Thursday, November 28, 2019

Promised Land

Todd Haynes’s body of work as a whole is an impressive contribution to cinema. His films are fun, inventive, intelligent, and project a vast spectrum of emotions through his protags. His art is never achieved at the expense of heart. Even his made for TV miniseries resulted in a work as satisfying as any of his best films. Haynes takes trash genre aesthetics and repurposes them as a means to shape his own style. Is he that rare case (in cinema) of high art legitimately turned pop? Or am I exaggerating how wide his appeal has become?
     Haynes isn’t easy to classify. The second I find myself tempted to describe his indulgence in artifice I’m immediately confronted with Safe (1995, Todd Haynes) and its committed psychological realism. Also what other filmmaker only makes period films? This is a key to enjoying Haynes’s brilliance: the contrary effect of simultaneous verisimilitude along with distancing the audience.

     Dark Waters (2019, Haynes) is yet another instance of Haynes taking his style of filmmaking into a different direction, namely history-based social drama. It’s Haynes relinquishing his role as artist in exchange for chronicler (he can still pull both off though). But being a longtime fan I find the most enjoyable aspect of Dark Waters is the familiarity with Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story (1988, Haynes), Poison (1991, Haynes) and Safe; having the awareness of this string of films from early in Haynes’s career 30 years ago with their explorations of innocent characters succumbing to advanced stages of corporeal decay.

     What makes Dark Waters more than an Erin Brockovich knockoff is Haynes’s aesthetic. And while he’s gained subtlety with maturity, his uncanny ability to terrify hasn’t diminished. What stands out for me are some degraded shaky images of cattle mutilation found on a cache of VHS tapes stored under the floorboards of a quiet rural farmhouse where a quaint family lives. Also a POV shot of a little girl riding her bike with her little sister, smiling and revealing a mouth of black rotting teeth. These are the primary examples of Haynes’s aesthetic—the feminine sphere of the woman’s picture disrupted by sci-fi horror motifs. And Dark Waters does it while maintaining a commitment to realism not seen to this degree before with Haynes. Or maybe it’s just more refined.
     Another benefit of Haynes’s penchant for period pictures is the authenticity found in the production design, art direction, hair, and costumes utilized in recreating middle-class suburban homes and women’s appearances in particular. And when Haynes does period pieces they’re most enjoyable when the period is recent. (I still get a kick of how Safe was made in the early nineties but set in the late eighties.) Dark Waters boasts some faux wood grain and gilt filigree touches that give such a lived in quality to the homes in the world of the film (were there doilies or am I just imagining there were?), and the baggy legged men’s suits along with prevalent shoulder pads regardless of gender is fun.
     Trivia Fact: Ed Lachman (who’s shot Haynes’ last 5 films and Mildred Pierce) was also the DP on Erin Brockovich (2000, Steven Soderbergh), the last movie Soderbergh would use a cinematographer on before serving as his own DP for all of his subsequent movies. Dark Waters has a distinct (shot on film!) palette, with blue popping up a lot, with hints of straw and many artificial-hued practical fixtures, several night shots, and generally dark throughout. Lachman really emphasizes color in the eighties Robby Müller tradition. 
     Even more of a trivia fact: Lachman was Müller’s assistant on The American Friend (1977, Wim Wenders), which is considered to have pioneered the technique of implementing un-corrected fluorescent tube practicals in shots in a way that would go on to be seen in much of Lachman’s work.

     So, in addition to the look of Dark Waters the other big draw is its domestic drama, especially the women. Without Anne Hathaway and Mare Winningham the movie would just be a bunch of suits arguing. And now that I’ve highlighted what works for me in Dark Waters, to conclude I’ll admit that I was skeptical at first as to whether or not its environmentalist agenda would get in the way of its accessibility. But that wasn’t the case because foremost I engaged with the people this story is about. Historically the events depicted in Dark Waters are unsettling to say the least, and Haynes was the perfect person to blend it all into a compelling drama.

