Let’s Not Go To the Movies: A Continuing Series of Curmudeoning at the Debased Art of Cinema

tenor

Here’s what’s playing at My local Regal tonight:

  • Charlie’s Angels 2019. Because if you keep scraping, the barrell has no bottom, right?
  • Ford vs. Ferrari.  Days of Thunder made palatable to critics by historical place-setting.
  • The Good Liar. Old people intrigue, prompting a new generation to ask “Hey did you know Helen Mirren had her boobs out in some British movies in the Sixties? Seriously, I’ve seen the gifs. She was hot, bro.”
  • Doktor Sleep. Is this the longest wait for a sequel that no one asked for? Unless they crank out Citizen Kane 2: Mark of Kane, I mean?
  • Last Christmas, Game of Thrones had my trust, and the very next spring, they gave it away. This year, Emilia’s in this, and it won’t be very special, special.
  • Midway. Not gonna lie, I wouldn’t mind seeing this. It’s supposed to be decent. So if I decide to completely ignore the title of this post, it will be for this. The odds are … enh.
  • Playing With Fire. The movie that, to the question “Is John Leguizamo still alive?”, provides the answer “Sort of.”
  • Harriet. Is it just me, or is this playing more like an action movie and less like “12 Years a Slave?” I mean, if anyone deserves an adventurous biopic, it’s Harriet Tubman, but I’m getting weird vibes off this one.
  • Terminator: Dark Fate. I’ve done this already. Begone to the ash-heap of multiple histories, you degraded piece of cyberpunk.
  • Countdown. There’s basic, there’s stupid basic, and then there’s PG-13 horror.
  • Malificent: Mistress of Evil. If Disney really wanted to be subversive here, they’d have cast Cassandra Thompson in the lead. The title fits.
  • Zombieland: Double Tap. As much as I liked the original, I am wary of this. I have a feeling it won’t be incompetent, just uninteresting.
  • Joker. This must be doing well to still be commanding theater space, and I’ve heard enough good things about it that I might check it out when it comes to Netflix. But I still don’t think the Joker should have a movie, so I might not.

So I think I’ll just stay home and finish my rewatch of Breaking Bad so I can finally see El Camino. I can have beer on my couch.

Stick a Time-Traveling Fork In the Terminator Franchise

The problem with Corporate Art, as Andy Warhol foresaw, is that quantity eventually smashes quality. They keep repeating the same gestures, catch-phrases, plotlines, until whatever narrative existed logically has been spread out into meaninglessness. If you keep making enough seasons of a show, you will make it boring and tired. If you keep making enough films in a series, you will make it nonsensical. Everyone knows this. But they cannot stop.

The new Terminator movie that nobody asked for is tanking so hard, it’s probably gonna lose the studio $120 million. Many have said it’s the latest and greatest incarnation of “Get Woke, Go Broke”, and it could be so. But I think this franchise had become a joke, and this film would have failed even if it wasn’t an ideological zombie.

This isn’t merely the absurdity of time-travel premises. I, and better men than me, written on that before. This is what happens when you take the story and treat the previous chapters like a tabula rasa you can retcon to do whatever you want. You lose continuity, you lose clarity, you lose viewers.

Now I’m gonna pat myself on the back here. I haven’t seen a single Terminator movie since I was 14. Terminator 2: Judgement Day came out in 1991, seven years after the original. It built off the plot of the first movie; it did not retcon it. It amped up the stakes: not merely saving the future leader of the human resistance; but preventing nuclear armageddon itself is the goal. It was, in short, a perfect sequel to a good film. If they had left it alone, we would only thing of the series fondly.

Instead, they destroyed everything they had built. Because they had to. T2 left everything final; it had to be undone in order to even have more story. That this did not give the writers and producers pause about doing it tells you everything you need to know about the film industry and what it thinks of its product and its customers.

So when Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines came out, twelve years later, I skipped it. “The story is done, they’re just gonna ruin it,” I said. And of course, they did. Nuclear Armageddon arrives anyway, because it has to. And then in Terminator: Salvation, we’re in the future shattered world, in which a bunch of stuff happens that is sort of related, but not decisive or meaningful outside of its immediate context.

Because none of this is. Terminator: Genisys retcons this entire thing, with more time-travel jumps than Back to the Future Part II. Everything that happens previously is thrown out the window, and although this film did decent box office, critical reception was negative and very few people liked it all that much. So even though Terminator: Dark Fate was supposed to throw out everything that happened after T2 and be more of a direct sequel to that, no one cared and enough whiffs of Woke reached the core audience that they all finally decided to join me in the Camp of Wisdom.

Stop seeing these bastardizations; and they’ll stop making them.

