Saturday, May 07, 2016

Dancing Days are here again...

I wish I knew more people who loved to dance as much as I do. At The Short Stop, I was and am known as "the firestarter." I wonder how many other people know what that's like. When I dance, I can get people dancing. I don't know if it's because of my enthusiasm or skill, but I know it to be true. I may be the first person dancing on a Saturday, but eventually people are going to dance on a Saturday because it's Saturday. When you can get a crowd whipped up on a Wednesday, that's when you know it's not just the day. I wonder about my movement. I know I've gone through transitions. I've moved my hips more, my legs more, my arms more. I've found patterns I like to repeat, but it's all self-taught. There might be a little Travolta (very little) or found items, but maybe it's best if it's primitive. No idea.  Rhythm is math, understand the math.

One thing dancing has made sacrosanct is that woman are to be treated kindly or left alone. I say this because one thing the dance floor has taught me is what it means to be objectified. On an off night, people can do what they want, but when shit gets crowded, you get guys who are on the hunt. What that means is a line of guys just looking, dudes who get into groups and will stand around in the middle of a dance floor (MIDDLE OF THE DANCE FLOOR!!!) not dancing, sometimes just looking at their phones. This makes me think an entire generation of people don't know how to interact, so they just want to be in it.

But I also know that as someone who hits the floor so regularly and with such passion, that I am captured on people's phones. People think they're being subtle, but they're not. Some days I treat it like my friend Scott - who used to pose in the background of photos at Universal Studios, creating an album of images that will never be seen by anyone - as something that happens but is my personal in-joke. These days when I see phones pointed at me I get mildly annoyed because I know that this is going to end up on social media platform to which I have no access and I have no idea how what I'm doing is being viewed. Am I being singled out because of my skill, or is it "look at the white guy!@!" I have no idea. Because these people don't talk to me, I can't be sure. And that makes me mad at the level of a dull ache.

Being objectified also means that people will touch me. My ass has been pinched often, women have tried to kiss me, and people will offer me advice I don't want about how to dance. I don't need to be told how to dance, and I generally don't want advice from someone I don't know. I have control. It may look frenzied or big, or whatever, but I know what I'm doing and I know the space I have, which means when I have a lot of space I like to take advantage and go big. I would compare this to being a woman if it happened all the time, but really it only happens when I'm dancing so I won't pretend to relate. If I do talk to a woman on the floor it's because I know she's interested, or I feel the need to tell them they are a great dancer and I leave it at that.

Unfortunately, flattery is my downfall. It's late Friday and I'm at home without going out. That's because I threw my back out a while ago, and I don't know if it recovered. I often carry groceries in a backpack and I think the weight differential puts my spine out of whack. Sad. But the reason why I'm hurting so bad is because I was out Wednesday night after work, and I got the dance floor going. I hit, and people joined in. Eventually a woman - who had a boyfriend - hit the floor. I had been peacocking for a while as there was enough space, but the people who were clapping on my moves made me feel supported. Even though she was with a guy, she wanted to dance with me, and that seemed awesome, so I danced with her, eventually going full DIRTY DANCING. When she came over to show me all the photos her boyfriend had taken, I couldn't be happier, happier to be included in this game. But my back showed signs of distress, which I ignored because the DJ was cute and I was being properly lauded.

I recently joined Tinder. I don't care for swipe culture, but I also felt it was important, as I think I'm ready to date again for the first time on social media. I want people to know I'm ready. I have no idea how many swipe right or lefts I've gotten, but I figure that if I'm at a club and people see my profile that it can't hurt. Then again I was at work today, and as I got out of the elevator to go to work, I got a "yeah" nod from a female who must work near me. I assume this happens all the time to women, but it happens to me only from time to time. It's that "yeah" nod that suggests that person is in to you, sold American. And that's the divide from men to women perhaps, though perhaps not, of when I want to be objectified.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Camus had a point talking about Sisyphus

I lived on Beachwood Drive for about ten years, give or take. For those who've never visited Los Angeles, what may be most famous about said street is that it seemingly leads directly to the Hollywood sign. You know, that sign that says Hollywood and gets destroyed a lot in post apocalyptic and disaster movies. Note: The street doesn't actually get you to the sign.

