Sunday, March 31, 2019

If Harmony Korine Remade Spring Breakers...

By coincidence this past week in the same movie theater, on the same screen, I saw the new Harmony Korine movie, shot by Benoît Debie a few days after I saw Climax (2018, Gaspar Noé), which is also shot by Debie. Getting to see the latest new film by Korine or Noé is always a treat because Debie shoots in a saturated palette with an assortment of candy-colored gels that I can only compare to Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s last couple films shot by Xaver Schwarzenberger: Lola (1981) and Querelle (1982).

Cult figure Harmony Korine has a natural flair for gaining attention, is never short on jokes, and has great taste in movies. His screenplays for Kids (1995, Larry Clark) and Ken Park (2002, Clark) are an auspicious pair; his masterpiece is Gummo (1997, Korine);  and the rest of his filmography is uneven, but worthwhile for his fans, or maybe what I mean to say is that while I’m not sure I’m exactly excited about his other films, I’m still drawn to them.

Spring Breakers (2012, Korine) was a huge hit and Korine’s only movie that is accessible to mainstream audiences, but it’s not really a Harmony Korine movie. The Beach Bum (2019, Korine) is his penance for Spring Breakers in that it exhibits his personal aesthetic while confirming poetry is more important than box office.

For example, why does Spring Breakers have all the morality? The worst is Selena Gomez’ character—even she knows she doesn’t belong in the movie and takes a bus home at the start of the second act. And why does Spring Breakers have a conventional story arc? The Beach Bum proudly and successfully makes a statement of being a movie truly representative of Korine’s anarchist vision as a filmmaker. And if you understand this, you understood Trash Humpers (2009, Korine). There’s a reason MOONDOG (Matthew McConaughey) cavorts with a bunch of lowlife degenerate whino junkies; not only is it to visually represent the antitheses of the perfect bodied Disney star twentysomethings in bikinis from Spring Breakers, but when amid the mayhem of destroying Moondog’s mansion for kicks a middle-aged man in an adult diaper swings from a gold chandelier, it is here the ethos of Trash Humpers returns.

But The Beach Bum shows Korine at the height of his powers by also deceiving the audience with the initial appearance of a conventional narrative only to eventually subvert any expectations of such a possibility. There is a turn the plot takes where I was reminded of the disgust I felt watching Don't Worry, He Won't Get Far on Foot (2018, Gus Van Sant) and realized it was a commercial for AA, but luckily it was a psychout. My final concession is that if Gummo and Trash Humpers are anarchist cinema, The Beach Bum is an arthouse comedy built around an anarchist protagonist. And the film also uses poetry to establish the voice of the Harmony Korine who made Gummo and wrote A Crackup at the Race Riots—both as a narrative poem and with Moondog’s verse. It’s been a while since American independent cinema has worked this well.

You Will Come Down Soon Too

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

When first hearing about Climax (2018, Noé) I was a little worried that it would be boring or feel limited in a low budget way because it was going to be about a group of dancers in one room. Those worries were dispelled.

The big problem I had with Climax was that I didn’t buy into the behavior that the people resorted to after the LSD kicked in. In general films have often showed a character on say, marijuana, having wild hallucinations that are excessive and unrealistic, which has bugged me on many occasions. But Climax has a momentum to it, engaging characters, and camera moves that make the POV feel like it’s from an non-diegetic carnival ride—steadicam that frames canted angles, low angles, overhead angles and sometimes positions so ambiguous the action becomes abstract. There’s also an editing pattern that shifts from choppy jump-cuts with dropped frames then on to single takes that last over twenty minutes.

Although by the end I processed the narrative as an existential dissection of real terror inherent within the ensemble unleashed by the drugs. Climax is scarier than Us (2019, Jordan Peele) and not to sound too cheesy but you know, like, the climax of the film is the climax of the high is the climax of these characters’ lives is the climax of life.

And like all of Noé’s films, Climax made me feel emotionally nauseous in a colorful, sexy, dangerous way. 

Friday, March 29, 2019

The Brigands of Bulwark

Some positive word of mouth brought me to Brawl in Cell Block 99 (2017, S. Craig Zahler) and once I got into it I was surprised at how good it was—particularly its act structure and economy. When I say act structure I’m specifically referring to the way its protagonist’s goal develops and significantly continues changing.

