Giving you something to read on the toilet since 2009.

"The mistake lies in seeing debate and discussion as secondary to the recovery of meaning. Rather, we should see them as primary: art and literature do not exist to be understood or appreciated, but to be discussed and argued over, to function as a focus for social dialogue. The discourse of literary or art criticism is not to recover meaning, but to create and contest it. Our primal scene should not be the solitary figure in the dark of the cinema but the group of friends arguing afterwards in the pub."
-Don Fowler (1996) "Even Better Than The Real Thing"

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Interstellar - A Roundtable Discussion

Rob -

I have been thinking about Interstellar a lot since I saw it last Saturday. I like what Sam Thielman said about the film, which is mainly that character development gives way to plot in every way. You could almost say that the only two constants in the universe of Interstellar are gravity and McConaughey’s character, Cooper.

Even the plot has some early gaps. Primarily, Nolan has to get these people into space as quickly as possible in order to start showing us some really incredible visual effects. Backstory with potential, be damned. Once there, we can safely enjoy the ride without fear of being disappointed by the price of our IMAX ticket. Nolan is a great director: he knows how to make a movie that audiences will love, even if we don’t understand everything that’s happening.

I didn’t get all the space and multi-dimension stuff in the theater. But I respect that Nolan didn’t water down the science, even if the science is what makes the film hard to follow. At some points, the music overwhelmed the dialog so that I couldn’t make out exact explanations of events or phenomena. Suppose that’s the movie telling us that the emotion is what matters more than the quantum physics. I like that.

But here’s the kicker for me: I wasn’t sure when I left the theater if Interstellar was a good movie. I’m not going to address it’s length besides saying that it was too much movie for one movie. I get all the science stuff (or I get that it is science stuff), and that’s cool. I get that in some ways this movie is an ode to a time when space seemed like a place we could go and conquer. I’m for that, I’m pro-NASA. I just can’t decide if things got too complicated outside the characters to make their interpersonal interactions really meaningful. That’s what makes a good story to me. The only time a real human feeling breaks through the wormhole is the sequence with Matt Damon’s character. That taps into something deeper—way deeper. That whole scene is just buzzing with that question: what must it be like to be all alone on a cold planet literally millons of miles away from Earth and know that you will never be rescued? Oh, and his character’s name is Dr. Mann. That’s deep, too.

I have to admit, despite my hesitation about Interstellar as a great movie, I have thought about it, talked to friends about it, even googled science facts trying to understand it better. If the quote at the top of this blog means anything at all, then maybe Interstellar is a good flick. I’m just not certain.

Don’t let this review keep you from seeing the movie. It’s fun…I just think that for all the fireworks, it’s missing that big bang.

Kyle -

We had many of the same thoughts and emotions. I described it to James as Christopher Nolan had the money and freedom to make his own, personal high-production pornography. My perfect porn would involve hiking, sports, and hand-jobs. His involves upside down twirly gravity in the future relativity time-lapse earth blight reality possibility scientific universes and Matt Mc. I thought it was Matt Mc in space doing crazy shit. HOWEVER, I fucking loved it! I had so much fun watching this movie. Had Nolan attained sci fi perfection then I'm not sure I would have had fun. I might have called it a good movie -- because then it would have really taken me somewhere -- but I wouldn't have had as much fun. I mean, 2001 Space Ody is work to watch, right? I even enjoyed the rushed parts of this. Some were so rushed that it felt like I was watching a B movie. That's interesting isn't it? I need to think more about that (possible to mix A list and B list movie making practices?). 

I loved it. I thought the whole thing was a blast. I loved the cast and the score/music/soundtrack was really cool. Ultimately, I'm a sucker for blight, the future, deep space, decent tunes, and Matt Mc. I didn't need the emotion that wasn't there. I just needed the fun stuff. This might be the theme of Christopher Nolan -- I can't recall any moral/value introspection I've had during any of his movies. But I do say things like, "Whoa, Inception was so much fun and cool and expensive." In this way, Nolan movies are like your first European travel experience -- everything looks so cool and inviting, and then you realize that Europeans can be annoying just like Americans can -- we're all B-Listers, Nolan included. 

Last things I'll say, I don't tell everyone to go see it. I only tell certain friends to go see it. I know many people that will hate it. I also know some good souls that will join me and Nolan on our cinematic pleasure cruise. (Weirdest sentence I have ever written, that last one). I'm going to predict that Luke will only like certain parts of this. I think he will think that most of the movie is wasting his time -- and I won't disagree with him. But I'll have fun on that re-watch. 

