Doldrums

I’ve been better, but I’ve been a lot, lot worse.

First up: politics. Not feeling great right now! I know there’s still plenty of delegates up for grabs, but even if Sanders squeaks out a plurality of delegates, I think we’re going to have a contested convention that almost surely ends with…*sigh* Joe fuckin’ Biden as the nominee. Honestly, I keep thinking I’m jaded enough to not be thrown by the baffling political decisions people make, but I the Democratic establishment keeps surprising me. The resurrection of creepy Joe starts out strange and gets more and more depressing the more you think about it. Why the fuck would anybody want this sack of sentient bones to run against Trump?  He’s got all the same baggage HillDawg had, but he’s sundowning at an alarming rate, and his corruption problems are even more severe. Outside of electability issues, his policies are dogshit. He’s a dinosaur of the right-wing of the party, a Republican lite. If/when this pudding-brain gets nominated, we’re going to see record-low turnout for dems, because plenty of progressive voters, myself included, did not sign up for this shit, and we’re not going to roll over and play dead for the DNC just because they snapped their fingers.

So why coalesce around old Joe? Well, it’s possible that the DNC really thinks he has a shot at beating Trump, but I think it’s more likely that most of the party faithful are actually the dreaded “socially liberal, fiscally conservative” types you run into so much at terrible parties. Long story short, it’s all about greed, and the internalized “Protestant work ethic” that’s infected so much of American society for so long. Deep down, the folks pulling the strings at the DNC and the voters lapping up their bullshit don’t want their taxes raised and/or they think poor people have it coming. Setting up a loser like Biden as the nom, especially with a snake like Warren playing spoiler gives all the usual suspects a convenient excuse to fall back on when Biden inevitably eats shit; it’s all the Bernie Bros’ fault! As though we should be grateful for the opportunity to get rat-fucked out of a true progressive agenda because somebody who is mumbling “I’m not Trump!” at campaign stops claims he can bring us back to the status quo of 2015. Goodie!

In other news, I went to a doc’s office for an EKG today (technically yesterday now, I suppose). It was supposed to be routine. I was diagnosed with ADHD when I was around 7 years old, and was on Ritalin for most of my childhood. That tapered off as I got into high school and I pretty much stopped taking it completely by the time I was midway through college. Now I’m 34, but a variety of things that have come up in my personal and professional life have me considering medication once again. My therapist has been quite open to the idea, but wanted me to get an EKG before she put me on any ADHD medications. Anyway, I went in for the thing, and was surprised to hear from the nice old Polish doctor that I had an “abnormality” in my test results. She was pretty kind and reassuring, saying that it was nothing to be worried about, but also said I needed to see a cardiologist before I went on any ADHD medication. Needless to say, this was not what I wanted to hear. I’ve been fairly depressed about my body/fitness lately, and have been on a steady weight-lifting regimen, which has made me feel a lot better physically, but I’m the heaviest I’ve ever been now, and I suspect some of whatever is showing up on this EKG is due to my lifestyle and diet. I like eating shitty food, and I like drinking, and I loathe aerobic exercise…so I guess something’s gotta give. I have an appointment with a cardiologist on Monday, so we’ll see what’s up then.

Speaking of medical issues…Coronavirus, let’s talk about it. I keep going back and forth on whether or not I’m freaking out just enough, under-freaking out, or over-freaking out. My initial reactions were that this was going to be another SARS type thing that blew over fairly quickly, but it seems to be lingering in the media. I still haven’t seen much concrete evidence that this is going to be particularly dangerous for anybody but the elderly and immuno-compromised, but I guess all that remains to be seen. More to the point, March 2nd was Texas Independence Day, heretofore known as the Day I Made Some Guy At A Bar So Mad He Stormed Out, and this was over the disease nobody can stop talking about.

