The arbiter of art

So I dreamt that David Spade walked up to me to start some shit. Then I punched him in the stomach and said “you ain’t so tough without Chris Farley.”

Anyways

Director/Screenwriter Paul Schrader, on his infamous Facebook account, reposted an article of Elizabeth Olson defending the Marvel films (I dunno, didn’t read it). This predictably started a shitstorm in the comments.

Listen, I don’t know what “art” is. It’s “expression”, I guess. That’s all I can say. The Marvel movies aren’t my cup of tea. At least not yet. Whether or not they are art is not up to me.

But would I consider Death Wish III, Robocop 2, and loads of other schlock as “art”?

Yes.

So actually, under my criteria, the Marvel films easily hurdle the “art” threshold. But the bigger question is: will people remember and still be discussing these films 20 years from now?

The “disaster craze” of the 1970s… the Towering Inferno, the Airport films, Earthquake, etc, with their big budgets and all-Star casts…were all financially successful but hardly anyone remembers them. Someone compared the Marvel movies to Westerns of way back when, but I think they’re much more similar disaster films of nearly 50 years ago.

Someone once said that the Academy Awards shouldn’t be decided until at least 10 years after a film’s release. This gives it time to resonate with the people instead of simply handing out accolades because it felt good in the moment.

I agree with this.

So are Marvel movies “art”? Yes.

Are they quality “art”? I guess time will tell.

body horror

For a director I don’t particularly like, I’ve seen most of David Cronenberg’s films. Despite their subject matter and shock value, these movies rarely promote much of a response from me. I either low key REALLY like them, or low key hate them.

So I don’t know why I started watching Shivers on Tubi. Probably because it’s one of Cronenberg’s first films. What sucks is that Tubi crapped out on me an hour into the film so I missed most of the good shit (Tubi, btw, has every movie known to God but the app itself sucks penis).

But Shivers is interesting. Perhaps it made me realize something about Cronenberg’s filmography: everyone looks like shit. Mind you, Shivers was made in the 70s and likely had a small budget. Still though, I think the decision to make everyone look terrible was a deliberate one. Even the “attractive” people made me want to barf. Cronenberg’s forte is body horror, after all.

This made me question my prior appraisal of the director. David Cronenberg approaches the human subject as if the viewer is an alien. When we watch the behavior of animals, we are simultaneously fascinated and disgusted. An extraterrestrial would probably feel the same way if they ever observed people.

Human beings are disgusting creatures. And most of the time, we fail to appreciate that…

…except when we watch David Cronenberg films.

like harrison Ford im getting frantic

Speaking of movies that I had no business watching as a kid…infamous sex pervert Roman Polanski’s Frantic is another forgotten gem.

I saw it around the same time as Paris, Texas and it came on HBO after school. I also watched it for the same reasons as Paris, Texas (thought I’d see some titties, but only saw side boob and Harrison Ford’s pubic hair).

I’m not a huge fan of Polanski, but he can manage to maintain your attention although nothing is happening on screen. The first 30 minutes are just Ford and his wife at a hotel in Paris. Then Ford takes a shower and his wife goes is missing.

This is one my favorite sub genres: an everyday man has to traverse an unusual circumstance, in this case exploring the seedy underbelly of Paris in order to save the day.

I wouldn’t say the film was entirely successful. The ending was kinda underwhelming. But I enjoyed the hazy cinematography mixed with Ennio Morricone’s soundtrack. And the this might be Ford’s finest hour as he plays the perfect fish-out-of-water Everyman.

I usually talk shit about the French, but they know how to do noir.

the long, hot summer

Where were my parents growing up?

What was I doing watching such classics as The Deer Hunter, Taxi Driver, Paris Texas, and Caligula before the age 13?

In fact, I was right about to turn 13 when I watched Caligula for the first time. It was a long, boring summer. I was dragging ass on mowing the yard. My dog puked on the tile floor. And instead of taking care of both of those problems, for whatever reasons we had a rented copy of Caligula so I popped it in the DVD player.

