Skip to content

The Trip: The Caine Scrutiny

November 28, 2011

So I just watched The Trip. I watched the version that was cut into a two-hour movie (and apparently released in theaters in America!):

I know we’ve talked about this before, and I’m sure you’ve seen it. What’d you think? Did you think there’s more going on that just a chance for Brydon and Coogan to riff a bit and see some English countryside for free? I found most of the movie drenched in a kind of melancholy, but maybe I just think everything is fucking drenched in melancholy these days.

Am I missing something, or overseeing something? Enlighten me!


50/50: Topic of Cancer

November 24, 2011

I have very little to say about 50/50. The premise is basically Hipster Gets Cancer, but its executed well enough that you forgive it.

Performances, writing, directing, it’s all there, I have nothing to add.  I’m sitting here in a state of post-movie emotional Hiroshima, though, not because the movie tore me apart, but because I spent most of it thinking about who would take care of me if I got really serious cancer. I need to watch upliftier movies on sick days.

The most interesting thing about 50/50 is that the protagonist is dating someone when he gets diagnosed with this 1-in-2-chance-he-will-die tumor. He’s not married to her, he’s not engaged. He’s just dating.

I can’t even imagine the pressure it would put on a casual relationship to all of a sudden have some til-death-do-us-part shit happen. Think of it from the girl’s perspective: One minute  she’s sleepovering with a nice, cute, uncomplicated guy, and the next she’s a fucking wet nurse.

We all think of ourselves as the kind of people who would rally hard around a friend who had a serious disease. And we probably are! But it’s a murkier test of your character to think of how you would act if it was an acquaintance, or an irritating coworker, or fuck-buddy, who got MS or whatever.

50/50 knows this, and saves some sympathy for the I Didn’t Sign On For This girl who lives inside all of us. That’s the most interesting thing it’s got going for it.

Cowboys & Aliens: How Does a Movie Get Made?

November 21, 2011

I saw Cowboys & Aliens the other day, and I noticed this in the opening credits:

Produced by
Bobby Cohen …. executive producer
Johnny Dodge …. producer
Jon Favreau …. executive producer
Daniel Forcey …. co-producer
Karen Gilchrist …. co-producer (as Karen Gilchrist)
Brian Grazer …. producer
Randy Greenberg …. executive producer
K.C. Hodenfield …. co-producer
Ron Howard …. producer
Ryan Kavanaugh …. executive producer
Alex Kurtzman …. producer
Damon Lindelof …. producer
Roberto Orci …. producer
Scott Mitchell Rosenberg …. producer
Steven Spielberg …. executive producer
Denis L. Stewart …. executive producer
Chris Wade …. co-producer

and this

Writing Credits
Roberto Orci (screenplay) &
Alex Kurtzman (screenplay) &
Damon Lindelof (screenplay) and
Mark Fergus (screenplay) &
Hawk Ostby (screenplay)

Mark Fergus (screen story) &
Hawk Ostby (screen story) and
Steve Oedekerk (screen story)

This is objectively preposterous. I feel like ‘screen story’ is always a credit they give to writers whose first drafts were gutted by the studio. And what the fuck do you need 17 producers for? A fucking iPod doesn’t take that many people to make it.

Anyway, when I was a kid I thought that a movie got made because someone somewhere wrote a really great screenplay, and a studio decided to spend money to make that screenplay into Movie Magic. I have been systematically disabused of this notion over the years, and now I just think it’s basically a bunch of people with calculators making cost-benefit analyses. Movies get made by spreadsheets, just like everything else we consume.

I have no information on this whatsoever, but I feel like each one of those producer credits was a way to give a lot of people credit for something they brought to C&A during its preproduction. Maybe they hired a script doctor, or helped negotiate the distribution deal, or wrangled a tax break from Azerbaijan or wherever it was shot.

When I see that many names in the credits (especially that many writers), I feel like each one of them represents a compromise this movie made on its way to my DVD drive. The movie didn’t convince me of much else.

Unforgiven: No Western For Old Men

November 21, 2011

So I’m trying to implement a policy of reviewing every single movie I see, even if I don’t feel like I have anything all that interesting to say about it. This is the internet, dammit. The self-indulgence is the only thing vaster than the server space.

I’m trying to watch the American Film Institute’s 100 Best Movies, and I watched Unforgiven last night after a long bike ride through the wintery Berlin suburbs. I literally got home, put a pot roast in the oven and curled up on the couch until it was done. Sundays!

Unforgiven is basically America’s Favorite Western. I haven’t been able to find any major critics that didn’t like it (or even any that didn’t love it). Something about all that gunfire and masculinity inspires critics to wax rhapsodic in a way they never do when they’re talking about Annie Hall.

A great portion of my professional life has been devoted to devising ways of quantifiably measuring things that are fundamentally un-quantifiable. I have a (probably irritating) tendency to extend this to my extracurricular life, and one of my statistical rubrics of a movie’s quality is how many times I pause to check Wikipedia or my e-mail during it.

Unforgiven is 2 hours and 7 minutes long, and it took me 3 hours and 30 minutes (or one pot roast) to get through it. In other words, for every minute of movie I watched, there were about 45 seconds of diversionary internettery.

These are the kind of numbers usually thrown up by shit like Iron Man 2 or Funny People: They’re good enough to finish, but I never lose myself in them. By contrast, I sped through Tootsie and All the President’s Men with nary an alt+tab throughout.