A little background: I showed up a little early for celebratory drinks for the Great Republic a little early, and as I was nursing a Lone Star, found myself half-eavesdropping on a conversation happening at the end of the bar. I could barely make out some guy saying *something* about the dreaded plague, but didn’t quite catch it. Somehow the talk shifted to Amazon moving into New York, and the successful effort to block their new HQ location and tax breaks. The guy who didn’t seem to know anybody else but was loudly talking to everybody (there’s always one) was saying this was a bad thing, for some reason. With the patience of a saint, other dude at the bar explained that he was from Seattle, and went on to detail very specific ways Amazon’s base on the West Coast has been awful for working class people and priced them out of the city proper. The annoying guy responded with some nonsensical shit about how if they had come to NYC “we would have forced them to donate to nonprofits” (???) I began to text James about overhearing this guff, but he walked in a few seconds later.

We drank and chatted for a while, and then James had the bartender put on Monday Night Raw. I’m not extremely knowledgable about wrasslin’ but I do enjoy it from time to time, especially watching with my old roommate who has an encyclopedic knowledge and is always eager to catch a n00b like me up to speed. Anyways, after a while of watching Raw, annoying guy comes over and asks if he can join. I haven’t yet told James about the conversation I overheard, but figure the guy’s harmless, and for the most part he is. We have a nice chat while watching flyers from the top rope and RKOs for a while, annoying guy came back from the bathroom and did a thing I’ve literally only seen on TV. “Wuhan? Did you guys say Wuhan?” before launching into his spiel about Coronavirus. James and I laughed and I playfully called him out on “mishearing” what we were saying, but was game to talk about it. Unfortunately, it became clear after a while that he had some pretty…unorthodox views on the subject. James and I were both expressing a shared cautious optimism about the whole thing, only in the sense that the prevailing twitterverse attitude that this was the end times plague we’ve all been waiting for might be slightly exaggerated. Annoying guy was having none of it, claiming, repeatedly, that “we’ll all be dead in three weeks.” This was one of those arguments when the other person is insisting on trying to own you with “facts and logic” but doesn’t really understand how numbers work, constantly making huge leaps in logic to feed into his belief that once the virus hit NYC “for real” it was going to be a bloodbath. I said that wasn’t really born out by the data so far, as I understood it, and he continued to talk at us for a long time.

Eventually, it started to exhaust me. I have very little patience for doom ‘n’ gloom nihilism these days, and suggested that if he was so preoccupied with his own death he might consider talking to  a mental health professional rather than strangers in a bar. I further said that being blackpilled doesn’t really do anybody much good, because we’re all going to be here ten, fifty, however many years from now, and there’s work to be done to make the world better rather than pretending that it’s all going to crash down in a matter of days. For some reason, this made him incredibly angry, and he started aggressively asking me over and over again what *I* was doing to make  the world better. A little caught off guard, I offered that I had donated a lot to the Sanders campaign and textbanked. “What else?” he demanded, in a tone that let me know he was about to logic-fuck me. “Yeah, I’m not doing this,” I said, and signaled with body language that I was done with the conversation. “Yeah that’s what I thought, that’s what I thought,” he spat at me before storming out of the bar in a huff.

I honestly didn’t know I had it in me!

Oscars Round-Up

As somebody who has long considered himself to be in a dysfunctional relationship with the Academy Awards, it pains me to say: I’m back on my bullshit. This year, without  even really making any special effort to do so, I’ve seen all of the nominees for Best Picture. I surrender my Oscar-hating credentials to nobody, but I have to say, this is one of the first years in which I’m not extraordinarily outraged by a decent chunk of the nominees. Of course, that’s mostly because I’m outraged at the shut-out of Uncut Gems, but that’s an entirely different post.

 

Without further ado, a run-down, dare I say, some CAPSULE REVIEWS of each Best Picture nominee, presented in ascending order of personal preference:

 

Jojo Rabbit

Directed by Taika Waititi

 

Ugh. I may have to walk back my claim of not being “outraged” a little bit. I guess I’m not mad, I’m just…disappointed. Full disclosure of biases here: I kind of loathe Taika Waititi. I’m sure he’s a nice guy and all, and I’m glad he’s a new face making original films in a landscape so bereft of them, but…sigh. I haven’t seen Hunt For the Wilderpeople (some Taika-stan on twitter threw this in my face as  though it were some ancient, obscure lost film that nobody’s ever heard of), but Thor: Ragnaraok is easily one of the most tedious and annoying films in an entire universe of similarly tedious and annoying films. Waititi’s sense of humor is gratingly childish, screamingly unfunny, and brings to mind the worst kind of Redditors in its arrogant self-satisfaction. ZOMG GUYS HE  MADE A COMEDY ABOUT NAZIS CAN YOU BELIEVE IT?!?!? Snore.

