Love and scandal are the best sweeteners of tea. —Henry Fielding

29 November 2014

Short Review of Nightcrawler

This was so troubling. A kind of non-comedic Network for 2014 in that it is a satire of television and what it has become. This film isn't laughing, though. Nightcrawler is all too real, and the film operates without irony for almost all of its running time. Eventually it can't help itself and its gaze turns ironic, but for most the film, the story is told straight. This is deeply sick stuff, and the man at the center of the film (played brilliantly by Jake Gyllenhaal) is almost totally soulless, completely from the television generation. Nightcrawler also boast an extraordinary supporting performance by an actor named Riz Ahmed. He is great in this movie. Just great.

Short Conversations about A Storm of Swords (Book 3)


Me: New favorite character from Book 3. The Queen of Thorns. What a delightful old bitch!
Tom: Lady Olenna is amazeballs.
Jeanne: Yes! She is awesome. Very wily!
Me: One more reason to love the Sansa chapters. I love me some Sansa.
Jeanne: Ugh.
Me: Haha. Stark-hater.
Jeanne: I do hate that one.

Me: The book in which Catelyn gets herself killed is destined to be my favorite book. My hopes for this book are: more Jaime, more Melisandre. Less Bran, less Catelyn. More Queen of Thorns! More Loras.
Kevin: Haha. Oh Loras. I don’t recall getting a lot of him.
Me: Sad. I miss the gays already.
Kevin: Yeah, they don’t get much after Renly is gone.
Me: They didn’t get much when he was around, frankly.

Me: Tom, they cut my dear Jaime's hand off. I might hate the Goat more than I even hate Catelyn.
Tom: Oh got to the hand. Yeah that's a harsh blow.
Me: His fucking sword hand.
Tom: He will learn to use the other one, but still. It's going to be a great story as he gets there.
Me: Good. I love him. Like, LOVE.
Tom: Jaime losing his hand is actually one of my favorite story bits, because I like where it propels him. Has he been spending time with another maybe significant character before losing his hand?
Me: Brienne, you mean?
Tom: Yes.
Me: You love her.
Tom: I love the Jaime-Brienne buddy cop show. Love love love.
Me: I don't get it. She isn't smart enough for me. I need her to start thinking and stop being a Stark-man.
Tom: Be patient with her
Me: Oh, I am. She doesn't annoy me or anything. I just don't understand why she's so thick. You know I don't do well with the thick, single-minded ones.
Tom: That's fair
Me: Catelyn, Robb, Ned. Zzzzzz. Give me a thinker. Varys. Tyrion.
Tom: I love them too, just in different ways
Me: Haha. Unlike me. I turn on the characters and then I just want them dead. I am out for blood. I'm like Arya whispering into my pillow.

Tom: Two of my friends came so close to naming their daughter Arya. I wanted it so badly.
Me: That is a great name.
Tom: Yeah, it's just gotten über-popular since the show.
Me: I bet it has! Éowyn or Galadriel don't really have the same ring.
Tom: No, they seem really weird
Me: Arwen. That could work. But really all of GRRM's names are just normal names with Ys in them.
Tom: Hahahahaha
Me: I am obviously correct.
Tom: Most of the women, sure. I don't know a lot of Eddards, Theons, or Tyrions wandering around.
Me: Eddard is just Edward. He even calls him Ned for short. As for Theon it is a famous name from history. Old-school Greek name. And Tirion is a JRRT name.
Tom: Oh is it?
Me: Tirion upon Túna. Yeah. It's in World of Warcraft too. HAHA (not that I know anything about nerd things like that.)
Tom: You just dropped Tolkien and World of Warcraft in two sentences. You're a nerd!
Me: Nope. Absolutely not. I am cool. How dare you.
Tom: I didn't say that was a bad thing.

Me: Poor, dear Sansa. But Tyrion is being so sweet. So so sweet.
Jenny: God I love Tyrion and Sansa.
Me: I'm glad that they're married. But what I don't get about them is that we don't need two perspectives at King's Landing. This has been a problem from the beginning. Is he going to send her away?
Jenny: Well, I see what you mean about King's Landing. No spoilers from me!
Me: This is how I predicted that Arya/Ned/Sansa would get separated. Also: favorite character I didn't tell you about: Melisandre.
Jenny: Hmmm. Her.

