Monday, January 28, 2013

Another Year at the Theater

I went to the movies 85 times last year. Chronologically:


War Horse
The Artist
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
A Dangerous Method


The Secret World of Arrietty
Pina (3D)


A Separation
My Week With Marilyn
Dr. Seuss' The Lorax
The Hunger Games
The FP


Mirror Mirror
The Grapes of Wrath (1940)
Gold Diggers of 1933 (1933)
The Kid with a Bike


Damsels in Distress
The Avengers
21 Jump Street
Frankenstein (1931)
The Pirates! Band of Misfits
We Need to Talk About Kevin
Jeff, Who Lives at Home
Journey to the Center of the Earth (1959)
Dark Shadows
The Dictator
Dracula (1931)
Men in Black 3


My Neighbor Totoro (1988)
Snow White and the Huntsman
Stray Dog (1949)
Lonely are the Brave (1962)
Moonrise Kingdom
The Color Wheel
Safety Not Guaranteed


The Cabin in the Woods
Magic Mike
The Hidden Fortress (1958)
Your Sister’s Sister
To Rome With Love


Beasts of the Southern Wild
The Dark Knight Rises
The Campaign
Neil Young Journeys


Premium Rush
Dark Horse
Finding Nemo (2003)
The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)
It’s Such A Beautiful Day
The Amazing Spider-Man
The Master


Sexual Tension
Keep the Lights On
Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
BearCity 2: The Proposal
The Perks of Being a Wallflower
Searching for Sugar Man


Wreck-It Ralph
Cloud Atlas
The Man with the Iron Fists
Life of Pi
The Comedy


Silver Linings Playbook
Pitch Perfect
The Sessions
Django Unchained
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey


Life is just adventures in physics, and while you’re watching Wreck-It Ralph, it’s hard to remember if it can be anything else. Adventures in chemistry, maybe, but the creatures of computer animation tend to be irreducible.

Best storyline in Cloud Atlas? The filmmakers’(/novelist’s?) storytelling ambition really starts to mean something during the ghastly ordeal of Timothy Cavendish, with their clear willingness to import heavy themes into just about anything, even something totally silly, but also, you know, a depiction of the type of imprisonment we all really fear most.

It’s hard to put into words, but the juxtaposition of those two scenes in Take This Waltz in which The Buggles’ “Video Killed the Radio Star” plays, different in two key particulars, says something about pop music, solitude, romantic love and happiness that I’ve never seen articulated in a movie before, but that I felt all through my lonely, happy years of listening to the 80s. Let’s see: Until you’ve fallen in love with being alone, and learned that the soaring feeling in The Buggles, etc., refers only to the act of holding yourself, not the act of looking into the eyes of another, you’ll go crazy trying to fill that gap like some lunatic.

“The whole movie is a ‘share,’” someone said about Flight, and it’s a statement that makes a lot of sense after you also see Smashed and realize it’s the same movie, but different in all the small ways that makes a person need to share in the first place.

The Comedy is about the endless, pointless search for a response, and if not a single funny comedian numbers among its characters, well, at least some very committed ones do. Thus, its least funny scenes (that sickening feigned seizure, for one, or is it just feigned indifference to a real seizure?) are also, of course, the apex of its comedy.

“There’s room in this world for waste. Not everything can have meaning. You’d choke.” So says the idle musician father in I Wish, the first movie by Kore-Eda Hirokazu that has room for waste. But a filmmaker this good can’t help but make everything have meaning, even when the quaint soundtrack tries to sell a kind of modest, charming inefficiency.

“It’s a feeling.” –Ishmael Butler
“I can feel it.” –Hal 9000
“That’s a feeling.” –Jennifer Lawrence in Silver Linings Playbook …and she’s not wrong.

Did I miss something? Doesn’t all the violence in Django Unchained take place in the context of law and order and self-defense, until that queasy, giddy moment in the parlor when one character shoots another simply because he can’t resist? I’m not saying the movie doesn’t, at that point, become a revenge fantasy, but I love the way it contains, or implies, another complete movie, one in which the characters, forced to swallow their anger, achieve their goals entirely while operating under the laws of their world. Inglourious Basterds it’s not; that movie was all setup for its bloody finale. Django needs its own dreamy, violent coda, of course, so that Django can become the hero. Waltz, Tarantino’s mouthpiece, can’t resist and makes it happen. And that’s the movie people are talking, arguing about, but that wasn’t the movie I saw. I prefer the more painful one in which the righteous do resist, and walk away because they can. And that’s the movie Django would’ve chosen, if a tiny circumstance didn’t decide otherwise.

Hey, I love both “Take On Me” and “Debaser,” two of the best songs of the 80s! The biggest Alice In Chains fan I know is female! That girl can’t think her dad is uncool if she deigns to wear his Yo La Tengo t-shirt! Those are some of the things I wanted to shout at This Is 40, but at the same time I recognized that it has to partake in the either/or construction that so many people use for their dumb arguments, if it’s to be an effective “family vent” picture. And it is.

