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Quick Review: El Camino

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On paper, this is the sort of thing I should hate: an unnecessary exploitation of an excellent TV show several years after the fact, by a streaming service that just happens to still have the original on its platform. And far from being a movie, it’s really just a feature-length epilogue of the show. You can’t just watch El Camino unless you’re familiar with Breaking Bad, and as that show finished a while ago, you’d be better off rewatching at least the final season, and probably the whole damn thing. It’s almost shameless, really.

However, I don’t hate it, because:

  • Jesse’s Epilogue is a Bit of A Loose End. Last we see of him, he’s free of the prison the Okies had him in, and he’s free of Walter White. And while Breaking Bad was always primarily Walt’s story, as the seasons went on Jesse’s place in it as the Suffering Son of Heisenberg became the true balance to that. Seeing that closure is a good thing.
  • It has all the charms of the show. The visual style and pacing, the storytelling, they’re all here, and they’re nicely focused on the character we most want to see make out well.
  • It Gives us the Balance we need. Walter White’s story was always going to end a certain way, and it did, which is why Breaking Bad is the only “prestige” show of this century to retain its status as time goes on. Unlike it’s network-mate Mad Men, it finished with a climax, rather than a dull slinking away, and unlike Game of Thrones, its final season and episode gave the audience a capstone on the whole arc of the story. But it was a dark story, told darkly. Jesse’s escape from that darkness into a chance at redemption and grace is a needed counterpoint.
  • It’s Fun. The story is as I said, focused, and it moves with nice bits of action and intrigue. It’s the world Jesse knows, the dog-eat-dog of betrayal and gamesmanship, so there isn’t much of the moral degradation that Walt’s story entailed. Rather, it’s him fighting the world that has almost devoured him, and having a bit of revenge along the way.

So while it’s not the most brilliant thing I’ve ever seen on Netflix, it served its Hail and Farewell admirably. It was worth the series rewatch.

Art-House Film Bucket List

Understand that I’m using the term “art-house” to refer to indie films that are considered exemplars or game-changers of the art. In my last post I mentioned the French New Wave specifically, because that’s the gold standard of arty-farty, but I’m good with exploring literally anything. The odder the better.

So here’s what I’ve got so far:

  • Breathless by Godard
  • The 400 Blows by Truffaut
  • The Seventh Seal by Bergman
  • Days of Heaven by Malick

I reckon that’s a start. I’ll add to this as I go. Suggestions are welcome.

There’s a New $&^@ Ghostbusters Film Coming Out, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the French New Wave

They’ve basically turned Ghostbusters into PG-13 Goosebumps.

I wrote a while ago about how we should just let the Ghostbusters “franchise” fade away, and not let it be a “fandom” to which we have obligations and loyalty.

Ghostbusters was a good movie. A classic, even. Ghostbusters 2 was… enh. The cartoon was a cartoon. The reboot bombed. We don’t need another Ghostbusters movie. We don’t need to “save” the “franchise”. It’s not a fucking fast food chain, it’s a movie. Just one movie that was entertaining in 1984. The rest of the dreck that’s been built around it is forgettable and unimportant. Another movie is unnecessary and would accomplish nothing but spark unending debates and wearisome attempts at drollery by idiots on social media.

The time and money spent on whether determining whether another Ghostbusters movie could be better spent on creating a genuine and new piece of entertainment that could itself become memorable and rewatchable over and over again.

But nobody listens to me, so this is happening anyway. So the skinny kid from Stranger Things is going to be an OG Ghostbuster’s grandson. (my money’s on Egon – this pig is directed by Jason Reitman, Ivan’s son). And as Ace of Spades noted, there are no jokes in the trailer. This is being played straight.

Now, it’s probably going to be competent, as Jason Reitman is at the very least a competent director. But the whole thought of it benumbs me, indeed depresses me somewhat. They. Just. Can’t. Stop. With the endless Franchise movies. They’re terrified of doing anything else.

So the hell with it. I’m going to dive headlong into art-house movies. I figure I’ll start with Godard, the only name of French New Wave Cinema that my memory retains. I know nothing at all about that whole Criterion Collection scene, so why not learn something?

And sure, I’m positive it’s going to be full of arty-farty po-mo sophistry. After all, Godard was a critic before he became a director, a fact that should surprise no one. But that  gives me a window on his art that you don’t get with other filmmakers. And Jonathan Rosenbaum attests that there’s a connection between his criticism and his films:

Like Cocteau, Godard commands a vigorous rhetoric that crosses nimbly from one medium to another, registers most effectively in aphorisms, playfully orbits the work of other artists into a toylike cosmology of its own, and instantly changes whatever it touches by assimilating it into a personal aesthetic. Look long enough at his criticism and virtually every departure in Godard’s films will be theoretically justified; study the films with enough scrutiny, and even the most outrageous reviews will start to make sense.

Besides, I enjoy reading film reviews, even when I don’t agree with them. The meaner the better.

Of Snobbery and Boredom

A thought about my most recent review:

I don’t tend to like things unless they stand out from the herd. Call that elitism, call it snobbery; I don’t care. I can’t pretend to like things I don’t like.