Originality is not Art.

All aesthetic positions are going to offend someone, because concepts of the beautiful are perpetually wrapped up in concepts of the true, and that makes sense in poets’ vomitings but not as an ontological baseline. Whether the beautiful and the true are connected in some way doesn’t really help us to define the beautiful.

The philosophy of aesthetics suffer in a different way from the post-modern inversion. A long time ago Edmund Burke took a shot at defining The Beautiful and The Sublime, and it’s so 18th century you could powder your wig with it. Make an art student read it today and she won’t be able to get past it. Feminism owns the dialogue on what’s considered beautiful, because women have historically been far more concerned with beauty, and all women today feel obligated to at least nod to feminism lest they be accused of harboring the desire to surrender their franchise or some such nonsense. And Feminists regard beauty as a conspiracy against women, because… reasons.

On top of that, the idea of objective aesthetics sounds to many people like “objective enjoyment” and enjoyment is an emotional response to something. You enjoy something. You cannot make yourself enjoy something that you do not, in fact, enjoy. The Star Wars prequels and David Lynch’s Dune are my personal evidence to that.

So aesthetics has to appeal to presuppositions about what people like. If you like horror and your wife doesn’t, then no objective statement about the aesthetic value of say, The Shining, is going to be possible between you. She might agree that, on the whole, The Shining is a better movie that Bye Bye Man, but she doesn’t enjoy either, so she doesn’t care.

Where am I going with this?

I’m aiming at the reality that art of any form needs to be some kind of communication. There has to be something that The Shining is communicating, even if it’s something as simple as dread, mystery, and heart palpitations. So the first judgement of a piece of art is how well in accomplishes its intent (here the po-mo’s shriek that intent isn’t real and there aren’t any authors, because po-mo’s are nerds who think inverting things is valuable and clever). What does it want to convey to its audience? Did it do so successfully?

The second judgement would be the relative value of its intent. This must be judged on a gradient. What Animal House communicates and what Citizen Kane communicates are vastly different, and what the latter communicates is grander in scope, so it gets taken more seriously. That doesn’t mean Animal House has no aesthetic value, or that you shouldn’t watch it (I’m not bringing in any moral objections here. That’s beyond the scope), just that it’s ambitions are obviously more modest.

But in order to say something succesfully, you must find an audience that can hear it. I may have a very clear idea of what I mean when I say “wickle-bickle-num-bum-jarf-jarf-jarf,” but that doesn’t mean anything to anyone else, so I’m failing in communication. So originality isn’t always a bonus to art. You want to be unique, because you want to be heard as you, but originality gets in the way of communication as often as not. If Citizen Kane were a shade weirder, it would not have worked as well, and it would not be as successful a piece of art, by any standard.

Art can be original. They’re not synonyms.

Woody Allen is Still Making Movies

Woody Allen’s ‘A Rainy Day in New York’ to Open Deauville Film Festival

Woody Allen’s ‘A Rainy Day in New York’ to Open Deauville Film Festival
— Read on variety.com/2019/film/global/woody-allens-a-rainy-day-in-new-york-deauville-film-festival-1203309106/

I’ve tried to like Woody Allen movies, but I can’t, because they usually involve having to like Woody Allen. And I have never managed to pull that off. Woody Allen is what happens when someone takes Mel Brooks, removes all the jokes, and makes him read Freud and Sartre, and convinces him that shoving a young blonde in there somewhere will dredge up the appropriate level of pathos. His career is a testament to the mythos of New York as a Mecca of culture. No matter how many times he turned in the same snit of schlemielery in a different garb, you could always count on someone among the literati to nod approvingly at it.

And even #MeToo couldn’t take the old twerp out. How lame.

A Smart Analysis of The Sixth Sense

Over at Ace of Spades. I did not realize that The Sixth Sense would have been the #1 film  that year were it not for Star Wars. I haven’t seen it in forever, but I have a feeling I wouldn’t dislike it on rewatch (my favorite film from that year, however, remains Fight Club).

And, here’s the thing, with the Big Twist out of the way, it’s actually a much better movie. (How’s that for a twist!)

The build up to the twist—the sleight-of-hand that prevents you from seeing it—is actually sort of rickety. I remember someone complaining at the time that there are a lot of odd tropes abused by The Sixth Sense that (if you don’t overlook them) make it seem like you’re watching a very sloppy film. And I remember when I saw it the first time, I was like, “Huh. That was odd. That doesn’t make much sense. Why is that happening?” And I did overlook them and so was pleasantly duped.

I’ve always thought that movies work better when you let yourself get pulled into them. Your mileage may vary, but read the whole thing.

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.

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.