Luke - 

Interstellar is a fantastic movie.  I mean, Interstellar was fantastic for me.  Are you like me?  I once attended a talk by a prominent scientist from California, after which there was an informal question and answer session for students to “learn how to think” or some shit like that.  One student asked the scientist, “What do you read?”  Now, let me paint this picture for you.  This scientist is a badass and he has figured out all sorts of innovative and insanely cool ways to answer his scientific questions.  He publishes all the time in top scientific journals and he is well-respected.  He also looks like a total punk—all black clothes, stringy long hair, shorts and black leather boots—which I appreciated.  So, “what do you read?”
He replied, “I read two things.  First, instrument manuals” [which are huge-ass, boring magazines of all the different scientific machines and equipment you can buy] “because they are our tools.  You can’t know how to approach a problem unless you understand what tools are available to you.  And secondly, I read science fiction—well, good science fiction—because it is creative and incredibly predictive of the future.”  Okay I’ll be honest that’s not a direct quote but it’s really close.
Anyway, I was obsessed with science fiction before hearing this advice and I am all the more obsessed now.  So that is what I am like.  Interstellar is good science fiction.  Christopher Nolan appointed a theoretical physicist from Caltech, Kip Thorne, to keep the science of Interstellar on point.  Check this guy out: http://www.its.caltech.edu/~kip/.  I invite you to navigate to “publications” on his page and scroll down.  Your computer will probably die of too long.  The point is that, while Interstellar is a movie that paces out the ledge of human knowledge and then just belly flops right on into the void, it is a well-instructed process up until the leap.  And then, who knows, am I right?  That is how science fiction should be.  
And let’s be honest: I cried four times.  This wasn’t a cold film saturated with science boredom; it had some major dramatic moments that tore at the ol’ heartstrings.  Murphy, the daughter, just basically raged through my emotional fragility, breaking lamps and Russian dolls and shit.  I could barely look at the screen during her scenes.  You know how sometimes you tear up and other times a tear actually rolls down your cheek, and then, when shit gets really real, there’s as much snot coming out of your nose as there are tears streaming out of your eyes?  That’s what this was like for me.  
I also enjoyed the depiction of our future not only in a post planet meltdown scenario—towards which we are rapidly heading due to climate change—but also the themes of distrust in science, which are unfortunately more widespread in our current society than I’d like to think about.  And, in comparison to Gravity—which depicted the female scientist as a total freakout who needed the calm and collected Clooney hero to save the day—Interstellar presented its two secondary protagonists as intelligent and competent female scientists.  I was a big fan of that.  Maybe one day there will be an intelligent and powerful, competent, and somewhat hubristic female who plays the primary protagonist in a major blockbuster.  Keep working, Hollywood.  If you make it, I’ll buy a ticket.  I promise.
I have two major qualms with the movie (spoiler alert).
1)   This is a bit obvious, but when we find out towards the end of the movie that the gravitational communications Murphy was receiving do not come from aliens but rather from her own father in the future, that nixes the pre-existing plotline framework that the wormhole next to Saturn was placed there by extraterrestrial beings to help us reach new worlds.  So, how the hell did the original wormhole get next to Saturn if neither aliens nor her father could have put it there?  It seems extraordinary that chance would place the wormhole in our system considering the incredible expanse of the universe.  

2)   Marine sciences, bitches.  On the first planet they visit where they discover the wreckage of one of the original astronaut’s ships in knee deep water, they immediately find themselves in danger of massive (~1000ft) rolling waves.  Ladies and gentlemen, this is impossible.  That is not how waves work.  The wavelength (the distance between the tops of two waves in succession) of these waves appeared to be on the order of miles.  According to the physical properties of waves, the water depth for this rolling, non-breaking wave would have to be greater than half of the wavelength.  In other words, if the distance between the two big rolling waves that they try to escape from was 1 mile, then the depth of water would have to be greater than 2,640ft, so this could definitely not be knee deep water.  Fuck you, Christopher Nolan, you should have hired a marine scientist!  Just kidding, I love your movies.
All in all, Interstellar was a fantastic movie.  And regarding the predictive nature of science fiction, consider this for a moment: human beings are specialized to survive under certain planetary conditions and those conditions are changing rapidly.  Not only is it feasible, it is likely that our species will have to make drastic changes to survive in our future environment.  Meanwhile, NASA launched an unmanned Delta IV rocket into space yesterday.  The success of this mission was crucial because NASA intends for this rocket to carry humans to an asteroid in the next 10 years and also to deliver humans to Mars by 2030.  
Also, do y’all think there are aliens?

Saturday, October 18, 2014


I don't know what to think about Fury. It's David Ayer's leap into "the depravity" of war that has me talking to myself. 

I'd seen this movie before, every part of it. The lifelessness, the vulgarity, the churlish war-tattered soldiers, the bodies exploding and imploding and being devoured by artillery, the less Band of Brothers version of American men and more the version of American men acting like pissed off teenagers; all this I had seen. I've seen Brad Pitt play this role before. I've seen other actors do just as well with the hallmark roles played by these more than sufficient actors. There are three things that stuck out to me about this one, though: 

The meal. The filming in a tank. And Shia Labeouf. 

Maybe I'd seen em' before but I'm still thinking about em'--it's these three things. And that's something. 

Pitt, 'Wardaddy' heads up the crew of a Sherman tank in the spring of 1945. Hitler's all-out attack is underway. Every able bodied German has been called to defend the motherland. SS officers and destroyed European towns abound. Filmmakers need these things in a WWII film--an ultimate bad guy. These characters are forced to negotiate the moral terrain of humans at their worst. Tough circumstances. 

His crew includes Bible (Labeouf), the Mexican-American, the Southern brute, and the new guy that was trained to type. Props to Ayers for taking archetypal characters and keeping it interesting. Camaraderie is sought by so many directors and actors. It's rarely achieved because most times it's too clean, too polished. Ayers allows just enough grime to slip in. After all, groups of guys are mostly un-interesting in the real world. They are actually quite annoying and borish. They rarely say things that would be found in a movie script. They are normally neither clever nor well-spoken. Ayers allows for enough of the real-life depravity of a group of guys to sneak in; the insults are unpolished and a little more cutting and back-handed; just like my friends from home. 

