• Drunk Napoleon

    What did we watch?

    • Drunk Napoleon

      This will be a bit much.

      LOST, Season Two, Episode Nineteen, “S.O.S.”
      “You haven’t answered my question.”

      “You okay?”
      “Yeah.”
      “Oh good, so you can hear me.”

      Rose and Bernard!!! Rose can irritate me with her viewpoint – I get not questioning your terminal illness curing itself, but not being curious about the hatch or the food drop is just downright ridiculous – but her marriage to Bernard is one of the sweetest love stories ever; the writers’ gift for writing warm relationships fully paying off. Rose and Bernard fully accept one another, which means knowing which decisions they can accept in each other – Bernard accepts her faith, and Rose accepts Bernard’s need to take care of her – and which they don’t. The ending of their episode throws forward to the ending of the show, in which the mysteries remain mysteries because what we really value are these characters and their relationships.

      I was wrong about forgetting the map; Locke spends all episode trying to recreate it, and while I still don’t remember him actively chasing it it seems to be factoring into his wavering faith in the button.

      This episode, Eko finally reveals he’s been building a church, and Charlie started helping him a while back; I wonder how Charlie factors into religious representation as someone who believes in life after love God but isn’t all about it.

      Ownage: Rousseau owns Jack and Kate with a trap.
      Australian Accent Accuracy Level: Native speaker

      Martin Scorsese’s Filmography
      Going back through old favourites! I decided at one point that I ought to fill in my knowledge of classic cinema, and I began with the entire filmography of Martin Scorsese. This was because I had seen, at most, about half of a Martin Scorsese film in my life (The Aviator, which I thought was awesome when I was a kid, even if I could never catch the whole thing on TV) and he represented to me that whole area of canon films that every film nerd is supposed to have seen. In retrospect, this was a perfect choice; Scorsese has both a specific morality that carries from film to film and a thoroughly commercial mass-audience mindset that makes all his films entertaining, so it’s obvious enough for a first-timer to go through and put pieces from separate films together but subtle enough that one feels clever enough to have picked up on it and gains confidence; baby’s first film crit, if you like, no negative connotations intended to either me or Mr Scorsese. I do what I do here because I chose to sit down and watch a shitload of Scorsese films one time.

      Now, I didn’t watch every Scorsese film my first run – I missed out on Mean Streets, which would have simplified the process of criticism – and I chose not to here, because this whole thing has been about revisiting and revising my thoughts. The gist of my conclusion before was that Scorsese is preoccupied with the internal battle between good and evil that can never be resolved (“I am Evil Homer, I am Evil Homer!”), and that this internal battle happens because evil gets all the cool rewards (sex, drugs, cars, food, ownage) and good has to ride the subway like a shmuck, and he lets this battle play out non-judgementally.

      (This is also, oddly enough, the morality of The Simpsons)

      Taxi Driver
      “You talkin’ to me?”

      So long as there are angry white men, this movie will be relevant. Travis is a violent, crude racist who would be supporting Trump if this movie was made today, but underneath his actions is a longing for human connection, one so vivid that it’s incredibly difficult to watch for me (I watch movies and TV to escape from social anxiety); unfortunately, Travis has neither the competence nor the support required to find it. I like the presence of Tom, because he works as a counterpoint to Travis in that respect, and Travis seems to resent his existence for putting in sharp relief his lack of connection or skills.

      Despite being a loose character study, the arrangement of action is actually pretty solidly laid out, as the actions we start with show why Travis is driven to the actions later; if he looks so incompetent and stupid in front of people like Betsy and Tom, of course he’s gonna turn to people like Iris; after the pain and humiliation of earlier, the fun of playing with guns feels like a relief. What I like is how the film subtly shows that Travis is not the entire world – the system has failed Iris as much – no, moreso than it’s failed him.

      Scorsese’s direction is very sensation-driven – aside from the social anxiety that plagues the first third, there are so many sequences where we and Travis are simply caught up in images and feelings, from his study of the city to a cup of coffee; this plays into the plot because it means we’re experiencing Travis’ racism, sexism, and sense of disconnection, and thus empathising more with his actions. What’s interesting is what Travis writes in his diary by contrast; it’s as if he internalises sensations and externalises facts (or what he perceives as facts) and goals.

      Once again, I found that an iconic bit of dialogue was much less iconic originally. People always quote “You talkin’ to me?” as if Travis is escalating in rage, when in fact he’s nervously stumbling over his words and completely unsure of himself.

      Unlike the lead of Mean Streets, Travis is very different to Scorsese, and he’s also more interesting. I think of Don Draper being about 50% away from the tone of Mad Men, and I find myself wondering if, when writing a character study, a storyteller has to consciously write someone not like them (as opposed to a drama, where the opposite is more helpful) in order to avoid sentimentalising them and letting them get away with it – which leads me to the ending. I never liked it, but I couldn’t identify why I didn’t like it until now. It’s not the ownage, which makes perfect sense – in fact, you feel it coming the entire movie- it’s that Travis gets clean away with it at the end. I think if there’s something relevant to now to take away from this, it’s that white male pain exists, and it has to go somewhere, and ignoring it will simply let it explode everywhere – obviously, I think of Trump’s election, though I also think of a century of Hollywood abusing women and children all coming back on it at once for a mostly non-male equivalent.

      (More loosely, I find Travis’ life also explains the state of leftism at the moment. There are two reasons we’re in a post-Harvey Weinstein world: firstly, women used the internet to create a system of emotional, physical, and financial support for each other that built in power and confidence. Secondly, there are men who felt what Travis feels, and discovered they can get both a sense of connection and a sense of ownage via supporting feminism. There’s probably a good story in that.)

      Finally, having grown up with Everybody Loves Raymond on TV, seeing young Peter Boyle blew my mind the first time. To quote Marty McFly, Jesus, didn’t that guy ever have hair?

      Raging Bull
      “I’m the boss, I’m the boss, I’m the boss.”

      “Your mother sucks fucking, big, fucking elephant dicks.”

      Much simpler than Taxi Driver, and more elegant for it. On a story level, Jake La Motta is a much more active protagonist than Travis; moments when he simply sits and takes in a sensation are much rarer and more powerful for it. We’re still in character study mode, but it’s of a much more volatile character. It’s one of those stories about someone who’s really good at one thing – in this case, boxing – and how the things that make him good at that one thing make him fuckawful in other aspects of his life, which always delights me. I’ve been sitting on the idea that literary stories can or ought to be tied into a single action – e.g. Lost is tied together by the plane crash, everything that lead up to it and everything that happened because of it. What screwed this up is that Mad Men is not tied together by a single action, but maybe it is in the same way Raging Bull is.

      (ZMF said that the best way to make a character sympathetic was to make them good at their job; maybe the word isn’t sympathetic but compelling)

      The attitude that creates and destroys Jake La Motta is pretty straightforward – he thinks purely and only within the moment, reacting to everything on instinct with little long-term planning; a great attitude for boxing and a poor one for life.

      There’s a stricter formalist control in RB than in TD, laying the groundwork for Goodfellas. The camera tends to focus more intently on single actions, and the sound design swings in and out of different layers; the intent is to get you to focus on one thing at a time.

      I know the story that De Niro got Scorsese to work on the movie as a way for him to deal with his own self-destructiveness, but that’s literally all I know.

      The Last Temptation Of Christ
      I tooled about with this being the origin story of Scorsese’s universe, but that doesn’t really work. Instead, this is that internal battle between good and evil playing out on the grandest possible scale and for the highest possible stakes, done by playing it out with someone who has a direct and clear connection to the morally correct path; I don’t believe in God, but framing the whole thing in those terms makes it easier for me to empathise with the concept. There are a lot of philosophical discussions that are rooted in the character’s specific goals and actions; from this perspective, Judas serves a Joey Pants/Wachowski role of putting a human face on a different perspective.

      After this film, it’s like a weight lifted from Scorsese’s movies. I don’t know exactly what it was, but it’s as if every movie up to and including this one had the energy bouncing around, while from Goodfellas onward the energy of the movie will move in one clear direction. The best reason I can think of for that is that the characters, for good or ill, stop being insecure and start being more clear-eyed about their goals.

      Also I was totally distracted during the “he who is without sin” scene by a joke I love. For best effect, imagine this said in a thick Australian accent: A crowd is surrounding a woman, throwing rocks at her. Jesus walks up, holds out his hands, and says “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” A little old lady picks up a rock and beans the woman with it. Jesus points at her and says “Oh, fuck off, Mum!”

      NaNoWriMo Update: the lesson here is that when your weak point is imagery, you should create an extremely long and extremely detailed list of images you can use.