Friday, November 15, 2019

You don't know how fast time goes by until you get there

Any doubts I’ve had about the ability for older filmmakers to deliver works possessing the vitality found earlier in their careers are gone. My bias began recently when Tarantino said he would retire after his tenth film and he doesn’t want to be an old man making movies. And the more I thought about it the more I realized directors’ later works do indeed decline in quality.
     But I finally became convinced that old men can sometimes make their best work late in life. In cinema, there are no rules and there are always exceptions. My favorite Buñuel films are Viridiana (1961), The Exterminating Angel (1962), Belle de Jour (1967) and The Discrete Charm of the Bourgeoisie (1972), which were all made toward the end of his career. Malick’s anti-plot phase didn’t begin until he was in his late sixties with The Tree of Life (2011). And now Scorsese shows once and for all that I have all the proof I need.

     The Irishman (2019, Martin Scorsese) is a mob epic that delves into the legend of Jimmy Hoffa. Combining the crime genre with a hint of history has always drawn me to the novels of James Ellroy. And as David Thomson points out the most fascinating parts of JFK (1991, Oliver Stone) are the scenes of the “lurid gay underworld.” But neither come close to mining the richness of Hoffa’s life.
     What excited me about the premise of The Irishman beyond the popular rumors that I’ve grown up with surrounding the disappearance of Hoffa, was his role in the International Brotherhood of Teamsters and alleged ties to organized crime—ambitious territory for a screenwriter and director to tackle. But they succeeded. The political intrigues and portrayal deliver, and HOFFA’S (Al Pacino) “If you have it, a truck brought it to you” speech is incendiary.  I left the movie theater exhilarated today after everything The Irishman did for me as a viewer.

     Does it live up to Goodfellas (1990) and Casino (1995) though? Easily. Not only does The Irishman show the expertise, refinement, and calm of Scorsese as a filmmaker not found in those earlier crime operas; and not only is its cast all close to pushing 80; but, the characters are older men whose lives are anchored in a perspective that they only attain toward the end of their lives. And Zaillian’s screenplay gives us the intricate web of conspiracies in a ratio perfectly in balance with the development of the ensemble of characters.
     You often hear talk of modern movies being faster to cater to shorter attention spans. I’m not sure if I find truth in that. While The Irishman blew by me despite its three and a half hour running time, I often thought about how at times it felt slow, in a good way, or classically and confidently eased by at times. Especially the climax: I didn’t look at my watch or get out of my seat once, but I sensed it approaching, and as it did I felt a tranquil euphoria and thought it was as though the plot smoothly glided by like one of the large bodied lead sled domestic ‘70s autos often seen throughout the film. (Yet I was on the edge of my seat at the same time, contrarily in suspense not knowing what was about to happen.)
     And Goodfellas was already displaying a rapid jumpy wired on coke narrative with voiceover, flashbacks, freeze-frames, and chronological deconstruction as types of its screen vocabulary that I’d grown up with. So no, I don’t think movies have gotten faster? The Irishman utilizes several of those techniques, like voiceover, flashbacks, and especially cutaways that make me hopeful it will connect with a younger audience. Another thing I enjoy immensely in The Irishman is its staggering amount of locations and how quickly we jump all over the place geographically and chronologically throughout the story.
     Another motif I spotted occurring often is narrative repetition. Paul Schrader describes Bresson’s use of “doubling” (or tripling) in Pickpocket (1959, Robert Bresson) citing the scene where MICHEL writes in his journal  “I went into the hall of a large bank,” and says through v.o. “I went into the hall of a large bank,” while we then see him go into the hall of a large bank. This occurs several times in The Irishman, with, for example in a scene where FRANK SHEERAN (Robert De Niro) speaks in v.o. saying: “Whenever anybody says they're a little concerned it means they’re very concerned,” as a man sitting across from him says “I’m a little concerned.” Then the man says he's very concerned. Frank goes on to say “and when somebody says he's very concerned, he’s desperate.” Schrader says this is “contrary… to normal film language,” but with Scorsese there’s a comedic dimension that’s added. This technique was likely cultivated to its apex in Casino with the scene where Pesci’s character says something about these “guys back home,” in v.o., on top of us seeing these guys back home, and on screen text that reads “back home.” It’s really funny and The Irishman knows it.
     Also like Goodfellas and Casino, The Irishman is a jukeboxical—but most of its playlist is confined within the end of the first half of the twentieth century. And The Irishman’s songs also display Scorsese’s theme of maturity with their nostalgic, soft, sentimental romantic beauty and tone.