 

A lot of hay has been made on film twitter lately concerning Jojo Rabbit and its humanization of Nazis, as the film seems to put forth the theory that those who are radicalized into right-wing death cults can be saved, and should be applauded for doing so. That’s not an especially appealing premise to me personally, but it’s made all the worse because Jojo Rabbit is just as grating and eye-roll worthy as the director’s previous outing. Hey, at least he managed to sandwich this in between Disney movies! Anyhow, once the initial “omg twee Nazis lol” thrill fades, there’s very little else to like about Jojo, until the third act, when Waititi absolutely bows the opportunity to turn everything on its head by showing the horrors and atrocities of the Nazi regime and treating its collaborators with unflinching judgement, but our man isn’t interested in anything that deep or cutting. Why not? It’s just about the fuckin’ holocaust, after all. That last scene with the dancing…I just…I can’t.

 

Marriage Story

Directed  by Noah Baumbach

 

We’re still firmly in “ugh” territory for now, though now the muck’s only up to our chests instead of our eyeballs. The smarmy David Spade character in me wants to say I liked this movie better when it was called The Squid and the Whale.  That may seem like a simplistic read, but a semi-autobiographical movie about Baumbach as a child of divorce is much more interesting and far less irritating than Baumbach making a movie about himself in the Jeff Daniels role. Marriage Story isn’t a terrible movie, it just doesn’t really amount to much, mainly because it’s so heavily centered around characters (I think) we’re supposed to love, who are boring, irritating, and have zero chemistry with one another. When this movie hit, everybody was talking about the infamous “wall punching” scene in breathless tones. I watched the movie, steeling myself for trauma (I don’t handle interpersonal toxicity well in movies), but I just thought it was pretty overwrought and silly. Honestly, it made me feel like Noah Baumbach has never actually been in a nasty fight with anybody he loved.

 

Speaking of things Noah Baumbach doesn’t know about, I’m not sure he knows the ages of his own children. That’s the only possible explanation I can come up with for some of the insane details buried within the stand-in son character in Marriage Story, who is eight years old but needs a car seat, isn’t 100% toilet-trained, and can’t read. Sorry Noah, either you have no idea how old your kid is, or they’re one of those Brooklyn weirdo kids (hair down to ankles, named Leviticus, favorite activity is eating rice cakes while reading Chomsky for kids).

 

Anyways, I often dry-heave when people object to a movie because there’s “nobody to root for,” but in this case  Baumbach builds the entire premise of his film around the idea that divorce is a messy and awful that happens to people with the best of intentions, and that we all can come away from it as changed, and hopefully better people. But Driver and Johannsson do little to communicate the goodness implied by such a reading, nor does Baumbach ever do much to make us think these people ever liked or even cared much at all about one another. It’s a flat, unremarkable story about the drama in the business of being alive and falling in and out of love, but Baumbach seems to think there’s a drama inherent in the telling. He’s sadly mistaken, in my opinion.

 

Joker

Directed by Todd Phillips

 

The hits start comin’ and they don’t stop comin’. What else is to be said about this movie that hasn’t already been said to death? I count myself firmly in the “Joker Centrist” camp. The movie is entertaining enough, I’m a sucker for the Batman universe, and I like the Joker a lot. Joaquin Phoenix turns in an incredible performance as sad sack Arthur Fleck, a mentally unstable, shakily employed man who aspires to be a comedian. In a lot of ways, Joker is back to basics for Gotham, transposing the comic book universe onto a slice of gritty nostalgia for the New York of Death Wish and Taxi Driver. As many have pointed out, Joker seems to borrow liberally from both movies, as well as King of Comedy, but most of the mainstream press coverage leading up  to and after the film’s release involve lots of fretting and hand-wringing, if not outright finger-wagging that a movie about a down-and-out mentally ill man could be interpreted as a paen to the would-be Incel massacres.