Something weird happens in Red Hook Summer, not in the story but in its enactment. Flik finds a dead rat in the church basement and teases his girl-friend with it, and not once does it look like anything but a big plushy toy. Was I seeing wrong? I hope not. Not long after, I saw the amazing Thief of Bagdad, a movie that begs the question, wouldn’t you rather see the cut, the dissolve, the fake dead rat, the special effect whose momentary dissonance only reinforces what it aims to achieve, than the more seamless effect whose dissonance is eternal? In an era when “fantasy” movies must look more real than reality (The Hobbit), it’s nice to see that Spike Lee’s movies are still so rich with theater (in more ways than that one possibly imagined example).

I’d never know how to end a movie like Oslo, August 31st. Who can say for sure what happens to a person like that? Chalk it up to the writer’s omniscience that the movie’s ending doesn’t feel like one of many possible.

Cosmopolis, like a lot of things that would be intolerable otherwise, works pretty well as science fiction. And the world of money is pure science fiction, so why should the context be otherwise?

I really liked Zero Dark Thirty, but wonder about the decision to use audio of 9/11 victims, and a black screen, as its dramatic impetus. Isn’t this the same tactic used in Fahrenheit 9/11 nearly a decade ago? Now it only feels like a reflexive artistic response to tragedy, consumed by the need to be sensitive but ending up less-than-sensitive. Are their voices, separate from their images, somehow fair game, containing no horror or vulnerability that might exist to be exploited? I thought in our voices is where we keep the really awful, personal stuff. The movie’s opening is a parade of sound, but still a parade.

Ten favorites, 2012: Searching for Sugar Man, Lincoln, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, It’s Such A Beautiful Day, The Secret World of Arrietty, Life of Pi, The Kid With A Bike, Take This Waltz, Oslo August 31st, Red Hook Summer

Ten more favorites: Damsels In Distress, ParaNorman, Keyhole, Dark Horse, Bernie, The Master, Keep the Lights On, Moonrise Kingdom, Detropia, Neil Young Journeys

TV, I will not be party to you.

While in Colorado last month, I had the opportunity to watch some cable TV, an occasion that reminded me why so many people despair for humanity – a sentiment that sometimes eludes me at moments in my life when I’m not inundated with media. My cable marathon culminated in the single worst hour of cultural product I have ever endured, an episode of the new show Catfish, a spin-off of the slightly less awful, but still awful, movie of the same name. This hour was a total void of meaning, except what is suggested by a ceaseless exploitation of the emotionally vulnerable by the emotionally undeveloped, which is probably considerable if you choose to pursue it, but who possibly could? Our tour guide through the lives of some sad people in Atlanta and the boring world of social media (oh, such exciting possibilities of identity subterfuge!) is Nev, a hirsute man who is often found shirtless for no reason and who plays the parts of interviewer and social worker when he has no natural or acquired talents for either. See the way he forces two women into an argument in front of an Atlanta apartment complex when one very much wants to leave the scene, and later, because the episode is reaching its final minutes, the way he cues a redemptive narrative (the soundtrack agrees) for one of these women, when no such thing has been earned, or even remotely suggested. It was bad, folks, enough to make you wonder if anything matters anymore.

I escape into strange culture dreams.

a. I don’t recall in what context, but the name Elaine Stritch occurs in my dream. A few days later, in real life, a group of guys sits at a neighboring table in a gay bar and one of them speaks the name Elaine Stritch. Why do I specify it as a gay bar? I don’t know, do they talk about Elaine Stritch anywhere else, or mysteriously rescue such trivial data from my dreams?

b. Even in my dreams I feel a strong need to capture images. I’m dream-watching Girls and there’s a shot I really wanna grab, an over-the-shoulder shot from Hannah’s POV, just her blurry profile and beyond her a sort of lens flare on a field of black, except it’s too geometric, a point of light with discrete colorful triangles extending from it.

c. I’m playing an 8-bit video game that’s intended as a corrective to the glossed-over American history usually shown in video games (like, this is a commonly known shortcoming of video games). And then the punch line, a new character appears, a little digital lump of irreducible humanity, and a word box indicates that his name is the N-word. I feel ill with the weight of this word, its strange physical reality in such an unusual space. Is this Django The Video Game, my subconscious critique of Tarantino’s screenwriting, um, tics? Either way, its gut-punch intentions are realized.

d. I’m riding through an imagined video for The Beatles’ “Good Morning, Good Morning,” a song I have probably not listened to in years, on a bicycle, possibly one with a big front wheel (because it’s all my POV, and I seem to have a commanding view), through a colorful department store.

e. Don Draper is sitting on a toilet shouting the lyrics to some punk song and I, Roger Sterling, am pissing on him.


Some lines from the work of Henry Darger, as seen in In the Realms of the Unreal. Sometimes a screen capture of a Word document is the easiest way to take notes:

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