and, Gustave is somewhat more disturbing because he actually may love and be turned on by his assortment of octogenarian lovers, even though he doesn't murder them. There's a great moment early in the film when Dmitri (Adrien Brody) exclaims in front of a crowded room: "...he sleeps with old women... and he probably fucks them!" And there's even what I take to be the first (partially) nude sex scene in a Wes Anderson film (?), a shot of Gustave getting a blow job from an elderly woman.

And as Gustave is introduced there is a music box effect on the score which accompanies him. I don't know, it sounds like children playing an xylophone.

Along with M. Gustave we are introduced to The Grand Budapest Hotel. A truly delight to behold, the miniatures of the edifice, surrounding snow-capped Alps, ascending ski lifts, and majestically perched Elk atop a peak are cleverly old fashioned and carefully chosen. The interiors are pink, purple, orange, and a golden champagne. The architecture is symmetrically foreboding.

The supporting cast is marvelous, but special mention should go to the antagonists Desgoffe und Taxis: Dmitri and Jopling (Willem Dafoe). Dmitri has that special brand of Anderson's trademark insolent arrogance. And Jopling is truly menacing and darkly hilarious with his crew cut, 8 identical rings on his knuckles, missing front teeth, and leather trenchcoat (with snap flap where he keeps his pistol and liquor). Jopling is homicidal. Is this the first Wes Anderson movie with murder?

Another cute old-fashioned touch is Jopling's iris in device with accompanying organ swell as D.u.T. leitmotif. Then there's the baking of tools to escape prison into pastries as a means of smuggling them inside; the fake yet kinetic staging of the downhill sled chase; Jopling's demise with accompanying Wilhelm Scream.

The pacing of this movie is relentless and I commend Anderson for it. It's classic adventure which is rarely found nowadays.

Gustave's language is crafted extensively and is a real treat. Yes, the requisite flash and filigree are amusing, but his process of deduction, charm, and colorful expressions ("She was shaking like a shitting dog.") round out the finished work.

I wish I could go more into the cast and compliment the various international players, but instead I'll just close with saying how much I loved the scene where Jopling throws Deputy Kovacs' (Jeff Goldblum) cat out the window and Kovacs replies: "Did you just throw my cat out the window?" and the reactions of the female cousins, some of them claiming they don't think he did--mastery of comedic tone. And the moment Gustave acquires "Boy with Apple," saying: "I'll never part with it. I'll die with it above my bed. Actually we should sell it..."

But finally, a word on Grand Budapest Hotel's aspect ratio. The film was shot in 1.33:1, resembling a square--which in this case resembles exotic Hollywood films of the Golden Age. Gus Van Sant has shot a few films: Elephant (2003), Last Days (2005) and Paranoid Park (2007) he exhibited in this ratio, but it's been virtually obsolete when showing first run mainstream Hollywood films since the Fifties. I love it and wish other filmmakers would use it more often.

Congratulations to Anderson again. He won me over, this time, again.

--Dregs

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

I Backissued It!

 
I went back issuing!
  • The Mighty Thor 398-399 (battle against Egyptian death god Set continues; return of Odin and Surtur).
  • The New Mutants 68-69 (New Mutants in space - which is goofy but fun); 74-75 (loose end issues: #74 gets rid of Gossamyr from #68-69; #75 ends Magneto's tenure as the headmaster of Prof. Xavier's school).
  • The Avengers 284-286 (conclusion of Avengers vs. Zeus in a battle royale; Avengers vs. an Android), 294-295 (Dr. Druid becomes leader of Avengers; but is a pawn of Nebula, a 'cross-time Kang', which a premise beyond goofy which becomes strangely intriguing in proportionate measure to its absurdity).

Monday, June 09, 2014

I Re-Readed It!

