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.

‘the internet ruined everything’s’ canon of greatest films ever made

You know what the internet needs? Another list of greatest movies.

So, in no particular order:

The Deer Hunter (1978): I’ve discussed this movie at length numerous times. I think it’s the greatest example of the power of filmmaking.

Robocop (1987): For the simpletons, this is just another 80s action film. For those that know better, it’s the greatest satire ever made. But each time I watch it, the more horrified I become. The idea of “Robocop” is terrifying. Imagine getting killed in the most violent way, then you get revived and made property of an evil corporation and begin to struggle to understand who or what you are. Hollywood is a lesser place without Paul Verhoeven.

-The Thin Blue Line (1988): This, along with Errol Morris’ (currently known for directing Chipotle commercials) Vernon, Florida are my two favorite documentaries. This is the story about a killing of a Dallas cop and a man getting rear ended by the justice system. I love Randall Dale Adams. He’s an everyday dude that took an unfortunate trip to Texas. We’ve all been there.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982): Yes, I’m a Trek fan. While every nerd has seen this movie dozens of time, I don’t think it gets the credit it deserves. It’s not really sci-fi, it’s more of a Shakespearean tragedy in space. In many ways, this film revived Trek. And director/writer Nicholas Meyer, who knew nothing of Star Trek prior to this, deserves credit.

Dances With Wolves (1990): I will go to my grave saying Kevin Costner deserved his Oscar. Fuck Martin Scorsese.

Taxi Driver (1976): We all know Martin Scorsese is a genius. And Paul Schrader may be the greatest screenwriter of all time. In the era of angry, lonely young men roaming the internet, this movie was well ahead of its time.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968): if you’re gonna do science fiction, do it right. Everybody knows this movie. And because this movie rightfully gets the credit it deserves, we take it for granted. But, to this very day, it is the most ambitious film ever made.

The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974): I love movies that satirize a very serious situation. It’s kinda like Dr. Strangelove, albeit this film is dealing with a much less serious subject: the taking of hostages. Every actor is great, but Walter Matthau was an unusual talent. His face alone could carry a film.

No Country For Old Men (2007): The best movie made in the last 20 years. Cormac McCarthy may be the greatest living author and it ain’t easy adapting his work for the big screen. The nihilism, the existential themes, Javier Bardem, the vast, empty Texas landscape… “okay, I’ll be a part of this world.”

Blood Diner (1987): Most fans of the B-movie, cult genre are familiar with this film but it should be more widely known with general audiences. Probably the funniest fucking movie I’ve ever seen.

light sleeper

On the Mount Rushmore of cokeheads, Paul Schrader is between Dennis Hopper and Phil Specter (along with Stevie Nicks of course). Which is why I was excited to see Light Sleeper available to watch on Amazon Prime.

It’s definitely not a perfect film. Willem Dafoe plays an aging drug delivery boy employed by Susan Sarandon who runs into an ex flame which leads him to shoot up a hotel room (we’ve all been there). It’s a movie that should have been fleshed out more. The climax (the shooting up of a hotel room) didn’t quite pay off, and the sudden romantic interest between Sarandon and Dafoe in the end was odd, but there’s a lot of other things going for the film.

The sanitation strike, which played in the background and was often juxtaposed against the high class NYC lifestyle, was a nice touch. But the desperation of Dafoe’s character is absolutely heartbreaking.

I get what that’s about.

Dafoe is aimless. He wanted to be an actor, model, musician, and writer. His best years were spent strung out on drugs. Now he’s 40 and lacks focus.

Subtlety, Sarandon is in a similar position. She plays the boss but she knows the gravy train is about to leave the station. She thinks she’s some NYC hotshot, but by looking at her shitty apartment, she’s probably on the outside looking in.

Now that I type that out, suddenly Dafoe and Sarandon’s abrupt romantic interest becomes apparent: they’re both losers and now they have to settle for each other.

The soundtrack is incredible, for both good and bad reasons. The music itself is great. Where it goes off the rails is the damn singing. The visuals are powerful enough that you don’t need to be told how Dafoe’s character is feeling. Anybody could have written those lyrics. For example (in the style mimicking Bruce Springsteen):

I am walking down the street at night

I run into my ex girlfriend

We get into a little fight

I feel so sad that I just might

Stalk her at her mom’s funeral

Then she gets sad as well

Then we reconnect and start to kiss

She complements my erection

Then she tells me that she’s sopping wet

So we fuck all night then tells me to leave

Then I find out she’s back on drugs

Then she jumps out a window to her death

So I buy a gun from Puerto Rican man

Then I ride in limo with Susan Sarandon

Then I shoot up a hotel room

(Lyrics by Michael Been)

Despite all of that, this is a nice forgotten gem from the mind of Paul Schrader.

the last temptation of christ-a film by martin Scorsese

A lot of people don’t know this about me, but between laughing hysterically at shit and cum jokes I obsess over the historicity a man named Jesus of Nazareth, aka our Lord and Savior.