Me: I love Lady Smallwood. This book has cool women in it.
Catie: Lady Smallwood. Yes!
Me: And now there is lesbian sex action. I’m delighted.
Catie: GRRM. Giving us what we want sometimes.
Me: Only occasionally. Daenerys is still boring. And then the next chapter: Bran.
Catie: I think it will be revealed that he is on acid. And he can walk. He’s just been tripping.
Me: Dear lord I hope so. They are called “green dreams”. Isn’t that what they call absinthe hallucinations?
Catie: YES. We win.

Me: Ooo. tell me things. What is the difference between "the whites" and "the others". I mean, I know the difference when I'm reading Eric Lott. But not GRRM.
Tom: I think they are different terms for the same thing, if memory serves.
Me: No no. Definitely not.
Tom: Ok then I'm not remembering. Is "The Others" the term for Mance's crew?
Me: Sam kills an "other" with the obsidian.
Tom: Ok right.
Me: But he wonders if it will work on the Whites. He isn't sure.
Tom: Yeah no they're the same thing according to the wiki of ice and fire. Wildings call them White Walkers. Crows call them Others.
Me: I think maybe "the others" is a way of talking about reanimated bears and shit. I think the Wiki might be wrong here. But I am confused, which is why I ask. So I know I'm not right.
Tom: The Wiki of Ice and Fire is not often incorrect. ASOIAF nerds are pretty hardcore about this sort of minutiae.

[If the wiki says they are the same, and I avoid the wiki because I am scared of spoilers, the wiki is wrong. The Whites are reanimated corpses created through some type of necromancy. The Others are the ones who created the Whites. They are not animated through necromancy or at least not the same type. We find out something akin to this at the end of ASOS.]

Me: Why isn't Catelyn Tully dead yet? I cannot bear her any longer.
Caleb: Where are you at? I don't want to say too much.
Me: A Storm of Swords. Catelyn III.
Caleb: You still have a while with her yet. And she goes on.
Me: I am sad about it. I can't wait for someone to kill her. When she was imprisoned with her dad I was so happy. I thought we'd be able to ignore her for a while. Meanwhile we still haven't had a Theon chapter. And I'm at least 25% of the way through. It's funny. I liked Eddard at the beginning of AGOT but hated him by the middle of it. And I liked Catelyn for a while too, until the first of second chapter of ACOK. But mid-way through that book I prayed for her death as often as she prays to the Mother.
Caleb: Even after you think she is finished she goes on. But not from her POV I think.
Me: As long as I don't have to listen to her moaning that's ok. Her point of view is absolutely insufferable.
Caleb: She kind of loses the ability to speak so, yeah.
Me: Caleb! Spoilers! That makes me sad. I want her dead.
Caleb: I said kind of. Kind of!

Me: If you gave Catelyn a piece of pie she’d figure out some way to complain about it.
Catie: Waste. Of. Space.
Me: Goddammit, Catie. I can always count on you to talk shit about Catelyn. It warms my cold, cold heart.
Jenny: You both have hearts of stone.
Catie: What a compliment!

Me: Fuck me I hate Catelyn. Like, I actually scream at her in the car. She is so so so fucking stupid. Like, she is actually thick. She doesn't put things together. What a fucking moron. I have started to take pleasure in anything that causes her grief. Like, actual pleasure. When the Freys are cleverer than her I laugh. When she found out that Tywin married Sansa to Tyrion I laughed at her. Because she doesn't actually see any options. She is just so fucking dumb.
Tom: Sigh. Your Stark hatred hurts me.
Me: But I don't hate the Starks! Why do you say that?
Tom: You hated Ned too
Me: I love Sansa and Arya and Jon Snow now that he is giving Ygritte head.
Tom: Oh Ygritte
Me: "You know nothing Jon Snow"
Tom: I often want to write that on student assignments

