The Rise Of Skywalker

I must admit, the title intrigues me.

I don’t want to speculate too much, but the title suggests an ending on a high note.

A Rise is something coming into being, gaining in power and prominence. This is distinct from a Return, something gone coming back, or a Revenge, the destruction of a foe. A Rise can include these things, but does not have to.

Skywalker has been, heretofore, a name. A surname. Three characters in Star Wars have had that surname: Shmi, Anakin, and Luke. Leia had the right to it, but never used it, retaining the Organa she grew up with. Kylo Ren was born with the surname Solo.

But this title doesn’t feel like a surname. It feels like something else. It feels like a mantle. An order, perhaps.

Who knows. Maybe it means nothing at all. The Force Awakens” has no particular meaning to the plot of that film. However “The Last Jedi” did.

We shall see.

I Dislike Pynchon So I’m Reading More Pynchon

So I finally finished The Crying of Lot 49, and while I’d like to say the ending defied my expectations, it didn’t. My Goodreads review is as follows:

** spoiler alert ** A series of non-statements and mild suggestions and endless asides which we are supposed to forgive the author because he assigns his characters ridiculous names and makes his protagonist wander about having LSD-style revelations in longish semi-Faulknerian sentences. There’s a conspiracy to do something, and if you want to find out if any of its real, you’re going to have to decide for yourself, as the book merrily refuses to tell you. I guess you could call that a spoiler, but honestly there isn’t anything to spoil, and that’s the point. I want to punch the author for wasting my time.

But. This was an early work, and Pynchon has had a multi-decade career as a novelist. And really, what picqued my interest, as I said, was a viewing of the film for Inherent Vice. So I went to the library this weekend and picked it up.

So far, a chaper and change in, it doesn’t suck. The ridiculousness of the names are toned-down to something approaching verisimilitude, and the loose plot-logic is so far within the bounds of noir. I expect I’ll enjoy this one far more.

And that’s a good thing. It’s fun do damn a book, and even to condescend to an author from a great height, yet it’s also a shame.

Bonus: the Red Letter Media guys review the Inherent Vice movie:

Quick Review: Velvet Buzzsaw

jake-gyllenhaal-in-velvet-buzzsaw

People always make the mistake of thinking art is created for them. But really, art is a private language for sophisticates to congratulate themselves on their superiority to the rest of the world. As my artist’s statement explains, my work is utterly incomprehensible and is therefore full of deep significance.

-Bill Watterson

Modern art is good for nothing so much as the joy you experience in hating it. A trip through MoMA in New York is a wonderful opportunity to sneer, and it is a merited sneering, because most people not in the modern art scene have intuited that the singular mood of that scene is one of sneering at them. Whether modern art has any aesthetic merit is a separate question. The bulk of it doesn’t, as it is driven by the sneering to produce anti-art more than anything else.

There is thus something disturbingly satisfying to the Netflix film Velvet Buzzsaw, which inflicts horror-movie tropes upon art-scene stereotypes. Horror is largely a genre of Judgement, and one of its unspoken messages is that the victims deserve their fate because of their ignorance. The drunk girl who swims out into the night ocean at the beginning of Jaws is a fool tempting fate, and fate devours her. To see this applied to the brokers and curators and critics, to see them killed, as all of them are, by Art, cannot but evoke a knowing nod of the head.

And yet, it doesn’t quite work. The other unspoken rule of Horror is that the Dread Thing, the Monster, have clear rules, thereby giving characters an opportunity to escape. At some point, late in the second act, it is traditional for some Outsider possessing knowledge of the Monster to explain to our protagonists how to avoid it. This never fully happens in Velvet Buzzsaw (some underdone investigating occurs), consequently, the Monster is never fully seen, and can pretty much do whatever it wants whenever it wants. The film thus devolves to an indie version of Final Destination; Death comes when it needs to, for no particular reason.

