Formerly "Dave's Blog About Movies and Such"

Friday, November 30, 2012

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Zack and Miri Make a Porno (2008)

dir. Kevin Smith

Does anyone watch regular porn anymore? OK, “regular” is rather a nebulous term when it comes to porn—what I mean to say is, is there anyone left who watches porn involving actors and concepts and...well, anything involving anything other than fucking? Maybe I’m speaking just for myself, but I find it hard anymore to get off on (I’m talking about cuming) anything that isn’t amateur. If I can sense even the slightest hint of performance, of inauthenticity, the mood is immediately killed. Narrative porn involving paid performers is about as thrilling as watching roofers perform their task. I’m just watching people earn paychecks.

For those who haven’t already been turned off by this discussion of my porn habits, there is a point here, however elusive. You see, while watching Kevin Smith’s vulgar Zack and Miri Make a Porno, I was taken aback by how quaint the whole affair seemed. Smith’s dirtiest film is actually quite old-fashioned, really: a throwback to those days before pornhub, when a few shit-broke people could scrape some money together, hire a small film crew and produce a hastily written porn script knowing full well they’d get at least a modest return on investment. You know, the days before assholes like me refused to pay to watch this kind of stuff.

Oh those were the days—for the porn industry. But now that the digital world has laid siege to the music and film industry, is it really any surprise that porn now finds itself in a similarly precarious position? Now that everyone is giving better shit away for free, who wants to pay for the old-fashioned stuff? [ed. Note: enough with the questions, Dave.]

But first, about the plot of Smith’s film: Zack and Miri, two lifelong platonic friends, now roommates, are down on their luck. They’re poor and getting broker. Also, thanks to unpaid bills, increasingly utility free. After a couple of kids surreptitiously film Miri in her granny panties, turning her into a viral sensation, Zack and Miri decide to cash in on her newfound internet fame by starring in their own porn. She’s more than famous enough to get people to cough up twenty bucks a pop to watch her fuck. They just need a hook for the film, a concept, a few actors and a crew. And then it’s easy street. Also, their long suppressed feelings for each other bubble over when they film their fuck scene.

As I said, Zack and Miri is a paean to the halcyon days of porn yore; it is also a loving ode to Kevin Smith’s past—whose work, as I’ve said before, I am generally not a fan of. So you’ll find it surprising I actually quite enjoyed this film. You’ll find it doubly surprising that I enjoyed it not in spite of but because of its nostalgia-for-Kevin-Smith’s-past wankery. You see, even though I may not happen to care for Smith’s films, I get inspired by anyone who, despite a lack of resources or professional backing, forges ahead and makes his own damn film anyway. And Zack and Miri’s attempt to helm a low-budget porn is a thinly-veiled retelling of Smith’s own attempts to make his breakthrough film Clerks.

Sure, there were more than enough Smith touchstones in Zack and Miri to get my eyes rolling (enough with the Star Wars shit!), but overall I smiled, I laughed, I...dangnabit, I got choked up more than I scoffed. No minor accomplishment that.

Dave's Rating:

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Enter the Void (2009)

dir. Gaspar Noe

As soon as the opening credits attacked me, I knew I would rewatch Gaspar Noe’s Enter the Void. In fact, not only did I anticipate a second viewing, I wanted to speed up my initial voyage through Noe’s film just so I could experience the joys of elucidation subsequent viewings would likely bring. How could I not? I mean, just watch these credits:

Now those of you who didn’t succumb to epileptic seizures will have to admit that this is one of the most audacious, inventive, and, fuck, just damn playful credit sequences in existence. If credit sequences are windows to the souls of their respective movies, Enter the Void would surely be a treat. It would likely be a headfuck masterpiece on par with 2001.

Noe has made no secret his love of 2001; so, it’s not surprising the man would try to make his own version of Kubrick’s film—no, not an adaptation of the famed space opera, but rather his own distinct, acid-tinged, hallucinatory mindwarp picture: an exercise in style future generations of trippers would embrace just as he had Kubrick’s experimental world.

And in many regards, Enter the Void doesn’t disappoint. A more stylish, inventive and colorful piece of cinematic experimentation you are not likely to find. My only issue: despite its trippy trappings, adventurous camerawork, hallucinatory imagery, transgressive sexual themes, audacious narrative device, and fractured plot, Enter the Void simply ain’t much of headfuck. In fact, looking back on the film, sussing out all the intricacies of the plot, I’m left wondering where any intricacies might exist. Story-wise, Enter the Void is actually quite banal.