Me: I like this Sandor Clegane. He's a rebel. Scared of fire, but still.
Caleb: Well, yeah, his fucking face got burned off as a child. I think they say that when he's introduced.
Me: This third book is obsessed with Arya. I like it. Yeah. He tells little Sansa that at the Hand's Tourney.
Caleb: It doesn't matter what name you say. I will respond Don't get too attached.
Me: Haha. Yeah. I know.  
Caleb: Or at least don't get attached to them having all of their limbs, sight, or sexual organs, etc. It's all fair game in this book.
Me: GRRM loves to cut off hands most of all I think. Catelyn. Jon. Jaime. All have wounded hands. The hand might be the great metaphor of the series.
Caleb: Yeah, not only one hand cut off.
Me: Huh?
Caleb: I mean, Jon didn't lose his hand did he? Nor Catelyn. Just wounded.
Me: Yeah.
Caleb: I'm talking about stuff getting chopped off.
Me: But their writing focuses on their wounded hands a lot. Hasn't someone also lost an arm? I forget.
Me: Oh Davos!
Caleb: Oh yeah, he did lose some fingers. Ugh, "the king's hand being chopped off"? Come on. Not everything has deeper meaning.
Me: I didn't say that. I said the hand was a chief metaphor in the books.

Caleb: Isn't it Davoth? I think there's a th.
Me: No, no: Davos. I've only listened, too, but I surreptitiously look at the wiki.
Caleb: I haven't seen the name printed.
Me: omg then you have no idea. They are all spelled ridiculously.
Caleb: Davoth is a character in a Star Wars game that I played in college. And a character in a Discworld book. So easy to confuse.
Me: And he also mispronounces some names absurdly. It is Brienne of Tarth. And Ser Ilyn Peyn. Clearly not pronounced Bry-een. Or Il-ee-un.
Caleb: He changes in later books. At one point he says Bri-anne.
Me: And it's Ygritte not E-grette.
Caleb: He doesn't change that one. But Brienne changes a lot, so I had a hard time knowing who he was talking about for a minute. And some of the other characters change pronunciation too.
Me: You just told me Brienne lives for later books. Don't tell me any more, please.
Caleb: Well, statistically mose people live anyway, right? It's more of an exception with that many characters.
Me: Yeah. Makes sense. I don't even like Brienne.

Me: What is that Petyr Baelish doing? I love that the Queen of Thorns murdered that little asshole Joffrey. But Tyrion is now guilty of the murder and Jaime didn't do anything to stop it (yet).
Catie: Petyr Baelish is nuts. What book are you on?
Me: I'm still on book 3. Baelish kidnapped Sansa. Tyrion has been condemned.
Catie: Yes! that's right. Perfect
Me: And Arya and the hound are sweet besties.
Catie: That's right!
Me: Jon is, like, fighting wildlings at the wall. Zzzzz.
Catie: Jon is the zziest for a while.
Me: And we haven't heard from Bran in 10 years. Fine with that. But Lyssa Arryn. Crazy woman. Love her already.
Catie: He needs to write the next one - there's so many open things happening. Whats going on Daenerys?
Me: That boring old cow.
Catie: hahahahahahahahahaahahahahahahahahahahahaha boring.
Me: I'm on her last chapter in ASOS. She is freeing slaves.
Catie: Boring. Who even cares?
Me: And now she has just found out that like oooo once she left the cities they went back to being slave cities. Because she understands nothing about reality. She is the most entitled woman ever.
Catie: She really has so much honor, though. Like, this is the honorable thing to do.
Me: She is not honorable at all. Not at all.
Catie: Hahahahahaaha
Me: She is a liar! A complete liar.
Catie: She's a whiner, also.
Me: This is my new thing. The people I hate in the books are the ones who whine.
Catie: I mean, just burn the shit out of everyone with your dragons, call it a day, land in Westeros already. Literally the same thing happens to her for 959030303 pages
Me: Haha.
Catie: Tyrion and Varys. All day.
Me: All. Day. I love Jaime too. Standing up to Tywin? Badass.
Catie: Right? You think Jaime and Brienne are a thing?
Me: Um I hope not.
Catie: False. I am into it. Being attracted to women of all shapes and sizes, etc. Blah blah
Me: I'm into it if he starts fucking Loras. No no I see totally. I am with you.
Catie: Loras. hahahahahahaahahahaha omg you are my favorite