      • ZoeZ

        You can’t drop in that NaNo section and not at least give us a few of the disconnected but highly detailed images.

        Scorsese on good and evil, and his honest portrayal of the battle between them in the world of men and women: he’s also clear about how his protagonists see the world their evil has given them, from Henry Hill’s genuine pleasures to Jordan Belfort’s blithe unawareness that his life is a complete vacuum.

        • Drunk Napoleon

          My problem is that I didn’t make a list long enough to make the speed-writing easy enough.

          His greatest skill is, from the start, creating vivid sensations, and as his career went on he found so many varieties of ways to use sensation in some deeper way.

      • Conor Malcolm Crockford

        I had a hard time watching Taxi Driver because of that anxiety and pain thrumming all through it – I’m not violent like Travis and I don’t have those sorts of thoughts but its hard not to empathize when Betsy won’t go out with him again and the camera drifts away. Travis is like a darker, harder version of my own loneliness and issues – the question is how do you resolve those. It’s Schrader’s greatest look at masculinity, at how it can be harnessed into a horrible weapon for people looking for somebody, anybody to blame and especially the Other.

        • The Ploughman

          There’s some scary interviews with Schrader on the DVD where he talks about his surprise at the lines around the block when the movie opened and the number of people that asked him “How did you know what I’m thinking?”

      • The Ploughman

        Nice analysis. Sounds like an awesome deep dive. Scorsese was the first director I actively sought out as a burgeoning cinephile. I had a fascination for Taxi Driver and a revulsion toward Raging Bull my first time around on them. The TD reaction remains. I now appreciate the balls-out filmmaking in RB much more.

        The downside of this being one’s first formal influence: I was a wedding videographer during the summer of the year I got into Scorsese. At the reception I did a pan around the room to show the crowd when the bride entered. When my boss told me to always keep the camera on the bride I said I was quoting the shot from Taxi Driver when Travis Bickle enters the taxi garage for the first time. I was told we do not imitate Taxi Driver in wedding videos.

      • That was exactly my read of The Last Temptation back on my review–this was the story Scorsese had always been telling in one form or another, and having told it as directly and awkwardly as he could, he could tell new stories. The amorality and goddamn fun of GoodFellas wouldn’t have been possible before this.

        • Drunk Napoleon

          It’s really the exact opposite of an origin story – it’s the logical end result of Scorsese’s movies at the time. I wonder if that’s how personal/’therapy’ stories should be treated; something you get out of your system before getting back to work and functioning in the real world.

          • Worked for Scorsese, Soderbergh, Spielberg, didn’t work for Allen. I buy this argument.

          • Drunk Napoleon

            Thinking on it a few minutes longer and maybe explaining why it worked for those three and not Allen, I can see why it might be true – I think of what I did and am doing with both the Talleyrand duology and this whole Drunk Napoleons: Origins project; with a personal project you can learn what you’re capable of and what you want, and you come to peace with it, and you can then go out in the world and utilise it fearlessly.

          • Yup. I think on the A. I. piece, I wrote that these are works that the creator had to make rather than wanted to make. The difference with Allen is that I don’t think he could handle what he saw; he didn’t come to peace with it, and couldn’t move on. Although I disagree with John Bruni’s review of Husbands and Wives, I think he effectively reviewed the movie Allen wanted to make, not the one he got. Zhe rezhult ist fazhinating; a readink of zhe film vizth its oon grain, when zhe film isz in fact divided againzht zat grain. (Yes, it was necessary to state this in a Bad Freud Accent.)

      • I think Scorsese is one of the great religious filmmakers, and what makes him more interesting is that most of them are staid and austere – Scorsese is a wild ride, and you feel the allure and enjoyment of sin.

        When I started exploring movies, one of my teachers told me, “You have to watch Taxi Driver, but don’t shoot up the school after.” After watching it, I didn’t sleep because of how disturbing and relatable it was. Took years to revisit it.

        • Drunk Napoleon

          I’m amused how everybody’s proving me right on the whole ‘baby’s first film crit’ thing.

          • He’s exciting to watch, mafia/crime is a popular genre, plus he has comprehensible thematic elements running through all his movies. He’s an all-time great with a low barrier to entry. The only one I got into sooner was Kubrick (excluding Lucas & Spielberg, since I grew up with those).

      • Babalugats

        No, no, slow down! This is too ambitious.

        The Scorsese/Simpsons morality is also just morality. To do good… for a price; is fine, but it’s not exactly a moral decision, for the same reason we don’t discuss having faith in gravity. Being moral, as opposed to merely smart and rational, requires sacrifice. It’s about doing good even when it hurts you. And those who find that objectionable aren’t selling morality, they’re selling magic.

        Raging Bull is my pick for The Greatest Film Ever Made. I first saw this film on a completely butchered broadcast TV edit (censored, pan-and-scanned, chopped up for commercials, all of it) when I was 13 years old and it opened my eyes to the idea that movies could be art, that art was separate from entertainment and could be worthwhile even when unpleasant, and has sincerely made me a better person. The idea, and it’s a simple one but it was new to me, that someone could completely destroy their life because of this moral corruption, but also be completely unable to see what they were doing, even in the end having no awareness of their own faults, hit me like a rocket. It made me much more humble, much more emotionally flexible, much more patient with those around me. It’s a big reason why I didn’t grow from an angry frustrated young boy into a Travis Bickle. There’s a lot more that I see in the movie now, but the power of that first viewing is something of a bedrock experience for me.

        Speaking of Bickle, Scorsese is interested in exploring ideas and not in proselytizing to a congregation. And that requires looking at ideas, and philosophies, and characters that are foreign to you. It requires risking that the audience might take the other side, that you might be wrong.

        I don’t know exactly what it was, but it’s as if every movie up to and including this one had the energy bouncing around, while from Goodfellas onward the energy of the movie will move in one clear direction.

        This is very insightful.

        • Drunk Napoleon

          The Scorsese/Simpsons morality is also just morality. To do good… for a price; is fine, but it’s not exactly a moral decision, for the same reason we don’t discuss having faith in gravity. Being moral, as opposed to merely smart and rational, requires sacrifice. It’s about doing good even when it hurts you. And those who find that objectionable aren’t selling morality, they’re selling magic.

          That’s true, but what makes both Scorsese and The Simpsons special is that they see the struggle of morality and put it front-and-centre – they both see that good and evil are real choices, with benefits and downsides to both, and that choice hangs over the whole thing and pervades the inner workings of each story.

          (Also, I have to slow down now; I used up the last of my internet and the more I use it to stream movies the more it costs me)

          • Babalugats

            The also both have a ton of empathy for characters whose actions they disapprove of. If there’s a foundational value to morality, it’s empathy. And neither Scorsese nor The Simpsons are willing to divide the world into good people and bad.

          • I’d go farther than that: there’s a level on which Scorsese (and especially Scorsese/Schrader) does love these actions and identifies with the characters. He recognizes the conflict within himself and identifies with both sides. It feels deeply Catholic–a fundamental morality lived as a fundamental conflict between empathy and horror, and Taxi Driver may be his (their) best version of that.

      • Miller

        “Once again, I found that an iconic bit of dialogue was much less iconic originally. People always quote “You talkin’ to me?” as if Travis is escalating in rage, when in fact he’s nervously stumbling over his words and completely unsure of himself.”

        Ha, interesting observation (in the “Play it again, Sam” category — people hear what they think they know). As far as escalating but cold rage goes, Scorsese in the cab fucking terrifies me, his mouth is just filling the void behind his eyes.

        • Drunk Napoleon

          The other one that always struck me was “I love the smell of napalm in the morning” in Apocalypse Now. People quote it like it’s a prelude to ownage; Robert Duvall says it like it’s genuinely just occurred to him, and the line is more meaningful for it.

    • ZoeZ

      Endeavoring to get this in quickly before I’m called away to a meeting:

      Friday the 13th, the original: I had not seen this before. It’s kind of cool to look at this, which is very definitely not a good movie, and still see how it landed with enough force to create all those sequels. It’s the kee-kee-kee-ha-ha-ha, primarily, but also the arrow through the throat. It also gets two or three genuine, non-obvious scares in, so good for it. When you think about it, it is both weird and remarkable that this is an iconic movie where very few of the iconic parts of its franchise actually appear.

      Moonlight: Rewatch. Can you tell there was no theme to this weekend? This remains gorgeous and, in the entirety of that diner scene, achingly romantic.