I even read the New Testament in Koine Greek (it’s a lot easier than you think).

For the record, I’m not a “mythicist”-or those that believe Jesus was a myth that the Romans or later believers fabricated. That’s stupid. Modern archeology and scholarship affirm that Jesus almost certainly existed.

Sure, some of my opinions my be a little bit outside the mainstream. I tend to agree with John Dominic Crossan’s assessment that perhaps Jesus’s ministry needs to be viewed in light of Roman authority. The Roman’s notoriously ruled with an iron fist. Jesus, by contrast, appeared more as a pacifist that appealed to neighborly love. His “Kingdom of God”, which Jesus almost certainly believed was going to be on earth rather than in some supernatural realm, directly challenged Roman Rule. So in many ways, Jesus was more than just a religious figure-he was a political one (not that anyone distinguished between the two in those days). Could this be wrong? Sure. But I think this view is worth taking seriously.

When viewed in this light, Jesus’s message remains just as radical today as it was in the first century AD: it was a direct challenge to the violence of the era.

But another interesting perspective on early Christianity is how it provides insight into the nature of radical politics: it starts off as fringe then branches off into rivaling sects before becoming mainstream. Once it becomes mainstream, it becomes orthodox and therefore conservative-if not authoritarian-in nature.

I’ve always thought that this subject, the “real” Jesus, would make an excellent film.

Unfortunately no such film has been made.

So the next best thing is Martin Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ, based on the novel by Nikos Kazantzakis.

Is it a perfect film? No. I can appreciate some of the modern characterizations of Jesus, the Apostles, Judas Iscariot, and so on. But Paul Schrader’s dialogue comes across as academic, which at times undermines the effectiveness of the story.

But Scorsese’s frenzied take on a familiar story is refreshing. Of course Peter Gabriel’s soundtrack might be one of the best in film history (a hill I’m willing to die on).

What I love most about this movie though is it’s influence on my favorite film franchise: the James Bond series.

“The fuck are you talking about?” you might ask.

Think I’m crazy? Well you’re right. But I’m also correct.

Watch the final act of The Last Temptation of Christ. Then go watch the final act of Casino Royale.

Coincidence? I think not.

a shot at the title

So I was crying in a corner, just minding my own business when the FedEx guy delivered a letter.

“Have a good day sir,” he said.

“Fuck off”

I opened the letter. It was from Bob Oglesby, Head of Productions at Trainwreck Studios. It read:

Dear Mr. Less

We read your screenplay ‘The Virtues of Drinking Bleach’ and have a few notes. Please reach out to your agent Pablo Dunbar to set up a meeting. We are having trouble reaching him.

Best Regards,

Bill

So I finished crying and called Pablo. When he answered the phone, I heard some screaming followed by gunshots. Then silence.

“This is Pablo,” he said.

“Hey! Bob Oglesby has been trying to reach you. Where the hell have you been?”

“Sorry I’ve been in Thailand on the set of the new Paul Schrader film. I’ll reach out to Bob soon.”

That week, Pablo and me drove out to Burbank. When we arrived at the studio, the doors were locked. Out of the third story window, Bob yelled: “Sorry, I’m the only one here. Everyone has COVID.”

Bob threw down a rope and we climbed up. Then he offered us a Bloody Mary.

“No thanks,” I said. “I just got my one month chip.”

Bob shrugged and downed the drink himself.

“Now boys,” Bob said as he sat down behind his desk. “Let’s get down to brass tacks. We all want to make money. A fuck ton of money. And the only way to do that is to give the audience what they want. And they want sex. They want violence. They want full on sexual penetration. They want erect penises. They want sopping wet vaginas. They want tits. They want ass. They want to see EVERYTHING.

Unfortunately we can’t give that to them. We have to abide by what they call ‘rules’. Plus we have to consider the Chinese market. So we looked at your screenplay and said that this is the next best thing. Therefore, after all the sexual harassment lawsuits are settled, we are fully prepared to give this thing the green light. What do you boys think about that?”

Pablo and me looked at each other.

“Sounds good?”

“Good,” Bob said. “But we have a few notes for you. First, gay sex. There’s a lot of it.”

“I assure you that it’s all in service to the plot,” I replied.

“Oh yes, I noticed,” Bob said. “What I mean is that I want more of it.”

“For the film?”

“Yes”

“So you want more gay sex in a martial arts film set in outer space?”

“Yes”

“Anything else?” I asked.

Bob stood up from his desk and looked out the window. “Boys,” he said, “Hollywood is dying. Too many kids on YouTube drinking cat piss for a laugh. Too much internet pornography. Too much competition from the streaming services. The days of good storytelling, of compelling performances, of sweeping scores, of looking at the silver screen in awe and wonder…they are coming to a close.”

Bob paused and looked me in the eye.

“I’m counting on you to save my job,” he said.

I looked over to Pablo, then back at Bob.

“In that case,” I said. “I’ll have that Bloody Mary.”