I don’t really know why Unforgiven failed to captivate me. It’s well-structured, suspenseful, smart and well-shot. Every scene is marbled with an unbearable likelihood of violence breaking out, and the amorality of the characters yanks you into the screen.

Maybe it’s because I’m watching it nearly 20 years after it was released, but I think the reason I never truly got into it was its fundamental professionalism. Every scene is designed to give off that aura of violence. You’re supposed to be in awe of each character’s primitive (or utter lack of) moral code.

I’ve felt a similar admiration-but-non-captivity with all of Clint Eastwood’s movies. I don’t think the dude is capable of directing a scene without projecting exactly what he wants you to be seeing. Instead of encoding a message in dialogue, character and composition, he’s just reading it out loud.

So overall, I feel like Unforgiven is fine. It’s not dumbed down or boring or poorly conceived or uglily shot. It’s just a galloping showhorse: You admire its looks, but you don’t want to ride it.

The Iron Lady: Are We In?

November 17, 2011

How do we feel about this?

I feel like it’s weird watching biopics about another country’s leaders. This movie makes Thatcher seem sort of heroic and iconoclastic. From what (little) I know about her policies, though, maybe I should be rooting for the antagonists in this film.

Anyway, are you gonna see it? I wonder who’s gonna play Reagan!

UPDATE: I just read this! I feel like I know slightly more now.

Sharon Stone: What Happened?

November 14, 2011

Are we allowed to talk about careers on here?

I was watching an episode of The Larry Sanders Show the other day from 1994. The plot of the episode was that Larry starts dating Sharon Stone, and can’t handle how she’s so much more famous than him.

It’s kind of funny watching it now how obsequious and starstruck everyone was. I was only 12 in 1994. Was Sharon Stone really this big of a deal? Basic Instinct was apparently the highest-grossing movie of 1992, which I guess says a lot about … something. Clinton years, holler.

Anyway, I wonder if we can think of anyone whose career has as precipitous a decline as Stone’s.

Right after Basic Instinct she does Sliver, The Specialist, Intersection and The Quick and the Dead. All of these now are considered not just mediocre or treading-water movies, but genuine flops. She has a mini-comeback with Casino in 1995, but from there it’s all downhill: Diabolique! Last Dance! Sphere! The Mighty!

By 2000 she’s doing TV movies; in 2005 she’s on Will & Grace. In 2006 she’s desperate: Basic Instinct 2. It flops. By 2010 she’s on Law & Order.

I’m not saying this out of schadenfreude. I actually really feel sorry for her. Her early-career flops were all basically great directors working at the bottom of their game. She could just have terrible luck. Or a terrible agent.

But her string of disasters is genuinely remarkable. I can’t think of any other still-famous actress who’s been in as many stinkers as Sharon Stone, yet is still regarded as famous.

I feel like most of it comes down to the fact that she still looks like a movie star. She’s gorgeous! If she had gained 30 pounds after Basic Instinct, we probably never would have heard from her again. But she’s still beautiful, so she’s still here.

Share A Like

November 14, 2011

So as you probably know from my Facebook wall, the last few weeks I’ve been totally obsessed with this album:

Like most music I like, I’m not going to make the argument that Rye Rye’s mixtape is objectively good. It just happens to hit a lot of my personal preferences: It’s loud, fast, cacophonous and utterly unserious. I like music that sets a tone, regardless of what it is, and Rye Rye makes whatever I’m doing feel shabby and frantic.

You know I have really weird taste in music, and that I don’t really defend my favorite bands on objective grounds. Fuck Buttons and Dan Deacon, for example, which I listen to by myself more than almost anything else, are banished from my ‘houseparty’ and ‘friends for dinner’ playlists. And stuff that’s palatable for when I have people over–Crystal Castles, Rihanna, Bon Iver–are usually bands I like but don’t love.

For some reason I think of music as an almost exclusively subjective taste. I’m not going to bother defending, say, Low Limit because I basically agree with the objective criticism that it’s overlong, stressful and contains an aura of ASBO-teen violence. I sort of like my music to be all those things, so I’m not going to argue that they aren’t true.

For some reason I feel almost exactly the opposite about movies. There’s still a subjective component, but it’s vastly overshadowed by objective characteristics like story structure, ‘invisible’ acting and coherent direction. I don’t know why this is, but I feel like lots of movies are seriously hella shitty, and I’m willing to defend my opinion in a way I wouldn’t be if they were songs.

And then there’s books. I feel like literature is on the extreme ‘objective’ end of the scale, especially in the public consciousness. There are novels that you are supposed to read, no matter what your personal or aesthetic preferences. Books get described as ‘classics’—an objective, not subjective, term—much more often than music or movies. You’re sort of contractually obligated as an educated citizen of a liberal democracy to appreciate, if not love, books like Moby Dick and Catcher in the Rye. Defending your argument about those works by saying something like ‘I prefer stories where the good guys win’ or ‘I’d rather have a story in the third person’ would mark you as a philistine.

I don’t know if I’m arguing for more subjective criteria in books, or more objective criteria in music. Or anything at all, actually. I’m just increasingly aware that my mind cleaves the world into two categories: Things I like, and things that are good. And the more confident I am in the former, the less I worry about the latter.