Me: I am nearing the end of book 3 of ASOIAF.
Caleb: Are you going to keep going or take a break? I had to take a break after 4. Not because anything happened. I mean, I am sure it did; it all runs together after a while.
Me: I bought the book 4 audiobook. Don't think I'll take a break right away but maybe after AFFC. I am into it. And if more magic starts happening I'll be even more into it. This is why I like Melisandre so much. I see the potential for some awesome magicks.
Caleb: What do you want me to say to that? You can't speculate about things and leave me anything to reply.
Me: Hahaha. I am looking for your feelings not the future. You can love and hate characters with me.
Caleb: Yeah, but I know if there's more or less magic to come. So if I said, Yeah, I wish that too, you'd know there wasn't. And if I said Yeah it happens then you'd know. I don't like Melisandre though. I'm a fan of Davos.
Me: No? It's Roy Dotrice's voice for Melisandre. I am obsessed with that sound.
Caleb: Like in an ASMR way?
Me: No. Hahaha.
Caleb: Well then I don't want to speculate there. I'm not sure I like many of his female voices. I like his Tyrion and his Jaqen was pretty good. Also his weird old Night's Watch voices.
Me: He drives me crazy mostly. But I love the Melisandre. And Tyrion and Jaime, which are basically the same.
Caleb: I like the family resemblance there. But when Jaime and his twin are talking to each other, it's like the same person and not in a good way. Just sounds like him talking to himself.
Me: Haha. I still hate her even if I like him.
Caleb: You hate her? I guess I went through that too.
Me: I mostly hate her stupidity and lack of efficacy. Once Joffrey dies I'm sure she'll get smarter. She is a fucking idiot about him.
Caleb: Yeah. Not gonna comment there.
Me: I didn't think you would. Just saying that I'm sure I'll like her better when she is less blind/stupid/single-minded about that idiot brat of a son of hers. But at the moment she is so annoying. Actually, I like her when she is with Sansa. In Sansa chapters I like Cersei. In other people's chapters I hate her.
Caleb: Ugh. I loath Sansa. I really wanted to like her but I just can't.
Me: I love her. In fact, we haven't had a Sansa chapter in this book for like 20 chapters and I actively miss her. 
Caleb: Wow. I can't say I feel that way. I feel that she doesn't change naturally to the things that happen to her. Other characters grow and change as new experiences happen, but she just keeps on being the same and thinking the same way regardless of what happens.
Me: Well, she learned to lie long before her father did. She was the only Stark willing to be diplomatic in the second book and so I liked her.
Caleb: Ugh. I guess. But still, not a huge move for her.
Me: My unbridled hated for her father and mother has made me make some weird identificatory leaps. I like Varys and Melisandre and anyone who hates Catelyn Stark.
Caleb: Do you like Varys voice?
Me: No. He should sound exactly like me.
Caleb: Except he's a really fat eunuch so...
Me: Right. We're not exactly the same. I disidentify. Or maybe I identify with both of those things, too. I'm troubled. Hahaha.
Caleb: I don't even want to speculate there.

Catie: Next up: who is Tyrion going to end up with?!
Me: His wife. Obviously.
Catie: Sansa?! Yes. YES! You're right. I forgot about the tension there. Sometimes I hate Sansa though. She's like a wine - getting better with time.
Me: Not me. I love her. She is stupid. But she knows how to lie at least. Way better than her mother father and brothers.
Catie: Obvs. except for Richard Madden who is killing me in the new Cinderella trailer
Aaron: I don't think I know who that is.
Catie: Robb Stark. Duh. C'mon Aaron! Geez. How are you not in touch with Disney trailers?

Me: I have never seen the HBO show. Hahaha.
Catie: he is literally Prince Charming.
Me: Hahaha. Sounds dreamy. How old is Robb on the show? In the books he is a child bride.
Catie: Hahahahaaha I was going to deny it, then I thought about it. You are absolutely correct.
Me: A sad dead child slash mamas boy.
Catie: Slash dreamy
Me: Not in the books he ain't.
Catie: False yet again. I'm attracted to Robb and Varys reading the books, I'm not sure what that says about me except that with my taste, thank God I nailed down my husband.
Me: Hahaha. Ok. You have a thing for high school age boys apparently. And men who've been castrated? This is troubling. If only we'd met in 1998. You would've swooned. We might've married. We'd be divorced by now. It would have been amazing.