 

That concern is plainly hogwash, as Joker is a film about a man who feels left behind by society and gradually comes to focus his resentment on an appropriate target: the aristocratic Wayne family, as well as the less-deserving talk show host he idolizes, who mocks him on live TV at Fleck’s nadir. Never does Fleck shift his anger towards minorities or women, who are the universal targets of the abhorrent individuals the anti-Joker crowd claims will be emboldened by this film.

 

The problem with Joker is that Phillips has less insight into the themes his movie purports to deal in, and he’s not terribly interested (or perhaps not up to the task) of wrestling with them in any meaningful way. It’s remarkable and telling that a movie like Joker has gotten the widespread commercial appeal and critical recognition that it has, considering the subject matter, but it feels like a wasted opportunity in the hands of the guy who brought us the hard-hitting social commentary of The Hangover.

 

Little  Women

 

OK, we’re safely out of the woods now. Take a deep breath, and relax. Wait, who’s that, in the distance, is it…BOB ODENKIRK?!?!?

 

So aside from having the most delightful bit part of any movie this season, Greta Gerwig’s take on Little Women does interesting work with the source material, couching the whole thing in a sort of meta-narrative that centers the agency of all the women involved, both fictional and “real.” A few Academy dunder-heads have admitted on voting exit surveys that they got confused by the time jumps, which is proof that we shouldn’t be giving any sort of critical award power to folks who can’t stay off their phones for a solid two hours at a time, particularly when those folks work in the MOVIE BUSINESS.

 

Ahem Anyways, I have nothing particularly negative to say about Little Women. Oh wait, actually, Emma Watson is a bad actress, and that’s never been made clearer than by sticking her next to Saoirse Ronan, Florence Pugh and Laura Dern for two hours. Whew, she is awful. Just absolutely wooden, behaving at times like an animated porcelain doll. It’s hard to tell if she was always this bad and used her young age as a cover, but man, she is following the trajectory of a Heisman-winner that goes  bust in the pros. Stay tuned for my next blog entry, entitled “Why Emma Watson is the Baker Mayfield of Hollywood.” Ha, I’ve managed to alienate people who hate sporpsball and silenced women’s voices in one fell swoop. Take THAT, libs! (mostly joking)

 

Gerwig deserves a lot of credit for bringing this movie to life. I’ve never read the book, but watching the movie mirrors the experience of falling in love with an incredible novel at just the right age, a fact I’m sure was not lost on the many people who hold this story near and dear to their hearts. Suffice it to say, I’m not exactly the target audience for Little Women, but  I saw it anyways (please acknowledge my bravery), and I’m only more eager to see what Gerwig’s going to do in the future.

 

1917

Directed by Sam Mendes

 

A particularly annoying subset of Left-twitter have been haranguing 1917 for the crime of being a war movie that is not sufficiently anti-war, which is something I usually roll my eyes at. In this case, however, I’ve got to come down a bit on the naysayers’ side, only because the movie makes the cardinal sin of pretending to very much be an “anti-war” movie with a few lines of lip service coming from a 1.5 minute long Benedict Cumberbatch performance. If you’re not going to commit to the bit, just move on, in my opinion.

 

Anyways, Roger Deakins is Roger Deakins, and our visually-stunning King has found new ways to challenge himself here, creating incredibly immersive, unbroken panoramas that make all the senseless bloodshed and heart-pounding fear feel all the more real. Unfortunately, with an absence of any real character development, I was pretty detached from the movie’s events as they unfolded, outside of marveling at the sheer technical artistry on display. In that regard, watching 1917 is a little like watching somebody else play a very beautiful video game. Not altogether unpleasant, but nothing particularly mind-blowing or connective either.