Probably there are two many characters in the narrative, each traveling their own arc, to give the Monster enough development. One of the reasons its handy to put horror protagonists in a single Place (an island, a cabin in the woods), is that we don’t have to give time to exploring their unique lives, and can so focus on the encounter with the Monster and so figure out how to escape it. But Velvet Buzzsaw is so determined that we find these snobs execrable that they end up without the advantages of a bunch of teenagers in a Slasher flick.

Bottom Line: fun mis-en-scene, almost rises to satire, but incomplete. On the other hand, it’s on Netflix, so watching it won’t cost you anything you haven’t already spent. That’s more than most Modern Art can say.

So Barbara Streisand is a Monster…

I almost wrote a whole blog post about Leaving Neverland, the new documentary about Michael Jackson accusing him of pedophilia.

I didn’t. Because ultimately I decided I didn’t want to wade into that morass.

I don’t know if Jackson did anything. I wasn’t there. Rumor is less than truth and accusation less than proof. He’s already been acquitted of it. So let the matter stay.

But, for the love of God.

Streisand, 76, made the strange comments to British newspaper The Times in a piece out Friday, in which she also said that Jackson’s “sexual needs were his sexual needs.”

She says she “absolutely” believes the allegations of abuse by Robson and Safechuck, but puts more blame on their parents than The Gloved One.

Now, here’s a couple of consistent positions:

  1. Michael Jackson molested little boys. He was a perv and we should shout it from the rooftops.
  2. Michael Jackson is innocent. These men are grifters and liars and we should condemn their falsehood.

Either of those stem from a disagreement about the truth of the accusations. Who should be blamed follows as a consequence of who is guilty.

But neither of these is Barbara Streisand’s position. Barbara Streisand’s position is:

  • Michael Jackson had sex with boys, and that’s fine as long as they don’t turn out like Corey Feldman.

Yeah, she’s apologized, unsaid it for the camera, but whatever. The mask slipped. That’s what Streisand really thinks. She really thinks a little pederasty is fine so long as you provide a nice resort for the family.

Really.

And it strikes me that this isn’t the first time we’ve seen the Rich & Famous stand by each other like this.

Remember how Roman Polanski sodomizing a 13-year-old in a hot tub wasn’t “Rape-Rape” according to Whoopi Goldberg?

Remember how everyone on the set of Guardians 3 went to bat for James Gunn (Who, waddya know, is back on the job)?

Remember how no one said shit about Harvey Weinstein for 25 years?

I’m starting to wonder if maybe, just maybe, there’s yet more poison in the mud to be hatched out.

I’m staring to wonder if anyone in that industry is capable of seeing another human as more than a commodity.

And I’m starting to wonder if there’s some way to purge it. Like with fire.

Movies Have To Be Seen in a Movie Theater, Because Something Something Nostalgia Something Something

Owen Glieberman, pondering in Variety, avoiding the point like it carries Bubonic Plague.

And that’s why, more than not, I’m with Steven Spielberg on his likely proposed change to the Academy guidelines. He is not dissing what Netflix does. He is trying to isolate and hang onto the DNA of cinema — to preserve an essential definition of what movies are, as distinct from what we watch on television. The notion of an extended theatrical window, or something comparable to it, would be the updated version of the old requirement that a movie had to fulfill to be nominated for Oscars: the one-week qualifying run. That was before streaming, but it’s only natural that just as technology changes habits, it changes protocol and it changes rules. It’s the one-week qualifying run that’s become a relic, a trivial hoop that Netflix (or anyone else) can jump through.

But…

Why, though?

Consider film as a form of art. Consider the things that make a film a film. Ask yourself why a film ceases to be a film based on the location of it’s viewing audience. What is so essential about the public movie theater?

If I’m watching Citizen Kane in a theater, I am watching a movie. If I’m watching Citizen Kane on Blu-Ray in my house, I am still watching a movie. If I’m watching it on my tablet streaming from Amazon Prime, I am still watching a movie.

Are we prepared to argue that the only reason I can say “I am watching a movie” is the fact that, thirty-five years before I was born, it was shown in the only venue that was available to the viewing public at the time?