Me: I am sad about the young wolf. Although when he married Jeyne Westerling, I thought what a fool. He makes stupid mistakes like his idiot father.
Caleb: I feel sad about him too. I really did like him. He was so likable. And I was sad about the Greatjon too.
Me: I liked old Jon Umber.
Caleb: Yeah. Large, honest, simple but likable people.
Me: And Robb was only a kid, really. Just 17. And he had to fight the stupidity of his mother and Edmure Tully.
Caleb: Those characters, Robb and his supporters, are classical heroes.
Me: Yeah.
Caleb: Good natured, honorable, etc. But this is not their book.
Me: Achilles, Ajax. That level.
Caleb: These books punish the classical hero. Like Ned. I still think Ned dying that early in the series was the largest shock ever.
Me: Ned? No. Ned got punished because he was a moron.
Caleb: Yes, but an honorable one. He does the right thing. The hard thing.
Me: You and I part ways here.
Caleb: And in classical stories, that's how you win. But not in this book.
Me: Ned is an idiot. He does the stupid thing. One stupid thing after another. I'm glad he died.
Caleb: He is trusting, sure. But not dumb. It's not that he doesn't know what's going on. He plays his part. Classical virtue is playing your part even if that kills you.
Me: He doesn't keep his promises and he doesn't help anyone out. He is in the way with his honor. You win or you die.
Caleb: I wouldn't say that's his core though. There are some complications, sure. I have this theory, though, that Ned and Varys are up to something. Remember they had that meeting right before Ned's execution?
Me: Yeah.
Caleb: And we only see the execution from far away from in the crowd. I think GRRM might being him back or something crazy. It would be the final mindfuck of a long series. And when they go to see his head on the walls, it's so convered in tar that Sansa doesn't think it's him.
Me: If that's true, that's a smarter, more calculating Ned then we have ever seen.
Caleb: No, it would be Varys' plan.
Me: It would have to be.
Caleb: Ned wasn't dumb. Just not crafty. In contrast to everyone else in the series.

Dayne: How far into book three are you?
Me: Last few pages. Almost done. So I'm almost caught up to where you are. Maybe even a little ahead in some story lines.
Dayne: Perhaps. Have you made it to any of the weddings?
Me: Catelyn is dead. Robb. Tywin. Shae.
Dayne: Ok. The last season ended with Shae and Tywin's deaths. Sad.
Me: Edric Storm escaped Melisandre through Davos's cleverness. And Jon Snow is now Lord Commander of the Watch.
Dayne: Yeah, you might be ahead in parts. What's Daenerys up to?
Me: She's decided to stay in some town and rule. She conquered three different cities and now she's gonna hang out. She banished Mormont.
Dayne: What's Bran up to?
Me: Bran just went into the mouth of a werewood. Under the wall. Sam helped.
Dayne: The Theon shit is crazy, right??!
Me: No Theon shit yet.
Dayne: None at all?!?!?!
Me: I think that'll be the final chapter of the book. I have one left.
Dayne: Hmmm.
Me: Theon is a POV character, but he hasn't appeared at all in the book.
Dayne: He is in the show a lot. How weird.
Me: GRRM is pretending he is dead. But I am too clever for him.
Dayne: Haha. Well I guess I spoiled that some. The book vs. TV pacing isn't making any sense to me.
Me: It makes sense. You know how the book works. We stick with one character for a long time. That wouldn't work for TV.