 

Ford V Ferarri

Directed by James Mangold

 

OK, now we’re into the hot takes. I will defend James Mangold to the death. His movies are good. They aren’t jaw-dropping, they aren’t life-changing, but dammit, he does a certain kind of prestige picture better than almost anybody in the game, and at this point, competency and a commitment to craft is more than I expect about most things that make boomers and/or nerds wet themselves, so I’m all in. I mean, Mangold is the guy who always turns in the best iteration of a thing that’s been played out. He did it with Walk the Line, Logan, and now he triples down with Ford V Ferrarri, a movie that’s sure to satisfy your elderly parents who “just want a nice story,” that annoying friend of a friend who never shuts up about cars even though you live in New York and haven’t owned a car in almost a decade, and the sniveling whiner who thinks filmmakers should try new things, even when their staying safely within a tried and tested formula (it me!)

 

Nobody’s reinventing the wheel here (pun intended, thanks very much), but if it ain’t broke, well shit. Damon does a very passable Texas accent, and it’s a delight to watch him and Christian Bale carom off each other as stubborn car-racing aficionados whose job it is to convince a big fat idiot with tons of money he needs to trust the experts he hired to win him a race. It’s interesting that this movie was one of the last huge projects produced at Fox prior to the huge Disney acquisition, as the movie has a tragic coda, and struggles with what it means to try and think outside the box within a tightly controlled assembly line.

 

Once Upon A Time…In Hollywood

Directed by Quentin Tarantino

 

Mmm…that’s the good stuff. I’m something of a QT-stan, but The Hateful Eight left me feeling pretty cold (no pun intended, thank you), and I was wary of the hype going into this one, but…man, what a movie, and what a movie for Tarantino to make. All of his calling cards are there, but the director’s ninth film feels very restrained compared to the rest of his catalog, even the slow-burn, neo-noir 70s throwback Jackie Brown. OUATIH is shot through with Tarantino’s aching love of movies, and of Los Angeles itself, a city that looks grimy and impossible until those magical moments when it looks perfect.

 

The movie unfolds at a languid place, telling the intertwining stories of the aging has-been Rick Dalton, his long-time stunt double and friend Cliff Booth, and Rick’s next-door neighbor, actress Sharon Tate. The fiction Tarantino weaves into the true story that many cultural historians label as the death of the 1960s is one of two men watching the world around them change before their eyes. Dalton goes practically kicking and screaming, while Booth tends to stoically take everything in stride, as he’s the man Dalton only pretends to be. All of this adds up to a revisionist history showdown, the likes of  which Tarantino’s become fond of, both in Inglorious Basterds  and Django Unchained, but there’s more going on than historical catharsis here.

 

OUATIH is about friendships, community, values, art, love, and expression, and how all of those things crash together in the chaotic frenzy we call life. It’s an ultimately uplifting movie, telling us all we have the power to change our present and our future, if not our past. Featuring stellar performances from a stacked ensemble cast, beautiful, scorched earth photography, and Tarantino’s typically flawless musical selections and crackling wit, OUATIH is a movie I’d be content to keep watching over and over for a very long time.

 

Parasite

Directed by Bong Joon-Ho

 

I saw this at this past year’s Fantastic Fest in Austin. Prior to this I had only seen Memories of Murder and Snowpiercer, both of which I enjoyed. I had heard nothing but incredible approval come out of every festival where it had screened, so I kept to my usual playbook and resolved to not learn anything about the movie until I could see it for myself.

 

The offerings at Fantastic Fest 2019 were already stacked, but Parasite stole the show for me, and it almost doesn’t seem fair to have this one hanging around in competition with genre indie hopefuls that might never get distribution. In a new era of pronounced class agitation, existential anxiety, impotent rage, isolation, and hopelessness, this is the movie that people were just begging for, whether they knew it or not. I’m not the first or only person to make this point, but Parasite achieves what Joker sets out to do, and it does so with humor, beauty, and a vibrant love for humanity and cinema shining through. The usual crowd of folks who need to find something wrong with the thing everybody loves have occasionally remarked that it’s too “on the nose,” but I really feel that would only be a problem if it felt deeply self-important or didactic. While the film is very clear in its politics, Bong Joon Ho’s masterpiece is less of a polemic than it is a tragic wail of grief.