      Plus the Vice Principals finale, which I talked about in the comments of the excellent RuckCohlchez review, and about half of Thor. I actually like that movie reasonably well, it’s just that the library copy’s disk was scratched enough that it wouldn’t play properly after that. To be continued. In the meantime, know only that Chris Hemsworth looks really good with his shirt off and I appreciate that this movie knows that.

      • So there’s another offshoot website of AVC exiles & nomads?

        • pico

          Part of the AVClub Online Diaspora.

        • Ruck Cohlchez 🌹

          It started as a Disqus channel in late 2015, although I forget exactly what event prompted its creation. After the AV Club switched to Kinja, the channel got much more traffic and the
          leadership decided to start its own website.

      • Babalugats

        The theme was obviously about the need to express one’s sexuality despite the potentially lethal consequences of doing so.

        • ZoeZ

          Yes. Everyone, pretend I said that.

        • Ruck Cohlchez 🌹

          “I’m on new meds now. It’ll be… better.” *thrusts pelvis at table*

    • Paddington 2 – a near-perfect sequel to the unexpected miracle that was the first film. Wonderful cast additions (especially Brendan Gleeson and Hugh Grant, who seems to be channeling Vincent Price in Theatre of Blood), more wonderful visual invention, more laughs, more tears. I love these films so much, and this is easily the best new film I’ve seen this year (I haven’t seen that many, but it’ll take something special to beat this).

      Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans – beautiful filmmaking, but it’s a shame that the plot hinges so heavily on “nothing solves a broken romance like attempted murder”, because… what? I love those double-exposure camera tricks from this era of film though, and the fairground / pig-escape sequence is an absolute delight.

      And a “Nic Cage in Vegas double-bill”:
      Con Air – a rewatch, definitely one of the most fun action films of the 90s.
      Honeymoon in Vegas – good fun, and interesting how it seems to owe so much to Indecent Proposal, despite predating it. Cage and Sarah Jessica Parker have surprisingly great chemistry.

      The Good Place, first four chapters of the second season – despite admiring the big twist at the end of season one, I’m struggling to care about the aftermath.
      Blue Planet II, episode 1 – I can’t resist these BBC / David Attenborough nature documentaries. Fish are amazing. Whales are MORE amazing.

      NaSoAlMo update: ehhhh

    • Strangers Things season 2, parts 5 and 6, or “Andrew Stanton’s live action redemption tour.” Stanton is a Pixar legend and need not worry about his legacy. But I suspect that the commercial failure of John Carter (as well as it being an okay film that should have been a great film, ticket sales and bad marketing aside) has left Stanton desiring to find some way back to live actors. Thus he’s the director for hire in these two episodes of Stranger Things. And it’s a mixed bag.

      For the most part, the episodes are solid, well within the level of quality the show has been maintaining. But some work is great – such as a literal mindtrip into the past of a character, and a fun little chat between one of the kids and one of the teens. And other work really just sinks into the land of cliche – teen romance, and cynical hard-drinking PI, and PI commenting on teen romance. Now it would be very fair to say that the cliches are the fault of the Duffer Brothers and the writing staff, but Stanton does nothing to fix them.

      Still, the two episodes move things along very briskly in terms of plot, character arcs, and acting. I am happy that Stanton found his way back to the directing chair for flesh and blood actors, and hope this is not his last time doing so.

      Star Trek: Metamorphosis – This one has not aged well. It’s a bit hokey and really forced, and tells us that male and female are universal constants. They aren’t even constants among humans, but don’t let the 69s know that. And it also kind of schleps. Best noted for introducing Zefram Cochrane, destined to be played by James Cromwell in Star Trek: First Contact.

      • Miller

        I noticed Stanton’s name in the credits and remember thinking “Wait, Pixar Andrew Stanton?” He does stumble on the Nancy/Peeper/PI stuff but ecch is that lame from the get-go.

    • Delmars Whiskers

      The Flick–Didn’t see any movies this weekend, but I did attend a fine production of Annie Baker’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play about the employees of one of the few remaining theaters with a 35 mm projector. It’s a wise meditation on the choices we make in life, but also a damning portrait of the limits of cinephilia: One character describes a nightmare in which he realized all his Criterion discs wouldn’t guarantee him happiness in the afterlife. Not even Andrei Rublev!

      • The Ploughman

        What if they’re Blu-rays? I bet Blu-rays get you into Heaven.

        • Delmars Whiskers

          In this case, turned out it was a VHS copy of Honeymoon In Vegas.

          • Dammit, I only watched it on Netflix. I’m going nowhere.

          • Delmars Whiskers

            Maybe if you really, really believe…

          • The Ploughman

            Is that true? I feel I need to see this.

          • Delmars Whiskers

            The script has been published, but like any play, it’s probably best first encountered in performance.

    • The Ploughman

      Moana with an exclusive commentary track by Disney scholars The Ploughgirl (age 6) and Ploughboy (2) excerpted here:

      Ploughgirl: That’s Moana.

      Ploughboy: Issa pink.

      PG: It’s a PIG. That’s Moana’s friend. She’s going to leave the island.

      PB: Is a chicken! Hahaha chicken!

      PG: Don’t worry, this part is just a dream. Moana will be back soon.

      PB: The chicken!

      PG: Quiet. This is my favorite song. Maoi is kinda mean but then he’ll be nice.

      PB: Where the chicken?

      PG: Listen, Maui says “butt cheek.”

      PB: Where the chicken?

      PG: Stop it! He’s in the bottom of the boat in a pot.

      PB: WHERE THE CHICKEN??

      PG: Dad! I couldn’t hear Maui say “butt cheek!” Back it up!

      PB: There the chicken.

      PG: This is really happy when she gets home and sees her friends again.

      PB: There friends. The chicken anna pink.

      The Thin Blue Line, in which Burger King gets the world’s worst product placement deal.

      Perhaps Errol Morris’s signature piece still? Morris’s curiosity about memory, guilt and other such high-minded concepts nudges this a little outside being simply a solid piece of investigative journalism. TTBL showcases his confidence in his editing (and his audience). As a small example, there are no “lower third” titles that identify the interview subjects, but the way they’re dressed, how they speak, and when they’re introduced makes it absolutely clear who’s talking. This confidence allows him to lay out a case in layers, shifting back and forth over the timeline of the case as new information presents itself, like new pencil marks written over erased lines that are still stubbornly visible.

      Knowing that Fast, Cheap and Out is Control is about a decade in the future, Morris’s obsessions, set loose by the lack of an obvious throughline in that one, feel tethered to the storyline here. Too bad, because while it’s natural that the pursuit of the truth (what happened?) comes first it’s the pursuit of Truth (what does it mean?) that keeps TTBL relevant after the story has played out.

      • DJ JD

        “Dad! I couldn’t hear Maui say “butt cheek!” Back it up!”

        I wanted to comment as a second upvote, but I won’t be able to top that so I just repeated it. Ehh, it’s Monday.

      • Defense Against The Dark Arts

        Please please please have the Ploughchildren commentary be a recurring feature. Next up Chicken Run. Plenty of chickens in that one.

        • The Ploughman

          It is a recurring feature in this household and winter is setting in so more movie nights. I’ll report as warranted.

      • Miller

        Your boy has his priorities straight regarding the chicken and whether it is or is not on screen.

    • Jake Gittes

      The Killing of a Sacred Deer. I wasn’t feeling this. Where Dogtooth and The Lobster both took place in their own closed-off environments, this is somewhere in between those and our world: the setting is a modern city (it was filmed in Cincinnati) and people have normal jobs and lives, but the cinematography has an alien sense to it, and it’s perfectly natural for characters to have unexplained supernatural powers and, in true Lanthimos fashion, robotically but pleasantly say things like “Our daughter just started menstruating yesterday” as part of small talk at social gatherings. There’s a story, about which I don’t want to spill any details, but in the end it struck me as insubstantial and unrewarding, and so much of the film came across as the kind of “provocative” movie in which people say and do wild things, and while none of them are what you’d expect, they also aren’t genuinely shocking or, well, provocative. The more I watched it, the more I just felt numb to it, as if my brain recognized what the movie was doing and started building a shield between it and myself.

      Supposedly, Lanthimos himself thinks of the entire thing as a comedy; I laughed a good deal at both Dogtooth and The Lobster, and this one does have a couple of very funny absurdist moments, but on the whole I wonder if he just didn’t make the comedy identifiable enough, or if I did a poor job recognizing it. When a movie opens with a long, gratuitous close-up of open heart surgery set to a choral piece by Schubert, is it being a dour, full-of-itself arthouse film or is it poking fun at that type of film? Other moments, in their intentional discomfort and often outright cruelty, are even less clear. The ending does manage to find humor in literally one of the bleakest situations imaginable, but still doesn’t really say anything revelatory, and the road to get there I found long and ponderous. Still, Lanthimos remains a one-of-a-kind filmmaker (even if this particular movie is surprisingly indebted to Kubrick stylistically), and I certainly don’t want to discourage anyone interested from seeing this.