26 November 2014

The Briefest of Reviews from 1972

I have been trying to watch Jan Troell's Utvandrarna or The Emigrants for years. This Swedish film is not on DVD, but if you're lucky you can find it in a dubbed, pan-and-scan version on VHS. That's the best anyone can do, and even this is hard to come by. I finally got to watch most of it yesterday and the end of it today. It's a long, difficult film that focuses on the troubles of living in nineteenth-century Sweden (chief among these problems: the class struggle). Troell's film is about leaving Europe, the difficulties of deciding to leave, and the long, brutal journey to the New World. What's extraordinary about Utvandrarna is the time Troell spends watching the emigrants travel. As far as I can tell, no one has made a film quite like this – most skip the travel section of such narratives and go directly toward settling in and building a home in the U.S. Not Troell: this film lives with the emigrants as they cross the Atlantic, watches them try to learn English on the boat, deal with sickness, nearly starve to death, and bury those who couldn't make it. By the end of the journey, I was completely sold on the film: it's a long, hard ride, but it is very rewarding.

13 November 2014

A Few Queer Moments in Lover Come Back

Delbert Mann's hilarious Lover Come Back (1961) is a classic Doris Day/Rock Hudson picture that is just as silly as their 1959 film Pillow Talk, and this film is much the same as the earlier one, playing on mistaken identity and on Doris Day's rep as an uptight, virginal woman who hasn't figured out the pleasures of sex and Rock Hudson's rep as a lazy but clever ladies' man.

The film, of course, is a heterosexual romantic comedy, and it is aimed mostly toward when the two main characters will finally have sex – actually, no, the pleasure of the film is watching Hudson try to have sex with Day and watching Day somehow weasel out of it.

The title of the film is strange. It is a reference to the last 8 or 10 minutes of Lover Come Back and has basically nothing to do with the plot of the film which is about two advertising executives attempting to one-up one another about a product that doesn't even exist called vip.

In any case, though the film is about heterosexual coupling – and it ends in a marriage and a baby both – there are a couple of odd/funny/queer moments that are worth recording.

The film begins with these two visitors to New York City catching a woman driving Rock Hudson to work still in his tuxedo from the night before. She asks him to kiss her in her convertible before he goes into the office, saying, I'm not your wife. The two men exchange a glance and a few witty barbs. This is the town for them. Throughout the film, they continue to catch Hudson with different women paying for different things or saying very suggestive things. To the two men, Hudson is some kind of magician.

At the very beginning of the film Carol (Day) is trying to get a new account. She is talking to one of her assistants and they have the following exchange:

Carol: That's a very good idea, Leonard. Develop it further.
Leonard: And here...
Carol: Mmm. This isn't bad either. But what color is that floor...?
Leonard: Lilac.
Carol: Lilac?! Leonard, who has a lilac floor in their kitchen?
Leonard: I have.
Carol: Oh! Well... Leonard, everyone isn't as artistic as you are.

And then she gives him this look:

Apparently, though it is obvious to the viewer that Leonard is a gay man, it hadn't been obvious to Carol. Her look is pointed; she is unsurprised, but she thinks he is a bit much.

If Leonard is obviously gay, our introduction to the Tony Randall character Pete pegs him as effeminate and ineffectual if apparently heterosexual. Still, his first entrance is into Rock Hudson's bedroom. They are talking about work, but Hudson is dressed like this:

Then the two men have breakfast together.

Jerry (Hudson): Your trouble is you're still living in the shadow of your father. You're even afraid to get rid of his old car.

Pete: You have no idea how much he dominated me, ever since I was a little boy.

This isn't queer per se, I just couldn't get over this whole spending the morning with your boss thing that was happening. They have breakfast, they analyze Pete's daddy issues, Pete helps Jerry get dressed. (He hands him his tie, etc.) They're clearly not a couple, of course, but they act like one, and it's delightful.

And then they go on vacation together:

I don't need to say anything about Tony Randall's outfit here, I imagine. 

They are on vacation as a plot device. Jerry grows a beard and then Carol mistakes him for a Nobel-prize-winning chemist, and hilarity ensues. Still, these two men (and the butler) are on vacation together and have been on vacation long enough to grow beards. Proper beards like these would take me about a week, and I'm a pretty hairy guy. Also, Tony Randall's outfit. It's a lot.

Back in New York, Carol and her secretary Millie plot how they're going to get an account away from Jerry, and Ann B. Davis as Millie surprises us with more queerness:

Millie: Are you sure you wanna tangle with him again? He fights rough.
Carol: Then we'll fight rough. This is war, Millie.
Millie: That means liquor, wild parties, getting the sponsor girls, right?
Carol: Right.
Millie: Good. I'd like to volunteer for front-line duty.