 

The Irishman

Directed by Martin Scorsese

 

Well…here we are.

 

I’m not sure if you could count me as Scorsese-stan, but the best of his films are ones I go to again and again. Even his most commercial and mainstream films are achingly personal, and as mentioned in Bong Joon Ho’s victory speech for Best Director on Oscar Night, “the most personal is the most creative.”

 

As somebody who was deeply moved, even enthralled by The Irishman, I’ve been increasingly put off by the sneering contempt people seem to have for Scorsese’s epic, presumably because they’ve resolved to stop glorifying “old white guys,” or perhaps it’s because they’re put off by his completely restrained, publicly shared opinion that he doesn’t like Marvel movies and thinks they are bad for cinema (King).This came to a head when the crowd I was watching the Oscars with on Sunday night felt the need to continuously share just how little they cared about the movie, despite the fact that most of them hadn’t seen a frame of it.

 

When I offered that I thought it was perhaps Scorsese’s best movie…you would have thought I threw the cat out the window. It’s certainly his most achingly personal, and if you have been a fan of Scorsese the artist and followed his career, it’s hard to not be moved by this movie, which is something of sorrowful reflection on emptiness. Moments like these are when I wonder how much I actually share with other people in terms of how we look at the world. How can anybody watch the final third of The Irishman and not be devastated, or worse yet, continue to write this film off as “another mob movie?” This is the coda Scorsese has been gesturing at for all of his career, beautifully realized. It’s a coda not just to the movie, but perhaps to his own life, an exaggeration of his own complicated feelings about his Catholicism, his fascination with the swaggering tough guys of his neighborhood growing up and their swanky, glamorous lifestyles. It’s an aching plea to do something bigger instead of making yourself small and insignificant by making every compromise in order to reach the stars.

 

Frank Sheeran gave away everything, because he lived in fear of authority, but came to respect and find salvation in it. His entire life was based around the steadfast conviction that attaching himself to the right people would be his salvation, and in the end, as one FBI agent tells him outside his nursing home, “they’re all gone.” All the more heartbreaking, the “they” here isn’t just the mobsters and the union reps, it’s his family, his friends, everybody who exists to make one’s life more than waiting around to die. And so The Irishman ends, with an old man, so completely emptied of any meaning that he can’t even bring himself to feel sorrow or remorse for all the blood he’s shed, all the people he’s hurt. He only feels nothing, as the end draws near.

 

 

 

 

10 Days/10 Films #6: The Texas Chain Saw Massacre

tcm

I can’t really remember when I made the decision to “become a horror guy.” I guess it might have been (subconsciously) around the same time that my mother confiscated my copy of The Shining, as mentioned in a previous post. I’m not really a “horror guy” by “horror guy standards,” but I think there are a lot of horror movies that stand on their own as legitimate classics, and not just within the genre.

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is one of these, notable and demanding acknowledgment for the boundaries it crossed, the genre-defining parameters it set, and the just plain dull and mean worldview it projects. TCM is, unfortunately, among those horror movies that today’s poorly educated and even more poorly brought-up audiences would probably snicker at if they happened to wander into a screening, but if you can properly contextualize a film in a way that allows you see past its technical limitations, it’s clear that TCM is a straight-up nasty film, with a ferocious, nihilistic message that remains one of the more true and terrifying themes that continues to endure in modern horror: there is not necessarily any “why” when it comes to evil. Mainstream audiences are often disturbed by this notion, which is reflected in the newfound popularity in horror “origin stories” that suck all mystery out of films that rely on the unknown to create fear. The potency of TCM’s game-changing ethos is revealed in reading outraged critics of the era breathlessly describing images that do not actually exist within the film, so powerful was Tobe Hooper’s well-oiled machine of menace, so refined his coaxing manipulation of our senses. A similar phenomenon occurred years earlier with the media response to the granddaddy of all slashers, Psycho (critics were certain that Hitchcock showed us images of the knife penetrating Janet Leigh’s body).