     Something else that gets praise from me in The Irishman as a sign of maturity or wisdom that comes with age is not only its restraint and refinement of its mise en scène and songs used in its soundtrack, but in a sense the way it replaces the rampant coke binges and wild sex of Goodfellas and Casino with more of a family ethic and sense of loyalty. Does that make me sound square?  I mean I applaud Scorsese for not just churning out the same formula.
     There is so much more Scorsese improves upon with The Irishman. The goombah slang is plentiful and makes for an authentic genre entry—like when Frank suggests using “candy.” But it’s all here: the violence, the f-word, cars, the restaurant and nightclub sets, the suits, pinky rings, the hairdos, and maybe most of all, the eyewear. Nobody’s got nuttin on Scorsese when it comes to thick framed bifocals, sunglasses, or gradient lenses.

     In closing I can’t remember the last time I’ve been more excited seeing a cast make their appearances on screen: Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci are magic, Scorsese manages to keep Pacino from verging into farce while instead getting a simmering, committed performance, Harvey Keitel, and hundreds of supporting actors (and even bg have an intriguing look in Scorsese’s Philly). Yep I really love The Irishman.

Monday, November 11, 2019

Just Another Calendarman-ic Monday

(Your author, coming at you with all the powers he gained after being bitten by a radioactive page-a-day Far Side calendar in middle school.)

I've been thinking on and off about calendars since about 2015. That was a busy year. I needed to juggle two big projects: one usually on alternate Sundays, one roughly every 10 days, all year long, these alongside all the other normal activities constituting everyday life (food, work, family, art, uprising, etc.), and it was difficult to do such juggling. What worked for me that year was to: print out Bram Moolenaar's fold-and-stand-up desk calendar and

  1. Circle my alternating-Sunday deadlines in red
  2. Circle the every-10-day deadlines in green
  3. Put it on my desk where I could see it

(Bram's yearly calendar. I recently discovered that this is pretty much the output of the Unix utility ncal with the -w flag! Unix can be pretty cool.)

It worked well for me! Obviously, this is not a tool that accepts a great deal of information, but for helping visualize a cadence of more or less regularly occurring events, it served effectively.

Over the next few years, unfortunately, the events to coordinate got less regular, less predictable, and probably more numerous. Bram Moolenaar's calendar stopped helping me organize things. That's whenDavid Malki stepped up. He has several long, interesting posts on calendars, and the high-end calendar he makes he is a beautiful, funny, and probably useful object. But what really fired my soul was his devastatingly simple "continuous calendar" idea1, just a year's worth of boxes organized by month, fitting on six pages of printer paper.

(Malki's simple calendar.)

One reason for my soul's resonance with this object is context: at my work, a very common activity to to grab a blank piece of butcher paper, sketch out a grid representing a month or so, and calendar out some events in / for / of / constituting a campaign. This simple template of Malki's saved the drawing-and-adding-dates steps, and I used it a few times in different campaigns to help visualize timelines, deadlines, and possible conflicts. It worked well.

What didn't work well was trying to use the template to help organize my life. I had a couple problems with what he had made:

  1. Squares too small to add significant information (70 squares on one 8.5x11 piece of paper is a lot)
  2. Shading to indicate a month makes it hard to to write on with, say, a black ballpoint pen, or a Sharpie®|Pen., or whatever
  3. I really hated having Saturday and Sunday at the end of the week: this was confusing because it meant that this calendar didn't match any other calendar I'd look at ever

So eventually I decided to stop being frustrated with a tool that didn't work for me. I decided to try to brew my own. I wanted bigger squares, I wanted weeks to start with Sundays, and I didn't want any shading. The best way to attain bigger squares seemed to be to move from portrait to landscape. I really liked Malki's insight about making the months flow into each other, so I kept that layout. I made a couple three-month templates and tested them, and they seemed to work the way I want them to work.

(My calendar looks like this. I like to mark it up with bill due-dates in red, and other notable things in black.)