One thing I feel obligated to point out is that I detest snobbery. Snobbery is close-minded, passive bullying. Snobbery is adopting a categorical rule that X kind of story, told by Y kind of people, cannot possibly be good. It is a sweeping (possibly hasty) generalization, a fallacy of relevance.

That line about not liking things unless they stand out from the herd sounds snobby as hell, but I dont’ really mean it like that. I’m not holding myself above the Great Unwashed and their low-brow tastes. I’m fine with common tastes and basic stuff. They can be a positive tonic.

What I mean by that is I get bored of seeing the same kind of stories over and over. Everyone likes to dump on Hallmark movies this time of year for their cookie-cutter plots, but the truth is almost every genre has tropes that it regularly employs. This is true of so-called “Prestige Television” as well. No one who sat through the Game of Thrones finale could have escaped how obligatory that ending felt.

Certain kinds of stories appeal to me more than others. That’s personal taste. What snobs do is conflate their personal taste with universal aesthetic truths. A story may not interest me, but it would be wrong to say that a story is bad because I’m not interested in it.

So you should never take my grumbles about Nothing to See at the Theater as serious aesthetic judgements. That’s just me being bored, and venting spleen accordingly. 80% of all my prejudices are “Good Lord, this again…” That doesn’t prevent me from overcoming it.

Not-So-Quick Review: Frozen II

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I have the reputation of being a grump who hates everything. I deserve this reputation, as I have done everything possible to earn it. I am the sort of person who tries to understand what people see in football halftime shows that is remotely entertaining, and cannot do it. I don’t tend to like things unless they stand out from the herd. Call that elitism, call it snobbery; I don’t care. I can’t pretend to like things I don’t like.

That being said, I did not hate Frozen II.

I also didn’t love it. It gets a C.

Sequels are hard to do. Unless your characters are so charming and entertaining that you’ll watch them do anything (Toy Story), you’re going to find yourself either repeating character motivations or undermining them with some form of retconning (e.g. Marty McFly’s sudden homicidal rage at being called chicken).

And of course, you need a story that isn’t just a retread of the first movie.

Frozen II has that. The story is an expansion on the world we know, and has a mystery at its heart. That is welcome. And at least half of the characters undergo actual growth. And considering they’re the most important character and the fan favorite, this constitutes success.

Not only that, but there are some funny moments scattered throughout, and a couple of action set pieces that worked very well. So if you sat behind me in the theater when I saw it with my family, you’d have heard me laugh and say, “that was cool” a couple of times. And really, what more do I have any right to expect from an animated kids movie?

So that’s the good. It made me laugh, it had a different story, it wasn’t completely tedious.

The bad is… well. Let’s talk about characters first. Frozen introduced us to an ensemble that became our core character group. They are:

  1. Elsa, Queen of Aerendale (Arendelle? Arundell? Airdale?) who possesses ice-magic powers but doesn’t know how to control them, and spends most of the movie terrified of herself.
  2. Anna, her emotionally starved sister.
  3. Olaf, a magical snowman who is equal parts six-year-old child and Mystic Sage.
  4. Kristof, a grumpy ice merchant who forms pair-bonds with reindeer and trolls.

Over the course of the first movie, the following happens:

  1. Elsa figures out how to temper her magical powers with Love.
  2. Anna reforges her relationship with her sister by gallantly sacrificing herself for Elsa (and being revived thereby, because this is a kids movie).
  3. Olaf gets to experience warm weather without melting.
  4. Kristof gets a new sled, and becomes Anna’s tacit boyfriend.

So what does Frozen II do with them?

***HERE BE SPOILERS***

Elsa, having figured out how to control her magic, now seeks to undo a great wrong on Arendiale’s frontier, and in the process, discovers who her mother was, who she actually is, and why she is a being of greater importance than a mere monarch. Basically, she becomes the Messianic figure her powers always pointed towards.

Olaf, having achieved a stable existence, starts to suffer an existential crisis in which he realizes that all things end and he doesn’t understand why. Naturally, there’s only one way to handle such an exercise, and that’s death, and only one way to solve it: Elsa-ex-Machina (Elsa is to Messiah as Olaf is to Suffering Servant). After his reincarnation, Olaf is at peace with existence.

These are the characters mentioned above, who had actual character growth. As for the others:

Anna strikes exactly the same notes as the first movie. Did you know she loves her sister? Did you know her relationship with her Sister is THE MOST IMPORTANT THING IN HER LIFE? Does it seem completely normal to you the way an ostensible adult behaves like a toddler when separated from her co-dependent mommy-substitute? I hope the answer to all these is Yes, because that’s all Anna has to give you.

I suppose it can be construed that her taking action in the third Act to Undo the Great Wrong, for which she is rewarded by becoming Aerundaillie’s new Queen, can be considered a small piece of character growth, but honestly, she only did that because Elsa told her to via IceMail. This is just Anna saving Elsa’s bacon again. Been there, done that.