These five men are on their way to the end of the line. They are going to be put in situations where it's like Sparta vs. the Persians and all that. Only heroism will endure. Maybe the new guy will make it out. All of that. Again, nothing new here. Again, props to Ayers for not running from this. He's kind of let Saving Private Ryan and hundreds of other war films do the work for him, one could even throw in some westerns and East Asian revenge thrillers as sources of influence. I'm thinking of Platoon meets Chan Woo Park meets I Saw the Devil with a little bit of Apocalypse Now. That's quite a spectrum but Ayers, in all his machoism says, "Yeah. I've seen those movies. I liked them. And yeah. I made Training Day. So what? I like archetypes and I'll use them. Anecdotal? Fuck it. Gets me where I want to go." 

And Ayers wants to go somewhere. He took me somewhere.  He took me out of wanting to rank his battle scenes on some blogger list of best battle scenes. He took me into a world most of us don't know about. Most of us that go to theaters don't know what was happening during the dinner scene. I have some questions and some thoughts about it. 

Pitt, after a battle scene that could be ranked high on a blogger list of best battle scenes, takes the newbie for round two of indoctrination--into an apartment enlivened by the unnerving anxiety of two German women. Earlier, round one of indoctrination involved the normal bullying, gang sociology type stuff. This scene, as they entered the apartment, was something else. I was really freaking uncomfortable. I couldn't tell if something brilliant was happening or not. 

Part of my hesitance was because of the un-needed hokey elements that kept peppering the early parts of the movie. There was no need for the newbie to play classical music on an out-of-tune piano while his newly warded German lady-friend sang over his shoulder. Just leave that stuff out. But then there were moments of real heft. When Pitt, taking reprieve from the party just outside the apartment, shaving and wanting to eat some eggs with hot tea, took over the screen and had that old school movie star presence. Then, I was like, "Whoa. Something is happening here." I forgot about the battle scenes. I was like, "This is weird, in a good way." 

Wesley Morris of the Boston Globe/Grantland describes it this way:

"A vanquished German town provides the setting for an extended interlude in which Don takes Norman into an apartment still occupied by a mother and daughter (beautifully acted by Anamaria Marinca and Alicia von Rittberg). As American soldiers drink and loot and party in the square outside the building, Don tries to steal for himself some civility: a shave, a meal, maybe the touch of a woman. Don forces Norman to head into a bedroom with the daughter, who somehow manages to shed her reluctance.
This sequence is almost the only reason to have Pitt in this movie. He barely seems to talk (Don does speak German), but the authority of his presence dominates the apartment. The other three characters take their orders from Don’s silence, his eyes. This is a passage that could have transformed the film — darkened it, opened it outward. But once the other men of the Fury intrude — drunk, belligerent, jealous that Don brought Norman upstairs for sex and not one of them — Ayer’s script doesn’t know where to go with this disrupted oasis, so he obliterates it. That sequence is confusing. The arriving men menace the frightened women and tell a sloshed, bitter story that’s meant to get at the war’s horror. But the moment doesn’t explicate the soul of the movie as does the digressive rubber plantation dinner sequence Francis Ford Coppola added to Apocalypse Now or provide comedy and then unbearable suspense as the beer hall sequence does inInglourious Basterds. Maybe Ayer thinks it does, but he’s straining for meaningfulness."
On the real, I can't decide if I agree with Morris or not. At the moment of viewing I entirely agreed with him. The hokey parts were still fresh in my mind. Now, a couple days removed, the hokey is less clear. The freshness of an 'interlude' of depravity in a war flick; that part of it all is still with me. And I'm wondering if Ayer's is getting close to something that Apocalypse Now and Platoon and some Jodorowsky nudged towards--humans can be really despicable and what's more, we are capable of empathizing with the most despicable. It was Labeouf that evoked the empathy. 

Supposedly he did some method-acting stuff and would really cut himself with a real knife and wouldn't shower and all that. Respect. I had been feeling down about all his arrests and stuff. His recent visits to Ellen and Jimmy Kimmel kind of bummed me out. The only outlet for a movie star are those really well-lit couches and Malibu rehab centers. That sucks. And then they show back up on a movie screen in my local theater. They act. They evoke. And they make something happen. Labeouf in this movie was just really good at that whole thing. His acting in this movie is worth the time and money. He has an ability that few others have, in my opinion. Maybe it's ruining his life. I don't know about that. I don't know him. But he did something special in this movie and special doesn't happen all that often. It certainly happens less than TMZ worthy posts do. I hope that's a good thing. 

Lastly, Ayers filmed most of a movie from the inside of a Sherman tank. That's probably hard to do. He did really well with it. The angles and action in a small space added to the presence of actors pursing that gnarly space where ideologies, historical events, and modern day interpretations all come together. Movies, ones that are shot well, are cool things capable of altering how our synapses and memories work together to alter our own ideologies. Accomplishing all of this inside of Sherman take is an accomplishment worth noting. 

I still don't know what to think about Fury. I'm not sure it's a great film or anything like that. But it's got me thinking and that's something. 


Jon Favreau likes good food, good conversation, good looking women and feeling good. Chef, then, is all things good. 

What do you do when you are a less-troubled, comedic filmmaker/actor/director and you have tons of money to make whatever movie you feel like making? 