There’s no grand mystery here. In fact, the storytelling device (a deceased man’s spirit—Gaspar Noe’s camera—floats above all, taking in the lives of loved ones as they grapple with their loss) is telegraphed right from the get-go. Our faceless main character (pre-death) is lectured at by his friend on the Tibetan Book of the Dead: After we die, it states, we float through the world of the living, mere observers, until we grow tired of the journey and decide to find purchase in another human, emerging as reincarnated life. Throughout our hero’s post-death journey, we discover a childhood trauma that bonded (to a creepy, near-incestuous degree) him and his sister, as well as revelations on the mystery surrounding his botched-drug-deal death. So, Noe uses a sleazy exploitation plot as the perfunctory means by which to hang his elaborate window dressing.

But hasn’t that always been the case with Noe? I mean, what is Irreversible, after all, if not a standard rape-revenge picture, told in reverse? In fact this subject-style schism is what has always drawn me to Noe’s pictures: grindhouse storytelling as seen through an arthouse lens. So why wasn’t the experience as satisfying this time around? Irreversible, after all, managed to add up to more than the sum of its parts. There was an emotional investment there, lacking in this picture. Maybe, it’s that Noe’s woozy, stomach-churning camerawork in Irreversible aided our investment in the plot; it worked to put us in the emotional head-space of the characters.

But maybe I’m coming at Enter the Void all wrong. Perhaps, emotional distance, disassociation was not only inevitable, but Noe’s desired effect. Our main character is a (mostly) faceless, voiceless floating force, an observer on events he cannot control. We have no dynamic force guiding us through the story. Instead of an audience surrogate to act as our emotional Sherpa, we have an empty vessel.

But, honestly, I wasn’t even anticipating emotional investment with this picture; I just wanted headfuckery. As I said before, I think the main issue is that Enter the Void doesn’t leave the viewer with any questions. As opposed to 2001—and to Enter the Void’s detriment—Noe’s film never causes us to lose our footing. We are forever familiar with the hows and whys of everything: this because of this which leads to this. Everything is made standardly, linearly clear. In essence—no star babies up in this bitch.

Despite everything I just wrote, however, I actually quite liked this picture. In fact, I consider it further proof that Noe is one of our most important auteurs. So this film didn’t give me everything I wanted; it gave me the kind of film no other director has even attempted. Make no mistake of it, I’m ecstatic that Enter the Void was made; I’ll no doubt watch it a few more times; I’ll again revel in the joyful display of cinematic showmanship; but I’m not gonna be moved by it.

Dave's Rating:

Monday, November 26, 2012

KL5-FILM Podcast Episode 89 - Enter the Void

dir. Gaspar Noe

Roger and I discuss Gaspar Noe's experimental film Enter the Void. You can listen to the episode here.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

My New Favorite Everything

Ok, after watching Gaspar Noe's Enter the Void, I have become obsessed with its aggressive opening credits. And though I have much to say about the movie as a whole—which you'll see next week—I just wanted to share the opening credits with you.


Friday, November 23, 2012

KL5-FILM Podcast Episode 88 - The Sadness Episode

dir. Justin Kurzel

Roger and I discuss the bleak, depressing movies we watched during the week, including Mouchette and Snowtown. You can listen to the episode here.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Yes, Please

30 for 30: June 17, 1994 (2010)

dir. Brett Morgen

June 17, 1994 was a momentous day in sports history: Arnold Palmer played his last professional game (before retiring to the senior circuit), The New York Rangers celebrated their first Stanley Cup win in over fifty years with a ticker tape parade in Manhattan, Ken Griffey Jr. tied Babe Ruth’s record for the most home runs at that point in the season, America hosted its first World Cup, and the long-suffering New York Knicks won game five of the NBA Finals (before eventually losing the series to the Houston Rockets).

Also, a lot of people seemed to care that the multiple LAPD cruisers took a leisurely drive on the Los Angeles freeway in pursuit of a Ford Bronco containing a murder suspect who used to be good at football.

It really is easy to forget the kind of pandemonium surrounding the whole OJ thing. Not to discount a double homicide, but really, this is the shit that people obsessed over back in the 90s? This is the shit people stayed glued to the TV for—a multi-hour slow speed pursuit of a has-been by a bevy of police cruisers and every helicopter at the media’s disposal? Really?

I guess the 90s really were simpler times. I mean I lived through this shit (listen to me—talking about it like I was in the ‘Nam), and I still can’t fathom why this event warranted anymore than—at best—“in strange local news today” status. Not that the news is any different now. I mean, if anything, we’ve gone even further down the crapper as far as the relevance to media attention ratio goes.

But still.

I mean, after watching Brett Morgen's June 17, 1994, I really can’t overstate what pointless timewastery this OJ obsession was. In fact, I even forgot that at multiple points along the non-pursuit, hundreds of citizens—tipped off to the trajectory of the slow chase by every available media outlet—lined the highways to gawk, to catch a glimpse of the very important non-news unfolding before them.

Morgen's’s documentary on the subject, as is probably obvious by now, chronicles the media circus surrounding the Bronco chase, intercutting it with all of the more significant sports news of that specific day. Now, as you know, I no longer care about sports, so the fact that the media neglected actual “important” sporting news that day is of no concern to me, but it is amazing that damn near everything else happening that day, including all that random sports shit, was infinitely more interesting than the chase.