      Thor: Ragnarok – a lot of good fun that occasionally tries too hard. It does seem like, of all the Marvel filmmakers, Waititi is the most driven to break out of the formula, which only makes the usual dramatic/villain-related stuff feel that much more tossed-off: the scenes in Norway could have been filmed by Alan Taylor, and, despite Blanchett’s best efforts, all the scenes with Hela might as well be from another movie entirely. There’s also a weird imbalance between the sense of epic and down-to-earth; the Fall of the Valkyries and Hulk charging at Surtur are magnificently outsized moments, yet, say, Hela’s first appearance or her fight with Valkyrie near the end (as they run towards each other) are presented in shockingly plain fashion, without the sense of oomph to really make them sing, making this another Marvel movie that too often comes off like a glorified TV episode. I don’t want to seem too negative, though; the Sakaar stuff is largely a delight, Mark Mothersbaugh provides a ’80s-inspired score that actually feels fresh, and the cast is terrific without exception, although in the end Tessa Thompson owns this joint and everyone else is just along for the ride.

      • DJ JD

        I really enjoyed T:R but I agree, the tension between “epic” and “down-to-earth” felt unwieldy to me too. I couldn’t tell if scenes like Thor and Hulk sitting on a bed and talking ran a touch too long or if I just wasn’t getting on this movie’s wavelength completely.

        • Delmars Whiskers

          I think the scene you mentioned highlights one of the problems with the movie: Waititi’s semi-improv style doesn’t–or more accurately, can’t–work when one of the actors is a CG construct.

    • Conor Malcolm Crockford

      Bride of Frankenstein, “We belong DEAD!” Super fucking great, very gay, and a really striking balance of camp comedy and poignant horror. Elsa Lancaster is only the Bride for five minutes yet her strange, doll movements and makeup clearly struck Tim Burton and dozens of other filmmakers.

      First two of Vice Principals, season two – Fuck yeah. I think I’ve struck on two things: VP is a comedy with a real dramatic structure and that this is a study of different kinds of authoritarianism, each motivated by insecurity and by the need for power. The difference is that Gamby has a real conscience and it tugs at him, and he kind of knows that the way he acts hinders his everyday life, where Russell has no conscience and no interest in being kind beyond what it can get him. His whole train yards scene is a Goggins classic of charismatic cruelty. “Octavia you can take your Euripedes and shove it alllllll the way up your ass.”

      Wheelman – Good, solid and economical crime film and Grillo makes a great lead. I think the Locke style of never leaving the car hinders it a fair amount but I’d like to see what Rush does next.

      Mindhunter – up to 7. I dunno about this show honestly – it has the same problem as HoC where the nuts and bolts just aren’t strong enough. The showrunner quit after fights over control with Fincher, and that makes sense: there’s just something a bit stale in the scenes that aren’t case-related. And I have no clue what’s going on with Debbie.

      Hammer House of Horror – 1980 anthology episode. You can kind of see where this one’s going at a certain point but its still quite unnerving and actually well-written.

      • Vice Principals made me realize that the distinction on comedy shows isn’t between comedies and comedy/dramas, it’s between situation and story comedies.. Sitcoms have exactly that, a situation, and that gets repeated without almost any sense of consequence or continuity. Vice Principals is a story comedy, and very few handle the story so well, with such attention to plausibility and consequence. (Silicon Valley is a good counterexample here–the story went well for about two seasons but it’s since degenerated into a version of Entourage, constantly playing the same scenario with no regard to plausibility.)

        • Conor Malcolm Crockford

          I trust the show enough to know that Lee pulling that stunt is going to bite him in the ass but this is also just the way he functions: grandiosity and casual evil.

          Also my dad is basically Octavia (disgruntled passionate English teacher who’s been there forever and hates admin) and I want him to watch the show to see if he notices.

          • Miller

            Vice Principals’ leads are so strong that they consistently overshadowed the secondary character work and that is a damn shame, the teachers and staff really come into their own in the second season and are so important to creating the weird school where Lee and Gamby can wage their battles without drawing too much attention. Octavia is brilliantly drawn, I know the type and the independence and erudition is formidable but damn if that Euridipes rejoinder isn’t totally deserved.

      • Babalugats

        Mindhunters; what if Zodiac was twice as long and half as good? It would still be ok, right? Certainly worth watching, even if a little hollow and a little repetitive.

        The best part of the story is the way it draws out the sociopathy from Agent Holden, and the way it spreads the crimes into a sense of social paranoia and paints all the fringe characters with dark suspicion. This was all done much better in Zodiac, and in this case the history of the story prevents the show from fully committing to the dark interpretations of it’s characters. The need to allow for follow up seasons also prevents us from getting a satisfying conclusion. Something odd to contrast with Zodiac, but even as the lack plot resolution was the point of that film, the story and characters are still brought to a place of finality.

        • Conor Malcolm Crockford

          I’m wondering now if this show would be stronger as a mini-series, not a long running story. Its at its strongest when the aesthetic reflects the darkness of the killers, the pervading sense that they can taint everything, including the inner life.

      • Ruck Cohlchez 🌹

        You can read the best Vice Principals reviews on the Internet at this link!

        https://the-avocado.org/tag/vice-principals/

      • Miller

        Wheelman very much feels like a calling card designed to bring notice for bigger things, I hope it works.

    • DJ JD

      Hateful 8, my first viewing. I enjoyed this enough to stay up and finish it when I meant to watch it in hour-long chunks and get a decent night’s sleep; Tarantino’s formidable talents for dialogue, casting and scene escalation remain sharp. But this movie cemented a view I started taking with Inglorious Basterds that frankly, Tarantino just isn’t worth taking all that seriously anywhere beyond MovieLand. I mean, he’s still amazing at deliberately ratcheting up tension in a scene, reveal by reveal, until everything explodes, and his characterizations remain strong, and well-acted by consistently inspiring casting. But the movie is ultimately a bottle final episode of a dark-hearted TV show, and that’s about it. All his Great Big Points about race and American popular culture and historical revisionism get buried, if not actively subverted, by his interest in his story and his monomoniacal focus on the movies he wants to make.

      I was frustrated by an interview I saw with him discussing IB where he said that he couldn’t figure out how to end it until he realized that the Basterds just needed to kill Hitler, and he sounded pleased with the conclusion. He seemed to miss the fact that his movie stopped being about WW2 when he did that, an actual war that actually happened, and 100% became being about media about WW2. I was iffy on whether to care or not, though IB left a bad taste in my mouth that remains, but the thought has persisted. It was firmly in my mind for most of this film.

      It’s timely for me personally that @gillianren:disqus just wrote about Sally Menke, because her presence was missed here. I get that the hokey narrator (which actually had me check to make sure I hadn’t turned on my visually-impaired aides) was part of Tarantino’s smart-aleck humor, but the tone worked directly against the tragedy being spelled out via the warmth of Minnie and her crew, whose deaths effectively felt like a crime against nature. I can’t really blame Tarantino for his ongoing Zoe Bell crush because he’s slightly sharing it with me over here. (Also, while I’m spoilering, them dumping the bodies in the well more or less announced the ending of the movie if I didn’t already have a guess.) And there had to have been a more elegant way to bring things to a boil in the poisoned coffee sequence than to just tell us, “But wait! This happened first!”

      Also, I wonder if we’ll look back on Tarantino’s meeting Christoph Waltz the way we look back on James Cameron first going under the water. Tim Roth’s character sounded like he wrote him for Waltz first and foremost, no matter where the story went.

      Thor: Ragnarok – I mostly adored this, but I feel like I wasn’t quite watching the same movie I’ve been hearing so much about. Yes, there’s a lot of comedic beats, but this is a dark, dark tale, a jeremiad on par with Tolkien’s Silmarillion, as a deific people are cast out at great loss and agony from the Holy Land. I loved the comedy, I loved the story beats and I mostly loved the characters, but I came away from it feeling like I hadn’t quite seen the same movie as anyone else.

      One standout: Tessa Thompson has now done an unusually effective job of portraying a character that I deeply disliked twice now. I didn’t care at all for her character in Dear White People, and thought the movie would’ve been much better served by spending less time on her, and I am more or less baffled by the seemingly-universal praise she’s getting here. Her character was not even named; they called her “Valkyrie” (like my mom named me “Analyst” I guess; I had an unfortunate shortened nickname as a kid) but they might as well have called her “Mary Sue Foil”. Her plot power was ridiculous, blatant and nonstop, and all the more infuriating for how she was used against instead of with the plot more often than not. I mostly just wanted her off the screen by the third or fourth time she Smug Snaked anything that would help the plot move forward. Like I said, I think Thompson did fine in the role, but I was struck by my frustration with her character. Again.

