many people exactly like you ask me, "oh, little crispy, what is your favorite film?" well, i have always admired orson welles, jean-luc godard, francois truffaut, alfred hitchcock, fellini, kurosawa. no doubt olivier's hamlet is somehow worthwhile. but all of these works pale in comparison to crank 2: highvoltage. never before had film so profoundly plumbed the mysteries of the human heart itself, if any. it isan astonishing achievement in the filmic arts.
crank is also dank as shit. admittedly, the whole thing is impossible without the cinematic vocabulary developed by truffaut.
#OscarsSoWhite presents us again with a question that the institutions of the art world have been grappling with for decades: whether standards of taste or quality can be kept separate from other sorts of questions, such as questions about race, region, class, gender, and sexual orientation.
One way to interpret the demand for black nominees is as a kind of affirmative action, the pressure for it applied by people who are more interested in an actor's skin tone than in the quality of the performance. Spike Lee, Jada Pinkett Smith and others who are using the hashtag and leading the movement might seem to be demanding a racial quota, or some sort of proportional representation, but that hardly seems an appropriate way of figuring out who actually gave the best performance.
Sometimes I have that response myself, as in 2014, when there was an explicit demand from some of the same people that the cast of Selma get some nominations. I didn't think it was a good movie.
But the protestors have a point. Whether aesthetic standards are objective, or subjective, or culturally relative, is a question to bedevil philosophers. But one thing is obvious: aesthetic standards of quality themselves often are, and should be, at stake or up for examination in encounters between different cultures or even in encounters between different sub-cultures of the same culture, like white and black Americans.
A key set of moments in the development of modern art came in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when avant-garde artists tried to challenge the aesthetic standards of their own culture by absorbing or applying those of other cultures: in "Japonism," for example, or in Picasso's use of African masks or Gauguin's sojourn to the South Seas. This was part of the process of breaking the rigid, and arbitrary, and culture-bound standards of nineteenth-century European art.
Whether or not all standards are culture bound, those certainly were. But the people who taught art in the academies or showed in the salons regarded their own quasi-classical standards as objectively correct, and other cultures and classes as not understanding the nature of beauty and art, as primitive or behind the curve of history. Leave a false standard unchallenged, and it passes for true and impoverishes your art.
As the twentieth century went on, we ceased to need, or indeed to want, appropriations of non-Western cultures or American sub-cultures by white men. Spaces opened where the visual traditions and their practitioners could, to some extent, speak for themselves. Telling the story of twentieth century American art now without Jacob Lawrence or Kara Walker would be as irresponsible as telling the story of American literature without James Baldwin or Zora Neale Hurston.
White Americans' standards of artistic and literary tastes have had to change accordingly, and it's a good thing they have: we've found truths and beauties that we had made impossible for ourselves.
If you go to an exhibition of contemporary art, you are likely to see work by a diverse group of people with a diverse group of aesthetic ideas. Last week I was at the Whitney in New York, and the way they have come to interpret their own permanent collection has been transformed; they are showing us a much wilder and more diverse set of beauties than when it was all Hoppers and Wyeths (much as I love Hopper and Wyeth).
But we might wonder how much of that is really at stake with the Oscars, or whether the world of big-budget studio movies is quite the right world in which to accomplish this task. How meaningful is it to give glittering statuettes to black actors when the systems in which the films are written and produced and marketed are fundamentally white? To what extent does the Hollywood system give us any glimmers of different canons of taste, or challenge the pat cultural assumptions of white people?
It may be that for a variety of reasons, black actors are not being sufficiently recognized. That should be examined; people in 'the Academy' should be thinking about their own standards of taste, and what the role of race in them is. I don't doubt that injustices have occurred. But even within the art world, the distribution of awards is not the fundamental site of injustice. It would be more meaningful to nurture ways that the system can much more widely open itself to the creativity of many more sorts of people.
Again, perhaps I'd try to fix the Oscars last, and I'm not sure precisely which nominations I'd change, or why, or, honestly, how to care all that much. Nevertheless, I think the Academy's long-term approach - they've promised to diversify their own membership dramatically - is the right beginning.