Morgen’s film is largely successful because, unlike the media, whose reaction to the OJ event is so aptly chronicled, he is aware of the concept of restraint. Instead of stuffing his film with talking heads detailing to us the significance of all the events, he thankfully goes the Senna route: a series of news clips with no commentary, unfurling the events as if it were a narrative film. And the results, though occasionally suffused with unnecessary emotional queue music, are generally winning.

Dave's Rating:

Monday, November 19, 2012

KL5-FILM Podcast Episode 86 - The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 1

dir. Bill Condon

My friend Audrey and I try to understand the crazy batshittery of Breaking Dawn - Part 1. You can listen to the episode here.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

John Waters on Craig Ferguson

I've posted so many John Waters interviews on the site that I really can't remember at this point what I've posted. But I know I've never posted a Craig Ferguson interview of the King of Filth. So here you go:

Friday, November 16, 2012

Death Wish II (1982)

dir. Michael Winner

Those who know me know it takes a lot to offend me. The Sinful Dwarf notwithstanding, I enjoy and recommend all manner of offensive, misguided, reactionary, morally reprehensible, indefensible garbage as unintentional comedy. In fact, not only do I care little whether or not movies happen to comport with my particular moral, political, social views, I actually prefer sometimes that they don’t. In the case of legitimately intelligent movies, I get a kick out of being confronted with thoughtful, well-crafted films that force me to rethink my positions. And if a movie’s dumb, well...I guess it’s just a whole mess o’ schadenfreude: “Look, this stupid movie believes all the things I don’t and it’s falling flat on its face. What hilariously ludicrous shit. My beliefs are further justified. This is awesome.” (Hello, Rocky IV and Red Dawn.) But that don’t mean I ain’t sometimes conflicted. What if a movie goes too far over the deep end? What if it doesn’t bring enough entertainment value to compensate for its lack of moral value?

Welcome to Death Wish 2, perhaps the wrongest movie I’ve seen, the only movie that left me straddling the offensive/unintentional comedy fence, never to fall on either side. Yes, the hyper-violent Death Wish 2 would seem perfectly suited as unintentional comedy—and, indeed, there is much to laugh at here—but I couldn’t fully enjoy it. I tried do I put this lightly...there’s just so much rape in it, just all kinds of rape. Too much rape for a recommendation. Seriously. Every time you might wanna chuckle at the movie’s heavy-handed politics, it throws a rape at you. “Enjoying yourself were you? Laughing at the ludicrous plot, huh? Well, here’s rape. And there’s some more. Not so funny now, asshole. Fuck you.”

And though some might try to argue that the inclusion of so much brutal rape ends up forcing male viewers to confront the harsh reality women face in a society that so frequently brushes this shit under the rug, that all too often fails to properly punish rapists, the “Death Wish 2 is secretly feminist” argument is belied by every other goddamn thing in this sexist fucking movie. In essence, the female characters of the Death Wish universe fall into three clear-cut, easily defined categories: rape victims, whores, and cunts. Now I don’t drop the c-bomb (or the w-bomb, for that matter) frivolously. Make no mistake about it—I am merely speaking in the parlance of this film’s sexist emotional core. Let’s examine all three variations of Death Wish 2 womanhood, shall we:

Rape victims: Well, this one’s self-explanatory. The rape victims in this movie serve no other thematic, emotional, narrative, or character purpose than to be raped. They are not people, not believable characters, just raped. Take Bronson’s daughter. Still recovering from being attacked in the first movie, she is now recuperating in a mental home. Rather than succumbing to depression, however, she has become a grinning mute. She wanders through the movie like a lobotomized Prozac addict; she is a blank slate. Perhaps this was actually just a comment on the Death Wish franchise’s—and the vigilante genre’s, for that matter—tendency to introduce rape as nothing more than a plot device. By refusing to impart the power of speech on this soon-to-be-raped-and-killed character, were the Death Wish 2 writers in fact acknowledging the futility of turning this character into a believable person, as her presence was predicated on nothing more than a need for a rape plot device?

No. This movie is dumb. Exceedingly dumb. And make no mistake about it: I ain’t simply referring to its politics or moral values. No, on a filmic level, on a writerly level, Death Wish 2 aspires (but fails spectacularly) to achieve learning disorder status. Either that or the writers were just exceedingly lazy. But more on the plot later.