      I also watched the first third of Furious 7 but either I got old enough to hate fun or I just wasn’t in the mood, because instead of seeming gloriously stupid it was predictably, boringly so. Ahh well.

      • Drunk Napoleon

        I would agree on Tarantino being hard to take seriously outside movies in general but very strongly disagree with it in regards to Hateful 8, where I think the storytelling and the politics are closely tied together – the too-short explanation of it being that these are eight completely distinct worldviews, and they bounce off each other in such a way as to create frontier justice.

        • Conor Malcolm Crockford

          The Hateful Eight has only been out for two years and it’s insanely relevant. There are few movies so downright angry and cynical about America.

        • DJ JD

          Disclaimers: I’ve only seen it the once, so I may well just be missing the point. I’m still chewing on it for sure. That said, while I sympathize with the sentiment – and I really do – I found myself trying to unravel just what it is specifically that we’re supposed to take away from it that is a) historically defensible) and b) not utterly ridiculous and / or appalling.

          I mean, it’s great on general terms, and like I said, I really enjoyed it. It’s just that the specifics, I kept trying to figure out what Tarantino was “really” saying. Eventually I decided that it made a lot more sense to assume that he was willing to deprioritize any title-case Value Statements behind keeping his story moving forward and keeping his characters interesting.

          • Drunk Napoleon

            Yeah, I can buy this being a philosophical/aesthetic difference, because I prefer my characters and plot front-and-centre and the big theme shit implied and embedded in the action; having to work to take something away from a story and having to sort through potentially vile or ridiculous stuff is my preferred mode of storytelling.

      • Son of Griff

        I felt that, with the first 2 entries in the “Western Trilogy” , Tarantino felt too stuck on refuting the notion that historically significant subject matter needed to be dealt with in a hushed, reverent matter as to convey the gravitas of man’s inhumanity to man. This results in ironic, tonal whiplash that feels too self satisfied with the audacity of its own subversion. tH8 seems focused on clashing different perspectives on the imagery of the post Civil War in the same temporal and spacial dimension. It deals in historical change and literary norms in a deliberate way as to trace the complicated legacies of historical artifacts over changing times. It’s less focused on thumbing its nose at liberal pieties and getting down to business.

      • pico

        Have you seen the Netflix version of Dear White People, by the way? From the way Simien constructed the show, it’s clear that one of his longer-range goals was to take the character Thompson played in the film down a few notches. The film’s brevity means she’s more of a protagonist in that, but the series makes it clearer that she’s just as mired in the problems she critiques as all the other characters (I also wish Thompson had returned for the show, because her charisma really propels that character in a way the series star doesn’t quite.) It’s actually prompted me to view the film differently in retrospect, too.

        Also, 100% agree on Thor. Lots of good stuff floating on around on “Ragnarok as post-colonialist critique,” which is pretty accurate, even if the Marvel formula prevented a full-on accounting with that theme.

        • DJ JD

          I haven’t seen Netflix!DWP, and I want to! I took a shot at her character there but I quite enjoyed the movie overall–and all I’ve heard is that the show is better than the movie.

      • Miller

        Hmm, I’m much more in the post-colonial critique side of Thor. Hell wants to, ahem, make Asgard great again, which means reviving and elevating (to the detriment of all else) its violent nature — she essentially wants her own version of Battleworld/Sakaar, a place of eternally stagnant violence. That being thwarted in its own supremely violent way is sad on one level but allows for a rebirth without that baggage (which is in tune with certain telling of Ragnarok I believe, the ones that bring back Baldur, possibly after he absorbed some Jesus over the years). Anywho, violent cataclysm is necessary to erase the past and the people who will not leave it behind. See also: The Hateful Eight.

    • Vice Principals, the finale. Team Jody Hill has always had a problem with endings, and this one is almost an exception. Especially placed next to last week’s episode, it feels like about four different endings stacked on top of each other, and I just flat-out don’t get why they always need to go for some kind of redemption. They don’t go all the way into absurdity as usual; the final moment is a great touch–it’s elegant and on the right scale, these are the temporary heroes of the mall. The misstep is that it makes sense for Gamby to get redeemed but not Russell. It’s possible for Russell to achieve some kind of peace, but for a show that’s so well-plotted, this feels tacked-on. It’s the Breaking Bad ending, and he lives too.

      • ZoeZ

        The ending is a dramatic misstep, but for me, it revealed the show’s true ambitions as literary rather than dramatic. I’d wondered about that along the way, with so many Chekhov’s guns having their firing pins removed, but it feels almost pointed here, especially with Snodgrass’s bewildered response to Abbott’s recap: “I didn’t know that, no.” One of the key differences between literary and dramatic storytelling for me is that I think in literary storytelling the story has to have some kind of implicit God, whereas drama has the option but not the requirement.

        And you definitely need that conscious hand moving things around for the finale to work. I think I’m okay with the very Southern and partial way Russell, along with the more deserving Gamby, are maneuvered here towards peace, because the show sells that sense of grace as something organic to its whole strange, enchanted universe. Breaking Bad doesn’t do that for me, possibly because it’s working on a larger and more dramatic scale and also possibly because Walt requires, and receives, logistical interference rather than just spiritual.

        (Also because of the very Southern touch of Russell’s redemption partly involving him getting shot in the head, which is very Flannery O’Connor.)

        My semi-problem with the VP ending is the treatment of Abbott, who is made purely crazy, and purely monstrous, so that Gamby and Russell have someone they can unite to oppose. In a show that gives a very nuanced and often sympathetic picture of one not-great guy and one near-sociopath, having Abbott made into such a flat character didn’t work for me.

        • That does make sense; it’s just that the whole series has been so good at Gamby’s journey, having Russell do it in ten minutes doesn’t really land. I buy that about the “implicit God” but like you said , it’s a God that favors Russell but not Abbott. In addition to making a theme of the show Bitches Amirite? it’s weak storytelling–it’s the kind where the God has an ending in mind and moves people around to get there.

          • ZoeZ

            Yeah, I did definitely have a moment of “I love redemption and everything but this is a really quick turnaround, did the bullet go through, like, exclusively the bad-impulses part of Russell’s brain?”, so I agree on the storytelling weakness.

          • OH SHIT GIRL, you are just a walking bottle of pistol-sized habañero Tabasco sauce (I distinguish between derringer-, pistol-, carbine-, shotgun-, and howitzer-sized Tabasco bottles, line them up and you’ll see my point) (also, let’s be clear, the habañero is the best variety, none of that green so-called jalapeño shit, which is quite literally weaksauce), ‘cuz in addition to having that Southern thing going on, you also just quickly and conveniently delivered a major BURN.

    • Defense Against The Dark Arts

      Brigsby Bear. It’s a sweet movie, maybe a little too sweet. I kind of wanted a little more psychological exploration of the main character and how his years of isolation affected him. But now that I see what I’ve typed I realize that’s more of a job for a drama and not a quirky comedy.

    • clytie

      Friday: Crazy Ex-Girlfriend It was sad.

      A bunch of episodes of Unsolved Mysteries I hope that someday someone solves the mystery of the Chupacabra.

      My fave internet shows: The Jimmy Dore Show and Redacted Tonight. The two best news show anywhere. SUPPORT INDEPENDENT MEDIA!

      Saturday: Blade Runner Just kidding. I watched the Lifetime Original Movie Oscar Pistorious: Blade Runner Killer, or as I will now refer to it, The Superior Blade Runner Movie. It was fantastic. Lifetime has really upped their movie game lately. This week they have a new movie about Elizabeth Smart. I can’t wait!

      Sunday: Sunday Mourning I watch this weekly and always look forward to it, but usually forget to mention it here. The most interesting segment was about Tina Brown, even though she’s a total liar. She knew about Harvey Weinstein.

      I also watched The Walking Dead It was boring until the end. The end was sad.

      Plus, Friday’s episode of General Hospital. The did a DNA test and it was revealed that (even though nobody watches but me, I’ll still put spoiler tags just in case): BOTH JASON’S ARE DNA MATCHES FOR THE ORIGINAL JASON. Best. Plot-twist. Ever.

      Too much sad stuff! I need to watch more gory crime shows which never make me sad.

      • Drunk Napoleon

        Whenever I think about either Unsolved Mysteries or El Chupacabre, I always end up thinking about the El Chupacabre episode, which really started to get my goat for a while there.