You write, direct, produce and star in a movie that features Scarlett Johansson and Sofia Vagara as your like-able lovers. You have slightly dysfunctional but honest relationships with both of them. You hook-up with both of them and somehow maintain a working relationship with each. Ultimately, though, you make it clear that only the most abounding female counterpart will do--you make sure that your viewers are aware of your time spent with beautiful women. 

You also cook and eat delicious food in your movie. As 'the chef' you shuffle in plenty of foodie montages that are pleasant to look at and admire. You keep your chopping skills sharp and Bobby Flay motions well-rehearsed so as not to appear staged. It might be hard for the viewer to believe that you are 'the chef', especially one that has seen your previous films, but you rest against good-enough acting to keep the montages from being obtrusive yet still noticeable like, "Oh, I see what he's doing here." 

You comment on your own 'celebrity' and all that goes into it. You thoughtfully, but not too thoughtfully, so as to not alienate the weekend movie-going crowd, usher in some deeper questions about 'celebrity' and 'social media'. You do your best to make real the feeling, the humanity, the saliency, and reach of social media. One of this bent, of the ultra-successful (one that once hosted a round table series that featured those guys like you, that made their own way in Hollywood with hard work and a tough-it-out mantra, smoking cigars and talking of the good-ol-days) must be laughing at the end. So you confront the cowardice behind a tweeted quip and chisel away at the hurt with constructive, feel-good laughter. You look out on the world and in the spirit of Louis C.K. say, "Hey, yeah we can suck sometimes. All of us. But we can also make good stuff. And it can even be funny." 

You hang out with your friends and capture the fun of an adventure with them. You know that hitting the road and seeking out plot twists works. You've seen it work really well when you do it with friends that are endearing, loyal, funny and have some presence. So when you're making 'your' movie, you put a road-trip at the heart of your movie. You center with something that has been lost and must be found and it can only be found by leaving. As it should be, you realize it has been right in front of you all along. You take the sentimental route and don't make any apologies. 

You fold in an ending that tastes and feels good. When you can do whatever you want with a movie and you desire success (however you want to measure it) you don't aim for too much. You keep everything within reach. You know your limits. The only way you could really screw up this whole endeavor is by trying to comment too much on, by weighing in too much on, by critiquing too much, by trying to effect too much, by doing too much. You know this because you've seen many of your brethren fall hard out on the fringes. Cannes does its thing. You do your thing. You keep the ending where it should be and allow the viewer (the ticket buyer) to walk out saying to their movie-going company, "What are you doing tomorrow?" With this sort of ending you keep the viewer from saying, "What the hell was that?" or "I liked it until it got all preachy." or "What am I?" You keep things in line when your life is good. 

You essentially make a movie that is tough to dislike, will make money, and will solidify your place in between 'Swingers' and 'Iron Man'; in between low budget and 'Titanic' budget; in between cult hit and Hollywood blockbuster; in between 'classic' and 'popular'; in between 'artist' and 'business'.  You make a movie that's an entertaining break from reality because that's what you do best. You don't chase Ingmar Bergman or Terence Malik or Nicolas Roeg. You just do your best and make something good. 

Monday, January 6, 2014

Saving Mr. Banks - Rob

We all know, by this point, that Hanks is one of the greats. He plays well opposite men (Saving Private Ryan), he plays well opposite women (Meg Ryan, et al), and he plays well opposite himself. This year he showed significant range when, in separate instances, he was kidnapped by pirates and later when Ms. P.L. Travers refused to sell him the rights to her beloved Mary Poppins.

I saw Saving Mr. Banks with three generations of my family over Christmas. It's that kind of movie. Previous movies watched in the same setting with the same three generations include We Bought a Zoo and Stewart Little (we, too, have our range). A few people cried, I am told. I was moved more than once by Emma Thompson's navigation of an emotionless character. Hanks was, of course, Hanks. For that matter, Colin Farrell also delivered a solid, nuanced performance, as did the duo of Jason Schwartzman and BJ Novak. In fact, the cast, rounded out by Bradley Whitford, who I also generally dig, and the adorable little girl who played the young PJ Travers, all delivered terrific performances. (I almost forgot to mention Paul Giamatti, who is always sublime as doesn't disappointed here!) Accents were probably right on. I feel that Hanks's version of Walt Disney was fascinating and probably also right on. All the pieces were there in spades. And I'm sure this film will get some nods for best actor/actress as any good bio-pic usually does.

But, despite all that, the magic wasn't there. The film was just ok. Not one that I'll watch again, not one that I would necessarily recommend in a month with so many good movies playing. The film has a happy ending because it must, because it's a family movie that you see at Christmastime, and no one wants to see that Travers actually hated the film version of her book. I wish the movie had been more imaginative. Maybe what I really would like to see is a documentary about how Mary Poppins came together--its script, songs, illustrations, and effects.  Instead, the movie is probably a realistic view of Travers's story--girl with adoring alcoholic father grows up too fast and loses the imaginative power he instilled in her. It just seems a bit tired…I mean, what makes Mary Poppins great is what makes all movies great. This one, for all its strengths, just didn't get there.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Christmas Movies Not About Christmas

Wolf of Wall Street
I'm gonna go ahead and assume that Jordan Belfort is as annoying as he's made out to be in this motion picture. I think Scorsese is doing some kind of meta-thing as this is a cogent movie based on a delusional memoir. In this way it's kind of a Hunter S. Thompson sort of movie. Belfort's grandiose version of being despicable most likely massages the same ego that made being despicable profitable for a short amount of time. I'm sure Scorsese's picking up on that. By writing a book and making a movie Belfort is permitted a wry smile for a little bit longer. Though, the consummate Bro, here, is lauded only by himself and chided by those telling the story. This movie is not about Wall Street, the financial crisis, Corporate America or anything else like that. This movie is about how some goof-ball tells his own goof-ball story. Scorsese and Leo after their meetings with Belfort probably had plenty of opportunities to mockingly say, "Get a load of this guy." In other words, I think Scorsese is just making fun of the guy which makes this a movie about a story teller and story telling, in general. I liked it alright.