And then this past February, Chung-hoon Chung told me that Chan-wook Park is in New York prepping a project called Brigands and that there was an article in Variety (Chung has been the DP of all of Park’s movies going back to Oldboy, 2003). When I found it online I learned that the article was from 2012, and that the screenplay was from 2006, written by Zahler, and titled The Brigands of Rattleborge. I read the script online and think it’s amazing, especially the handling of its revenge theme and highly anticipate director Park’s vision for it. It’s very dark and very violent.

So when I heard about Dragged Across Concrete (2019, Zahler) I couldn’t wait to see it. Dragged Across Concrete takes familiar motifs from the crime genre—an armored car robbery, mirroring the similarities of cop and criminal—but gives them a fresh take with Zahler’s characteristic flourishes and signature craftsmanship. Notice how the racist jokes aren’t limited to just the cops or the criminals; and how right before the score at the same time both the cops and the crooks both don disguises. This last point is something I’m still pondering. What is it saying? That behind the performances there are no good guys or bad guys we traditionally identify by what side of the law they’re on in the crime genre, but simply, in this modern tale, men? Okay not that I don’t think this is super awesome, but it reminds me of a line from Adaptation (2002, Spike Jonze) where CHARLIE KAUFMAN says: “…you explore the notion that cop and criminal are really two aspects of the same person. See every cop movie ever made for other examples of this.” RIDGEMAN (Mel Gibson) and SLIM (Tory Kittles) are the main characters, and each has a male partner—okay maybe this duality thing is actually the one aspect that isn’t as subtle as I’d thought now that I think about it.

The pace of Dragged Across Concrete is assured, slow, and deliberate; something like Assault on Precinct 13 (1976, John Carpenter). The dialogue is stylized yet efficient, with tasteful humor in a Mamet way. And there’s definitely a Hawksian professionalism among the cast of characters that the drama centers around. Like the Brigands script, Dragged Across Concrete all comes down to a robbery that occurs around the midpoint.  And like much of Zahler’s work the tone is dark and violent. Dragged Across Concrete is also a near perfect film, and all while remaining mostly subtle. The screenplay's greatest strengths are the motivations that define each character, and an endless supply of plot twists or moments that come off as fresh because they go against type.

The armed robber villains here really chilled me too. Something about how serious, efficient, and intelligent these sociopaths are makes me appreciate the way these characters have been crafted. On top of that the pre-recorded audio tape of the demands in the anonymous robot voice is easily my favorite part of the movie.

Okay so yeah, Dragged Across Concrete is a fun, tough, gritty, well crafted cynical modern fresh take on the crime thriller that works and I strongly recommend it.

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Does Jordan Peele Know What a Horror Movie Is?

In a piece I posted about Glass (2019, M. Night Shyamalan) this January I mention how Shyamalan often makes movies that feel drawn out and would have been better suited to fill 20 minutes as episodes of The Twilight Zone.  The same holds true with Jordan Peele. And fittingly Jordan Peele is executive producer and host of a new season of The Twilight Zone this year.

I didn’t like Get Out (2017, Jordan Peele). I love Daniel Kaluuya and the trailer was promising: “When there’s too many white people around I get nervous.” What I went in expecting to be a terrifying horror movie where white people are the monster turned out to be a plot that loses all its potential after it’s explained, with a goofy slapstick TSA agent saving the day. Maybe I missed something but the reveal where the Allison Williams character has lured the dozens of black men into the commune made me question its plausibility; also, what about the women? And it felt like a clever idea trying too hard to propel a social message which wasn’t that compelling. A bunch of racist white people want to enslave some black people while simultaneously poaching their most desirable genetic attributes? So a horror that turns out to really be a sci-fi, with misplaced lowbrow comedy, and a clichéd atmosphere of a really bizarre cult up to no good with an unsettling hypnotism motif.

Us (2019, Peele) is a horror movie that’s not scary. It’s also contrived—the doppelganger fam turns out to be symbolism for the symbiotic underclass of US citizens. Also turns out the government’s to blame (or is it, according to an Old Testament easter egg, God?). Add to all of this the use of upbeat pop hits contrasted against scenes of visceral terror with some moments of broad comedy and it’s back to again losing faith in Peele’s sensibilities.

The first act is great—I love these characters, and cast, especially Lupita Nyong’o. The premise is fun and feels like a horror movie. The second act is bloated with survival thrills from the use of violence as defense against psychopath assailants. But that gets old quick. The third act is a ton of exposition to reveal how these beings came from out of the shadows… yawwwwwwwn. Also, seriously isn’t the first rule of horror still don’t reveal the monster?