        That is seriously the best possible twist that story could take.

        • clytie

          Poor goat!

        • Son of Griff

          I like to think that, somewhere in the hills, a cayote is chortling at our suggestibility.

      • Son of Griff

        Sunday Morning is a regular show in my house as well. My wife used to go to sales meetings with Charles Osgood when she worked at CBS. Nice to report that he is a total gentleman.

    • pico

      The Book of Henrywooooooooof, the reviews were not wrong. In fact, it’s so wrong that there are terribly wrong things that reviews just glossed over because there were so many things going on (Worst place for a meet-cute? Your son’s deathbed.) What I didn’t expect was for the middle act to be so boring. The first is B-grade Wes Anderson. The last is B-grade Richard Kelly (already a B-grade version of himself). That middle act, though, is interminable Lifetime Movie-of-the-Week without that genre’s potential camp value.

      That said, there’s one brief moment in the last act where you can kinda see where this movie could have gone: when they intercut Naomi Watts setting up the death trap with the talent-show girls tapdancing. It hits this weird and sustained tone of “wrong, but right”, and you wish someone less tasteful had directed the rest of the movie. As it is, the movie’s tone is basically “Oscar prestige with a hint of quirkiness” like American Beauty or Little Miss Sunshine. To pull this off, they needed something more like full-throttle John Waters.

      • Although I haven’t seen The Book of Henry, I have heard the Blank Check podcast about it, which may well be my favorite comedy of 2017. Griffin Newman’s Hulk-like transformation from affable nebbish to the greatest of all Trevorrowfoes is just one of the exquisite character beats.

        • pico

          Now I need to hear this.

          There are so many points in the movie where you wonder why no one – a producer, an actor, hell, even a gaffer for that matter – stopped him to say “Hey, this thing right here…. It’s kinda wrong?” Even the small details (the worst use of checkers in a movie, ever.)

          Tho: the movie is funny precisely because it gets the small details so horribly, stupidly wrong.

          • GrifFIN and SIIIIIIIIIIMS both note a couple of points where the movie could have turned in the direction of making sense, if not actually gotten there, yes. I got the impression from this that if anyone dared to raise those points with Trevorrow, his response would have been along the lines of “oh sure, like the director of Jurassic World has to change a line like ‘we are not shooting the chief of police and that’s final!’ COME ON!” Yeah, this guy is gonna fight right in to a Disney franchise.

          • pico

            Okay, I listened to this – and as promised, it was hilarious. I love them trying to explain this to a baffled third party who can’t tell the difference between real plot points and jokes (altho: C&C Music Factory might have improved the movie…)

            FWIW, Sims is right about Watts’ “I’m going home to my two sons” line.

            One plot point I disagree with them about, though it’s hard to say because the film barely telegraphs it, concerns one of the really bizarre moments near the end: I’m pretty sure the Rube Goldberg machine that shows her photos of the two kids – the “I’m going to kill the neighbor but also slip on a banana peel” moment – was built by the younger brother, not Henry. There’s a running gag about how he wants to build things like Henry but don’t have Henry’s “genius” so his attempts are more modest. Not complicated, like a waffle iron (actual running joke in the film). Then we see him constructing something when Watts comes inside the treehouse earlier. I think the implication is that Tremblay built the photo-showing-thingamabob. So basically, the younger brother’s doodling inadvertently ruins the dead brother’s maniacal plans. Convoluted? Yeah, just like… a Rube Goldberg machine!!! *head explodes*

            But wait! It also means that he really did bring his dead brother back: not in the gymnasium talent show, but back in his treehouse as his mother was playing ninja assassin. A magic trick after all!

            That reminds me: have any of the reviews or podcasts talked about “The Can Opener,” because that’s the shit we couldn’t stop laughing at all night.

          • “OR JUST TAKE A PICTURE!” The way they just explode at the sheer whatthefuckery on display always makes my day a little brighter.

            And there’s a can opener involved? Dare I ask? Can my earthbound brain contemplate the horrors and wonders thereupon?

          • pico

            Part of how we know Watts is a stunted adult is that she spends all day playing video games, holding the controller like someone who has never held a controller in her life. She plays – foreshadowing! – first-person shooters, which she’s really good at!, and complains whenever Henry interrupts her (“Just as soon as I level up on these motherf..!”, she says, saying “level up” like someone who has never leveled up in her life).

            And she says, and I swear I am not making this up: “You know why they call me the Can Opener?”

            Henry: “No. But I’m guessing it has something to do with whoop-ass.”

            Someone wrote that line, like someone who has never heard real-life hyoomans speak.

            Anyway, for the whole last act of the movie, whenever we see Watts with the gun, we were like “Oooooh shit, here’s comes the Can Opener!!!

          • The Narrator

            My favorite illustration of that is how Henry makes such a big deal of the girl having bruises, but Trevorrow can’t even show the goddamn bruises.

          • pico

            The scene where the camera doesn’t show us what Naomi Watts is reacting to reminds me of nothing more than the “oh my god!” scene in Troll 2, which… I don’t think he was going for.

          • Another way the movie could have worked is if the ending was not-Henry saying “. . .you weren’t supposed to help her.”

          • pico

            Oh, A+. My suggestion for a last-act twist was the younger son puts on the headphones and realizes… the tape has been blank all along.

          • Dear Colin Trevorrow: the common theme to all these suggestions is “every decision made by every character is WRONG.”

          • The Narrator

            Better yet, he listens to the tapes, and suddenly it’s not Henry’s voice on them, but Michael Pitt and Brady Corbet’s voices.

          • pico

            Ha!

      • The Narrator

        I agree with your analysis, but I will stand up for the middle chunk, which has Sarah Silverman admitting that she wants to fuck a ten-year-old.

        • Jake Gittes

          Goddammit stop making me want to see this thing

          • Sadly, Naomi Watts does not threaten to come over there and fuck-start her head. At least I don’t think she does.

        • Isn’t the middle section where her dead kid is is telling her every single step? “turn left. No, your other left.”

          • pico

            For my breakdown above, I was going with: 1. Quirky Henry. 2. Dying Henry. 3. After Henry. Not really an even breakdown time-wise, just a thematic/tonal one.

          • Oh, that middle section. That is maximal schmaltz. As wallflower noted, that’s where Sarah silverman is all “I wish I could fuck you” like a werewolf imprinted on a baby. That’s also where the kid is going to die and wants the blinds raised to see the blue skies AND THEN THEY DONT RAISE THE BLINDS!!

    • The Narrator

      The Florida Project: Absolutely delightful and also crushingly sad when it needs to be (with many scenes that are both; the kids may not pick up on the dire economic implications of that subdivision of abandoned houses for tourists, but we do). Willem Dafoe is as good (and surprisingly decent) as promised, and he gets to put a pedophile in a chokehold, which is all you can ask for of a movie these days. My tentative favorite of the year (although I feel like that won’t last past this weekend, when I get to see Lady Bird).

      Saturday Night Live: Another in this season’s run of mediocrity, but here there were flashes of greatness mostly followed by the most bizarrely lackadaisical material imaginable (there was one sketch, “Get Woke With Tamika”, where I’m convinced the performers were fed Quaaludes before filming).

      Sweet and Lowdown: I haven’t watched a Woody Allen movie in about half a year, and certainly not since, uh, recent events, and I decided to get back in the swing of things and see if my reaction to them was any different. The answer (maybe sadly, depending on your perspective) was no, this was still as great as it was the last two times I’ve watched it. It’s still an intriguingly knotty look at the artist as a piece of shit, masked in an engaging character study and a heartbreaking romance (Samantha Morton’s close-ups in this movie remain un-fucking-believable). Yeah, I’m almost definitely going to see Wonder Wheel, I have no shame.

      Blank Check with Griffin and David, Zero Dark Thirty: I only knew guest Demi Adejuyigbe from his (hilarious) fake Will Smith songs for Arrival, Moonlight, and Hacksaw Ridge, but this episode confirmed that he’s one of the funniest people living, because holy shit, this episode was a laugh riot. They still fit in some incisive analysis on what the film does right and wrong, and whether its time is already passing, but my main takeaway is the thought of Barack Obama learning Urdu solely to use it to tell Osama Bin Laden to stop hitting himself.

      • Conor Malcolm Crockford

        “I made a mistake! I made a mistake!” Maybe the best line reading of Penn’s career. (One of the beauties of the ending too is that it puts the talking heads in a new context – yeah he became a better player but now we know why, and what that cost him. History becomes less impersonal when we have to watch it in full.)