That’s absurd. A requirement that movies be shown in theaters is absurd. It’s not just that theaters are unnecessary; they’re actually sub-optimal. The expense and aggravation of seeing a movie in a theater is no longer worth the minor technical quality of the viewing experience, in an era when wide-screen TV’s and home audio technology is within most people’s grasp. There is no downside to watching Mad Max: Fury Road in my basement, with my own snacks.

The communal experience, you say? If I really want that, I can invite people to my basement. Movie Theaters have nothing to offer but nostalgia, a habit of thinking “this is what a movie is”.

A long-form cinema narrative can be shown on any device. This rear-guard action will not hold.

Look Upon My Predictions, Ye Pundits, and Despair: My Oscars 2019 Scorecard

People really seem to like Queen. I mean, I can dig one or two Queen songs, but…

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I don’t get it. That’s okay, though.

Let’s proceed to the actual scorecard. I’m counting it a win if either my Probable or Sleeper Predictions won. Does that give me an unfair double-shot of being right, and smug about it? Yes. It also gives me two chances to be wrong. So I think it’s fair. This is my scorecard. Go do your own predictions.

Best Picture:

What I Predicted:  The Favourite, with Black Panter as a Sleeper.

What Won: Green Book. Race stuff still trumps gender stuff.

Best Director:

What I Predicted: Spike Lee collecting Dues, with Yorgos Lanthimos as a Sleeper

Who Won: Alfonso Cuaron, for Roma. Foreign Language films are becoming safer than I realized.

Best Actress:

What I Predicted: Yalitza Aparicio, with Olivia Colman as a Sleeper

Who Won: Olivia Colman

Best Actor:

What I Predicted: Rami Malek, with Christian Bale as a Sleeper

Who Won: Rami Malek.

Best Supporting Actress:

What I PredictedRachel Weisz, with Regina King as a Sleeper

Who Won: Regina King

Best Supporting Actor:

What I Predicted: Mahershala Ali, with Richard E. Grant as a Sleeper

Who Won: Mahershala Ali

Best Animated Feature:

What I Predicted: Mirai, with Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse as a Sleeper

What Won: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. More important than this, however is my prediction, almost a year-old now, that Wes Anderson will not win an Oscar. The Academy does not love you, Wes. It never will. Your stuff is too cute for them.

Best Adapted Screenplay:

What I Predicted: If Beale Street Could Talk, with A Star is Born as a Sleeper

What Won: BlacKKlansman. They gave Spike Lee his Lifetime Achievement/Paid Your Dues award with a Screenplay Oscar? That’s cold. But it did give us our Political Grandstanding of the night, so that’s something.

Best Original Screenplay:

What I Predicted: Vice, with Greek Book as a Sleeper

What Won: Green Book. I really did not expect them to shut Vice out, but they did.

The Technical/Craft/Unimportant Awards did not provoke strong predictions from me, so I’ll just list my shots and whether they were right.

Cinematography: The Favourite Roma

Documentary Feature: RBG Free Solo

Documentary ShortPeriod. End of Sentence.

Live Action ShortDetainment Skin

Foreign Language FilmRoma

Film EditingBlacKkKlansman Bohemian Rhapsody

Sound EditingA Quiet Place Bohemian Rhapsody

Sound Mixing : Bohemian Rhapsody

Production DesignBlack Panther

Original ScoreMary Poppins Returns Black Panther

Original Song: “All the Stars” “Shallow”

Makeup and HairVice

Costume DesignThe Favourite Black Panther

Visual EffectsFirst Man

Scorecard:

Correct predictions – 12

Incorrect predictions – 12

Conclusion: I am awesome at calling shots of an awards show I care nothing about, celebrating a collection of films I hardly saw any of.

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In Fact, The Hunt for Red October is Awesome.

I am largely unfamiliar with The Toast, but it seems to have a Buzzfeedy kind of feel, except it has articles instead of gifs. But I haven’t hit upon any obnoxious political content, so it can’t be Huffington Post. I started with one kind of article, and then I found Movie Yelling with Nicole and Mallory: The Hunt for Red October.