Although having watched it opening weekend in a packed theater at night I did enjoy Us as a crowd-pleasing popcorn flick. The audience loved it. But this also made me realize that I don’t care how many “oh hellllll nahs,” “no’s,” “uh uhs,” or other interactions viewers vocalize, unsettling is not the same as scary, nor is bloodlust fueled revenge cheering.

Peele is grating on me. I’m not looking forward to another disappointing big social message comedy sci-fi with unsettling conspirators preying on average good ol’ Americans sold as a horror movie. Sigh.

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Le livre d'image

Paul’s Boutique was released a couple months after the first installment of Histoire(s) du cinéma (1989-1999, Jean-Luc Godard). This is of course merely a coincidence. The Dust Brothers’ use of samples primarily to craft a new type of soundscape has nothing to do with Godard’s crowning achievement, which segues into his late period with a work that sets itself in the no man’s land between fiction and non-fiction categories of film while densely layering, splicing, backmasking, sampling, and invariably distorting an assortment of disparate film clips defining the twentieth century curated by a lyrical narration in his own voice. But I like to think there’s a profound link between these two works simultaneously evolving film and music into the mixtape era.

Although a better analog to Histoire(s) du cinéma is Prick by the Melvins.

Okay I’ll admit my biggest nerd moment is probably while watching a documentary about the history of cinema and identifying the clips shown—during film school this also became a thing. But Histoire(s) du cinéma was the first doc where I realized how many foreign films from the past that I’d never seen. It was humbling. Yet there are texts quoting Bresson’s Notes on the Cinematographer or Proust that I spotted. Yeah yeah yeah it’s not a competition. Despite and because of all Histoire(s) du cinéma’s pretentious self-indulgent idiosyncrasies I get thrilled anytime I watch it.

The Image Book (2018, Godard) is composed of several clips taken from Histoire(s) du cinema—like “Shit Storm” by the Melvins. And I reacted in awe, because intermediate works like In Praise of Love (2001, Godard), Notre Musique (2004, Godard), Film Socialisme (2010, Godard) or Goodbye to Language (2014, Godard) are all similarly filmed essays with V.O. narration but none use any of the footage from Histoire(s) du cinéma. The big difference between Histoire(s) du cinema and The Image Book though is the ratio of cinema to political poetry. The Image Book is esoteric and elliptical although features fewer movie clips—aside from a lengthy montage of scenes of passengers on railcars. I love Godard’s work almost as much as I love movies so The Image Book is every bit as compelling and more so than anything he’s done since Histoire(s) du cinéma. I’ll also admit the sections on remakes and the Arab world were way over my head, but just more reasons for me to rewatch this first chance I get.

There was something else new I noticed: the aspect ratios of many of the clips after a few seconds get alternately stretched or compressed. I've gotten over what used to be a huge nuisance for me around the time 16x9 TVs replaced 4x3 on the market, which was seeing other people watch movies that were shot in 4x3 (square) stretched or cropped to fit their new flatscreen 16x9 TVs (rectangle) to avoid negative space (black bars). I just don't see why anyone wouldn't want to watch an image in its native format. My take on Godard's using this as a device is to show how arbitrary the aspect ratio is because people can choose now at home, or the people broadcasting these images don't care and that's what we're stuck with. What still does make me angry though is when studios do it. You can believe I still get stressed out wondering why HBO released blu-rays of The Wire in 16x9 as the only option. (Not the best example though because The Wire is supposed to look gritty so maybe borrowing my dad's standard def bootleg dvd boxset is more aesthetically pleasing than an HD master. Still, I'd like the option.) And come to think of it my most exhilarating joy from home video viewing last year was finally getting to see the Criterion blu-ray of Barry Lyndon (1975, Stanley Kubrick) in its OAR 1.66:1. 

Friday, March 22, 2019

Spice Rack Two Thousand: A Reviewiera Project Slash Design Contest

(Behold! The Spice Rack Two Thousand.)

Not long ago, in the group text, a set of fellows began debating wood. Eventually, one issued a bold challenge: "It is also really hard to get a spice rack that doesn't look like hot garbage."

I began with a survey of the current state of the art. Not so much a prototype as a stereotype.