Whores: Given the shortest screen time, one whore does make a Death Wish 2 appearance late in the movie. Tracking the last goon who raped his daughter and housekeeper (more on the plot later), Bronson discovers the punk’s apartment. And after confronting the man—who escapes—Bronson looks into the punk’s room where a topless woman sits in a meditative pose and does a hippie head sway to the music in her headphones. Bronson sneers in disgust. Death Wish 2 wants to have it both ways: titillating tits for the male viewers and moral judgment—by way of Bronson’s sneer—on the loose woman who is so frivolously topless. Not only that, it tries to knock both hippiedom and post-sexual liberation feminism in one fell swoop. Clearly, Death Wish 2 is saying, if women didn’t make themselves so easily available to men, men wouldn’t be so primed to go out and rape every goddamn thing with two legs and a pulse.

Cunts: Bronson’s successful reporter girlfriend (I’ll call her Straw Man) is not to be trusted. Why? She believes in the justice system and she questions the death penalty. Anytime she makes an ill-argued case for her soft-hearted beliefs, Death Wish 2 cuts to muggers raping and Bronson meting out justice. She just doesn’t understand the real world, man. Not only that, her blasé reaction to Bronson’s daughter’s fate proves that she, like all soft-hearted do-gooder types, opposes vigilante justice not because she has legitimate qualms about citizens taking the law into their own hands but because she approves of criminality.

Late in the film, when she does discover that her man has been acting as Los Angeles’ own street-level judge, jury, and executioner, she leaves him—no good-bye, no note; she just leaves in the dead of night. It is meant to be viewed as tragic that a hero like Bronson —a latter day Ethan Edwards—is forced to wander, lonely, because women just can’t understand that he is succeeding where the justice system has failed. She is just so unappreciative.

Because all good girlfriends should indulge their boyfriends’ penchant for murder. Indeed, this movie is saying that if a woman came home and saw her boyfriend standing shirtless in front of the stove, his fist clenched over the flame, and she asked, “Hey, honey, whatcha doin’?”

And he replied, “I think it’s perfectly obvious that I am the shepherd; I am the way and the light. I survey humanity, separating the righteous from the sinners—much like the thresher separates the wheat from the chaff—and serve quick justice to those I deem unworthy. Now if you’ll excuse me, this cleansing rain has quite a few streets to purify before the night is over.”

“Ok, cool, well don’t get home too late. I wanna watch ‘Chopped’ with you,” would be the correct response.

You know what, fuck it. I was gonna write about the plot and whatnot, further dissecting all that’s wrong, Death Wish 2-wise, but there’s just so goddamn much to unpack here. I’m already past the 1000 word mark and I haven’t even scratched the surface. I don’t wanna overstay my welcome. Roger and I will just have to record a podcast episode on Death Wish 2 this weekend. Stay tuned next week for more Death Wish 2.

Dave's Rating: A rating would be pointless

Thursday, November 15, 2012

30 for 30: The Real Rocky (2011)

dir. Jeff Feuerzeig

Back in the early ‘70s Sylvester Stallone was a down-on-his-luck actor/writer, a palooka just trying to catch a break. Nothing was going his way. Sure he snagged a few roles here and there, but he couldn’t get anything of his own off the ground. But maybe he could turn his struggles into art, maybe he could write a screenplay about his own attempts to make it in the film business. The problem: it wasn’t relatable. He wasn’t gonna sell a movie world-wide about a man trying become an actor. People didn’t care about such navel-gazey shit. No, Stallone needed a hook.

On March 24, 1975 the struggling actor watched a boxing match between Muhamed Ali and Chuck Wepner, a nobody from Bayonne, NJ. After struggling for years to make a name as a boxer, Wepner was finally given a shot at the title, a chance to prove himself. And not only did he go a full fifteen rounds, he even managed to knock down Ali in the ninth. Sure, Ali ended up winning the fight, but Wepner went all the way, and he cemented his legacy in Bayonne as one of the only men to ever knock down The Greatest. There it was, there was Stallone’s story. That was the hook. He would use Wepner’s story, use the boxing world as a metaphor for his life as a struggling artist. Who doesn’t love a great boxing movie?

The guy who made no money from the use of his life-story to sell a billion dollar franchise. Yes, although he remained on good terms with Stallone for many subsequent years, Wepner would eventually sue Stallone for profiting from his legacy. On legal grounds I really don’t know who would actually be in the right in this kind of case (tellingly, Stallone settled out of court for an undisclosed sum), but I would think that if you were lucky enough to make ungodly sums of cash from the use of another man’s story, the decent thing to do would be to throw a few bucks that guy’s way.

Now, I’ve always liked Stallone—and, truth be told, I still do—so it was a little disheartening seeing the Italian Stallion so callously disregard Wepner after years of claiming that the man was an inspiration for his flagship franchise. But I do kind of understand where he’s coming from. All writers tend to repurpose shit they’ve encountered in life. As the saying goes, be careful what you tell a writer; he might just use it in a story. So, in this way, I can understand not wanting to give in: if you admit this, you’ve gotta start paying every other person from whom you’ve borrowed shit to use in your writing. Where does it end?

But still.