I remember the moment better than I remember 9/11.

Next thing I know, Malcolm McDowell was fucking his sister, penises were everywhere, and there was blood. So, so much blood (with a few blowjobs to boot).

I just didn’t see it coming.

Hardcore porn and bloody movies weren’t anything new to me. But when they got mixed together, you go from being aroused to utterly horrified in one frame. It’s too much for a young mind to take in.

I was so traumatized by the experience, I couldn’t watch it again until I was 20.

But now I’m happy that it’s being recognized as a truly awful classic, and a marquee role for Malcolm McDowell and a disgustingly hott Helen Mirren. It’s been therapeutic for me to say the least.

paris tx

There are few scenes in the history of film that hit me harder than the Super 8 sequence in Paris, Texas.

Rarely do films like this get made. Especially now. Not without a dose of heavy handed social commentary and violence.

That’s not the case with Paris, Texas. It’s subject is simple: one man’s inability to face his problems. All of this juxtaposed against the vast American landscape that’s both empty and crowded…dead and alive. Wim Wenders’ vision of America is embodied by the character Travis, played by the enigmatic Harry Dean Stanton.

The first time I watched this, it was almost like a religious experience. I was 10 or 11 years old and stayed up late while watching cable to see some tities. Fortunately, nothing was on Cinemax so I switched over to HBO. Paris, Texas was playing.

I don’t know why I kept watching it (probably because you see some Aurore Clement side boob), but next thing I know, I was fully engrossed in the story. It was the first movie where, when it ended, I didn’t know what hit me.

It was probably at that moment when it occurred to me: THIS is why people love movies.

Some people hate Paris, Texas. Some say it’s too slow. Some don’t like Travis because he abandoned his family.

I personally like movies that take their time. And if you don’t like Travis’ decisions, it’s not like the movie presents him as mensch.

In fact, Travis…along with his wife Jane…are presented as two VERY troubled people. From the perspective of Travis, he had to leave at the end because he was utterly broken. I would go as far as to say that Travis’ entire existence consists of (unintentionally) ruining people’s lives.

This film is not only about Travis trying to reunite his wife and child (Hunter), but it’s also about ruining the lives of his brother Walt and his wife Anne who took custody of Hunter during his disappearance.

Another heartbreaking scene is when Anne fails to convince Travis and Hunter to return home, and she goes to lie down in Hunter’s bed. Even though Hunter wasn’t her actual son, she was still attached to him. And that’s the last scene Anne is in, never to be mentioned again.

But Wenders’ direction mixes realism with a childlike perspective (which resembles Travis’ emotional state) quite well. So, I think, that permits me to have a pessimistic interpretation of the ending: there was no way that Jane would maintain custody of Hunter, and Hunter would return to Walt and Anne with a better sense of his “real” family, which would likely cause further damage to everyone involved. Meanwhile, Travis, once again, ran away from it all.

Is my interpretation correct? I dunno. But that’s how art works.

So do yourself a favor: stay up late one night and watch Paris, Texas.

this one Hurts

So I was filling out my pimpin’ March Madness bracket (obviously UK is gonna win it all) when word got to me that William Hurt died.

According to Marlee Matlin, maybe Hurt wasn’t the most pleasant person to be around (to put it mildly). Which is another reminder that Hollywood is a terrible, godawful place filled with fragile egos and needs to be nuked off the map entirely.

But this is also a reminder that some of my favorite artists and actors are passing on and we should appreciate their art while they’re still fresh in our collective consciousness. Some of my favorite performances from Hurt are in Ken Russell’s Altered States, Lawrence Kasdan’s The Big Chill, and David Cronenberg’s A History of Violence.

RIP

2051: a space monstrosity (part viii)

“We are going home,” I announced to the crew onboard the Sagan. “To repair the ship, we’ll need Yah’s help. He’s being brought to the surface as we speak. His chamber will be stored in the cargo area, where Dr. Jackass will release him. We cannot get too close to Yah. He’s highly radioactive, but the Doctor will be equipped with a radiation absorber that I stole from the Ishnarians. You are ordered to remain out of the cargo bay. The Doctor will ask Yah to remain a safe distance from the crew.”