If you would like to see if this tool will serve your purposes, you can download it and print it out and play with it. (Right now it runs from October 2019 through February 2021, so I recommend judicious use of the "print selected pages" function so as to save our mother the Earth from additional abuse.) If you find that you like using this tool, why not send David Malki a couple bucks: it was all his idea anyway! If you find that this tool doesn't work well for you, why not spend a little time figuring out why not, thinking about what you need, and go try to make something that will help you?

1 What's hilarious is that Malki uses a different term, not "continuous calendar":

progressive calendar

By that, I mean a calendar that doesn’t have any breaks between months. I think I invented the term? By that, I mean “nobody else has ever used this term.”
Evidently, he IS the only one to use the term. Since I use a different term, perhaps I ... invented the idea? (No, no clearly I didn't.) Anyway, this is a long digression prompted by my inability to remember what words he actually used.

(Your author's ambitions when it comes to calendars.)

(Bonus Venture Brothers content re: calendars.)

Monday, November 04, 2019

Pen 15 Club: Just (Broke) the Tip: All Good Things (& All Other Things) Will Come to an End -- OR -- Rest in Peace, Zebra

I have been happy with my Zebra ballpoint for a while now. The ink is okay, a bit blobby on some paper, and it's maybe a little too heavy for seriously extended writing sessions, but it's a solid pen. Maybe too solid, I discovered tonight, doing some precinct walking in San Francisco.

(Pictured: a so sadly fucked friend, one who served not long but stoutly and well, before a moment of (my) failure cost it any chance of future success.)

Struggling up a hill, marking up the sheet of turf I'd been cut, I dropped the Zebra. I guess it landed more or less point-down, because the tip broke clean off, probably due to the stainless steel's shaft's weight. (The shaft and tip are steel, each screwing onto the black plastic grip. It's frustrating, when you buy something with a lot of metal parts in part assuming it will last longer and be less disposable than an all-plastic something, and then find that it is no more durable; annoying to have a single drop reduce a tool to no more than spare parts. ((My thinking right now is that I'll keep it around in case I need for kit-bashing or whatever. Probably that's just a rationalization for having trouble with the idea of loss.))) It's maybe worth noting that this is the second time a night of politics work has cost me a Zebra. I'm not certain what this could mean.

Nor am I certain what comes next. I sorta feel like blue ink is better for me than black: but all my Zebra refills are black, and Zebra blue gets worse reviews than either Zebra black or, importantly, than Bic Crystal; blue. But I'm burnt out on the Bic Crystal right now (been using it too much at work) and I just don't have any other ballpoint ideas. Or any other ideas.

Saturday, November 02, 2019

Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger

Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991, James Cameron) was the first R-rated movie I saw in the theater. It’s also the last movie I saw where I suspended disbelief. I was wholly immersed in its world and believed what I was seeing.

All of the sequels after T2 are garbage. Is it because Cameron left? Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003, Jonathan Mostow) attempts to replicate T2, except the T-1000 is a blonde woman—it doesn’t work. Terminator Salvation (2009, McG) is set in the Skynet resistance—it’s kinda cool, sucks the least of them. Then there’s Terminator Genisys (2015, Alan Taylor), which is so overly convoluted and silly it feels like an episode of Rick and Morty without the edginess though and messier.

Was Terminator 3 the first sequel to overtly copy its predecessor? I’ve only began to think about this recently, having considered both Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015, J.J. Abrams) and Halloween (2018, David Gordon Green) as examples.

T2 is the movie that inaugurated the modern age of big budget vfx. And not only does it still hold its own, but I think it’s one of the best movies of the nineties; and maybe one of the best action movies of all time. And if I’ll just cite a couple of key factors, first, there’s JOHN CONNOR (Edward Furlong) and his delinquent pal rebelling and having so much fun. (By the way that pal is played by Danny Cooksey, who I knew at the time as BOBBY BUDNICK, star of Nickelodeon’s teen summercamp comedy Salute Your Shorts. Like in T2, Budnick sports the same red mullet, but also plays something like a teen version of Problem Child, another favorite of my little brother and I’s.) John wears a Public Enemy t-shirt, owns a dirtbike, robs atm’s, and spends all his time at an arcade in the galleria.