Dave's Rating:

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Innerspace (1987)

dir. Joe Dante

[Sorry for no podcasts this week. Schedule's got fucked, but I'll have shit for you next week.]

“I’m in a strange man.”
-Tuck Pendleton

It never ceases to amaze me the extent that popular cinema indulges the fantasies of paranoids. I feel I’ve mentioned this on a podcast before so pardon me for possibly repeating the line, but most thrillers, most supernatural flicks, most...well, just most films might as well be titled Fuck Occam’s Razor. Of course, it ain’t hard to see why: crazy outlandish cinema makes for more interesting cinema than straightforward cinema. No one’s gonna care about a mystery, for instance, where the most obvious, simplest, boring explanation proves to be true. No, a left-field revelation like aliens from the planet Xantar using the mayor’s tie as a radio transmitter to send coded messages to the mole people is much more cinematic.

Now I don’t want to imply that outlandish movie plots are to blame for the preponderance of conspiracy theorist nutjobs in our society—crazy people have always existed—but these films sure give solace, reassurance to the craziest among us. Which is why I so loved Joe Dante’s Innerspace. It almost seemed a rebuttal to these films—by topping their insanity. To wit:

Martin Short stars as a paranoid hypochondriac who keeps his doctor rich. Any little thing, anytime he feels the least bit off, he visits his doctor to get the likely cancer diagnosis only to be told that he’s perfectly healthy. Well, lo and behold, one day while in the mall, he gets attacked by a man in a lab coat who injects something into his ass. When Short later hears a voice in his head, it is not his crazy brain talking to him but a miniature Dennis Quaid, now guiding a miniature ship through Short’s bloodstream.

It turns out that Short has unwittingly become part of a vast conspiracy involving a secret government program to miniaturize Dennis Quaid and inject him into a rabbit. Previously, when a rival group of shadowy scientists attacked the miniaturization lab, a Government scientist absconded with the syringe containing Quaid and injected it into Short. Short must now work with the man inside him to uncover the mystery and rebiggen Quaid.

It is almost as if Innerspace is just fucking with potential crazies in the audience. Hey guys, you know that voice you hear telling you to stand on street corners and wave your penis (I’m sorry—magic wand) at tourists; it’s actually a miniature man floating through your bloodstream, not the logical result of your refusal to take your meds. I only wish that Short was actually revealed to be crazy at the end of the movie.

But still, a really fun movie. This was actually one of the few Joe Dante flicks I had yet to see until this point, and though I wouldn’t place it among his best, Innerspace was a real hoot. Despite Short’s appearance. I try not to hate joy; I really don’t, but that man is just so hard to take sometimes. Thankfully, though, his scenery-chewing frequently worked in favor of this movie rather than against it. Of course, I love Joe Dante so much that, even if Short’s performance was distracting I would have likely looked past it.

Dave's Rating:

Monday, November 12, 2012

30 for 30: Catching Hell (2011)

dir. Alex Gibney

Though it’s never ended up on a podcast episode, writing partner Roger and I have frequently clashed over sports and sports fandom. He's never been into sports and I, though I no longer follow anything, used to be a die-hard Red Sox fan. To Roger, sports fans are nothing but a bunch of aggro meat-heads indistinguishable from the torch-wielding mobs in Frankenstein movies. Having been a sports fan, however, I've always argued that most fans are just stats nerds who are no different from movie fans; they just happen to have different interests. But then I watched 30 for 30: Catching Hell, the documentary on the terror unleashed on unfortunate Cubs fan Steve Bartman by his fellow Chicagoans.

I would like to apologize to Roger. You were right. I was wrong.

Actually, that ain’t entirely true. The awful behavior exhibited by Cubs fans toward poor Bartman isn’t exclusive to sports fandom; any group activity imbued with an irrational, unwarranted level of emotional investment will inspire the same level of assholism (politics, anyone?). But sports sure do seem especially suited to bringing out the worst in people.

But first a little backstory on me (oh God, here we go again). Back in October of 2003 I moved to a shitty apartment in a not so nice area of Brooklyn. This was the first time I moved to Brooklyn—it was done without much forethought and I ended up moving back to Maine by month’s end. But I was hopeful at first. Sure, moving to New York sans job was a little worrying, but this new experience was just so exciting. I had such optimism. I knew it just had to work.

Mostly though, I was excited that the Red Sox had made it to the post-season;  it really looked like they had a shot this year. Everything was turning up Millhouse. Many times before I had promised myself not to get emotionally invested in the Red Sox, because I always knew I was just bound for disappointment. But this year was different. This year was always different. I knew it just had to work. Cut to game 7: a rematch between Pedro and Clemens, the pitchers of Game 3. We were gonna get revenge: for that previous game, for 1999, for 1978, for...for everything. But then Grady Little left a tiring Pedro to pitch in the eighth. More Yankees runs. Tied game. Extra innings. And then Aaron Boone happened. Every resident in my New York apartment building erupted with joy. I cried.