 
I re-read my collection of Uncanny X-men. These are some of the small remnants of my 90s comics collecting. 
  • 157 (X-men & Starjammers in space);
  • 159 (Storm vs. Dracula);
  • 161 (Prof. Xavier & Magneto vs. Hydra);
  • 165-167 (X-men infected by Brood aliens);
  • 186 (Storm and Forge cope with Storm losing her powers);
  • 175-176 (return of Mastermind and wedding of Scott Summer and Madelyne Pyror; Scott and Madelyne's honeymoon, which is a flying boat trip across the Pacific - these issues plus the Brood issues have completely changed my opinion of Cyclops. I used to think (correctly) that he was a bore but the whole Jean-died-in-his-arms-and-you-know-what-he's-dealing-with-it-every-day thing is actually quite compelling, as is his well-written-wow-these-two-people-are-really-in-love relationship with Madelyn Pyror. Pity it will all get fucked up in '86 for the sake of launching X-Factor)
  • 177 (Return of brotherhood of evil mutants);
  • 214-215 (Malice vs X-men and Dazzler; Storm vs. WWII supers in Deadilest Game setting - there is also warm-ups in this issue for the return of Jean Grey);
  • 221-227 (X-men vs. Marauders; Storm on spirit quest to find Forge; Freedom Force and the Fall of the Mutants).

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Objects in Time and Space: Sculptures and Such at the Hirshhorn

I was in Washington, DC, for a couple days. The first two days I was there, I never got farther than a frisbee throw from the hotel, but I did manage to get out for a few hours on my last day. I hadn't gotten much in the way of recommendations1, because literally everybody who had an opinion hated DC (with one exception, but I didn't hear from that party until I was on the plane home). Yes, our nation's capital city garners feedback like:

Enjoy yourself down there, to the extent such a thing is possible/practical.

the hotel bars are where it's at in DC--they all have their own weird, mildly off-putting vibes

I couldn't afford anything but canned beans and frozen berries the summer I was there so I literally did not try the food.

However, the hotel bar advice was both spot-on and well-targeted (my favorite bars are airport bars, with hotel bars maybe third on the list) and my own Noodles did come through with one perfect suggestion: try the Hirshhorn. And so, on my last day in town, when I finally dragged myself out of bed after a Rangers-fuelled hangover and endured a mildly hellish cab ride, I found myself wandering around looking at sculptures. An activity I literally could not review in more positive terms.

I did a couple laps around the building before starting to take any pictures. Needed time to think and to get into the groove of looking at the things.

(Claes Oldenburg, Geometric Mouse: Variation I, Scale A, 1971)
The first one to pull a reaction out of me, Geometric Mouse made me say -- aloud, to no-one -- "Oh, I get it." Not my proudest moment, as it's a wonderful piece, and not a hacky one-liner; but the aesthetic response is sometimes a little slow to awaken to its fullest. A particularly nice thing about this one is that it flatly forces you to orbit it: you can just tell that there's an angle you're really going to like. It took me a couple minutes to decide on the one in the photo above, which I probably like best because it's the one that makes the wit the most apparent. Something about the chains also compels my eye to them, but I haven't figured out just what yet.

(Lucio Fontana, Spatial Concept: Nature 1959-60)
I've seen some of these before, and they never fail to compel my eye and brain. A lot of what I like about sculpture is embodied in these: incredible physicality, with one material evoking and highlighting another, with bronze looking like clay looking like something intensely organic, nearly living, and the inescapable sense of heaviness and density. (They're hollow, I discovered, which adds another layer to the tensions between what they are and what they appear to be.)

Soft, erupting eggs and slashed flesh, represented in cold metal. I could look at these all day.

(Kenneth Snelson, Needle Tower, 1968)
This one was a perfect fit for its location: all the vantage points you can see it from enforce its perspectival trick, where it seems to be narrowing more and faster than is possible. (Stepping back a ways would ruin the effect.) It's also one of those engineering/architectural pieces that you could stare at for a million hours just wondering how it...works. Mechanical without being cold, rigorous and passionate. A device carefully built to fuck with your head.

(Jim Sanborn, Antipodes, 1997)
Just around the corner, and much more human-scaled, was Antipodes. This was compellingly textural, with its wood and holed copper. The literally cryptic textual elements in the curved metal gave it a coded feeling: instead of being conceptually evocative or challenging, like the pieces before it, which said "this is like that" or "does this make you think of that?", Antipodes seemed to say "I have a secret." I should probably have spent more time with this one, as it seems somewhat slight, beyond the trick of advertising its hidden meanings, but I was more in the mood for scale, particularly after Needle Tower.

