Saturday, 8 November 2008

How We Waited Out The Election

Only now, as the smoke clears and the euphoria dies down, do I realise how much the wait for November the fourth had turned my mind into a stagnant pond, a Moebius strip of re-thought thoughts, cognition turned into a chore thanks to the insane worry over something I literally had no control over (at least Canyon could vote, an act that made her justifiably happy). Two days later, and look at me! I'm all florid and shit, like what I was previous, like.

During that interminable wait, we tried to keep ourselves occupied and not just keep reading the same four websites (though we enjoyed it all) and getting even more obsessed than usual with The Daily Show and The Colbert Report. Our efforts bore some pleasant fruit (the cherries and strawberries of the week) and some disappointing fruit too (mangoes, sharon fruit and unripe bananas, metaphorically speaking).

Burn After Reading

I had high hopes for this after the excellence of No Country For Old Men had erased disappointed memories of the previous four Coen Brothers movies (yes, I'm not crazy about O Brother, Where Art Thou? or The Man Who Wasn't There), but it was frustratingly slight. Being more of a fan of their hyper-weird comedies than their dramas, with The Big Lebowski at the top of my faves list and Raising Arizona close on its tail, I was hoping this would be similarly unhinged and frenetic, but instead it was like Fargo with more jokes, which is a problem considering I don't really like Fargo that much. At least, not as much as many seem to.

Of course, mid-level Coen Brothers movies still have a lot to recommend. Almost all of the performances were great (though weirdly Malkovich did my head in with. His. Stilted. Fucking. Line. Readings. And. Laboured. Fucking. Profanity.), with special kudos to the ever-wonderful Frances McDormand and Richard Jenkins (who broke my heart). That said, why did they bother casting Tilda "Goddess" Swinton for a part that had about twelve lines? Don't get me wrong, I'm more than happy to see her on screen in any capacity, but she seemed ill-served. Here's hoping she becomes a Coen repertory player and turns up again, except with something to do other than be annoyed with the men in her life.

Even with that cast, the film never seemed to come alive, though the central point, that of lampooning the arrogance and solipsism of a bunch of self-regarding twerps who think their pitiful lives have some greater meaning, when in fact all they are little more than a bunch of horny morons, was beautifully done, perhaps even more so than the previous times they have tried to make that point (No Country, Fargo, The Big Lebowski, etc.). I've had more fun thinking about the film than I did watching it. That said, Brad Pitt is a better comedic actor than I thought possible.

I'm grateful to the Coens for proving that.

Quantum of Solace

Casino Royale is possibly my favourite Bond movie since On Her Majesty's Secret Service, leapfrogging over The Living Daylights, The Spy Who Loved Me and Goldeneye, but poverty has delayed us going to see the latest movie. Instead I've been rewatching this over and over again.

We might still see it this week, once I've sold a kidney, following the wonderful news that Vue Cinemas have instituted over-18's only performances for people who don't want to put up with hordes of little shits treating cinemas like the local bus depot. A black man is elected President of the United States and a cinema chain (in our home town, no less) finally realises moviegoers have been staying away because of the behaviour of a bunch of oiks, all in the same week? This truly is the golden age of civilisation. Speaking of which...

Civilisation Revolution

If anything stops me blogging, it will be this game. In its previous manifestations it was already the greatest game ever made (yeah chess, thass right. What have you done for me lately?), but now it's less fussy, faster paced, and filled with endearing silliness. Canyon has been forced to put up with my wasting hours on the hellishly addictive thing, so much so that I'm now responding to her conversational gambits with a reflexive "Follum follum!" If you've played it, you know what that means.

Tropic Thunder

It's taken us way longer than we would have liked to see Ben Stiller's attack on Hollywood, and it was not even worth the wait. Despite the odd great moment, the whole ambitious exercise falls flat with upsetting regularity. Though Robert Downey Jr.'s performance is just as amazing as we had heard, he didn't actually seem have anything funny to say, and we ended up laughing at Jack Black's cold turkey shenanigans instead. Stiller's original concept for the film is hugely appealing, but the execution of it just didn't seem to click at all, with the plot drifting along from one lengthy and ultimately unfunny scene to another, seemingly without direction or purpose. It made Zoolander look like a tightly plotted Preston Sturges movie (I say that as a fan of Zoolander who thinks it sometimes ambles when it should be sprinting). While Adam McKay's movies mostly come alive in the editing room, this never takes shape, and no amount of amusing scenes with Tom Cruise dancing and swearing can save it. Dispiriting stuff, though I'm hoping to see a longer cut soon that might justify that brilliant idea, and maybe even give Jay Baruchel and Brandon T. Jackson something to do other than be straight men. Zoolander got funnier with each viewing, so maybe something similar will happen here, though I doubt it.

Compare that to Pineapple Express, which we watched again, and is now, definitely, my favourite comedy of the year. Considering it's a stoner comedy it's built with the same care that Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg lavished on Superbad, progressing with logical beauty from scene to scene with only a couple of moments at the end of the second act that show they love their McKee a bit too much. It's not a deal breaker at all, though, and the Hot Fuzz-style genre mash-up of the final act is even more satisfying second time around, with kudos going to Rogen's repeated declarations of, "Nice!" whenever anything goes his way (such as the hilarious respawning machine guns in the underground lair).

In comparison, Tropic Thunder looks like a first cut mess, something you would show to a studio head to reassure them that the money is on the screen. How talented individuals like Stiller, Etan Cohen (partly responsible for the magnificent Idiocracy) and Justin Theroux could botch this is beyond me. The latter name is especially troubling. My previous excitement at his participation in Iron Man 2 has withered completely. Let's hope he's better off without the improvisational scenes between the leads that appear to have derailed the film so badly.