“If he’s God,” Patel asked, “can’t he make more radiation absorbers?”

“Good question Patel,” I replied, “but let’s not overthink this. Yah is not a supernatural being. He is made of real matter and is bound by gravity. That’s why he needs a spaceship to get off this planet. Additionally, it should be noted that Yah can read minds. But it appears that he can only do so at a certain distance. Perhaps up to 60 feet. If possible, stay 60 feet away from the cargo area. I can’t go into any more details, but when I order everyone to be at their stations, you will have 30 seconds to get there. Am I understood?”

“Yes sir!”

“Good. Begin preparations for launch.”

I exited the Sagan to meet with Hazov. Off in the distance, Yah’s chamber was being wheeled towards the ship.

“It’s a shame that you are unable to stay,” Hazov said, “hopefully this is the beginning of a fruitful relationship between our two worlds.”

“Possibly,” I said.

“If you don’t mind me prying, Captain, I thought your ship was having trouble launching.”

I smiled. “Someone forgot to carry the 1.”

“I see,” he said. “Farewell Captain.”

“Farewell Hazov.”

We shook hands and I immediately went to engineering to speak with Commander Mwangi. “Commander, once when you see that the hydrogen drive is back online, fire it up immediately,” I told her.

“But Captain, with lift thrusters firing we’ll be moving at a tremendous speed. We risk burning the hydrogen drive out again.”

“Just do it.”

I went to the bridge and strapped into the navigation station next to Valdez. “What’s the fastest you’ve ever flown a ship?” I asked her.

“About 1/8th the speed of light sir.”

“Prepare to shatter that record.”

The Doctor then came over the intercom. “The chamber is loaded sir,” he said.

“Close cargo bay doors and release Yah from the chamber,” I ordered.

Yah spoke up. “Thank you for releasing me from my chains, Captain,” he said.

“Don’t mention it.”

I monitored controls from the command post. Moments later, Valdez spoke up. “Lift thrusters are online sir!”

“Launch thrusters!”

The Sagan began lifting off the surface and into the atmosphere. I channeled down to engineering. “How’s that hydrogen drive coming along, Nia?!”

“Hydrogen drive is fully operational!”

Then a deeply distraught Hazov came over the radio. “Captain Kananga! Our planet is facing a torrent of earthquakes and tornadoes! We are dying! What have you done?!”

I radioed down to the cargo bay. “Yah! Unleashing the apocalypse on Ishnar wasn’t part of the deal!”

“Sorry Captain,” Yah replied. “The people of Ishnar have broken the covenant. They shall face my wrath.”

Now Yah was about to face my wrath, I thought. “I see,” I responded to Yah. “Dr. Jackass, please report to the bridge.”

I looked over to Valdez. “Have we cleared the atmosphere?” I asked.

“Yes sir, we are about to leave the outer orbit of Ishnar’s moons.”

“Good. Hopefully we can put enough distance between Yah and Ishnar.”

Moments later, Dr. Jackass entered the bridge. “Doctor,” I said, “on my count, open the cargo bay doors.

“Sir?”

I went over the intercom. “Attention crew: please be at your stations,” I ordered, then activated life support systems on all decks.

After 30 seconds expired, I looked back over to Valdez. “Alright Commander, step on it!”

“Excuse me?”

“Damn it Valdez! FLOOR IT!”

As we accelerated to an extraordinary speed, I ordered Dr. Jackass to open cargo doors. Centrifugal systems instantly cut out and we were floating at zero-g.

“Sir!” the Doctor yelled, “all contents in the cargo bay have been suctioned out! Including Yah! Closing doors now!”

As the gravity was being restored, I looked up at the radar. An energy source outside the ship was keeping pace. “Damn it! Yah is on our tail! More speed!”