(Tony Cragg, Subcommittee, 1991)
Speaking of scale, I thought this one was a good but underwhelming example of the "here is a little thing rendered real big" school of sculpture, but upon circumnavigating it, realized it was much, much smarter than that. From the front, it's indeed just a big rendering of some little tools of bureaucracy. But from the back, you see that the tools become disturbingly evocative of human heads and shoulders, and that there's a strong implication of hierarchy, as the human stamps aren't just juxtaposed, they actually carve space right out of one another. From the front, it's a well-organized, if somewhat dull picture of human organization; but from the back, it shows disorganization and conflict. I liked this one quite a bit.

(Juan Muñoz, Last Conversation Piece, 1994-95)
More distorted forms interacting. These are unsettling and somewhat alienating. The lumpy, vaguely fabric-like bottom halves contrast with the regular and realistic features of the admittedly blank faces. If Antipodes invited you to crack its code, Last Conversation Piece repels you from the very notion of listening in. The way the figures are distributed reinforces this repulsion, I think -- there's a palpable sense of exclusion and even evil here.

(Roy Lichtenstein, Brushstroke, 1996)
(Alexander Calder, Two Discs, 1965)
More scale! The Lichtenstein didn't do a huge amount for me beyond its exceptional size and verticality -- but in terms of verticality, it was tough to compete with Needle Tower, but it's certainly at the very least an exceptionally pretty sculpture, and provided a nicely light element. The Calder is a nice example of a huge, heavy, stationary thing appearing to be light, delicate, and nearly in motion. It's a Calder, in other words. The image doesn't properly show its size at all.

I spent a huge amount of time in the actual sculpture garden, across the street from the museum and the pieces arrayed around it, but didn't document it much. Suffice it to say that the garden was brilliantly organized, driving home the core experience of attending very closely to objects as they exist in time and in space. The layout of the garden invites lingering on one item at a time, and wittily stages things so that you're continually being surprised and taken off guard by motionless objects. The best example came of this at the end: I'd been instructed to look for a particular Barbara Hepworth piece, and I hadn't seen it at all. As I left the garden, planning to loop back to the museum itself, I saw this.

(Barbara Hepworth, Figure for Landscape, 1960)
Catching it from behind, then coming around to it from the front, as it opened up, was the perfect way to see this. And at the end of several hours of similar experiences was a good time for it.

Much of the museum itself was closed. However, there was a large Barbara Kruger exhibit, which reminded me of seeing her work at the Denver Art Museum in high school. A nice memory. And the combination of Kruger's aesthetic and the building's facilities made me laugh aloud at least once.

(Barbara Kruger and Hirshhorn Museum Operations, Women's Restroom, 2014)

And there were two interesting video art pieces. The first, Oliver Laric's Versions, was a nice video for people who enjoy fun with Google Image Search and witheringly saying "Uh, yeah, I've seen Debord's film Society of the Spectacle". The second, Jeremy Deller's English Magic, combined fat, powerful owls with some deeply whimsical music and an inflatable Stonehenge that I would like to have seen in real life.

After all that, essentially exhausted and done, I found that one large room had a hell of a lot of beautiful color field paintings, including Morris Louis' Delta Theta from 1961, among my favorites in the genre, and absolutely unreproducible. (Scale matters!) Reminded me strongly of our best museum day in Berlin, when we saw a number of these. Also reminded me that I ended up somehow with a Morris Louis bookmark of, I think, maybe, Vertical Horizon as a kid, around the same time of the initial Barbara Kruger visit to the museum. Being challenged to say what I liked about that bookmark really forced me to look at it, to learn how to look at it, and learn how to articulate how I was looking at it. To put it another way, trying to convince my mom that it was cool was the first moment at which I started thinking explicitly about form.

Anyway, I staggered out of the museum, went and walked toward the Washington Monument for a mile or so -- I'd never seen it from ground level, only from movies, which always show it from above, I suspect due to the limitations of the wide-not-tall movie screen -- and it was, from that perspective, much, much more...monumental than I'd ever thought before. It's also -- and this is not a dick joke -- much thicker than it looks from above. As I approached, I saw a cab, and I got in it; next thing I knew, I was writing Barbara Kruger postcards from an airport named after Ronald Reagan. Thus does art short-circuit time and enhance our days. Yay art!, the official significant form of Reviewiera.

--Fat, traveller

1To be fair, I did get a hell of a lot of restaurant recommendations, but I got completely hijacked by work functions and was unable to eat anywhere but the hotel, the shitty beer place next to the hotel, and the airport version of the shitty beer place next to the hotel. I'm never leaving California again.