Justice Society of America by Geoff Johns and Dale Eaglesham

Is this the best comic on the market right now? In terms of superheroism, perhaps it is, though of course it has been great since Geoff Johns jumped onto the title early in the previous incarnation. Johns is always great value (especially lately; he's on fire), but JSA is better than ever, making me retroactively like Kingdom Come more than I originally did. However, the main reason is...

...OMG Hawkman is a TOTAL BADASS. Trust Goody-Two Shoes Jay to get in his way though.


Turner Prize-winning director Steve McQueen's meditation on Bobby Sands' hunger strike has been damned by some of the UK press for daring to portray the Republican struggle in a noble light, which is hilariously inappropriate as that is absolutely not what the film is about at all. While, yes, it is set in The Maze and follows Sands' strike from conception to death, and while it shows in horrific detail the back-and-forth mental and physical combat between the imprisoned IRA soldiers/terrorists/politicians (delete as applicable) and the guards, it's pretty much an abstract exploration of what art is. Prisoners daub the walls of the cells with shit, flood the corridors of the prison with urine, and, eventually, stage a protest that turns their bodies, as depicted by McQueen, into a time-lapse photo of living, breathing decay. Even the poster shows one of the "paintings" by a prisoner (a nod to previous Turner Prize winner Chris Ofili?).

This is, as far as I can tell, the one reading of the movie that explains the peculiar structure. The first third of the film concerns a new prisoner (Davey, played by Brian Milligan) learning the ropes of prison life and the protests therein via his cellmate Gerry (Liam McMahon), the middle third is the much-debated conversation between Sands (Michael Fassbender) and his priest (Liam Cunningham) about mortality and politics, and the final third is an impassive, minimalist depiction of Sands' lengthy death with Davey and Gerry disappearing from the movie altogether. Bear in mind, except for the middle section, there is almost no dialogue, with only a minimal amount of verbally communicated information giving background on what is happening. There is barely any character development, but then that's not what the film is about. It's about their acts, their attempts to say something with little more than their bodies as the conduit of their emotion and rage. Much of what they do has little effect. The shit paintings are blasted away and the urine is washed up in a shot of audience-patience-defying length. Only the deaths of the hunger strikers seem to have any effect, though that is relegated to a few title cards at the end of the movie giving a few nuggets of information about the subsequent years.

Getting angry about the movie for glamourising the strike (shurely shome mishtake; it's nigh-unwatchable) or having a pro-IRA agenda seems wrong-headed, though I understand many people are never going to allow themselves to move on from those horrible years during the struggle. However, in the terms of the film, that struggle is less important than McQueen's interest in the way the prisoners and hunger strikers express themselves, with the only scene that debates the details of the Republican battles and the morality of politicised suicide being the notorious static art/anti-art shot of a drab room and Sands and his priest smoking and talking for twenty minutes, which, while hypnotic and superbly played, stands in contrast with the bleak, almost silent beauty of the rest of the movie. McQueen seems to be staring into his soul and wondering why he is an artist, and how his art compares to something as drastic as turning the place you live into a hellhole using only the waste products of your body, or allowing yourself to be brutalised just to make a statement and to psychologically affect those who torture you. Isn't art meant to affect the people who experience it? Isn't making a person beat you to a bloody pulp the most extreme way to do that? Where does that leave McQueen and the rest of the YBAs?

Can you tell that I thought it was amazing? There's a lot to digest (really, no pun intended), especially as it is attracting some fascinating debate, as in this excellent piece from Frieze magazine. It's definitely on my end of year best film list, and strongly recommended for anyone who can handle the body horror.

I'm unsure as to whether admitting that I spent the last couple of weeks doing all of that in addition to habitually checking on Obama's progress makes me look more or less sad. I could lie and say I also went sailing, if that helps. Of course, now we're waiting for his press conferences as if they were episodes of Friday Night Lights, as we tuned into CNN last night to see him talk about getting a shelter dog (which made Canyon almost swoon) and expressing condolences over a journalist's damaged arm (which almost finished me off). Compared to that slavish devotion to the President-Elect, acting like a couple of lovestruck groupies, six hour marathons of CivRev almost look cool.


Douglas said...

ok, I enjoyed Burn After Reading and agree with you about Brad Pitt being a better comedic actor than one may credit him. I also agree with you about Tropic Thunder; Robert Downey Jnr's performance was good but the film was a little disappointing. That said: The Spy Who loved me? Living Daylights? What. The. Fuck?
Stop what you are doing and watch From Russia With Love, or Goldfinger before it is too late for you.
Anyway, I'll let you off as 11 men I like have beaten 11 men I don't like by kicking a ball into a net. Yes,

Admiral Neck said...

You angry angry man! You'll find I said that Casino Royale was my favourite Bond since OHMSS. Obviously FRWL and Goldfinger are the best Bonds, because of their intense radness. Anyone with half a brain can see that. Either your rage or your euphoria has clouded your mind somehow. God!

Yeah, it's been downhill since those classics, but each Bond actor has had a good movie, though I will admit Spy What Loved Me is not great, just enormous fun. Living Daylights, though, that's the shit, man. Reckanize.

Douglas said...

My apologies, Sir. I've not paid enough attention.
I liked Goldeneye though, and maybe LD doesn't get a lot of credit. TSTLM has one of the greatest opening scenes, don't you reckon?
And it's euphoria, baby. Aint no rage here.
Keep up the good work!

sjwoo said...

Haven't seen Tropic Thunder yet, but we will. Loved Pineapple Express -- the buckle-rope scene still makes me laugh.

On a completely unrelated note -- check it out if you haven't:

Dave Gibbons interview