30 September 2012

This Summer

That was about the best summer of film I can remember. I can probably only remember the last two summers but I can state with certainty that this year was better than the last (yes, I'm still bitter about The Tree of Life).

Let's say the start of summer was Moonrise Kingdom the first week in June and the end was Lawless over Labor Day weekend. This improves my best summer argument because May offerings ranged from the sucky (The Avengers) to the unspeakable (Battleship). Just so you don't think I'm infallible in my seasonal moviegoing, I'll first address...


Savages. With this film I walk away from Oliver Stone. I've been able to accept him as a so-bad-it's-good trashmaster with Wall Street and U-Turn but after Wall Street 2 and Savages I'm done. If longtime WTT-favorite Shea Whigham as Bud Fox-cum-Kurtz slicing sashimi can't save your film, nothing can. Let's also have a moment of silence for Taylor Kitsch--with Savages, Battleship and John Carter, he has produced one of the most concise and spectacular leading man flameouts in history. But, of course, Texas Forever. It's impressively symmetrical the way Kitsch's 2012 is the opposite of Ryan Gosling's 2011.

Beasts of the Southern Wild. This film made me feel the way the Dolphins made Nathan Lane feel in The Birdcage. Trusted reviewers and friends told me to see this great movie; I saw a longish advertisement for distressed jeans and lives, valorizing alcoholism and stupidity in the face of natural disaster. I second Ignatiy Vishnevetsky's takedown.

The Bourne Legacy. I think there was an interesting premise for a film here: lonely super-chemist Rachel Weiss injects mind-altering drugs into mildly-retarded ex-soldier Jeremy Renner in her massive haunted house. The film we got is not nearly as intriguing and did not have an ending, only a credits sequence.

Small Pleasures:

Prometheus. While I found Ridley Scott's Alien full of ideas and this film rather short on them, there was some joy in the look of Prometheus. Michael Fassbender's android predictably stole the show--my favorite sequence was his David puttering about the ship getting ready to wake everyone up. Beyond Fassbender's Lawrence of Arabia dye job, there's a Benjamin Buttoned Guy Pearce, the so-close-to-Tom-Hardy-you-can-taste-it Logan Marshall-Green and the smooth Idris Elba, who can captain my spacecraft any day.

Ted. A buddy comedy that overcomes a lot of obstacles. Mark Wahlberg is still a little bland as a leading man. Mila Kunis is a one-pitch pitcher: smoky-eyed hotness. Giovanni Ribisi has apparently decided to stalk Wahlberg through his films with twitches and odd facial hair. But then there's that hilarious talking bear! Too many lines to quote but my favorite has stayed with me all summer: "well, you're never alone when you're with Christ." And congratulations to Seth MacFarlane for getting to film his Fenway Park climax--it's just like Hitchcock getting Mount Rushmore for North by Northwest

To Rome with Love. We find four versions of Woody here and I'll ignore the actual Woody, the Italian Woody (Roberto Benigni), and the young Italian Woody (Alessandro Tiberi) to focus on the most successful quarter of the film, with the young American Woody (Jesse Eisenberg). Jesse is tempted away from his girlfriend Greta Gerwig (possibly because she's always dressed like a watered-down Annie Hall) by freelance temptress Ellen Page. The juice of To Rome with Love is Alec Baldwin's masterful over-the-shoulder insights into Juno's bullshit, the young woman who knows one line by every famous poet. He exclaims, "and she's neurotic--it's like filling an inside straight." Eisenberg eventually comes around to Baldwin's pessimism and Allen the director ends our time with Alec in an affecting close up. The last view out to sea from those creased eyes (and everything they've seen) had stunning weight in a sketch of a film.

The Campaign. It's surprising that Will Ferrell and Zach Galifiniakis would star in a piece of documentary-style realism about the American political process but there it was. Say and do anything to win and serve the wishes of behind-the-scenes billionaires. Preferably while wearing pleated blue jeans and sporting ever-larger American flag lapel pins.   

Celeste and Jesse Forever. I'll be straight with you: this film is never as funny as the "Snake Juice" episode of Parks & Rec. But we can't hold it to such a high standard--it's still a beautiful blue movie. Rashida Jones works in a blue office, wakes up on blue mornings, flies to blue weddings. Andy Samberg makes a surprisingly effective melancholic as well. There's a moment when he helps Rashida reimagine a recalcitrant Ikea chest as a chunky robot. It's great to have made art but Celeste and Jesse teach us that, at some point, we need to build the furniture too.

