Some Thoughts on Once Upon A Time in Hollywood

Finally sat down and watched it. I would put it squarely in his Western Phase, that he’s been on since Django Unchained. It’s more of a meta-Western, but it has that tone and that feel to it, and the main character is a down-on-his-luck Western Star. Anyway, here are my thoughts:

  • Quentin Tarantino is the Last Great American Director. He’s the only big-name auteur left in town, and we’re gonna miss him when he’s gone, and talk about him the way people talk about Kubrick or Hitchcock.
  • Hippies turning on a dime from quirky to feral makes 1969 real in a way that no other film I can think of ever has.
  • Everyone who complained about Margot Robbie not getting enough lines in this movie absolutely missed the point. She’s meant to play an elegy of Sharon Tate, and she nails it. Call this objectification/iconography if you will, but that’s what we’ve been doing to Sharon Tate for 50 years. Tarantino gave us a look at her observing her imminent iconostasis, and he did it with the language of cinema, which is primarily a visual medium.
  • I would totally watch a DiCaprio and Pitt in a buddy cop movie.

Quick Review: The Rise of Skywalker

SWsplatterEverything in here is SPOILERS, because we’ve reached that reality in Star Wars movies. The guys at Red Letter Media have been saying since Rogue One that there are only so many things that can happen in Star Wars, so even if you technically haven’t seen the ninth (and final?) episode, you’ve seen most of the things it has on offer. There are escapes and jumps to lightspeed and blasting stormtroopers and epic lightsaber fights and grand space battles. Heroes will be tempted to turn to the dark side of the force. The villain who’s been THE villain will be THE villain again, and he will do the same villainous acts. There are one or two mild surprises, but even these are predictable. This is a Star Wars movie that approaches an almost mystical reverence for itself as such.

Thus, it veers hard away from whatever Rian Johnson was attempting to move towards with The Last Jedi, almost apologetically giving the fans every emotional touchstone they could want. Of course, such a course precludes any possibility of expanding on the Saga. What we are left with amounts to a do-over of Return of the Jedi, minus the Death Star (or with a million Death Stars, depending on your point of view). The only real emotions in it are feelings of being haunted by the weight of past actions and past glories, an unavoidable meta-commentary on the state of the story and the fandom and everything else. This movie, and Star Wars itself, is a run-down mansion haunted by ghosts.

Just to beat this point home, the climax of the movie is determined precisely by the past flooding back in to save the world from the past. Just as THE Villain (yup, it’s Palpatine), is back, standing in for *every* Sith, so Rey hears the voices of *every* Jedi. No one at Lucasfilm can think of doing things any other way. It’s either desperate or cynical and possibly both.

None of which is to say that it’s a bad movie. It moves along snappily. You’re not ever confused as to what’s happening and why. You never have a scene end and think “what was that all about?” J.J. Abrams’ trademark visual energy is very much present. I’ll even cop to one or two moves bringing about genuine emotion. But once it’s over, it feels entirely forgettable. It’s Star Wars: A Star Wars Story: Featuring Star Wars. It’s exactly what Scorcese was talking about with movies becoming theme park rides.

Which leaves us with that show about not-Boba Fett and not-Yoda. I’ve heard its pretty good. If they can keep that going a few more seasons, that galaxy might grow after all.

Quick Review: The Irishman

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It was boring.

There.

Actually, let me be fair.

The first half is kind of boring. The second half describes the conflict between the mob and Jimmy Hoffa, and it’s more interesting than you’d think. Obviously it was dumb for Hoffa to get in bed with organized crime, and obviously that was only gonna end one way. But the way that end comes about suprises with it’s politeness, it’s almost genteel conversation of the essential conflict. It comes down to two men declaring their intentions, each of whom never raise my voice, each of whom express respect to the other. It matters not. The source of every conflict – who is to have power, who is to give way – cannot be avoided.

And so as you go through the movies second half, the power of things unstated chokes the characters off. The film becomes almost Bergmannian in its slow shots of characters in inescapable agonies. That’s to the good.

What’s to the bad is the story itself. Goodfellas and its comic twin, Wolf of Wall Street, succeed as cinema because they provide an answer to a question: Why does this institutional wickedness exist? What need does it serve? The Irishman leaves a hole in the role of its titular character. Why is he this way? Why does he just fall into the role of an assassin? We get a taste of some prisoner-clearing in WWII – a far more common practice in that war than is commonly known – but that’s only a hint. There’s nothing at the heart of this man that we can get a grip on, not ambition, not hatred, not bloodlust. Is it merely loyalty, without any higher connection to anything else? That seems rather shallow for Scorsese’s body of work.

Is it worth watching? If you’re curious as to how Jimmy Hoffa went down, sure. If you like a slow-burn drama, this’ll work for you. But if you’re expecting the electricity of Scorsese’s better-known work, you won’t get it here.

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.

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

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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.