There were two things one would encounter because of this, often on a daily basis: Tourists asking you to take their picture, and tourists parking illegally in your driveway so they could take pictures. Never mind the absurdity of taking a picture in front of a sign that is famous for being a sign that is famous (Hollywood in a nutshell). But no matter how nice or how awful you were to these people, there was nothing you could do about it to make a change. How could you? Were they going to tell the next person you ran into? No.

I walk a lot every day if I can help it. And the one thing you can not change is that some people have spacial awareness and some people do not. Some people do not almost blissfully so, to the point that it leaps over into awareness of being an asshole. But no matter how nice or how awful you were to these people, there was nothing you could do about it to make a change. How could you? Were they going to tell the next person you ran into? No.

I go out dancing all the time. Gross dudes don't understand they are gross dudes. Here is the one time that sometimes Sisyphus makes progress that seems real, even if it isn't. I don't usually peacock to peacock, but if the floor is right (that is to say, if I have space), I will go big to make a point. Sometimes that inspires gross dudes to go with me, like they think I'm on their side. But more often than I'd hope they get the point. And they do because ironic dancing only gets you so far when faced with skill. I have been going out dancing since I was able to buy a drink, and at this point I have to admit to myself (and others) that I'm good because false modesty becomes unbecoming.

But even if I win the battle, the floor usually hits capacity, and there's nothing I can do about gross dudes who don't understand that women like watching me dance - whether it's because they think it's funny a tall blond balding white guy is throwing down, or because they might want to fuck me - and that seeing me dance inspires them to dance, and that women don't want to dance when the see guys who stay on the floor and don't dance but either stare or look at their phones and don't like guys who stand in a line by the side of the dance floor. I don't like describing women as prey but as I have probably said before, a dance floor is an ecosystem, and any ecosystem with too many predators is doomed to collapse. But this is also about who's in the bar at the time.

It's funny, I was thinking about this last night, there was a guy in a toque who was standing around the floor in the middle of the dance floor, who migrated to the center, and I was dancing near him. Amerie's 1 Thing came on (for reference), and I was like "time to show off" because... that song and immediately after throwing down the two hottest ladies in the club started dancing near me. As if the fates wanted to prove my point. But this dude persisted in hanging out in the middle of the dance floor. The middle is sacred to me. One of the old bouncers at the Short Stop (my joint) used to call me "fire starter," because I could get the floor going, and if you're in the middle - if you're in the focal point - you want to be throwing down because that's where the energy comes from. To stand in the middle is an affront.

After, this led me down a rabbit hole of thought. What I've experienced of late is that more people than you'd expect aren't so much cold as anti-social, or ill equipped with social interactions. Everyone wants to be a little bit Don Draper - to be the playboy, what have you - but so few of us are. And I want to be inclusive, you always want to be inclusive, because it results in better net gains, as it were. I was totally dancing with the lesbian couple next to me and we were all digging it, but this guy I couldn't get a bead on - but at this point with legalized weed so many people are probably stoned all the time and don't even know where they're at. Part of me want to grab this guy and ask "Why the fuck are you standing here? What do you think you'll accomplish? Why aren't you sitting down or standing on the side of the floor?" Honestly I wanted an answer, I wanted catharsis. But the truth is that there was nothing I could do about it to make a change. How could I? Was he going to tell the next person I ran into who did the exact same god damn thing? No. But I move the bolder up the hill just the same. 