The Desolation of Smaug

So many of my friends are righteously pissed due to fabricated characters and the sheer lack of integrity Peter Jackson lops about in this wishy-washy back-up to a pretty stellar first installment. I kind of agree with them on that but you know what, I still had a good time watching Dwarves and Elves and all that. I mean if I wanted Peter Jackson to perfectly re-create Tolkein for me then I'd need like a new brain or something, preferably one that belonged to me when I was 11; and that's just not possible. I like the white Ork. I even liked the love story for some weird reason. Cumberbatch in all his recent glory can even play a flying serpent that speaks English. There's plenty here to piss off the Tolkeinites but there's also plenty here to be entertained by. I'll probably see this movie 30-40 more times in my life. I won't even have to try, it will just sort of happen. And based on this first viewing, I'm OK with that being the case.

Catching Fire

These sure are fun. They've got the whole thing really well balanced, I think. There's just enough to keep it Young Adult and just enough to keep an Adult watching. This one is a little more entertaining than the first and a little less gut wrenching. Unlike The Desolation of Smaug, Catching Fire hugs the book closer and delivers a product that Hunger Games readers can be all like, "Whoa. Yes." about. I've found that high school students are less thrilled with these movies than my friends are. They're certainly wrapped up in the love stories but they're also really bland about the altered relationship-gender roles. I recently polled over a hundred high school students on gay marriage. Unanimously (UNANIMOUSLY), the students voted that gay marriage should be considered a Human Rights issue and that it should be legal to marry whomever you like. Maybe Hunger Games type stuff is doing work that Adults can't fully appreciate, especially for how un-alarmed it's making all those Young Adults.

American Hustle

I've listened to two movie critic roundtables wherein this movie was the centerpiece. The second I only listened to because I had to double-check what I was hearing in the first (I promise, I'm usually only good for one movie critic roundtable a week). Every single critic gawks, drools over, and bombastically lavishes this movie with well-worded sentences accolades. I mean everyone loves this. It is pretty fun to watch. David O. Russell gives it just about as much crazy as you can handle but also has you wanting just a bit more, all at once. Christian Bale is hilarious. Jennifer Lawrence keeps on being big-time. Bradley Cooper is good at being manic, we've established that much. But I'm still waiting for someone to hate on this movie. One that attempts as much could point towards the scenes that barely hold together, the sometimes obvious improvisation that makes it less neat, and maybe say something about how Renner might not be as good as we once thought. Regardless, this will win awards and all that.


One of my friends said it better than me so I can't take credit for the remark but, "Nebraska (film) is a one joke movie." For real, there's one joke here and it lasts for about an hour and a half. That's a long joke, especially one that's not all that happy, really. I walked home from the movie theater. Dreary, black and white, pulled-back camera shots into a really depressing version of middle-America can make walking home feel like the only option. I'm usually all about road-trip movies. But Alexander Payne (in his second road trip movie) made driving through the heartland kind of heartbreaking. I'm sure that this is a great movie. It even had a couple of laugh out loud moments. The music and black and white both worked, I thought. The acting was really incredible in parts. Ultimately, though, I kept getting kind of bored. The joke was wearing off and by the end had stopped being funny. Thankfully, Payne is a sucker for happy endings, or at least as happy as he can think to make them. I recommend it.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Grand Budapest Hotel - Trad Godsey, Corey Godsey, Kyle Jones

HOM put forward the question, "Why am I going to see Wes Anderson’s new movie, Grand Budapest Hotel?" to a few gentleman. These are their responses.

Corey Godsey

First off, I must decide what the question is actually asking. My first impression is the simplest form of the question. “Why do I want to see X, in which X is Grand Budapest Hotel, which happens to be the name of the newest film from Wes Anderson?”

My answer to this form of the question is reliability. I have seen all of Wes Anderson’s work and, with the exception of Darjeeling Limited, I have had multiple viewings of each film. I have yet to be disappointed with any of his work. I have always found Anderson’s work to satisfy an itch that no other writer/director can reach. I find the Andersonian style to be funny but in a way that is unlike other comedies. I can’t put my finger on why it’s funny, I just know I laugh hysterically, and more often with each viewing. But these aren’t just comedies. I find myself emotionally drawn to the characters, to the point that I wonder what happens to them after the credits run. But these are more than dramas. When I watch one of his films, I am not watching a movie. I am not checking out of reality for the next 90 minutes, but checking into a new world. It’s not a Hollywood fantasy. It’s a reality so close to my own but in which the characters say all the right things, the things I would want to say (if I had thought of them). These films are in such a class all their own that, I can judge other people by them. I not only find camaraderie with others through these films, but also find it more likely that we will get along handsomely on several topics simply by sharing this movie interest. Because of all of these reasons, I have come to trust Mr. Anderson. I find him to be reliable at producing a quality product and have faith that his next project with live up to the same standard. So why do I want to see X, because Wes Anderson made it. Plain and simple.