Kristof gets trapped in a sit-com plot where he’s trying to propose to Anna, but circumstances and his lack of fluency in Womanspeak keeps preventing him. I’m not gonna say it’s not funny, but it gets old well before it gets resolved. Frankly, the fact that they can’t think of anything better for him underlines his secondary status. Kristof has no connection to the story other than through Anna. This was fine in the first movie, when he provided a kind of grounding foil to Anna,  but here he’s just a lovesick puppy. His entire character could have been removed from the movie, and nothing else would have been affected. And given that he’s gone for most of the second act, that’s probably what should have happened.

Thus for the characters. We now move on to the plot, which as I said, was different, in the sense that it was not a retread of the plot of the first movie. But that doesn’t mean it’s not entirely predictable. I knew what the Surprise Reveal – Elsa and Anna’s grandfather was a villain who wanted to enslave the natives of the magic land – was going to be as soon as the question was posed. You’ve got some Sami/Natives, who are “in harmony with nature”, and then you’ve got, well, white people. We know who the bad guys are going to be. King Runeard is all jaw and beady eyes. Your cerebellum knew what was going on before anyone met an Northuldrian.

So I’m not at all surprised to discover that Runeard is a man who acts out of the fear of magic. Nor was I surprised to see Elsa rebuke his ice-ghost for it. Sure, it’s laughable for the woman who spent the last movie in a catatonic torpor to be lecturing her dead grandfather about Fear, and sure, given the events of the first movie, it’s hard not to think the old man had a point. But that’s exactly the sort of message that has to be conveyed by a major studio film in 2019. No other message is possible, no matter how much we have to force the narrative to convey it.

{And while we’re on that, if Runeard built the dam to trick the Northuldrians into becoming economically dependent on him, and to destroy their magic, why does he kill the Northuldrian chieftain? Wouldn’t that achieve, you know, the opposite of his stated purpose? I’m not saying he might not have done that rashly, if he felt threatened, but we don’t see anything leading up to that. It’s just Make the Bad Guy Bad, which I suppose is a tradition in Disney films, but usually there’s a thing to be avenged or a loss of status or something. This is just cartoonish, pun intended.}

There’s more I could nitpick in there, but the only other point I want to make is that the songs just weren’t there. I’m not alone in thinking so, but ultimately all I need to argue this is that I can’t remember any of them. I remember thinking the Olaf song was funny, but it was no “In Summer,” which I could probably sing from memory.  The rest seemed like it was trying to be EPIC and HUGE but ultimately didn’t pay off.

“Let it Go” paid off because we’ve seen Elsa repress every part of her personality to Conceal, Don’t Feel for an hour beforehand. “Into the Unknown,” happens in the first few minutes of the movie, and I don’t know why Elsa cares. It sounded okay, but not memorable, which given what they were clearly going for, feels like a failure. The only bad song was Kristof’s hair-rock video; I couldn’t wait for it to be over.

All of that being said, it wasn’t a bad movie. It was an okay movie. The kids will love it. I was amused and entertained enough by it. The rest is commentary.

Generations Are Arbitrary. Act Accordingly.

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Members of this band were all Boomers.

The idea of generations, especially as Demographers use them, is overrated. I’ve said so before, I’ll likely go on saying it.

Being born at the same time as others gives you a set of shared cultural memories and not much else. Now, those shared cultural memories can be powerful, especially given the rate of pop culture decay, but they aren’t as determinative as people like to believe.

I have some more to say on this topic, over on Contena.com, which is a writer’s resource that’s added a blogging feature. I like to try out blogging features, so I penned Dead X.

The idea of “Generation X” was coined by the Canadian writer Douglas Coupland, and he was referring to people born around his time, the late fifties to early sixties, who came of age in the seventies. Too young to really be involved in the great Sixties upheaval, they lived in the immediate consequences of it. We would call these folk today “Late Boomers”.

Now, this is a provocative idea, if we were to apply the 15-year cycle that Democraphers are fond of using today. What if, instead of this:

  • Baby Boom: 1946-1964
  • Generation X: 1965-1980
  • Millenials: 1981-1995
  • Generation Z: 1996-2010
  • Generation Alpha: 2011-2025

We borrowed from Coupland’s original notion, and went with this:

  • Baby Boom: 1946-1960
  • Generation X: 1961-1975
  • Generation Y/Xennials: 1976-1990
  • Generation Z/Millenials: 1991-2005
  • Generation Alpha: 2006-2020

This setup has the virtue of a) recognizing that postwar birthrates started to decline in the early 60’s, when birth control became a reality, b) using the original conception of Generation X, c) moving the group called “Millenials” to those born around the actual Millenium, and d) giving the “Xennial” identity an actual demography.

Of course, it would shift myself from Generation X to Generation Y, but it would put me in the same Generation as my wife, so… I can live with it.

The link to Dead X on my Contena profile again, that you may Read the Whole Thing.

 

The Havamal is a collection of sayings attributed to Odin, Lord of Battles, Most Wise and Most High. Much of it is advice on wisdom. Some of what is said here is specific to the time and place of Medieval Scandinavia and needs to be considered with that in mind. But much of it if […]

via Wisdom from the Lord of Battles — The Writer in Black