(Your standard spice rack, as envisioned and analyzed by a genius.)

However, my mind wouldn't let this powerful challenge go. Something seemed amiss. Something, to be frank, seemed lacking. So I had a couple extra cups of coffee, until my mind was aglow with whirling, transient nodes of thought, careening through a cosmic vapor of invention. As I am me, a persnickety, critical sort, I began with the problems posed by the spice rack as commonly designed, developed, and deployed. The traditional existence of the spice rack is marked with instability, poor usability, and even safety issues. Propped and leaning against a wall (see the "ladder" analysis above), the very act of accessing something on the top shelf opens the chef, and the object, up to toppling.

A second issue. Spices are often contained in entities of widely varying sizes and shapes. Baggies. Jars. Bigger jars. Mislabeled jars. The mind reels! And then, when confronted with a standard spice rack, executed for (a) jars and (b) jars of just one size / shape, the mind congeals and hardens into rage. Or, if that mind is mine, explodes into grace and sets itself the task of fixing the problem.

Imagine, then, a spice rack that did two things: hold spices in place, regardless of container, when you wanted them thus held; allowed spices to be removed, when you wanted them thus displaced. Imagine...Spice Rack Two Thousand.

(Gape at the power of the Central Tower.)

We begin with the Central Tower. The spice rack, reborn. Flexible, vital, and solid as the rock of Gibraltar. Heavy base, varied shelving options, a total solution to the unstable—one oughtn't to hesitate to call them "rickety"—options of our dark past. And yet this is just The Beginning.

The Central Tower is, however, just the beginning. Remember two things. First, the savvy spicer will of occasion employ mortar and pestle to, if you will, grind their own. This leaves problems, tho: where to put the newly ground spice? Or where to mix spices? How to ensure the violence of mortar/pestle doesn't (literally) impact one's presumably beloved or simply rented kitchen counters? Now remember a second thing: every tower needs a penthouse suite.

(The right materials. The right shape. The Tip Tower: the right thing to put on top of your Central Tower.)

Our tower's penthouse suite is a floppy yet sturdy silicone bowl, inverted. Functioning as a koozie or cozy around one's mortar/pestle, the Tower Tip will cushion its blows and prevent any/all counter surfaces from suffering mars. Inverted, it functions as a humble heatproof bowl, flexible enough for easy pouring, heavy enough to hold its shape (and whatever you may have put in it).

Were that all, it would surely be enough. But it's not all.

Most spice racks, lamentably, aren't extensible. Buy one, you have one, and that is all you have. (Please: don't embarrass yourself by suggesting "buy another one and put it next to the first one". Nobody has time for that shit.) What if: you could extend your spice rack's capacity? What if expanding its capacity actually enhanced its stability, by adding weight and width to its base?

(Details of the side-mounted Tower Tubes. You've never seen anything—ANYthing like this.)

Stable. Yet flexible. A spice rack that will grow with your needs. A tower, with tubes, closed at one end, allowing loads to be added to the base. Need no loads? Simply collapse the tubes!

Let's see the whole thing, the entire package.

(Spice. Rack. Two. Thousand. An idea whose time is coming.)

I foresee one of these in essentially every kitchen—and soon! I foresee one of these in essentially every kitchen—and soon! There's really only one thing left to say (if that):

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Pen 15 Club: I Bought Some New Pens :)

(This afternoon's haul: couple more of those neato Sharpie®\Pen. ones, a new Flair pen in an appealing and appropriate color, and a new clicky ballpoint option, a pack of Zebra F 301 units.)

Don't know necessarily if I need to talk about the replenishments, new versions of old faces, but I was inspired by old Twitter running (and funning) mate @mighty_flynn to revisit an old style I hadn't had my hands on in a long while: a retractable ballpoint.

The appeal is pretty immediately obvious: the fidget potential and ability to make annoying noises of the G-2 plus the versatility and rock-like reliability of the Bic Crystal? Can you even imagine how good a pen that would be. Can you even imagine.

(Although...if I'd seen this back-of-package image, I would not have bought these obviously cursed and sinful objects.)

Good gravy what is with this pervert zebra, Zebra?? That's a yikes and a third, maybe a full yikes and a half.

More later, once I've had the opportunity to wrap my fingers around these new Pen 15es, rub 'em around, see what comes out of the tip.

NOTE: title / format drawn from this all-time great tweet.