Delivered in Davis's usual deadpan way, the line comes off as both a joke and an obvious statement of fact. And Davis is definitely not volunteering to be one of the girls at the party. She's volunteering to get a few.

More missed connections and mistaken identities occur. And once Carol figures out who Jerry is she convinces him to skinny dip in the ocean and then drives away leaving him stranded and naked outside of the city. (We are not shown any of this nakedness, for the record.) Jerry gets a ride home from a furrier, and sneaks into his apartment in a full-length fur. When he sees that no one is watching him, he stands upright in the elevator and pulls the coat tighter around him.

But he is being watched. The two men who have been a running joke in the movie, watching Jerry as he womanizes his way through New York City, are having one last drink in the lobby of this apartment building, and they see Jerry walk into the apartment and get into the elevator. Their look of puzzlement is classic:
And one says to the other: He's the last guy in the world I woulda figured.

History, it seems, was as surprised as these men.

12 November 2014

The Maze Runner

I was into The Maze Runner for most of its running time.

The moment it tries to explain why the maze exists, why whomever is in charge is actually murdering many, many children, this film totally goes off the rails and loses any semblance of credibility.

But none of that really mattered to me while watching. The movie is about a this cute young man (Dylan O'Brien) who runs really fast and doesn't listen to any of the garbage that his society feeds him. He does things his own way.

The trick of The Maze Runner is to create a series of metaphors for consciousness. The boys (a whole bunch of racially diverse but not linguistically diverse young men most of whom look to be about 21) all live in the middle of this maze and according to the rules of the boys' society, they don't really ask questions about this. They just "do their duty" or something (I wasn't really listening.)

Outside of where they live ("the grove", they call it) is a giant maze, with enormous cyborg spider-creatures. And there's also another way the maze can kill them – there's some kind of weird poison that the spider cyborgs sting them with, but there are other ways of administering this poison that I didn't fully understand, as well.

Into this maze throw a young, eager, white boy who wants to know what is beyond. He "doesn't want to live like this". He knows "there's more out there for us". He doesn't follow the rules. And he's also not afraid. In short, he is totally badass and he's gonna get them out of this maze.

How is his hair always coiffed?
Where does he get the product?
The grove inside of the maze is a metaphor, right? For our own culture and the way that we accept the norms and mores of our society. We should all be like the little maze runner, and do what we feel is right, bucking tradition and rejecting what we understand as our own level of consciousness in favor of feelings that we have about how society really ought to work.

The maze, of course, is rusty metal and stone and filled with cyborg spiders. There are all sorts of terrifying ways it could kill a young twentysomething. But once they all get out of the maze, we are told that it was all a test, a trick. Whoever is in charge – big government? scientists? – was just testing the young men.

This means there is A) more to come (sequel!) and B) all of this is a metaphor for yet another level of consciousness. The explanations this movie offers at the end are basically more dei ex machina. We aren't going to make sense of this movie for you viewers out there, but we will be sure to tell you that we haven't told you all of the things that we the filmmakers know. Come back for the sequel and we promise to tell you more things! As for this being a metaphor for yet another level of cultural conditioning, the maze runner breaks through one thing that he understands, rejecting the culture of the boys at the center of the maze, but then there is the culture outside the maze – the science and testing and whatever will happen in the sequel. So far even the maze runner seems to believe that this is "real". But he is a badass and a rebel, so I'm sure he'll figure out, like Michel Foucault, that there is no outside of biopower or, like Guy Debord, that this is all the spectacle.

I am being really sarcastic, I know, but this is a really bad movie.

Yet... it is not without its pleasures. The movie is good and scary at points, and all of the attractive young people are doing their best with the bad dialogue on their lips and the green screens behind them. It moves quickly, and it isn't too sentimental. It is also almost pure action – no pining away for younger sisters whom one has left behind, no falling in love, no sad parents. It's asinine, but I kinda liked it.