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Ten Declarative Statements About Prince

1. Prince made you want to dance.
2. Prince made you want to fuck.
3. Prince made you want to believe in God.
4. Prince made the Super Bowl cool.
5. Prince made the Eighties, if not cool, bearable.
6. Prince made Minnesota cool. Minnesota.
7. Minnesota.
8. Prince concerts were always an experience worth having.
9. Prince knew he was Prince and had fun with it.
10. Prince is gone and the world is a less funkier, sexier place for it.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Redbox

How movies are bad these days has changed by leaps and bounds, and it's partly to do with the current studio system. With fewer and fewer mid-range budgeted films, there's less room for filmmakers to learn their craft before moving on to the Jurassic Worlds of cinema. And with Disney currently operating as it does (and this may change due to filmmaker pressure at some point), the standard "one for them one for me" model isn't tenable. You make a hit movie for Disney/Marvel, they're not really in the business of making passion projects. Do you see Joss Whedon getting his next film going at Disney yet? Shouldn't he? Auteurism has been ceded to the studio/brand. Who senses that Justin Lin touch in Fast Five, or James Wan's hand in Furious 7? J.J. Abrams and Sam Mendes are hit directors whose biggest hits mark their films as professionally made, but with little sense of the filmmaker behind them (at least in their franchise work). 

Twenty years ago, I would go see films that might be bad, because you never knew. In 1996, critics were just likely to be dismissive of Kids in the Hall: Brain Candy as they were The Frighteners, as they were Kazaam, as they were whatever Jean Claude Van Damme was doing at the time (in this case Maximum Risk). Sometimes they were right, but also, they may not have grasped what Hong Kong filmmakers were doing with craft as they used JCVD to make whatever insane piece of art they were after. Reasonably budgeted movies had a certain autonomy. But even the big summer films of twenty years ago often had the stamp of the director, of someone or something behind it that wasn't a brand. Here's a list of the top ten films of 1996:

1) Independence Day
2) Twister
3) Mission: Impossible
4) Jerry Maguire
5) Ransom
6) 101 Dalmatians
7) The Rock
8) The Nutty Professor
9) The Birdcage
10) A Time to Kill

Five of these are definitely products of their director, but even of the most cynical it's hard to say that something like Twister or Independence Day were noted to death. Fox heads may have had some input in ID4 (a film I like), but the film seems to be a pleasure machine based on what audiences had liked before as surmised by the filmmakers. It feels naive in its cynicism; it loves its cliches. Two of these seem like straight-ahead hackwork: Dalmatians and Twister - but even Twister, bad as it is, was mostly a success due to audiences reacting to changing technologies, much as people responded to 3D regarding Avatar. A Time to Kill is just Joel Schumacher adapting a popular novel so it's a non-starter, benign. I would find it hard to say any of these films are truly great, but I would say most are entertaining, and have personality.

I've seen all of the Marvel proper movies in theaters, and have hated a couple (looking at you Thor), so it's not that I get angry at all studio-run projects, but when big movies are bad these days, there is nothing for someone who loves films to get all that excited about, but this also points out why the best Marvel movies often have the stamp of their director(s). The turning point for me with trusting criticism of big budget movies is two-fold: Critics are now more sensitive than ever to geek concerns, and bad studio product movies are bad in ways that make them no fun to read/watch.

As for the first point, well, let's face it: geeks won. Ain't it Cool may not be the powerhouse it once was, but it seeds are planted, and not just at Hitfix. Critics who are in their thirties and forties grew up with Spielberg and Lucas, and though they may not even be versed in Hitchcock (to be fair, many are), they aren't as snobbish as the old guard who may have worshiped Cukor and Stevens and Stanley Fucking Kramer. The old guard are the ones who favored films like Out of Africa, or Gandhi, or Chariots of Fire, films that have no great value these days, the people who may have given The Artist four stars. I may not always agree with Devin Faraci, or Drew McWeeney, or Eric Vespe, or a number of the film critics that (full disclosure) I've known socially (in some cases just online) for years, but I know that they are nerds/geeks/whatever the polite descriptions of indoors kids are. Or, more to the point, they are the target audience. And as time passes, at least for the foreseeable future, this will only grow more the case as Hollywood churns out films based on the brands critics grew up with.