Lawless. Despite missing the full promise of The Wettest County in the World and the whole wait-where-did-Gary-Oldman-go? mystery, this was another step in the Tom Hardy breakout. Jessica Chastain was naked; Tom Hardy was sexy. An Oscar nom for costume design is in order for Margot Wilson for her crucial work in cardigan resurrection. If only John Hillcoat hadn't wasted so much time showing Mia Wasikowska leaving her co-star Shia ReBuffed...har har har.

Large Pleasures:

Moonrise Kingdom. I've posted on how Wes Anderson makes me happy. And now I've moved on to hoping that Anderson settles into a great mid-career run, cranking out signature films like Powell & Pressburger or Douglas Sirk. I'm sure even his most vehement detractors will be won over by the presence of Angela Lansbury in his newest picture...

Oslo, August 31. I tumbled all over myself when it came out. It's thick with the details of mental illness. The laceless shoes of the patients at the facility from which you escape on a day pass. The voicemail boxes of people you call to see if they can make it better. The sister who's been hurt too badly to even eat lunch with you. The return to your empty childhood home (not unlike the one in Olivier Assayas' Summer Hours) where there's nothing left but the inevitable. Troubling, but worth the time for Anders Danielsen Lie, who would be in all kinds of Oscar contention if anyone had seen this film (maybe we'll get an American version with Ryan Gosling).

Magic Mike. Exiting the packed theater after whooping my way through Magic Mike, a couple of cool film dudes were discussing the "screwed up" shot where waves appear to pass through the protagonists on a Tampa sandbar. Because they knew much better than Steven Soderbergh how to make a movie. His relaxed lighting and breezy angles work much better here than in his previous film, Haywire. Cody Horn may not prove to be a great actress but she nails "look of disapproval" and that carries her through most of the film. The finest sequence is her first visit to Matthew "Dallas" McConaughey's teak-tanned club, impermanent as the vinyl sign tacked to the stucco outside. We see her voyeuristic pacing from a distance, feeling the same trepidation we do about how simultaneously tasteless and fucking hot the whole "It's Raining Men" production is. Mike approaches after the show wanting to know if she liked it. She cannot admit what we can--we liked it, we liked him especially. She has to ask against his relentless enthusiasm, "are you calling me like a dog?" Mike is so wonderful that I look forward to the sequel C. Tates is said to be directing. It strikes me that many of us sitting in theaters this summer (without even the benefit of prefect pecs) were looking for an escape as much as Magic Mike was, saying to ourselves, "I'm not my lifestyle."

11 September 2012

Out Walking #3

Out walking this time of night means I'm not in Seattle anymore. Though I've just seen Zoe Muth & the Lost High Rollers, the venue is not Tractor Tavern in the formerly autonomous township of Ballard, WA. I've left the Starry Plough which is, from the name down, just about Berkeley enough for me. There's about a quarter as many people in the place as there were for an open mic I attended last winter, which devolved into a regrettable level of hipsterism. Impersonating gifted singer/songwriters is apparently more appealing than listening to gifted singer/songwriters.

I keep Zoe in mind, the motivation for staying out so far past my bedtime. She looked much the same as she did when last I saw her, shrugging off a flannel jacket, her Danskos moving in time with the bass (it's possible I'm being harsh, they might have been cloggy boots).

I've Instagramed her for more orange, a color of romance since Fish Tank, one that follows me down the sodium lamplight on Telegraph. In her finest moment onstage Zoe sang "Before the Night Is Gone" in a hush not completely undone by the chatter of onlookers. I'll follow her advice here to stay inside the lines and mind the sideways wind.

For moral support I compelled my roommate to attend the show with me. With the infallible buddy system we wouldn't have any unplanned incidents with one or two of the late night hijackers whose robberies and home invasions have put Rockridge on edge. Or as on edge as you get in the least edgy Oakland neighborhood. My roommate suggested I might wear a jacket with shoulder pads, to cut a more intimidating silhouette. I scoffed and said I'd bring my Glock (har har har), as if the way my extra small, slim fit dress shirt threatened to rend at the seams over my thick trapezius muscles wasn't intimidating enough. Even besides her roughneck sartorial suggestions, her insights were invaluable. She sweetly pointed out that when I described the Lost High Roller playing the fiddle I meant to say the Lost High Roller playing the mandolin.  