But this is the less interesting form of the question. It can also be interpreted as such: What is it about Grand Budapest Hotel that makes me want to (or excited to) watch it?

Beyond the obvious answer I gave above, I am excited to see this movie for a few reasons. From what I have gleaned from the trailer, this film relates itself to some of my favorites of Anderson’s films. As I call tell, the main character is a well-to-do man (perceived or actual) who finds himself fallen from his rank, just like Max Fischer (Rushmore), Royal Tenenbaum (The Royal Tenenbaums) and Steve Zissou (The Life Aquatic). A perceived big shot, M. Gustave, is accused of murder and forced to go out on the lamb, while hiding a treasured painting bequeathed to him from his alleged victim. In the previous films mentioned, the main character must come to grips with his new humble position and typically make amends. Because of this shared character arc, I think Grand Budapest Hotel will rise to the same acclaim as other Andersonian greats.

One cannot discus a Wes Anderson movie without addressing the amazing cast. This film features some of the classic cast members we have come to expect (Schwartzman, Wilson, Murray). It also includes some big names which have appeared in one previous Anderson work (Brody, Dafoe, Norton, Goldblum). These actors have already proved themselves to fit well with Anderson’s style. I am most excited to see how newcomer Ralph Fiennes handles the lead role. I think Fiennes is a wonderful actor but I have only seen him play very serious and stoic roles. I am really interested to see how he adapts to this character that seems quite different than his previous roles. I have no concern that he will live up these expectations, and it is exciting to see actors grow from the projects that they choose.

Speaking of characters, I think all Anderson fans need to take a moment in memory of Kumar Pallana, who passed away last week at the age of 94. Pallana was known for such roles as Pagoda in The Royal Tenenbaums and Mr. Littlejeans in Rushmore. I would love to see one final cameo in the upcoming film or at least a dedication.

In conclusion, do I want to see it? Yes. Will I see it? Yes. Why do I want to see Grand Budapest Hotel? Because Wes Anderson does not disappoint and this film has all the makings to be a top-notch product by even Anderson standards. Can’t wait!

Trad Godsey

I am particularly excited about the upcoming feature, Grand Budapest Hotel, for several reasons. Firstly, I am hoping this film will be better than the director’s last two films, Moonrise Kingdom. Generally I felt that this film relied too heavily on Anderson’s trademark quirks and not enough on the emotion that Anderson is capable of bringing to a film.

There are certain characteristics that have typified Wes Anderson’s films, which we are all familiar with (at least all films after Bottle Rocket). Bright and vivid colors, perpendicular camera angles, emotionless delivery of very emotional dialogue, cigarette smoking, wealthy characters with a laissez faire attitude toward life, and the list goes on. But I never saw these traits as defining Wes Anderson’s filmmaking. Beyond these there can be seen a real progression, even evolution if you will, of Anderson’s ability to capture emotion that often goes unnoticed in our own, ‘everyday’ lives. Beginning with Rushmore, through The Royal Tenenbaums and The Life Aquatic, and even in The Fantastic Mr. Fox and Darjeeling Limited, Anderson’s quirky style aided the real mission for each respective project: take unrelatable characters and make them very relatable to the audience. In my opinion, Moonrise Kingdom missed the mark in this regard and the result was just a quirky film for hipster devotees of Anderson. I am hoping Grand Budapest Hotel will be a showcase of Anderson’s real genius as a filmmaker, which is much more than quirky dialogue and bright colors.

Secondary reasons I want to see the movie have to do with the cast, particularly Ralph Fiennes first foray into a Wes Anderson film. As a big fan of Ralph Fiennes it is always a delight to see a talented actor expand his/her versatility. I also thought Edward Norton fit really well into the Andersonian style and given a better film, he could make his character really come alive. Many other cast members should make this an entertaining movie. However, I am not going to see this movie because I am sure it will be entertaining. I am not sure that it will and that is why I want to see it.

Mr. Jones

I'm going to go see Grand Budapest because this one time in Boston some friends and I were fed up with it being fucking cold as a shit so we rented like five Wes Anderson movies and watched all of them in two days.

Wes Anderson has us pegged. We'll watch. What's more, we'll write about how we are going to watch and then we'll write about how we watched. In some ways, Wes Anderson having us pegged implies as much. And or, us writing about Anderson says as much about who and what pegs us (no sexual meaning here). Give us a to-the-point Natalie Portman (clothes or no clothes), a catchy pop-ish song, and Jason Bateman and we'll watch and write and then wait for the snow to fall.

I'm going to go see Grand Budapest Hotel because I've really appreciated all of Wes Anderson's movies. Bottle Rocket was like the ultimate permission slip. "Wait, my humor can be in a movie?" That was me asking if things I thought were funny could be in a movie. "Wait, there are other comedy options outside of Saturday Night Live and Adam Sandler?" (Isn't all of Funny People an apology [the Plato type of apology] for Wes Anderson and an apology [the saying sorry type] to all of us that only watched slapstick for formative years of our life?) Bottle Rocket ushered in these types of emotional beckonings. I appreciate that.

I'm also going to see it cause I know I'll be watching like I do in few other movies. I'll notice so much. And I don't, we don't, spend enough time noticing. I think that most of the world religions are asking us to notice things around us. Fabricated noticing is what Wes Anderson is all about. The fostering of this sort of intentional watching makes the first viewing of a Wes Anderson movie more of an event than anything else. And what's so pleasant about this is that watching so intently is always lighthearted in a Wes Anderson movie. He's good at creating a space for a viewer that can be both weighty, in a human condition sort of way, and light, in a sort of, "this is still a movie" kind of way. He makes me watch. Deal with it.