Compounding my pain was the fact that the Cubs had just lost their series the night before. I was so hoping for a Cubs-Red Sox World Series. How beautiful would that have been—these two long-losing teams meeting in the World Series for the first time since the last Red Sox win of 1918. But alas, it was not to be. The Cubs blew a lead in the eighth inning of Game 6 and then went on to lose Game 7 against The Marlins. What could have been historic became a Marlins-Yankees World Series—the least interesting combination of teams possible. Fuck it.

I moved back to Maine a couple days after the Marlins beat the Yankees. Sure, I was happy the Yankees lost but what the fuck did it matter? It didn’t change the fact that my guys lost too. I didn’t wanna care anymore. I had to focus on important shit. The next 12 months of my life was an eighties style montage of training for a move back to New York (i.e. saving money). Cut to the 2004 post-season: The Yankees and the Red Sox meet again in the ALCS...and the Red Sox blow the first three games. I was right not to get emotionally invested again. I knew it, they were just gonna blow it again. I was still focusing on New York. My roommate and I were gonna make a trip to the city to go apartment hunting soon.

And then the Red Sox won a game. So what, so they’ll lose the series 4-1, whoop-de-shit. And then they won another game. You’re not gonna fool me this time, Sox; I ain’t gonna start to care again. And then another game. Motherfuckers tied the series. Fuck. Goddamnit, I care again. And then, and then...holy shit, we smoked the Yankees. This couldn’t be real. I would never experience that kind of joy again. We were going to the World Series, but I didn’t even care—we beat the goddamn Yankees.

My roommate and I had planned our New York trip for what would turn out to be the last two days of the World Series. But those games, as I said, seemed more of an afterthought, postscript to a stunning victory; so we didn't really mind missing them.

On the last day, when it seemed our apartment hunt was for naught, after visiting a series of shitholes, we finally made it the last location, a perfect spot. We signed immediately. On the train back to New Jersey—where we were crashing for the night—the conductor announced that the curse of the Bambino had just been lifted. It was a good day.

And you know what? That was the last day I cared about sports. It turns out I didn’t so much want the Red Sox to win as I wanted to root for a time I knew would always sadden me. I was addicted to disappointment. After winning, baseball seemed so cheapened, so crass—how did Yankees fans deal with having to win all the time? Yuck. Why did I even care about sports to begin with? What was the point of any of this shit? A weight was lifted. I was no longer cursed with having to care about sports.

But to go back to Bartman—ostensibly the subject of this post—back in 2003, I was definitely aware of the incident (a foul ball goes into the stands; Moises Alou reaches over to catch it; numerous fans—unable to see Alou on the other side of the wall—reach for the ball, and Steve Bartman happens to be the one fan unfortunate enough to make contact with the ball, spoiling an easy out), but, like I said, at the time I was focused on the Red Sox. I would have liked to have seen the Cubs win it, and I felt bad for scapegoat Bartman, but it wasn’t the first thing on my mind.

Watching this documentary, I was really reminded of the irrational way sports fan can attach themselves to the kind of shit that ultimately doesn’t matter. And Bartman wasn’t even the reason the Cubs lost. He didn’t cause them, after all, to give up eight runs in one inning. Also, as with scapegoat Bill Buckner’s ’86 Red Sox, the Cubs had yet another game to lose. Bartman was just a convenient target for irrational anger. It couldn’t, after all, be the case that another team just happened to outgun the Cubs. But even if Bartman had been the cause of the Cubs loss—which he wasn’t—what the fuck would it have mattered anyway? It’s just a game. Of course, as I discovered with my Red Sox, it isn’t with losing but winning that you realize how pointless this shit is. Here’s to hoping the Cubs win another series, and douchebags learn to leave Bartman the fuck alone.

Also, Fuck people. Fuck people. Fuck people. And fuck people.

Dave's Rating:

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Surviving Progress (2011)

dir. Mathieu Roy and Harold Crooks

Why do I do this to myself? Again I watched a documentary I knew would depress me, freak me out. Not that it’s hard to worry me. As regular KL5-FILM readers know, I dwell on even the most mundane things, obsessively worrying myself that the worst will always happen. So it should come as no surprise that the risk of societal collapse ranks pretty high on the list of things to set me on edge (man, I would be so fucked in a Mad Max-ian post-apocalyptic hellscape; my hair’s thinning too rapidly to grow a proper mohawk). And as you also know, I’m addicted to stress: despite, or maybe because of, my tendency to worry, I seek out articles and documentaries I know will set the worry gears into motion. So it should come as no surprise that when I saw Netflix had Surviving Progress, a documentary on the impending man-made environmental/societal collapse, I had to watch.

And there’s something just the slight bit extra unsettling about watching this documentary while a record Global Warming-induced hurricane whips my house back and forth like a cheap rag doll. Shit, we’re all gonna die.