The other factor is how dark and violent T2 is, and still, the subsequent sequels pale in comparison. Particularly the opening scenes of the apocalypse and seeing all the innocent children turned to ashes, along with similar images recurring later in SARAH CONNOR’S nightmares. That opening sequence explodes from idyllic tranquility into that war-torn future beginning with the metal terminator skeleton crushing a human skull under its step, followed by intense pulsing electronic ominous score and lasers blasting with giant airships menacing overhead.

James Cameron returns as producer for Terminator: Dark Fate (2019, Tim Miller). So, whatta we got workin’ in this one? For starters, the opening, in rough degraded video images over the Paramount logo is Sarah Connor’s (Linda Hamilton) speech from T2: “You know the dream's the same every night. Children look like burnt paper. Black. Not moving. And then the blast wave hits them. And they fly apart like leaves. It's not a dream, you moron. It's real. I know the date it happens. On August 29, 1997 it's gonna feel pretty fucking real to you too! Anybody not wearing two-million sunblock is gonna have a real bad day. Get it? You think you're saving a life? You're already dead, everybody, him, you, you're dead already. This whole place, everything you see is gone. You're the one living in a fucking dream, Silberman. Cause I know it happens. It happens.”

And as early as possible, devastating depictions of mass human extermination fill the screen. These images are followed by the metal terminator skeletons with laser rifles invading. So, we’re off to a good start here. (Notice the T2 font is back.) Then we see the iconic staple of the franchise, a naked figure that appears human, in a light sphere arriving from the future. This time it’s an androgynous blonde woman. And another trend in modern movies that’s as prevalent as vfx is the physical appearance of stars after months of intense working out to look excessively fit, which Mackenzie Davis exhibits Cameron style for most of the movie: in a tight tank top.

Something else common to the franchise is a good terminator and a bad terminator; or a protector and an attacker. Both are concerned with the same target. And in Terminator: Dark Fate it seems they’ve decided to pander to the four quadrant bullseye because the primary cast features old characters, Mexican characters, young characters, and a badass teen dykes can root for. It’s 2019, why not, right?

The action is there. The pace is as relentless as T2. And Sarah Connor is as salty and cynical as ever. In contrast to the other sequels, this installment is way better, but is it a true return to form? Sadly, I doubt any sequel can be as good as the first two. Terminator: Dark Fate has a danger that the other sequels lacked, which also made me think it might live up to its expectations. And I realize this might make me sound like a homicidal maniac, but another thing I think the sequels missed was innocent civilian casualties. Terminator: Dark Fate realizes this, and by including scenes with this type of violence the tone is indeed darkened. A key example is when GRACE (Davis) escapes custody in the detention center and the way she assaults the law enforcement officers is something that I think audiences cheer for, with a disavowal of moral guilt because she’s the hero. Like when she asks that woman for directions then slaps her down and knocks her on the floor. Is that funny? I laughed, hard.

Yet while Terminator: Dark Fate manages to have a dark tone it still isn't as bleak as the ones directed by Cameron. Take the good guys for example. In Terminator: Dark Fate, the Mexican family is squeaky clean, functioning as one big happy loving whole with jobs, passions, bright futures. But T2 opens with John Connor stuck in a foster home life with no love (Xander Berkeley is great as TODD), and his mother is incarcerated without hope of parole.

I think it might be due to Cameron that the level of detail involving the Mexican border, and all of the military bases, choppers, airplanes, and vehicles is included. It definitely feels like it’s all been researched by someone who really knows about all this stuff. And the Mexican take on this franchise recalls the scenes in T2 when Sarah takes refuge there with her friend ENRIQUE’S family in Baja. But as someone born and raised in Texas (and one of those people who are proud of it), and being half Mexican, I got a huge kick out of Terminator: Dark Fate. A nice touch is the way the Mexican terminator assimilates his voice to a Texas accent once they get to Texas. Even the words he uses are authentic.

So, I regret to say Terminator: Dark Fate isn’t the second coming or anything. But it’s got amazing action, pacing, and everything is riveting and holds you in. (And it updates the biblical undertones by replacing Cyberdyne with Legion i.e. an army of demonic forces.) It just feels like it followed the recipe of the first two close enough yet somehow there's still something off about the way it tastes.