The second point is that I saw Star Trek Into Darkness in theaters, and that was a film that I made a promise to myself after, and that promise was that I wasn't going to pay to see a film that I knew I would hate simply to be a part of the conversation. This advice has served me well, as I skipped The Amazing Spider Man 2, Jurassic World and many more in the theater. I caught up with them on home video, and they proved to be as bad - if not worse - than I feared/heard at the time. I hate beating up on films like Fantastic Four or Terminator Genysis, but they seem a product of current Hollywood thinking as much as anything, and when they hit home video, there were no champions for it, and it's unlikely that auteurism 3.0 in twenty years will make a great case for these films. These are not the sort of detritus that turn out to be hidden greatness. I know this because I could find that in the films of twenty years ago while I was watching them. I could be proven wrong, and would love to be, but it comes down to voice, and what marks these films is a lack of it, or a lack of an original one.

The problem is that without that voice, without a sense of real guidance, these films are bad in ways that aren't interesting. Say what you will about Sucker Punch, but that's a fascinatingly bad/misguided film. That's a film that's after something, that's trying to say something and may have utterly failed in doing so, but it is also after something beyond branding. Even Man of Steel, as flawed as that movie is, has a guiding voice and an idea behind it, whereas with so much of modern cinema it doesn't take sunglasses to read that the main idea behind them is CONSUME. And on some sort of political level, I can't support paying for art that is so cynical. At the end of the day, the Marvel films are usually at best fun rides, but it's hard to say they're more than that. The same goes for the new Star Wars (which I like), but at least they're enjoyable. And it makes me wish more people would give a director ten million dollars to make a film with Jean Claude Van Damme and leave them well enough alone. You might get shit, but you might get art. Throwing half a billion dollars at a filmmaker that has a checklist that's more important than the story? Fuck off.

Wednesday, March 09, 2016

Contextualizing FARGO

The passage of time makes it harder to see how gravitational pulls effect orbits. Supposedly Howard Hawks was one of the first directors on CASABLANCA before he made TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT. Do we see that the similarities between the two as studio mandated, that Hawks - unable to do his version - eventually made the film he wanted to make without those impediments, or that Hawks was aping the success that came before? As it's always hard to parse the rumors of that period, it's hard to know for certain as Hawks loved to take credits that may not have belonged to him (and denied some that may have).

This I can say for certain. In the spring of 1994, the Coen Brothers had their film THE HUDSUCKER PROXY come out and do a belly flop in theaters. I remember seeing it, and though I loved it from frame one, and though the darlings of the independent scene may have "sold out" successfully, they did not attract a mainstream audience in doing so. Two months later, a little film called PULP FICTION won the Palme d'Or at Cannes, a prize the Coens had won with their previous film three years before, and with it Quentin Tarantino achieved commercial and critical success the likes of which the brothers had never attained. Maybe it was Harvey, maybe it was the zeitgeist, it doesn't matter.

When we talk about the Coens, they're the modern - albeit stoned - iteration of the Kubrick model, in that though they are more public personas, they do little to reveal themselves or what they think about their material - to this point previous special editions of FARGO have gotten little input (or output) from the directors on the material. Joel and Ethan Coen made their breakthrough movie with paltry means with their debut BLOOD SIMPLE, which was a neo-noir through and through, casting a old testament biblical light with some impressive directorial chops onto the genre. And when we think about masters such as these, it's not always that we see them licking their finger and seeing which way the wind blows.

As such, this much is true: FARGO was the movie that reignited them, made them Oscar favorable, and cemented their place as masters. On paper, it's hard to say that anything that happens in FARGO was drawn at all from Tarantino and his previous films. But it's also not hard to see filmmakers who may have felt that they needed to do something of the moment but also that had their own spin on it. A spin that Tarantino may have taken farther in his own works to that point, but is it so hard to trace a line between RESERVOIR DOGS and BLOOD SIMPLE, even if surface details muddy the point? Can one not apply the saying "The innocent must suffer, the guilty must be punished, you must drink blood to be a man" to RESERVOIR DOGS?

FARGO is rarely compared to PULP FICTION for a number of good reasons, and yet I am left wondering if the former's existence have everything to do with the latter's. Even if the Coens were going back to basics, which to some extent they were - though some they weren't - context tells you a lot.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

THE REVENANT is a Cannon movie in Oscar Clothing

Hitchcock once said something like "plausibility is the province of dull critics," but let's look at what happens in THE REVENANT from the perspective of the Ree/Arikara tribe over the course of the movie (from what I remember, granted):

Before the movie begins the chief's daughter is kidnapped by French trappers for the purpose of rape.