“But we’re traveling near the speed of light!” Valdez replied.

“Can God go faster than light?!” Dr. Jackass asked.

“I guess we’ll find out!”

The ship began to rattle back and forth. We were under attack. Using his god-like power, Yah came over the intercom. “Is this how you want this to end Captain?” he asked. “Empty space makes a cold grave.”

“Faster Valdez!” I ordered.

“She’ll fly apart Captain!”

“Fly her apart then!”

Alarms and buzzers were going off across the bridge. The vibration intensified. If we were going to die, we were going to die going the speed of light.

Then I looked up at the radar. Another energy source was was gaining on Yah.

The calvary had arrived…

TO BE CONTINUED.

mr. bright side

As we settle into the Cold War II and the ever present threat of nuclear war, it’s time to look at the silver lining: we might get better movies.

One thing I miss from the first Cold War is character study films of the 1970s. They should make more movies that look into the depraved lives of ordinary people in an uncritical manner. I’m sure they still make em but they’re probably shit.

Jack Nicholson was the king of these movies back in the day. Perhaps the best example being Five Easy Pieces.

I’ve decided to get back to my roots and start building up my Criterion Collection. So I recently purchased Five Easy Pieces along with Paris, Texas (The only time I saw Paris, Texas when I stayed up late and watched HBO when I was 10 years old. It blew me the fuck away. I had a weird childhood).

When you have a toddler running around that gets PISSED if you watch anything other than Blippi, it’s hard to find time to watch these movies. But I got far enough into Five Easy Pieces to watch one of my favorite scenes in film history: Sally Strothers’ random heartbreaking monologue on being forsaken by God.

The essay pamphlet that accompanies the Five Easy Pieces blu ray is pretty good. Apparently this early 70s state of being, where everyone’s fucked-upness was a given…and people talked while others listened…is an existence that’s no longer.

So it’s refreshing to look back at a time that was no less deranged, but far less judgmental.

meh

My news feed has been buzzing the last 24 hours. More so than usual. No, it has nothing to do with the Russians possibly invading Ukraine. It’s the announcement of a fourth “Kelvin Timeline” Star Trek film.

Unlike most Star Trek fans, I am content with saying that Star Trek died with the last episode of Enterprise. And we all owe Rick Berman an apology (even though he sounds like a legit asshole).

So I don’t give a shit about this new film (written by a bunch of writers whose work I also don’t give a shit about). 🚨 Spoiler Alert 🚨: it’s gonna suck.

How do I know?

Let me tell you about two men named JJ Abrams and Alex Kurtzman.

Perhaps I shouldn’t be too harsh. They did revive Trek. Because of them, there are four…about to be five…Star Trek shows airing. Audiences change. As ridiculous as it sounds now, TOS fans were reluctant to accept TNG.

Now I’m a TNG fan that’s reluctant to accept Kurtzman Trek.

The thing that TOS and TNG had in common though is one VERY important thing: Gene Roddenberry. And Roddenberry was succeeded by Rick Berman, who was hellbent on carrying out his predecessor’s vision.

No such chain of succession with this new Trek.

JJ Abrams did do one thing right though: the first 10 minutes of Star Trek 09. And that kinda highlights my biggest gripe with this current set of producers: they are Kliff Kingsbury of Star Trek.

All three movies, plus Picard, plus Discovery, start off fairly strong in their opening acts (or first few episodes) and then inexplicably derail into a total train wreck.

Moreover, this new “cinematic” feel to Star Trek just doesn’t…feel right. Trek works best on a shoestring budget, phenomenal writing, and the perfect casting. Case in point: Wrath of Khan. It is probably the Trek film with the smallest budget, but it’s also considered the best.

There’s a Shakespearean, theater-like quality to the Roddenberry/Berman-era Trek that, I think, many fans find appealing (even if we didn’t appreciate it at the time).

Of course, those days of television and movies are over (in part, due to JJ Abrams’ impact on the industry) and that’s okay. Things change.

Which is why we must let Star Trek go.