      • Miller

        Morton getting what she didn’t from Penn’s bad sex when he starts playing his guitar and how you can see it in her face — sublime.

    • I went to Dan savage’s annual Hump! Film Festival last night. I found out they killed the shock porn, Prey because people were offended by it. Apparently it was gay and kinky and maybe violent? They showed it the first weekend, got letters and pulled it from the second.

      Which pisses me off. Listen, if I have to sit through crappy happy country-western songs about heterosexual we’re-so-straight-we-don’t-even-do-threesomes MMF polyamory with videos that don’t even have a shirtless man, the least you can do is let me watch gay guys be erotically violent with each other.

      A date also introduced me to What Happened To Monday?, the new movie from the director of Dead Snow. It’s fascinating in a Gattaca meets Soylent Green kind of way. But also suffers from way too many action set pieces. It’s like a sci-fi mystery that’s entirely predictable but still a lot of fun.

    • Ruck Cohlchez 🌹

      Saturday: Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, “I Never Want to See Josh Again.” Harrowing, excellent episode that has finally pushed Rebecca to rock bottom, and perhaps marked a turning point. Can’t say anything else without giving away too much to those who haven’t seen it. The B plot provides some necessary humor.

      Sunday:
      NFL Football, primarily Saints at Bills. Starting to think the Saints might be the NFL’s best team.

      Vice Principals, Series Finale. Outstanding.

      • Miller

        I saw a tiger maul the shit out of a dude and that was not as brutal as how the Bills played. At least the dude ran for it. Fucking, fucking, fucking Bills. The silver lining is that this means their “we’re holding on to a slim chance!” win against a superior team, their classic late-November/early December move to jerk us around one more time and give us hope before the inevitable crash into despair, will likely come against the hated Patriots. So huzzah, I suppose.

      • pico

        Starting to think the Saints might be the NFL’s best team.

        This is traditionally their cue to start failing at everything.

        Funny enough, my die-hard Saints family are all boycotting the NFL now, so this has got to be killing them.

        • Ruck Cohlchez 🌹

          I don’t think I’ve ever in my life thought “Wow, the Saints might be the stone-cold best team in the NFL,” and that includes the year they won the Super Bowl.

          I think this team is better than that one.

          And I’m glad it’s happening in a year where the chuds are boycotting the NFL. Fuck ’em. If they don’t believe black lives matter, they shouldn’t get to enjoy this glorious run. (I went to my hometown for my cousin’s wedding last weekend, and another cousin and an uncle both volunteered unprompted that they were boycotting the NFL.)

          • pico

            Likewise. I got my brother a Kaepernick jersey for his birthday. Warned him not to open in front of the rest of our family. He appreciated it (but will likely never be able to wear it in public, around there). What a year.

  • Delmars Whiskers

    Glad you gave a shout-out to Donald Rubinstein’s score. I had a vinyl copy of the soundtrack long before I ever saw the movie, and I wore the damned thing out.

    • pico

      It’s so good. The harmonies aren’t anything special, but the orchestration and simplicity of melodic movement (like that main theme’s stepwise dissonances in the woodwinds) just work perfectly together.

  • Drunk Napoleon

    What have we been reading?

    • Drunk Napoleon

      Finished American Gods. I’m gonna seek out Gaiman’s plottiest novel next, just to see if that works better; there were like four actions in this story, though admittedly the resolution to the kids disappearing was pretty boss.

      I cried uncle on Mason & Dixon and returned it to the library. I’m going to buy my next Pynchon book.

      • ZoeZ

        …That I have read all of Gaiman’s novels and still can’t say for certain which one you’re talking about would seem to confirm that plot is not exactly his strong suit.

        (Sandman is definitely the storyiest–she said, making up words as she went along–and also my favorite.)

        • Drunk Napoleon

          I don’t have a specific story in mind (though I took a guess on Coraline or Stardust being the plottier novels); I was gonna ask around. I’m kind of frightened by Sandman‘s sheer size, though I do want to get around to it.

          • ZoeZ

            Sandman is the only one that I would say doesn’t somehow qualify is a picaresque–with pretty much everything else, the ostensible plot is just a clothesline to hang individually beautiful, strange, and/or funny scenes on. Coraline does kick off its journey with a little more volition, though, so I’ll have to mull that one over.

            If the Watchmen read were followed by a Sandman read, I could certainly live with that.

          • Sandman is worth it. Each arc is several issues long, so it never feels too weighed down by continuity, though small details can become important many issues later. The end gutted me on first reading.

          • Miller

            Coraline is a fairy tale, it has a pretty basic plot. But it rules, so read it.

      • Drunk Napoleon

        In fact, I’m going to write in the margins of the book I buy.

    • Conor Malcolm Crockford

      Romantic Image by Frank Kermode, which I’m quite liking even if it’s very academic, and finished Letters To A Young Poet by Rilke. Lately I’ve been trying to read some literary criticism even if I need to start learning more about dramatic and story structure too.

    • Twin Peaks: The Final Dossier, by Mark Frost. I blew through this in a couple of days as soon as it popped through my letterbox, and it was both enjoyable and… kinda pointless. I liked the way that the previous TP book filled in the history of the town and dropped a few mystical red herrings, and the sections written in distinct character voices were mostly great. Apart from an Albert-penned autopsy report, this one was all in Tammy’s (fairly indistinct) voice, and it felt like it was mostly just tying up loose ends that were more interesting left untied. Or at least less heartbreaking. I dunno, it was still fun spending a bit more time in that world.

    • The Ploughman

      Tried to find a history on American educational films that Son of Griff recommended. Library didn’t have it (…yet!) but it did have another by the same author (Ken Smith – but not the poet… I don’t think) called Junk English, a rant about obfuscating and useless English words and phrases. It has me alternating between nodding in agreement, rolling my eyes at pedantry, and cringing in recognition. I’m sure I’ve already written at least two things that piss him off today.

      Still on Chabon’s Moonglow, which I’m enjoying but having a tougher time returning to when work distracts.

    • clytie

      I’m taking a class devoted to Geoffrey Chaucer, so lot of Chaucer. We finally got to The Canterbury Tales.

      • JUST NOT POE. (Sorry, reflex.)

      • 1. “The Miller’s Tale” is the funniest thing in the history of funny things.

        2. In high school, we had to memorize the opening lines to the prologue, and the best reciters performed it in front of the school in full costume. A friend was dressed as a knight, so he handed me coconuts halves and told me to be his squire. Clop-clop. Clop-clop. Clop-clop. (I can still remember most of the section, which remains fun to say).

        • clytie

          I concur.

          For my first presentation in the class, I talked about Chaucer’s use of high and low art.

          In my next presentation, I will discuss his multitude of influences and how authors and artists still use that today and the importance of stealing like an artist.

    • ZoeZ

      Finished Mansfield Park and have temporarily concluded that it’s the most interest Austen novel in part because it’s one of the least perfect: there’s a lot of raggedness here where the characters feel a little too real for the neatly ordered official sanctioned “the good ended happily, the bad unhappily, that is what fiction means” conclusion. Its surface is all propriety, but of all her work, this is one that most empathizes with the characters who defy that propriety and do harm through that, so there’s almost a sense of the declared principles being thin ice over a very, very deep lake.

    • Son of Griff

      Finished Nichael Connelly’s THE LATE SHOW, in which he introduces a new series focusing on the upward rise of a voluntarily homeless female L.A.P.D detective, who fights crime while circumventing the bosses with whom she has developed a personal animus. A bit more clinical in its prose than usual, as fits the action but after a slow, methodical start it gets pretty suspenseful.

      Kurt Andersen’s FANTASYLAND is a pretty annoying rant at the irrationality of the American public sphere throughout its history but useful in documenting the varieties of superstition and quackeries.

      • Conor Malcolm Crockford

        Fantasyland sounds like a guy yelling for 200-300 pages about something that I don’t see as a huge problem compared to everything else.

        • Son of Griff

          It’s trying to describe the 2016 election as the culmination of a 500 year historical process, which includes pretty much everything but the kitchen sink.