My Raskolnikov coat does not (yet) exist and the roommate had to leave early, so I'm swiveling my way home alone. I try to focus on the recurrences and rhymes that please me on the near empty streets. That dirty and American grill smoke fading into the smell of that potent Ethiopian bread (its name an arrangement of consonants I'm always uncomfortable pronouncing). The discarded foil of single serving pseudophedrine and the steel of razor blades.

I like to believe that my life is not completely run by fear and anxiety. So I revert to childhood. 

I remember the temporally-appropriate Patsy Cline "Walking After Midnight" commercial. Alex Mack (well, Larisa Oleynick), at the apex of adorable girl-next-door-ness, has a then revelatory but now quaint "AT&T WorldNet" online flirtation with her fluffy-haired boyfriend. The ad reveals just how laborious sexting would have been in '97, given the need to scan in pictures and the swaths of baggy clothes everyone was wearing (such distance in volume and connotation from the PINK sleepwear preferred by present-day maidens). Sadly, Oleynick's recent life has been touched by tragedy--she will next appear in Atlas Shrugged: Part II.

This evening strikes me as close to the redheaded night in Julio Cortazar's formulation From the Observatory. A strawberry-blonde night at least. Immaculate slabs of the prose poem wander through my mind. I wonder whether the swirl of stars is likewise invisible in Jaipur, sunk in summer cloudcover and city lights.

For months that sea foam Archipelago book has been on my bedside table underneath Swann's Way, which I keep close for when I need to reach over for the word. I'm crossing the sidewalk adjacent to St. Augustine Church, frequently tagged and repainted beige in unevenly sun-lightened sections. An excuse to say the word palimpsest. Now there are fresh tendrils of hot pink spray paint on the playground wall like Proust's violet-cheeked fuchsias pressed against Combray's blackened churchfront. Made holy or not?

In Seattle I would have driven this mile home, at a time of night that required many circuits of tiny roundabouts in search of a parking place. To the denizens of the weekly (and hourly) motels a couple of blocks from my place, this circling movement also resembled the desire for late night companionship. 
One confused midnight I found myself pursued by a woman, platinum-haired with inch-long roots, her heels clicking like press-on nails over Formica. It was not until she pushed her face meth-disheveled face into my passenger side window that it occurred to me she was a prostitute. And did I want a date?

No, sorry, that's not what I want, no. Though a parking spot would be useful.

The saddest thing about the incident was that she was wearing eyeglasses. Most of the places she would have stayed are gone now, or were gone by the time I was.

That woman's face was like something I'd find in Cindy Sherman's SFMOMA retrospective. Her near-life-sized portraits satirizing reality television--the housewives and mob wives and hoarders and fiends--all seem redundant. The show suffers terribly in comparison to the brilliant one it followed, by Francesca Woodman. Both photographers are relentlessly their own subjects but where Sherman comes forward in caricature against K-Mart backdrops, Woodman recedes into her surroundings: the cabinetry, the wallpaper, the trees.

Sherman is nevertheless worthwhile for the uncanny resemblances in her Untitled Film Stills series, where she is perfectly Monica Vitti or Janet Leigh. Or Ari Graynor in the trailer For a Good Time Call....

I need an iteration of myself as a trenchcoated Bogart, a small man puffed like the black lizard on the spine of those noir paperbacks. Thieves are unlikely to be intimidated by the small "Imported from Detroit" logo on my sweatshirt (my murder mitten t-shirt was in the wash).

I'm thinking I'm almost home and I wish Zoe had played "Starlight Hotel" and I'd heard my favorite of all her lyrics "you turned my heart a lighter shade of blue" when some distance down Alcatraz I spy what, in post-race Rockridge, Oakland, CA, would be described as two "young males in hoodies," the description given for the gentlemen stealing cell phones out of strollers and holding up au pairs on their way home from BART. 

I do not have the trenchcoat with shoulder pads or the Glock or the ease of a local. I have only a burst of adrenaline and what my father describes as congenital chicken legs.

I've been highly amused by the Olympian controversy over racewalking. High speed cameras see what the eye cannot--top walkers do in fact lift both feet off the ground for milliseconds, though it's against the rules. I wonder how fast I can move without appearing to run. Probably not as fast as I'm going.