A Cure for Wellness

One of my favorite games as a kid was the Memory Game. You know, the one where you take turns flipping cards over and trying to match two with the same image? Anyway, that’s part of where I think I get the compulsion to associate movies with other places I’ve seen a similar scene, or motif, or technique, or heard the same song. But I’m trying to cut down on it. Like in my Jojo Rabbit post I refrained from mentioning The Tin Drum (1979, Volker Schlondörff) or Wes Anderson.

But another game I loved was Candyland. Its influence on my taste in movies is apparent when I think of how often I enjoy rewatching Alice in Wonderland (2010, Tim Burton), even though there’s not much to it except its look, which is odd because I reread both of the Carroll books often? Then there’s Marie Antoinette (2006, Sofia Coppola), the only movie that has an eye candy fantasy art direction, costumes, hair, makeup and is perfectly created to fit its post punk soundtrack. Marie Antoinette is also one of my top favorite movies and a masterpiece I could discuss at length.

The look of Paradise Hills (2019, Alice Waddington) made me want to see it. The all white costumes look like something out of Alice in Wonderland. It looks like a fairy tale. And I’ve been a sucker for the beauty of Emma Roberts, so the image of her with pink hair intrigued me.

Paradise Hills is a dark fairy tale. It’s easy to follow, being a simple clear plot that develops into an original narrative I didn’t feel was all that predictable or anything. And it’s moral is timely. It has a great ending. But what’s wrong with it?

Something about Paradise Hills is cheap. The production design in many of the night scenes feel like what I imagine a neon Miami nightclub looks like. I don’t know why I’m complaining about this because Dreamland made a handful of masterpieces that will last long into posterity, created by John Waters, Vincent Peranio, Van Smith et al. Is it the soft digi-fuzzy video aesthetic that’s bothering me?

There’s also the sudden and underdeveloped way the Eiza González character falls in love with UMA (Roberts). It’s like as soon as Uma gets to the spa or clinic or whatever AMARNA (González) is smoking a cigarette in a cave and they meet, then Amarna has to be with Uma and that’s all that matters to her. Maybe I missed something?

Paradise Hills has that late nineties indy charm going for it too though. I’ll say it’s fun, but flawed. And Emma Roberts is dreamy, so great casting.

Gallows Humor

Thor: Ragnarok (2017, Taika Waititi) was the first Marvel movie I saw in a theater, on the six story high screen at the Bullock Imax in Austin. Man, I miss that theater. Thor: Ragnarok’s biggest strength is as a comedy, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Soon I realized that its director had a name, but I hadn’t seen any of his other work.

Then a few months later I was working in Charleston, SC and was hanging out with some friends when one of them put on What We Do in the Shadows (2014, Waititi). For such a casual mockumentary, I laughed through almost the whole thing and find it clever even after multiple viewings. I rank it up there with This Is Spinal Tap (1984, Rob Reiner) and Christopher Guest’s comedies.

Apparently there’s more that he’s done and I hope to get around to seeing soon.

Jojo Rabbit (2019, Waititi) is a black comedy that’s also a coming of age film and happens to be set during the end of WWII in Germany. But it’s also vibrant. And, in the end, it’s also a celebration of life and offers a sincere portrait of humanity.

Best of all, Jojo Rabbit is the kind of art that makes you ask yourself difficult questions about what you’re watching. And the subjective nature of the types of answers I imagine arising as a result of those questions is exciting. First of all, the film is about a young Nazi boy, JOJO, discovering a Jewish girl named ELSA hiding in the walls of his house. And I can’t imagine it taking viewers very long to guess that somehow by the end the girl will teach the boy to not hate Jews anymore.

For Jojo, hating Jews drives him more than anything else, motivated of course by its potential to please the Führer. Okay so like I hope this doesn’t make me sound too creepy or anything but, we have this adolescent boy with no friends (well, one) who now has a pretty sixteen year old girl prisoner in his home while his mom is gone all day and no one else is around. Isn’t that like almost some kind of kinky pornographic male fantasy? Please let me finish. So, after weeks of Jojo hating Elsa for being Jewish, lying to her and intentionally hurting her, he falls in love with her. But is it really love? I don’t think so. I think he’s horny. (This is where I realize the film is so effective as a coming of age.) Jojo’s going through a lot.