Lastly, I'm going to watch because I like movies and Wes Anderson, in some ways, embodies movies. Famous actors, fun stories, good music, cool images and scenes, memorable lines, something to talk about with your friends later; these are all things that make for good movies. Wes Anderson is good at all of these things and makes use of all of these things. I like to think that he likes movies and that his actors like movies and that makes me like his movies. So I'm going to go see this movie.

Monday, June 3, 2013

The Fast and the Furious + The Comedy

Two years ago I cautiously wrote the following after having smiled for two hours 
through Fast Five, the fifth installment in the Fast and Furious series, a series that 
has grossed nearly two billion dollars:

So, when I first heard rumblings about Fast Five, I was immediately like, 'OK, how many 
times can you top the top?' After all, Jack Sparrow is all but ruined at this point. But 
then... I saw Fast Five. I only needed about 4 minutes of DPL action to know that the top 
has been topped and immediately started to worry about the making of Super-Fast Six. 
They topped the topped and I loved every minute of it. I'm nervous about Vin driving 
cars that fly but I think I am ready for it.

Welp. Vin flew. Vin flies. Twice. 

I have so much fun watching these movies and I for real don't mean that to be a 
jab at the franchise. I mean, we may well have reached a level of absurdity that 
makes space for absurdity, on its own, to be cool. But so does Rambo and Rocky 
and well, any Stallone picture. And just as may be be the case with Rambo, I would 
imagine there are viewers that leave the theater saying things like, "Vin Diesel and 
The Rock are so cool!" They may even say it with a sense of wanting to be like 
them. But even these viewers have been relieved of having to believe that street 
racing is as cool in real life as it is in Fast and Furious. This whole thing, this whole 
cars and bad guys thing, is on to something and I'm trying to figure it out. My gut 
is saying that it's just nickel cowboy novellas with multi-million dollar budgets. 
There may be more though.

Here's what I know they pull-off:

1) Their values are so classic. Dom and Leddy and Mia and even Brian have a 
family first approach. In their value system you risk yourself for your brother 
because they would do the same for you. And even more than that, you do it 
because it's right. 

2) They pull from the Wizard of Oz and never relegate the fact that there really is 
"no place like home." (This is even more true in the 6th installment). 

3) For the good guys (sometimes mistaken by fellow good guys), the law is a 
social construction that is at the behest of an inner sense of right and wrong. 
Relatedly, it's never too late to do the right thing. It may be a twisted version of 
the Golden Rule insofar as their vigilanteism necessitates, often times brutal, 
justice-keeping, but the threads of "doing unto others" weave through F&F.

4) The Red, White, and Blue has a place--fast cars and capitalism. And the reason 
that all this works so well is because their values don't dismiss an old favorite, 
"Money can't buy happiness but money is still pretty awesome." 

5) One thing I like most, is their hospitality. You'd be hard pressed to find a more 
welcoming group of criminals. I'd join them if they invited. It's worth noting that 
we're not sure where these chiseled out value systems come from. Maybe it's the 
implied immigrant narrative (the 7th or 8th has to go this route--can you even 
picture early Dom?!). Regardless, there's no mistaking ($2,000,000,000 gross) that 
the world cheers a Fast and Furious version of moral/ethics philosophizing--for 
better or worse.

6) As absurd as the idea is of driving out of the front of a military plane as it 
crashes is, there is no denying that sticking to a script that has worked for a few 
thousand years is just wise: a) fun introduction to characters, b) party and race 
scene, c) things get messed up, d) fixing what's messed up starts out good enough, 
e) fixing what's messed up goes wrong, f) there's no way this is going to be 
resolved, g) things get blown up and resolved. 

7) The movies welcomes viewers like me. I don't like street racing. I'm not a car 
guy. I don't need tits and ass to like a movie. And yet they've still made space for 
me in the theater. 

8) Go big or go home.

9) Resurrections never get old.

Don't worry! There is a seventh one in the works. Here are some things to do 

1) Someone needs to be related to someone else. Brian (Paul Walker) needs to 
be related to a bad guy. His biological father could surface and be the one that 
killed Dom's father. Brian would be forced to decide where his loyalty lies--with 
Dom or with blood. Better yet, what if it was his mother? She could be running a 
drug cartel that carries shipments from Russia to Alaska across the Bering Strait. 
She could run her shipments via submersible cars that drive on the ocean floor! 


We go back to the beginning, pre-Nos, when American muscle still ruled. We 
could see a toddler Vin Diesel, clad in toddler sleeveless tees--street racing lawn 
mowers through East L.A. Or better yet, racing go-carts through the Mexican- 
Caribbean resorts his mother labors in as a maid for the middle-class elite of 
suburban America. Either way, we would all benefit from some back story at this 

2) The Cars need to fly - not a lot - but they need to have a feature that allows 
them to take off, levitate for a second, and then be done with it.

3) We need a new actor, preferably an up and coming rapper, I think J. Cole 
could pull it off. The character would need some African roots and connections
with a father that is running Nigerian oil fields with an iron fist for B.P. which would 
take us back to London.

4) Someone is actually going to have to die, permanently.  