I’m reluctant even to go into detail on this movie because I fear even typing the words will stress me. But here goes. Surviving Progress posits that not all progress is equal. In fact, humanity has frequently headed bullishly toward what are termed progress traps: illusory progression that is actually regressive. For our hunter-gatherer ancestors, a good progress was the development of more accurate weaponry allowing us to catch two wooly mammoths instead of one. This enabled us to feed our families for longer periods of time while expending the same amount of energy. A progress trap: spooking a herd of mammoths toward a cliff where the entire bunch plummets to its death. Sure we feed for a slightly longer period of time, but we’ve hastened the extinction of our food source.

Surviving Progress states that the industrial and financial revolutions have been progress traps. They have hastened population booms which have in turn wrought environmental devastation. Moreover, the financial commitment to the bottom line, divorced from any human or ecological consequences (externalities), has blinded us to the damage we are causing. You see, human evolution hasn’t kept pace with technological and financial evolution: in the relatively short time since the dawn of civilization until now, our brains haven’t evolved; we are still using hunter-gather brains to contend with 21st century technology. The biggest drawback this poses is that we haven’t evolved to be future thinkers—as with our fight-or-flight ancestors, all that matters is the here and now. It’s hard to grasp that the decisions we make today have an adverse effect on the world years into the future. (I should note that I ain’t no Luddite. I love modern convenience—hell, just yesterday I was singing the praises of technological evolution—so I recognize that I am part of the problem. But I can also admit that we in the West consume an inordinate amount of resources, and we can cut back drastically without any loss to our well-being)

Of course, as all docs do, Surviving Progress offers some tips on how we can avoid impending collapse. But why bother? After the preceding hour and a half of doom and gloom, after documenting ample evidence of over-population-wrought irreversible ecological damage, “let’s make things better” tips seem perfunctory. Hey folks we’re fucked...but maybe if we recycle occasionally it’ll all be good. Maybe a better message for this movie would be, in the crass words of Doug Stanhope, “Don’t fuck in the front hole.”

Dave's Rating:

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Press Pause Play (2011)

dir. David Dworsky and Victor Kohler

It’s rather apt that I review Press Pause Play so soon after Indie Game: The Movie: coming at the issue from slightly different angles both films document the rise of amateur art. Amateur art—I really shouldn’t use this term; it sounds disparaging, not to mention counter-intuitive. After all, haven’t most artists always been amateurs? Only a fraction has ever been successful enough to be called professional, the rest struggling in obscurity. No, when I say “the rise of amateur art” what I am describing is the recent technological progress-based trend of artists controlling the heretofore expensive means of production. Where previous aspiring musicians, filmmakers, etc. had to focus on getting discovered by large conglomerates that would bankroll their art, modern artists can now simply purchase the cheap (relatively speaking) artist tools, and make and distribute their work their own damn selves. There is no longer a need for burdensome middlemen.

Of course, Press Pause Play isn’t an entirely glowing celebration of this new trend. It wouldn’t be a proper doc if it didn’t offer some salient counterpoints. And though many valid issues are raised (more on this later), one complaint really stuck in my craw. One of the featured talking heads reasoned that a Scorsese or Fassbinder today would get lost in the din, would never get noticed competing with the mountains of dreck now available online. Where previous artists had to compete over limited resources, the best winning out, any old schmoe can make shit nowadays: the result being a glut of art, mostly dreck. The interviewee claimed that only the most banal gets the most clicks on youtube and such; only the dumb crowd-pleasing dreck gets noticed by the vast multitudes of web-surfing yahoos.

But hasn’t it always been the case that mediocrity rises to the top? Yes, Scorsese has always been much revered among cineastes, but the combined gross of his films would never come close to matching the totals for Michael Bay’s work. The consensus favorites, by definition, will never be the outliers. The most successful will always be that which is least offensive to the greatest number of people. Whether the artist is selected by studios to make his project, or whether an amateur is filming her friends with her own camera, the people will generally always favor the most banal. Means of production may change; tastes don’t.

The only difference now is people make less money for creating. And who the fuck cares. If making assloads of cash is the only reason someone gets into the game, selling his soul to Wall Street would be a more viable option. And of the other point: that great artists will go unknown now, will never be appreciated by the masses now that they have to compete with the wall of crap-noise—I, again, don’t see why this is an issue. Sure, brilliant artists might no longer get the recognition of their forbears (at least according to some in this doc), but I fail to see why that’s necessarily a bad thing. For me the joy of creating trumps all else. And no, I don’t want to sound falsely noble; random compliments on my work do thrill me, but it’s not why I do anything. I create for the simple reason that it gives me pleasure.