Jojo’s character arc is so wonderfully written because of how many changes he goes through, along with lessons he learns through the course of the film. By the end nothing is what it seems. But I guess that’s why his mother’s so important (played by Scarlett Johansson), because she’s constantly trying to get him to learn what life’s about. Yet even she tells him a few lies. But this is also integral to Jojo Rabbit’s functioning as a coming of age film—learning what you need to when you’re ready. And that’s something for the audience too: accepting that hopefully it’s never too late to change the way you think about things. Does that make sense or am I being too vague?

Another thing to add is the subtle depiction of the Sam Rockwell character and his adjutant as a gay couple. Because in a comedy as absurd and irreverent as Jojo Rabbit, by not resorting to gay jokes it makes it easier to empathize with these two. They don’t particularly seem to have any reason to be Nazis either. For instance, anytime Jojo asks CAPTAIN KLENZENDORF (Rockwell) about Jews he’s completely disinterested. However, what does interest him are his sketches for outlandish costumes he plans for wearing in combat someday—also one of the funniest bits.

Anyway, Jojo Rabbit all came together in the end and there’s a hit pop song that’s played in a German version I didn’t remember having heard until it played, and I cried, then cried some more, and felt really great about life and humanity and everything okay? Now I don’t really know a ton about history or anything but I do feel truly horrified when I think about the Holocaust, the famine, the mass extermination of six million Jews, the concentration camps, the final solution to the Jewish problem, the gas chambers, the liquidation of the Warsaw ghettos, Dachau, Auschwitz, Treblinka and while I watched Jojo Rabbit, even though it’s not acknowledged in the film I thought about it. And I thought about it after it was over. It’s the worst atrocity of human history I know of. But I can still laugh. Is that messed up? That’s the portrait of humanity I got out of Jojo Rabbit, which is heavy.

Jojo Rabbit is silly, tragic, sweet, compassionate, and optimistic. And again I think all of that bears the mark of true art. Unlike say Joker, which is just really dark and depressing.

Autumnal Almodóvar

Almodóvar makes films about passion. All his films are set in España. His cast usually revolves around a strong female character, supported by other women, junkies, homosexuals, and transvestites. His art direction is saturated with primary colors. And his soapy lurid narratives depict his own passions for cinema, novels, art, and the theater. Yet let’s not forget how often he features medicine and particularly human anatomy in his work too.

Of all his films that I’ve seen none are bad. But All About My Mother (1999, Pedro Almodóvar) was brilliant, a breakthrough where all of his themes coalesced into a career-defining work that achieves everything he’s best at, punctuated with a romantic thank you to and for his fans and subject. Almodóvar is not a woman’s director, he’s the woman’s director.

Much of what followed maintained a high degree of quality. All of it displays a polished, flawlessly immaculate sense of décor. The Skin I Live In (2011, Almodóvar) finds the writer-director tailoring the horror genre to his vision and making it fit like a glove.

Like Julieta (2016, Almodóvar), Pain & Glory (2019, Almodóvar) feels incomplete, and tells the story of a character at the end of middle-age, trying to find the missing piece that will provide meaning for life.

But Pain & Glory is boring even. It’s about an aging film director with all sorts of physical ailments who starts freebasing heroin as an escape into memories of his mother and an illiterate laborer whom he taught to read and write while he was a young boy. There’s also the discovery of a meaningful relationship from the director’s youth and its role in his inspiration to write about it.

In general, a movie about a rich successful artist moping around elicits little sympathy from me. At least he’s Spanish. If this dude was white Pain & Glory would suck way more. Pain & Glory is also very quiet and calm. I just couldn’t find anything compelling in it. I kept thinking even if the protagonist, played by Antonio Banderas, shot up that might have given the film some kind of edge, but he just chases the dragon. In today’s age of opiate addiction I don’t even find that smoking horse makes him a junkie—plus it doesn’t cost him anything. So what’s the point? Who cares?