The point might not be for us to tell once more the story of King, but to find places where people can tell the stories they want, or their own stories, or where the shape of stories is itself at stake. I think that in the medium of film we are missing out to a very large extent on the creative possibilities of all sorts of people, in spite of the pioneering success in all these dimensions of filmmakers such as Lee.
The situation is somewhat better than once it was in visual art, in literature, in music, though there are plenty of walls still to be breached. That it's not better in film, I think, has to do with the gigantic size and cost of the Hollywood film compared to most other art objects; you need gigantic hierarchies and a lot of wealth to make art like that, and those are where the power of us white people is still about the same as always.
It's one thing to reward or make superstars of specific people - I find it a little difficult to care very much about that. It's another thing to allow oneself to be challenged and changed in the encounter with other people's art; we should be trying to make that more and more likely.
Crispin Sartwell teaches philosophy at Dickinson College in Carlisle, PA. He is the author of Political Aesthetics.
i just saw selma, and i'm going to express a negative assessment. but first, the production design is excellent; it really gives that feel of the deep south in the '60s. and it is a great and inspiring story, though a bit compromised in its inspiration by the slow or non-pace of racial justice in the decades since.
but there is perhaps too much reverence for king to make a realistic movie about him. it is hard to escape the impression that the actors were cast as look-alikes, and that in itself might make you a little suspicious; they were perhaps not chosen for the excellence of their acting. but it's hard to tell, really, because the script and direction and even make-up makes them like wax figures of king, andrew young, john lewis (that actor was a cut above, though, even if he was partly cast on the basis of the size of his nostrils), coretta scott king, hosea williams, and so on.
there are a few half-hearted attempts at humanization, but they are...insincere, i think. perfunctory. everyone talks in extremely written complete sentences: they simply emit inspiring speeches at one another all day, which does not actually constitute dialogue. they don't talk like human beings. when a tear flows down the face of a character, it's like a miraculous but hieratic crying icon of mary or something. this turns the whole movie into quite the didactic little history lesson rather than a real human drama. honestly, it's also a lesson that is taught incessantly to everyone already in every school in america, a million television shows, etc etc, a lesson you cannot have avoided on a thousand previous occasions. and i don't think that david oyelowo as king quite brings off the electrifying preaching, admittedly an extraordinarily difficult task. but truly, there is no reason to pay money to see david oyelowo deliver king's speeches, because there are recordings of the real ones.
on the other hand, i also don't think, as some have asserted, that johnson is portrayed too negatively. i'm glad they included a little malcolm x, but lord i wish they'd shown a bit of his speech in selma: they just showed other people talking about it. anyway, i wouldn't have nominated it for any academy awards except in set design, art direction, and such.
oprah produced the thing and cast herself as annie lee cooper. she is repeatedly beaten. now, watching civil rights protesters getting beaten fills me with rage. but watching stupefyingly banal self-esteem entrepreneurs/billionaires get beaten, which was quite how i experienced those scenes: well, i don't actually straight condone it, but i wouldn't say i take absolutely no pleasure in it either. go back to inspiring us by your yoyo diets or whatever, sweetie.
here's another little problem. basically, a film about king is above criticism, expecially if you're a white person. that is a formula for making and selling bad movies. but the thing is a mega-million cash franchise produced by oprah winfrey, for god's sake. nothing anything like that can be above criticism. you can't be required to give academy awards on the grounds that someone played king or whatever it may be. just because your gigantic movie is about king doesn't mean, for example, that it couldn't have been better in many filmic or human dimensions. i sort of think a lot of people are pretending to think selma is a good movie to avoid being racists.
lauren bacall was my all-time screen crush. too frigging sexy to believe. that voice, for god's sake (voice is underrated as a dimension of desire). also i have always...appreciated the mini-bacall: veronica lake. more to scale.
more terrifying words have never been uttered than these: "produced by stephen spielberg and oprah winfrey". one thing such a collaboration is likely to achieve: a higher density of gaseous pseudo-wisdom and hyper-emotional cliches than was considered possible in such a small space. there's likely to be an explosion of banal proportions. i have no idea what the thing is about, but one thing i do know: it will teach each of us important moral lessons, touch us to the very depths of our superficial souls, and uplift us all for the umpteenth time into the very ether of Yacketysmackety.
