Saturday, September 20, 2014

You Will Hate Me: MIni-Reviews

One might ask just why I review what I review. I confess: I'm cheap. I save money by not renting videos or going to movies. What I see is mostly on cable TV or some free promo at Amazon. Go ahead and complain - did you pay to read this? There's enough here for everyone to hate. Be patient, if not now, I'm sure at some point in the near future I will piss you off. Several provisos - "excuses" if you want to use that term - all opinions on creative endeavors are prone to disagreement, tastes vary, and nothing is static. Translation: don't get too upset, everyone has a different opinion and that's all right, and I might change my mind.


No Country for New Ideas

Why does anyone like No Country for Old Men? Book or movie, doesn't matter. This is prompted by its showing on cable TV the other night. Don't think it is just this one book, I don't care for anything Cormac McCarthy writes. Never did. Don't know what people see in his fiction. This one in particular, can't stand it. He pulled off a neat trick when he wrote this. It's actually a genre mash-up, sticking the antagonist from a slasher-horror movie into a noir thriller. Chigurh is Jason. He stomps around, killing aimlessly, unbeatable, immortal. Good trick if you can get away with it...and apparently McCarthy has. Congrats, you jerk.


Smand of God

It's...okay. Sorry, I wish I could say I loved Hand of God, the Amazon Studios TV series. I have been a huge Ron Perlman fan for time out of mind. I wish I could like it. I'm not the one to ask for a review of this, not really, since I don't watch much in the way of conventional crime dramas. I deeply enjoyed both Fargo and True Detective, but more conventional TV, as this seems to be, is not to my taste. The pilot was strongest when it was on Perlman, when he was experiencing visions, and weakest when it was away from him on the standard apparatus of conventional TV crime dramas - scheming politicians, pliant cops, corrupt preachers - it is as if it were trying to be two things, an offbeat story about a man led by visions, while at the same time trying to abide by conventional expectations. Can't be both. It is also very reminiscent of an old Rod Serling screenplay about a man taking revenge on apparent strangers for his wife's assault. The recent film Broken City also comes to mind, along with a little flavoring from a bit of Breaking Bad. Too derivative for my liking. Very sorry I couldn't give it a thumb's up.


Alpha House

This is Garry Trudeau's satiric take on a small group of Republican congressmen, bound together because they are sharing a townhouse. It is apparently in its second season. Amazon Studios has the first episode for free, that's how I got to see it. It is occasionally very funny - Trudeau wrote Very good writing - Trudeau, again - very professionally made. John Goodman is the main lead.  Bill Murray had a cameo in the opening sequence, hilarious. Why do I seem so...subdued? For the same reason I often dislike Saturday Night Live. When the comedic writing is excellent, when the acting is superb, sometimes it goes horribly awry. The satire becomes so refined, so well-done, it becomes indistinguishable from reality. Where the fuck is the fun in that? Partly it comes from the quotidian premise, following around congressmen in their corrupt ordinary weaselly little lives. My mind sees vast expanses of possibility: why can't Trudeau see these vistas? John Goodman stars in a comedic TV series about the head of the DC division of the FBI corruption department. He and his henchmen HUNT congressmen...and it's a comedy! The Office marries NYPD Blue and they have a baby. Comedy crime drama about FBI agents who hunt congressmen! Am I the only one to see the lofty mountainscapes in that?


The Roosevelts, or How to Make History Boring

This is Ken Burns' latest historical miniseries on public television. TR and FDR are right at the top of my personal list of Best Presidents Ever. One could not ask for more drama in history than the times in which these two men lived. So just how did Burns manage to make it so fucking boring? And what's with the soundtrack, does Ken have money in elevator music companies? Holy shit, the music of TR's and FDR's age was vibrant, alive, powerful! Jazz, the Blues, Ragtime, Swing, American classical composers, music that will drill into your heart. Do we get any of that? Nope, just like everything else in this fiasco, drained of light and life. And what the fuck are a bunch of DC pundits doing in this? More air time is given to George Will than to anyone else. Is Kenny-boy having a secret love affair with that right-wing nut job? Why is Will in this at all? He's a winger, he hates FDR with a passion, he continually advocates for the destruction of every last bit of FDR's heritage. What the fuck?

Kenny-boy did okay with the Civil War, but it's been downhill ever since. If I remember correctly, he had Shelby Foote, the renowned Civil War historian, to keep him on an even footing. Much of what FDR did during the New Deal years is still controversial with the DC establishment, even our illustrious socialist leader - not really. I'm a socialist, give me at least a tiny bit of credit for being able to recognize my own. President Obama is not a socialist, he's a slight variation on the standard centrist politician. To deal with FDR honestly, you'd have to get other people into the act, economics guys like Krugman and Stiglitz, to talk about things like Keynesian economics. Those guys, Krugman included, scare the shit out of the "centrists" in Washington. And where was mention of the Business Plot, a real conspiracy to overthrow the US government by rich businessmen? Even Alf Landon didn't get the right punch line. Landon, governor of Kansas at the time, didn't win his home state when he went up against FDR's re-election campaign. When you can't win Kansas against a liberal progressive Eastern politician, you know you're shit out of luck.