The Ree then attack the American trappers headed up by Domhall Gleeson, Tom Hardy and Leonardo DiCaprio with the precision of World War II snipers, reducing what was a party of 40 to around - and soon less than - ten. They do this because they are looking for the chief's daughter.

Leo's Hugh Glass says they should abandon their boat. They do, which is smart because the Ree are already down river and torch the boat. The Ree then go to the French trappers (who have the chief's daughter) and get horses. Not noticing that the daughter is somewhere nearby.

They then find the remains of Hugh's Indian son and then when they see Hugh by himself in the water, even though there's no way he could have the chief's daughter, decide to try and kill him, because... I mean, I get it, I'd try and kill him too for fun, but whatev's.

I think there's another cutaway to the Ree, but the next time they have a real presence is after Hugh has freed the Chief's daughter, and if we're to believe the French trapper who shows up at the American post, Hugh somehow slaughtered the entire French trapping community by killing two guys (using a pistol that could only have fired one shot at the time) and scaring off their horses, but him having Hugh's water bottle is the tell. It's possible the Ree got to the French as well, I can't tell if that's not clear, or the film's reshoots turned what was meant to be a much bigger scene of Hugh killing the French into a smaller one and then things didn't cut together, or if the script didn't have shits to give.

Geographically, one would think the Ree would run into the French camp and then either find or be able to track the daughter from there, but the next time we see them they're trying to kill Hugh again and send him riding his horse off a cliff.

Side note: When the American hear about a survivor who fucked up the French, they go out to look for this person. 1) Geographically, wouldn't they then run into the Ree first? 2) The dude went off a cliff. So what's the path that would make that easy for them to run into him?

Side Side note: The French kill Hugh's friendly Indian companion. Why? They obviously have dealing with the Ree all the time, or enough that they know that they're both deadly and nearby. Perhaps getting away with stealing the chief's daughter emboldened them, or perhaps nothing that happens in this movie makes any sort of character sense (just a thought). But even if he's a part of a different tribe, wouldn't that stoke the Ree up? Or is it more plotting for the sake of leaving Hugh alone?

Side Side Side note: For a film that made a big fucking deal about shooting in natural light and DiCaprio eating a real raw Bison liver, his character is attacked by a bear and lives. That's fine, that's based on a true story that was mostly ignored for the rest of this tale. But then he also goes down the rapids at one point and jumps off a cliff and falls into a tree a little bit later, but that seemingly doesn't do any additional damage to him, and he's able to go toe to toe with Tom Hardy at the end, seemingly with no noticeable limps or broken bones. Even Rambo would find this implausible.

So then the final moment of the Ree is when Hugh sends the dying but not totally dead Tom Hardy down river so the Ree can finish the job of scalping them they started years ago, and this time the Ree don't try to kill Hugh, maybe because the chief's daughter is there. But then Hugh says some mystical shit about not being consumed by revenge after sorta spending the last ninety minute of the movie supposedly consumed by revenge (this is non-text subtext in that the audience is to assume this, even though nothing in the movie makes it clear until Leo finally says something about it, near the end of the film, even though, you know, he has these visions that are mostly about his dead wife and son and not about his all consuming need for revenge, which he seemingly has at some point) so he lets the Indians, which we suspect that Alejandro G. Iñárritu would not treat like bloody savages, act as bloody savages because they finish what Hugh started.

One wonders if the moment that DiCaprio stares into the camera at the end of the film is the actor asking us if we believe this shit. I don't.

Another sort of nitpick. There's a shot of Hugh, having finally dragged himself away from the camp, seeing water. This is at a point where he's not really walking yet. Where does he see that water from? The top of a cliff. The next shot? Him drinking water. Dude can't walk. Top of a cliff. So, what, two, three days later?