I think it is important, however, at this point in time to start thinking about a new 
description for what this is. Just because something uses film (digital or old 
school) does not mean it is a film. Maybe we should call some movies, like the 
Fast and the Furious, joints. Wait, that's been done. Either way, I just don't think 
it's cool to call Ingmar Bergman's work and Paul Walker's work by the same 
name. I would imagine some folks at MoMa or The Tate Modern would have 
something to say about this. I watched The Comedy pretty soon after having seen 
Fast and Furious to kind of experience this question about what is a film and 
what should not be a film

As much fun as I had watching people and cars and guns and houses and money 
glisten in F&F, I had a comparably rough time watching people and ideas and 
apartments and money dull itself into depression in The Comedy. What's glaring 
to me is that these movies exist alongside each other. Maybe The Comedy is a 
two hour protest of Fast and Furious? Maybe it is a comedian's attempt to lop off 
a chunk of Hollywood and let it drift out into the absurd realms it should land in 
more often (out where Paul Walker's mother is running cocaine shipments under 
the Bering Strait)? Maybe the whole thing is a narcissistic plea for MORE 
attention? Maybe there is some deep meaning and questions needing answers 
fusing through the languid, perpetual flipping off that makes up each scene? Maybe 
depravity is harked on, again and again, to remind us that it's better to laugh than 
it is to hate and destroy? Maybe The Comedy is about extravagance and it's 
deleterious effects on a post 9/11, somewhat lost and depraved generation? I 
could see how one could say it's just a movie and we shouldn't think about it too 
much. I could also see how one could say that it's all these things. 

However, I can't really think about it beyond the guys that made it. I think it's 
about them. Whatever they were trying to pull-off wasn't pulled off. They were 
missing any sort of point worth talking about. The only thing worth talking about 
is that these guys were applauding their own ability to make a movie and to make 
it about despicable things. I'm still not really sure. Either way, I really wanted to 
give this movie a chance. 
The Comedy features Tim Heidecker as a wandering, aging, wealthy hipster. 
Heidecker drifts through Brooklyn and Manhattan and just as I attempted to do 
as few constructive things as possible in high school, so too does Heidecker's 
character attempt to raise a 'fuck you' eyebrow to all that his privilege allows him 
to. His day-to-day life is a mockery of all that was once viewed as appropriate by 
our grand parents. That's about it, really. It's minimalist in that way but there could 
be more.

Maybe these guys are geniuses and in coming generations we'll look back on The 
Comedy and say thanks. It is different and it is brave in some ways. But it's mostly 
annoying. And I don't mean the lead character is annoying. He was annoying but 
that's not what I'm talking about. It's annoying that they felt they needed to make 
an annoying movie. If their goal was to make an annoying movie so that they 
could prod and poke at 'Society' or something like that, then they should have 
just not made the movie. The whole thing just seems kind of cliche in that way. It's 
like, dudes, we knew all of these things already. Amour, another movie (or film) 
about aging and extravagance is a legitimate attempt at talking about some darker 
themes that run through 'Society' as viewed by those that are aimlessly aging. And 
maybe I'm drawing a line here. I don't hate on movies that often and I'm still not 
sure I fully want to hate on this movie. I just feel that this whole endeavor was 
kind of childish. 

All that aside, Heidecker is a really good actor. He was convincing and made me 
feel for him. He can carry a scene and is able to keep one wanting to watch. I was 
really intrigued by the character. Maybe that's enough? Maybe being intrigued by a 
character and watching that character experience some life situations is enough 
for a movie? I'm not sure, I need to hear what some other folks have to say about 
it. I think this movie is good for discussion like Melancholia is good for discussion. 
It's certainly a fringe movie and fringe stuff is good for helping us decide where 
our boundaries are, are not, or shouldn't be at all. I already feel shitty about 
hating on this movie. I hate hating on movies. 

My final point, then, is that I don't want my negativity to be that big of a deal. I 
don't want to 'burn books' but I do want to call out narcissism and arrogance. My 
main negativity has to do with not wanting to watch this movie again. But if 
someone puts in the work to make a movie, and they definitely put in the work, 
then I am willing to acknowledge what someone has made. Even if what they've 
made is somewhat destructive. 

A good friend once taught me something that I try and live by, "Just because you 
can make a chair doesn't mean you should make the chair." This hushed truism 
works better if you say something like, "Just because you can make Wal-Mart 
doesn't mean you should make Wal-Mart" but the chair analogy is a little more 

I think the problem with conservatism is that conservatism doesn't like 
to allow for the reality that some folks, often times many folks, are going to do 
things that we don't want them to do. Conservatism ironically exists to stomp 
out anything that isn't pretty, manicured and Country Club (it's ironic because 
wealth in capitalism hinges on the poorer buying products distributed by the 
wealthy). Whereas, liberalism, I think, is best for all of us because it doesn't hide 
from the shitty parts of life. A liberal reading of universal health care 
acknowledges that some people are going to take advantage of the system. A 
liberal approach to health care accepts that part of it and rightfully realizes that 
universal health care is still better than the greed and usury of insurance 
companies, attorneys and cronyism. It's better even if some take advantage of the 
system and benefit because of someone else's hard work. And that's the positive I 
can pull from this movie. It liberally does not hide from the shit and that makes it 
a liberal movie and I'm ok with liberal in this sense even if I'm left wondering if 
this movie should have been made in the first place (not wondering about F&F).