11 November 2014


I usually avoid writing about Christopher Nolan's movies on Tea to Pour. This is because I only ever like them, and everyone else loves them. In fact, I loved Batman Begins and I was super into The Prestige, so let me admit that from the start. I should also note that I heavily criticized Nolan's last movie, the Zack Snyder Superman reboot Man of Steel. In any case, I still get excited about Nolan's movies. They're action-packed and often challenging in a brain-bending kind of way, and they always look really pretty.

My friend Justin once called Inception soulless, and I agreed with him then, but I still see these films and expect them to look really cool. In fact, three of my friends and I drove 75 minutes so that we could see Interstellar in an IMAX theatre (and then drink cheap Chardonnay in a sushi-joint in a strip-mall but that's another story) in Concord, NH.

And Interstellar looks cool. There are lots of great things about its visuals. There are many very beautiful images of outer space, and there are other planets, worlds not yet explored that have all sorts of characteristics (we get to see at least two of these planets), and there are these sleek robots that mobilize and maneuver in ways I wasn't really expecting.

The action sequences are mostly pretty great, as well. My favorite of these is a moment late in act two when they have to make their spacecraft spin in order to attach themselves to a larger spacecraft. The tension I felt in the theatre as they started to spin was incredible. Very, very cool. I was also really into Hans Zimmer's action-movie score. He's using a lot of pipe organ, which is totally weird and works beautifully and ratchets up the action admirably. I was into it.

But Interstellar doesn't want to be an action movie (like, say, Gravity). It wants, instead, to be a kind of serious, thinking-person's movie. Interstellar is filled with philosophical mumbo jumbo about trying to keep the species alive and how the last faces we see before we die are our children's faces because we are trying to project ourselves into the future. (And if a person doesn't have children?) There are seemingly about a dozen of these kinds of speeches about humanity, about the future, about homo sapiens as a species. When McConaughey and company wake up an astronaut who's been sleeping for a long, long time he weeps. He never thought he'd see another human face again. Interstellar is invested in identity, in being able to see one's own self in the mirror of another person from the same species. That is, it isn't invested in specific people, really, just in people as a kind of large collective of human identity. The most egregious of these ponderous speeches is a tearful monologue performed by Oscar-winner Anne Hathaway about how love is the only thing that science can't really explain, and that maybe love is a kind of pure knowledge that we can trust to have material consequences that benefit us. At least I think that's what she said. I am quite sure I tuned out midway through the speech. I definitely know I leaned over to my friend and said You've gotta be kidding me.

And this is all nonsense, anyway. Interstellar is as invested in real people as any action movie is. That is, there are good guys and bad guys and then there are expendable guys (people of color, obviously). All of the film's ponderous philosophizing is really just window dressing for its plot, which is strikingly similar to other Christopher Nolan films.

Interstellar is a time-travel picture, and it is a confusing one at that. Like Inception and Memento and The Dark Knight Rises, Interstellar functions like a puzzle, one that I was hard pressed to solve the more I thought about it. One finds oneself thinking: wait, but how did he get into this vortex? How does he materially transform the movement of a wristwatch from outer space? Who opened this wormhole, then, if... huh? It's a head-scratcher. And this is what Nolan really loves to do. When my friend Justin referred to Inception as soulless, I take him to have meant that Nolan is more interested in puzzling through things, in creating narrative machines that finally work (or at least fool an audience into looking like they work). Nolan's movies are technological marvels – the 3D wormhole and the Gargantua-thing in Interstellar are absolutely gorgeous. In this way, it seems to me that Nolan's movies not only utilize technology in extraordinary ways, they are about technology.

The films themselves function like machines, tying things together in cool ways, solving narrative problems with Rube Goldberg-esque skill. The films bend and twist, and he takes us down crazy paths that don't seem possible, but he asks us to go with him and we do, and we come out the other side. But the machine is the thing here. These are films about the machinery of storytelling, about the technology of movie-making, sure (just imagine that famous shot with all of the water in Inception), but about the technology of storytelling. And in this way, although he consistently hires excellent actors who beautifully attempt to give life to his creations, Nolan's movies never seem to me to be about actual humans. His characters are as machinic, as robotic and soulless, as the plots they inhabit.