    • PCguy

      A couple film-adjunct things. Much Ado About Me is a vaudevillian’s candid memoir of life on the theater circuit. The forgotten performer Fred Allen gives a great overview of vaudeville both high and low and brings out a lot of the lost color from the era. Rats riding around on cats, strongmen, singers, comedians, jugglers, puppeteers, monologists, sister acts, chorines–the whole kit and caboodle of stage performance would be jammed together on the same bill with the only logic behind the choice and ordering of the performances being the acts that were least likely to incite the rage of the audience who would and did destroy the theater when they felt they were not getting their money’s worth. Allen keeps it real too. Vaudevillians, like most mountebanks throughout history, were an insular and freewheeling bunch accustomed to the pleasures and disadvantages of nomadic life. He cleverly points out that there were certainly numerous Vaudeville children scattered throughout the circuit as a result of the performers movement across the country. Young women who were inclined towards sexual experimentation might be deterred by the prospect of gossip as a result of assignations with the local boys. The same women however apparently felt free to knock on the back door of the hotel or theater for a rendezvous with an actor who would be out of town by Sunday. As a primary source for what life was like for an itinerant actor/comedian in the beginning of the 20th century Allen’s memoirs are a perfect place to start.

      I ran into Luc Sante’s Low Life: Lures and Snares of Old New York while poking around the Internet looking for information on the world of the HBO series The Deuce. While he does have an excellent essay out there on 70’s NYC this book focuses on turn of the 20th century Manhattan–specifically the Bowery district. While the prose is a bit florid and I worry a bit about the sourcing on the characters behind the innumerable institutions of vice and venality that used to litter the city this book is quite the compendium of ways in which a mark could end up robbed, beaten, or worse in the 1900’s. On almost every page Sante provides the reader with some sort of grimy tidbit. For example: while bear baiting was a popular pastime in 19th century America our forefathers were remarkably industrious in eliminating the local fauna. The shortage in the local black bear population helped engender a new fad which was apparently all the rage amongst the early century sportsman: pitting a dog against a horde of rats. Men would bet on how fast a dog could kill 100 rats with the record holding mutt managing the feat in under 10 minutes. I guess there are people out there who are interested in weird shit like this from the wrong side of history?

      • Son of Griff

        LOOOVE the Sante book, and I now need to find the Fred Allen memoir.

      • Delmars Whiskers

        If you’re looking for a good portrait of the era depicted in The Deuce, I’d recommend Josh Alan Friedman’s Tales Of Times Square. But fair warning–the sleaze factor is even higher than you might expect.

        • PCguy

          That’s a good one and probably one of the books the writers on The Deuce should have read before making the series. I think it’s the book that has my favorite story about the demolition of one of the Times Square theaters. They knocked down a wall in the men’s room and hundreds of empty wallets came pouring out. Apparently there was a gap between the ceiling and the top of the sheetrock so years worth of pickpockets were in the habit of slipping the unnecessary parts of their score into the void. Can’t have anything like that anymore!

    • pico

      Working my way through Karel Čapek’s Tales from Two Pockets, brief and usually comic sketches that are ostensibly detective stories, often turned inside out. They start off pretty conventionally, but the further along in the set you go, the more he’s putting the genre itself under the microscope, to the point that some of the stories reflect back on us questions of what constitutes justice, or crime, or criminality. Really good stuff.

      Also re-reading George Perec’s Life a User’s Manual for a Year of the Month a few weeks from now. Still the best of the best.

    • Jake Gittes

      Re-read Murder on the Orient Express last week in preparation for the Branagh film. Nothing that’s too close to my heart, but it’s brisk and effective and does one particularly smart thing that the adaptations can’t seem to stay faithful to: in the end, having presented his solution, Poirot simply takes a bow and walks away, while both the 2010 TV episode starring David Suchet and the newest film have him engaged in heated debates about right and wrong and what should be done and blah blah blah that ultimately only take away from his character. (I don’t remember if the 1974 film does this as well.) On the other hand, it took seeing the Suchet adaptation for me to clearly see the potent dramatic conflict in this story – the confrontation of two senses of justice, one that’s pure and unbiased and another that’s pained and all too human. Suchet really brings out the hardness and implacability of character in Poirot that I didn’t really feel nearly as viscerally in the novel.

      • I’ve only seen Suchet in a few things but that hardness is in all of them–his characters decided their moralities a long time ago, and you’re not going to get them to change. He’s a fantastic antagonist for that reason.

    • Bhammer100

      Armadale by Wilkie Collins. Roughly a third of the way through and I think I’m finally past the “everybody has a secret in their past so lets spend 20 pages revealing their backstory” (not that I had a problem with that – I really enjoy the way Collins tells his story. It’s just a lot of setup) and am now into the part where the characters are starting to come together. Lydia Gwilt, who apparently horrified critics at the time, finally got introduced to the story. Now the story should start to twist and turn.

    • Miller

      Reread Terry Pratchett’s The Shepherd’s Crown — noticeably not polished but that happens when you die, and there are still great bits peaking through. It ties up ends well, particularly Pratchett’s ongoing rehabilitation of fantasy types, focusing on the one that can’t be rehabilitated. And the damn thing still makes me cry. Mind how you go, indeed.

  • The Ploughman

    Did you happen to hear the Film Comment podcast on Romero a while ago? This was one they spent a lot of time on with delight.

    • pico

      I didn’t, but I’ll check it out – thanks!

      • Miller

        Late to the party but superb piece here. The scuzz of “real” life is a palpable thing in this movie and nothing gets that more than the needles Martin uses (and all their allusion to further scuzz and despair of addiction) — there is no romance in this, and yet it’s so easy for him to believe there is and for us to follow in Romero’s fantasy sequences. And I loved the “Martin through the years” AV Club round-up, nice to see how the flame has kept burning.

  • Conor Malcolm Crockford

    I wrote a piece on Martin for a horror anthology and it had the same haunting, eerie effect on me that I felt when I was 16.

    • pico

      Nice! Do you have a link to it?

      • Conor Malcolm Crockford

        Its not published yet but I’ll put it up here when it is!

  • BurgundySuit

    Wanna be as cool as Pico? Then sign up for Year of the Month (from an idea by Elizabeth Lerner)!

    Possible subjects if you want to join us for our November celebration of 1978:
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1978_in_music
    https://letterboxd.com/films/year/1978/
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1978_in_literature

    And who’s signed up already:

    NO DATE: Jake Gittes: The Deer Hunter
    NO DATE: Mr. Apollo: All You Need Is Cash
    NO DATE: Home Run Colchez – Van Halen

    November 10th: GIllianren: Tribute to Mary Blair
    November 12th: Jacob Thomas Klemmer: Autumn Sonata
    November 13th: BurgundySuit: Dawn of the Dead
    November 13th: Pico79: Martin
    November 14th: John Bruni: John Prine’s Bruised Orange
    November 15th: Balthazar Bee: Invasion of the Body Snatchers
    November 16th : Conor Malcolm Crockford: Coming Home
    November 17th: Belated Comebacker: Piranha
    November 20th: Seth Carlson: The Swarm
    November 21st: The Ploughman: Gates of Heaven
    November 22nd: Alex Christian Lovendahl: I Wanna Hold Your Hand
    November 23rd: Jacob Thomas Klemmer: The Star Wars Holiday Special
    November 25th: Low Res Triangle: Fury
    November 26th: Beauty and the Beast
    November 28th: Pico: Life, a User’s Manual.
    November 29th: Bhammer100: The Stand

    And coming in December, it’s 1964!

    https://letterboxd.com/films/year/1964/
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1964_in_music
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1964_in_literature

    NO DATE: Pico: Kwaidan
    Dec 3rd: Jacob Thomas Klemmer: The Naked Kiss
    Dec 4th: Son of Griff: Marnie
    Dec 5th: Drunk Napoleon: A Fistful of Dollars
    Dec 8th: Gillianren: The Nine Lives of Thomasina
    Dec 15th: Anthony Pizzo: Mary Poppins
    Dec 17th: Conor Malcolm Crockford: Band of Outsiders
    Dec 18th: Joseph Finn: Viva Las Vegas
    Dec 23rd: Jacob Thomas Klemmer: Woman in the Dunes
    Dec 25th: BurgundySuit: Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

    • pico

      Why don’t I do December 19th. Does that work?

      • BurgundySuit

        Works for me!

    • I’ll take the Up Series. Dec 6

      • BurgundySuit

        All of them???

        • Drunk Napoleon

          He’ll do one, then he’ll do the next in seven months.

        • I can focus on 7 Up! if you want since that’s the one from this year, but I was planning on an overview of the entire project, similar to how I did the entire HHGTTG series, not just the first radio series.

          • BurgundySuit

            No, go ahead, that just sounds like a lot of work.

    • John Bruni

      I’ll do Red Desert on the 9th.

    • Belated Comebacker

      I’ll do “A Hard Day’s Night,” for December 7.

  • BurgundySuit

    What are the odds we’d both use the word “play-acting” in our articles? Maybe it’s a motif!

    • pico

      Two makes a trend! Let’s get on this.

      Play-Acting and Pathos: Post-Modern Performativity in the 1978 Films of George Romero