Burns has created junk history here, with the apparent intent to undermine the fundamental values TR and FDR espoused. It's another in a long list of crimes against American history perpetrated by the mainstream media...and the presence of so many talking heads from Sunday morning talk shows illustrates that Ken Burns is the quintessential Washington insider, bent on maintaining the status quo, dedicated to the destruction of progressivism - because that's what TR and FDR were, progressives. Those ideas must be destroyed, for if they live on, even if only in history, someday they will lead to the fall of the neoliberal order. Ken can't have that.


The Hobbit: Murdered by Peter Jackson

The Desolation of Smaug is dismal. If you haven't seen it...don't. This warning is a little on the late side for a simple reason, I long ago had to cut out such things as movie attendance, too hard on the budget. Don't buy many books anymore, either. I'm not complaining, just explaining. My complex has free cable TV and free internet, so I finally was able to see Desolation. It came as a surprise to me when I saw just how bad it was compared to the first Hobbit movie. That one took some liberties with the book, but at least stayed close enough to it - it was also somewhat entertaining in its own right. Desolation is neither of those things. It is a clumsy, ill-conceived, blundering attempt at a motion picture. It contains so much that is not of the book, it is no longer the story of the book. The sense of distrust that came over me after I discovered Peter Jackson's original ending for the Lord of the Rings movies was validated in Desolation. Jackson is a Hollywood hack.

Who's the real hero of The Hobbit? Bilbo is the observer, the truth-seer, the peacemaker, the narrator, but is he the hero? No, mostly he's along for the ride. Who's the hero? Not Thorin, he ends up as a quasi-bad guy, who essentially deserves his fate. Who's the hero? Bard? Maybe, but he only gets to act the hero because of the real hero's actions. Who's the hero?

The thrush. Not the eagles, but the smallest, least menacing animal in the book. A little thrush. It braves danger, misery, and a great journey to deliver vital information just when it is needed. The three most important people in the novel are a nobody of a hobbit, a tiny bird, and the captain of the archers. Not the Master of Lakeview, not the elven king, not the dwarf-prince, not the dwarves. No. The creatures who save the day are the ordinary nobodies of everyday life. Kinda reminds me of Lord of the Rings, where the one person most responsible for the destruction of absolute evil and the salvation of Middle-Earth is a middle-aged middle-class nobody of a hobbit.

Gee, you'd think there's a theme going on here, like maybe Tolkien, the guy who wrote The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, had something in mind, something so fucking important, he said it in a series of novels. That many words, that many stories of so many characters...and the same damn theme over and over again. Ya think it's important? Do you?

Watching Twelve Years a Slave now. Tolkien is just as deep, just as profound. Both wrote, one from experience, one from the imagination, about fundamental aspects of the human condition, of human suffering, of our redemption at the hands of the least among us, a carpenter or a small bird...yeah, even in a kid's book. The Hobbit is written as a children's book. I'm guessing, but maybe Tolkien thought this theme was so important, children should be exposed to it at an early age.

Peter Jackson thinks none of this is important. He pretends he isn't, but he's a Hollywood boy. He almost destroyed the Lord of the Rings with his brain-dead idea to have Sauron and Aragorn fight it out in a duel at the end - how we should thank Jackson's production assistants, who refused to go along with it. Now he actually is destroying The Hobbit. Congrats, Mr. Jackson, I'm sure you'll be paid in full for this.

Skip watching the last one...I know you won't, you want to watch the big battle...but try. Step out of line, go home, open up one of Tolkien's books, and put Aaron Copland's Fanfare for the Common Man on the stereo. As you read, think on Tolkien's service in the front lines of the British Army during World War I. Think on Tolkien watching his beloved country bombed to ash in World War II. Maybe think on when Copland wrote Fanfare and just why he named his composition "Fanfare for the COMMON MAN." There is a deeper meaning to Tolkien. His books are not merely primordial Skyrim. They make you think, they inspire, and they ennoble the low while they throw a revealing light on the mighty. Read them. Fuck Jackson and all his works. Read the books instead.


Bowfinger Saved Me: Or How A Movie Taught Me to Love My Pathetic Life

For those who don't know, this 1999 movie starred Steve Martin and Eddie Murphy. Martin assumes the role of Bowfinger, a down-and-out movie producer, the kind of guy who makes direct-to-DVD/direct-to-streaming movies. He has the idea of stalking the rich movie star Kit Ramsey, played by Murphy. Bowfinger thinks that since the clandestine recordings are in public places, he can use them in a film. The movie itself is a horrible remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. The vibrancy with which Martin and the rest of the cast capture the nearly uncontrollable urge to create takes my breath away. He and his merry little band will do almost anything to make movies, even abandon successful careers, give up day jobs, cheat, steal, screw anybody, just to have the chance to create. It reminded me of who I am, what I'm up to. I won't lie, times are hard. I have less than a year's worth of money left before I either have to get a day job or starve to death on the street, and that's after squeezing the pennies so hard, Lincoln starts to cry. I constantly question my decision to spend my savings on this endeavor...but I'm older, and if not now, when? It has to be now. Martin's performance reminds me of this. Like his character, like Bowfinger, I have to create. It's not a choice or a scam.