The groundbreaking nature of TCM, the fact that it’s a well-regarded Texas film, and the knowledge that it was all put together with little else than some drive, a few twisted ideas, and a camera, makes this film one of my all-time favorites. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre puts forth the idea that the world is an unknowable and terrifying place, and it’s one that resonated with me into my own creative endeavors. Tobe Hooper’s masterpiece not only inspired one of my great cinematic obsessions, it made me think that I could create things that explored and played with this idea as well, which in my mind is one of the most noble things a piece of art can do.

10 Days/10 Films #5: Adventureland

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I’ve always thought Kristin Stewart got a bad rap. Blame Twilight, I guess, but it’s a tragedy that Adventureland, written and directed by Greg Mottola (director of the more-appreciated Superbad, along with some other notable projects) never got the credit it deserved, and I occasionally felt like kneejerk reactions to Stewart wer partially to blame.

Whatever your feelings on KStew, there’s something magnetic about her in this movie, or maybe it’s just that I connected so much to the tone and mood of this bittersweet, dreary summer story. Most of the characters in Adventureland are college-aged or close to it, but it reminded me of being a brooding high school kid, bumming around long hot summers, somehow being aware on some level of how fleeting and rosy that time in my life would seem looking back years later.

The vague and inarticulate frustrations that cushion everything in Adventureland seemed very familiar as well. Characters fumble around each other, aware of connections but afraid to explore what they mean, and so they say and do the wrong things and it’s all a grand tragedy, but Motolla somehow manages to capture the ethereal experience of being just old enough to realize you’re never going to be this carefree again, even though everything seems so important.

There’s one scene in particular that feels like Motolla and I had similar upbringings, even though he’s decades older than me. James (Jesse Eisenberg) and Em (Stewart) are the only two people swimming at a small, impromptu, semi-drunken but quiet gathering while Em’s parents are out of town. There’s no bathing suits so they go in their underwear, and talk about nothing much in particular. Nothing really happens, and it all seems very innocent, but there’s an awkward and intoxicating electricity crackling across the water. Neither really knows what to do about it.

The film continues in that fashion, for most of its runtime, with their relationship progressing in fits, starts, misunderstandings, and forced nonchalance. In the end, taking chances and being vulnerable is what wins the day, but the path there is what always makes me feel nostalgic. Adventureland more accurately captures what it’s like to achingly yearn for somebody–the way only young, aimless, frustrated people can—more accurately than other flicks with ten times the acclaim.

10 Days/10 Films #4: No Country For Old Men

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This movie is—quite literally—about as far as you can get from my experience of growing up in Dallas, but that only cements my love for what it “gets right” about Texas. That I lived for eighteen years in the same state as the events of this film, but nearly 450 miles away says it all. More than that, the Coen Brothers’ adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s Lonestar Noir is an unforgiving look at everything that makes my home state terrifying and beautiful. The vast, open landscapes are treated with just as much reverence and awe as the creeping rot underneath everything—“the dismal tide,” as one character quips. Characters are at once quiet and strong, yet weak, ruled by greed and malevolence.

We can’t forget the genius of Deakins. No Country came out in 2007—along with two other entries on this list—and it’s widely believed that the DP split his own Oscar vote by being nominated for two movies in one round of voting (the other being The Assassination of Jesse James). Deakins holds the incredible honor of being nominated for best cinematography 9 times in the past 10 years–finally earning a win for the underappreciated Blade Runner 2049— and No Country For Old Men makes it easy to understand why. The magnificent opening shots, believe it or not, are B-roll that Deakins shot by himself in natural light, just to give the Coens an idea of what he had kicking around in his head.

The sublime opening images lay over a monologue by Tommy Lee Jones’ Sheriff Bell, and it’s McCarthy’s writing, shining through in a straight-ahead adaptation by the Coens, that really brings the entire thing together, along with career performances by Jones, Brolin, and Bardem. On the surface this is a relatively straightforward hardboiled flick about a man who takes some money that doesn’t belong to him and the horrible consequences that follow, but it’s also about Sheriff Bell coming to grips with a world that seems to grow more and more brutal with each passing year, and the bleak hopelessness of trying to believe in something that gets you through “all that cold, and all that dark.”