And it’s definitely watching two girls be very silly and hyperbolic about a movie. But it’s a great movie, and they’re right on a few key points:

  1. Alec Baldwin is, in fact, the greatest Jack Ryan that has ever been. I’m not a tremendous Alec Baldwin fan, either. In fact, I can’t even think of another movie I’ve seen him in that I would watch a second time (wait, he was in Beetlejuice, wasn’t he? I always forget that). But he nailed this one. The Harrison Ford Jack Ryan movies are kind of plodding by comparison [In fact, If I’m being honest, I don’t much like Harrison Ford outside of his particularly narrow Han Solo/Indiana Jones oevre. He’s got too much anti-hero, too much fuck-this-shit-in-particular in him, to really be an earnest heroic type, yet for some reason he kept trying to be that, and it sucks. The only real exception to this is Witnesswhen he plays a cop charmed by the Amish, and even then he gets romantic with an Amish woman. Because of course he was. And before anyone mentions The Fugitive, that movie is entertaining because of Tommy Lee Jones and his gang of misfit cops, and for no other reason.]
  2. The cast in this movie is pretty damn good. All actors you’ve seen in other things, and none of them are embarrassing or off-putting. Tim Curry is completely believable as this great big true-believing Soviet dupe, but then Tim Curry is believable as pretty much everything he ever did. Dude had range. I rather enjoy Scott Glenn myself. The “Hey, I think someone fired a torpedo at us!”-“No shit, Buckwheat, get the fuck outta here!” exchange gets me every time. Also, he’s pretty badass with the whole “hardest part of playing chicken is knowing when to flinch” business. Which brings me to…
  3. Endlessly. Quotable.

    “And the singing, Captain?”
    “Let them Sing.”

    “I would have liked to have seen Montana”

    “When I was 12 years old, I helped my daddy build a bomb shelter in the backyard because some idiot parked a dozen warheads 90 miles off the coast of Florida. This thing could park a couple of hundred warheads off the coast of New York or Washington and no one would know anything about it until it was all over.”

    “That kid spent six months in traction, and another year learning to walk again. Did his fourth year from a hospital bed. Now it’s up to you, Charlie, but I might consider cuttin’ the kid a little slack.”

    “They’re pinging away with their active sonar, but they’re running at almost 30 knots. At that speed, they could run over my daughter’s stereo and not hear it.”

    “Then tell it right. Pavarotti was a tenor, Paganini was a composer.”

    “A Russian don’t take a dump without a plan.”

    “Oh yes it was. The man was patronizing you, and you stomped on him. In my opinion, he deserved it.”

    “Remember, chief. That torpedo did not self-destruct. You heard it hit the hull. And I…[shows identification]…was never here.”

    “Yuri… You’ve lost another submarine?”

    “Next time, Jack, write a goddamn memo.”

    That’s just off the top of my head.

  4. It’s perhaps the last great Sean Connery performance. He did stuff in the 90’s, but it was mostly big-budget schlock like The Rock. This had a taciturn passion to it, a real dramatic arc and gravitas. And If I wanna get meta for a second, I feel like getting a Scot to play a Lithuanian has an odd kind of logic to it. He is both utterly ensconsed in and utterly removed from the empire he serves, making him deeply dangerous to friend and foe alike. Which brings me to…
  5. No film gets the Cold War better than this one. Yeah, all you Dr. Strangelove fanboys, I said it. Come at me. Strangelove is a satire, and rather a low one. It has nothing to say beyond “Nucular weapons are Teh Dumbz LOL”. The joke is that these generals and statesman are tap-dancing around the End the World button, and woops! they step on it. Red October does the military and political leaders of both the USA and the USSR the courtesy of treating them like grownups, like men keenly aware that a false move means the end of the world, and trying to prevent that by any means necessary except giving the enemy an advantage. The paranoia, the sorrow at the labyrinthine nature of the conflict juxtaposed with the pride in playing it so well, the mutual fear and fascination with which Russians and Americans regarded each other for almost the entire second half of the last century, it’s all deftly woven into this potboiler action movie with nuclear submarines.

But that’s my point of view. It’s nice to see the younger generation appreciating it, too.