That being said, this film did raise one legitimate complaint: the abandonment of craft among (mostly music) artists as new technology has emerged to fix the sorts of errors that previous artists usually trained their whole lives never to commit. As a consequence, most of this digitally-scrubbed art has become clinical, devoid of the human touch. And it is also the most popular. But, to bring it back to my previous point, the most clinical, the most impersonal, the most studio-polished work has always been the most popular. The only difference now is that more and more artists know less and less what they’re doing. And, as I said, that is a legitimate issue.

But I do believe that people—well, at least a certain segment—crave craftsmanship. We tend to reward those who give a shit about what they’re doing, who have honed their craft. Take the show Louie, for example. This is a show that could never have existed even ten years ago. Wholly original, unconventional, Louie has upended expectations for what a sitcom should do. Because of the decrease in equipment costs, FX can risk funding a show with such a small audience because it’s so cheap to produce. Considering it’s small, familial cast and crew, you could call this an amateur show; but, to counter the argument raised by Press Pause Play, it is anything but devoid of craft. Indeed, Louie is one of the most beautifully shot shows on TV right now. Louis CK cares dearly about craft; he wants to make a professional show on a shoestring budget. And he’s been rewarded for it—no, not with viewers, but critical praise. The few who do love it, love it dearly. We crave expert craftsmanship, and will always reward it.

Dave's Rating:

Movie Theme Song Wednesday: The Alamo (1960)

dir. John Wayne

"The Green Leaves of Summer" - The Brothers Four

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

KL5-FILM Podcast Episode 84 - Disco Godfather

dir. J. Robert Wagoner

Roger and I discuss the Rudy Ray Moore classic Disco Godfather. If you thought a disco DJ couldn't use his kung fu powers to eradicate the angel dust menace, you thought wrong. You can listen to the episode here.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Indie Game: The Movie (2012)

dir. Lisanne Pajot and James Swirsky

Video games aren’t my thing. Well, that is to say, video games are no longer my thing. Back in college I was beyond obsessed. All my free time—that wasn’t already devoted to plowing through the various obscure films in my school’s vast film library—was wasted defeating enemy Terran, Protoss, and Zerg. Either that or railgun-owning motherfuckers in Quake 2. Speaking of which, when I found this video on youtube, I was able to anticipate not only the layout of the level, but the placement of every enemy in every room. And I haven’t even seen the game in over a decade.

Same for this Quake video, for that matter:

Surprisingly, this video game prowess didn’t translate to my academic life: I somehow managed to be both good at video games and a slacker. My study habits were shite, my grades sucked, my education was wasted. But this has always been the way for my obsessive self. Give me a time-wasting activity and all else will suffer in my life. And few activities are as time-wastey, devoid of value, and just plain useless as video game-playing (the internet fills that need for me now). And again, when it comes to video games, I ain’t some outsider looking in; I know my shit...from over ten years ago. So pardon me if I come off like a former smoker proselytizing to the unconverted.

But fuck it if I sound preachy—video games are not art. True art should not only awe, but also inspire: whether it’s thoughts or feelings or the urge to create. (Not that my definition of art means anything; I’ll agree that it’s entirely arbitrary. The definition is likely different for each person. But let’s pretend that mine is the true meaning and roll with it.) Not only did video games never inspire me to create, not only did they sap me of the will to create, they sapped me of the will do to do anything. They took without giving.

But the entertaining documentary Indie Game: The Movie forced me to reevaluate my stance toward video games. No, I didn’t experience a “video games can inspire me” moment of enlightenment, but I can now see that my reaction is solely my reaction. Hearing the various indie game designers featured in this film discuss their histories with video games, I was reminded of the way I talk about movies with my friends (hey, check out my movie podcast). At early ages, these folks were so inspired by their ability to control pixels that they had to build on the work they loved, had to create whole new game worlds for new generations to get lost in.

And these guys are passionate about their art. Expert programmers all, they could easily land cushy gigs at any one of the best video game companies. But they refuse to. Sacrificing health, money, social lives, and all else (another similarity with me), they opt instead to devote their lives to creating games they are passionate about. What good’s a high-paying gig if you’re churning out impersonal crap you have no emotional stake in? These men want to create, to express themselves in the medium they feel best represents them.

And make no mistake about it, as with all great artists, these designers put themselves in their games. Theeir games are expressions of their psyches, extensions of their beings. Utilizing each of their unique senses of humor, laying bare each of their deepest fears, hopes, joys; these games are just as representative of the folks who made them as Mean Streets was of Scorsese.

After watching this doc, have I changed my position? Are video games art? Who the fuck am I to judge?

Dave's Rating:

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Friday, November 2, 2012

Thursday, November 1, 2012

The Storm Is Ending

As I said yesterday, I schedule all of my blog posts over the weekend, so I don't know if I'll have power by the time this posts. One thing I do know, because I've been obsessive about tracking Hurricane Sandy, by the time this posts on Thursday, the storm will likely have moved past my neck of the woods. There will finally be calm. In light of that, here's the storm-receding ending of Scorsese's Cape Fear.