It would be a tougher watch if it didn’t sing on every level possible. An absolute masterpiece.

10 Days/10 Films #3: The Night of the Hunter

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When I was younger, my mother was fairly strict about the content of what we watched and read (I still bristle when I remember having my brand new copy of The Shining, bought for me by my much more laissez-faire father, taken away when I was 12 or so). That’s probably why I gravitated to films steeped in darkness and horror as I grew older, but back in first grade, I often had to rely on friends to recount the plot of Aliens or Terminator 2. Remember, this was back before every household in America had high-speed Internet.

Speaking of bygone technologies, I also spent a lot of time in the school library, and one book I kept returning to again and again was this volume full of glossy photos that was basically a collection of synopses about various horror films. A lot of them were classics like Dracula or The Wolfman, but some of the more contemporary slashers were in there too (I think both Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the Thirteenth made appearances). Why this was stocked in an elementary school library I have no idea.

Anyway, on the more “classic” side of the book was an entry for a film I had never heard of before: The Night of the Hunter. The story of an evil, itinerant preacher/conman who finds himself stalking two small children in order to gain access to a small fortune hidden by their deceased, bank robber father. I remember being fascinated by the beautiful photograph of Robert Mitchum leaning on the fencepost, his famous tattooed knuckles flashing the words “love” and “hate.”

I wouldn’t actually see The Night of the Hunter until college. Maybe it was all the years of childhood buildup, but I found myself entranced by Mitchum’s performance, as well as the razor-sharp themes the movie put forward that seem controversial in god-fearing, capitalist America now, let alone in 1955 when it was released. Charles Laughton’s only feature as a director is also steeped in beautifully orchestrated shadows and light, clearly influenced by the German Expressionist cinema of the 1920s, creating a sinister fable about evil and imposters that stands in stark visual contrast to more celebrated American films of the era.

The Night of the Hunter went on to influence future generations of filmmakers (see Radio Raheem’s monologue and gold knuckle-rings in the wonderful Do the Right Thing, and  famous “street lamp” shot from The Exorcist), but it remains somewhat obscure in 2018. At a recent screening, I was dismayed to hear the audience snidely chuckling through most of the film. The Night of the Hunter is one of those movies that taught me about the importance of history and taking classics on their own terms…the only way to learn anything new at all.

10 Days/10 Films #2: City of God

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City of God is another benchmark film in terms of my development as a member of the movie-going public. I’d always been into movies, courtesy of my mother (an addict who still goes to the movies weekly at the age of 69) and father (a painter and architect who once eschewed film as an inferior art form), but up to high school, my tastes had run fairly commercial and mainstream, excepting the time my mother brought me to see The Big Lebowski at age 14.

The summer between my freshman and sophomore years, I met Jacob Sloman, who has remained a lifetime friend and collaborator. It pains me to give him the satisfaction, but Jacob was the one who opened my eyes to the rich and untapped world of global cinema, particularly the beautiful films of Brazil. It’s because of him that I even heard of films like Carandiru, Bus 174, and I’m Not Scared. But the one that always sticks out in my memory is City of God.

Vibrant, sensuous photography, a riveting story that spans years and intertwines the lives of several different characters, crackling with energy and originality, City of God was a film that showed me, even earlier than the aforementioned The Assassination of Jesse James, that movies were so much more than Hollywood. It’s a story about poverty, violence, and inequality that avoids becoming too message-laden or despondent, instead painting a richly realized landscape of Rio slums that are populated with characters who make us laugh and cheer as much as they  make us cry.

Despite its bombastic presentation, City of God is all about balance. It’s a perfectly-oiled machine that pushes and pulls its audience through a variety of different moods and tones, which perfectly reflects the complex and complicated realities of subject matter that is too-often boiled down to the sum of its parts.