Also, it's made mention that DiCaprio's Hugh Glass is a great tracker and guide. At no point in the course of the movie does he ever use those skills, unless we are to believe his plan was to get Domhall Gleason killed and then use him as bait the entire time. And that's possible, the character could just hate gingers.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Best of 2015 - Unfinished

I don't like to talk about my living, but I work for Sony DADC doing DVD/Blu-ray QC, and I have yet to see some of the contenders for best of 2015 partly because I will be working on them. Such is why I have to say that this list is unfinished and may never be. But, let's do it.

1. MAD MAX: FURY ROAD - I ended up working on a release of this movie, and my job is such that I don't always get to watch a movie from beginning to end. Some times I only get to watch, say, the first or last thirty minutes of a movie. But I never had a pass on FURY ROAD where I didn't jump up and down like a little kid when the tanker is being attacked by the men on the sticks. At worst, one could say that FURY ROAD is nothing more than the platonic ideal for an action movie. Nothing more...

2. CAROL: Todd Haynes is a master, and this is one of the best love stories this side of BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN. How amazing is Kyle Chandler? That guy can do anything. Seriously. Compare his performance in this to his work in THE WOLF OF WALL STREET and FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS. Dude can play any kind of America male. And he doesn't even give the best performance in the film.

3. TANGERINE: Great films are often not only entertaining, and TANGERINE is entertaining AF, but it also paints a portrait of a world and a place that you get to experience. As someone who lives not far from Santa Monica and Highland, there was something magical about getting a look, however "real," into the world of the trans people who are around but are generally not people I get a chance to rub elbows with. It's too bad that "I felt like I learned something" is often an insult, but like the great works of neorealism - which this is a peer - you get to experience empathy while watching this movie while also being entertained.

5. THE MARTIAN: Masters doing master shit. This is cinema. Both are films that people are going to start watching on cable and forget that they had other things to do. Would it help?

6. MAGIC MIKE XXL: Joy. That Channing Tatum sure knows how to dance, doesn't he?

7. STEVE JOBS: This is Aaron Sorkin's best screenplay, which is saying something. This is also Danny Boyle's best movie, which is also saying something.

8. RICKI AND THE FLASH: I have seen this film three times now. At first it was like "oh, this is better than I thought it would be." By the third viewing, when I break down as I sing along to "My Love Will Not Let You Down" I have to acknowledge that this is a kind of perfect movie.

9. DIARY OF A TEENAGE GIRL: When I first heard Liz Phair, I felt like something exploded inside of me, as I was a teenage boy who didn't realize that a woman could feel like that (it was a different era). I can't imagine what a teenaged me would have made of this film, but like TANGERINE, there is truth here.

10. SICARIO: I never thought the guy who made PRISONERS would ever make anything that wasn't pretty nonsense. I was wrong.

11. IT FOLLOWS: It's called dream logic, and I'm fine with that.

12. EX MACHINA:  A brilliant heist movie wearing science fiction clothing.

13. THE GIFT: It's unfortunate I wasn't asleep at the wheel when I was watching the MPAA card for Joel Edgerton's feature film debut, but it's also telling that he manage to grip me and fear for the possible violence ahead even though the film received its R rating solely for language. Being such a master of tone on a first film suggests Edgerton could be the best actor/director going today, so someone should give the man some real money.

14. THE LOBSTER: "We developed a code so that we can communicate with each other even in front of the others without them knowing what we are saying. When we turn our heads to the left it means 'I love you more than anything in the world' and when we turn our heads to the right it means 'watch out, we're in danger'. We had to be very careful in the beginning not to mix up 'I love you more than anything in the world' with 'watch out, we're in danger'. When we raise our left arm it means 'I want to dance in your arms', when we make a fist and put it behind our backs it means 'let's fuck'."

14-16. SPOTLIGHT/ROOM/BROOKLYN: SPOTLIGHT is probably my favorite of these three, but they are all solidly made, well-acted films that will probably come off better when they are out of awards season. SPOTLIGHT is the sort of film that could be called underrated, unless it wins too many awards, and then that could be held against what is a great little movie about procedure.