i finally buckled under the boredom and started watching the netflix house of cards. now don't get me wrong - or, what the hell, get me wrong. that said, or left forever unsaid, i think one of the worst developments in the world of film and television is the persona of the virtuoso actor, and i have really more or less hated kevin spacey, philip seymour hoffman, and meryl streep, for example. here is the problem: their super amazing extremely self-conscious virtuosity is incompatible with the fictional contexts into which it is deployed. you go see streep play abraham lincoln or sea biscuit, and what you actually watch is streep-the-great-ack-toor: whoa the accent! the elocution! or whatever. really, people are all like "i'd pay to see daniel day lewis play a household appliance", and i feel that they often have. so, when you go see philip seymour hoffman play a bookcase or whatever it may be, you'll be all: 'i really thought he was actually a bookcase!' what that means is the opposite of what it says: you watched the extreme simulatedness of the extreme simulation and got off on that, not the script, for example. on the other hand, spacey merely irritates me, and i did get irritated with house of cards. i am still trying to figure out the accent - allaeged to be a georgia drawl - which sounds like a mix of cajun and afrikaans. oh hell i got caught up, though, and honestly, robin wright, whom i've been admiring since santa barbara circa 1987, can be on my television any time or all the time.
every woody allen movie since 1910 has been his best since annie hall or whatever it may be. a good parallel is the stones, whose every album has been their best since exile on main street. this is an indication that people really really want to like woody allen. every time out, they are working to persuade themselves in defiance of their own actual opinion that this is a good movie. they are actually expressing once more their disappointment, only they don't want you to know that quite. well, i myself really really want to like the rolling stones. but i really really don't want to like woody allen. so i'm ignoring the reviews (not to mention the sort of reviewers who all write the same blurb simultaneously) and will be skipping blue jasmine.
Morris’s canards about journalism and the “relativity of truth” are reminders that Malcolm’s work is never done: he represents one more defender of the fantasy that there are such things as facts that speak for themselves – a story that itself dictates the way it ought to be told, a story that has silenced its competing versions.
assuming both malcolm's and morris's positions on these things are being accurately represented, i'd like to point out that it's a false opposition, and i think that, as set up, neither malcolm's nor morris's position can be sustained or even made comprehensible. also, i think both need a bunch of philosophy. anyway, lewis-kraus certainly does.
so, what in the world could be meant by 'a fact that speaks for itself' or 'a story that dictates the way it ought to be told'? insofar as persons are facts, i suppose, they do indeed speak for themselves, or might, but it's true that the mountain isn't telling you how to describe it or dictating to you like you're its stenographer. on the other hand, the mountain certainly places extreme and elaborate restrictions on what can be said truly about it. so, you know, everest is where it is and not in another place, for example. did it tell you that? something like that would only occur to you if you thought mountains and everything else were made of words or that everything yaps, a position which, though it was fashionable in the 90s, was the very worst position anyone ever took about anything.
now, what about 'stories that tell themselves'? well, that is a bizarre formulation, and right, anyone who took the position that there were stories that told themselves would be deeply confused. but the whole style of formulation is bizarrely question-begging: it just identifies what actually happens with stories. so, i might write a story about edward snowden, but if you think edward snowden or everything that has happened around him is himself and itself a story, you are making the sort of mistake that psychoanalytic litcrits and documentary filmmakers make when they try to grapple with ontology. also you're some kind of wacky idealist. also, even if you could make something like that comprehensible, it would turn out to be obviously false.
stories are things people make. some of them are about the world. the world isn't a story, though it contains stories, for example in libraries or hard drives, or in the form of sound waves. every story is of course an extreme and brutal simplification of the world. don't believe me? alright i'm telling the snowden story. do i include a maximally-complete description of the international-departures area of the moscow airport? i mean every crack in the floor and molecule circulating in the air? snowden's every hair and slightest movement? that's what the world is like, but that's not what any story is like, even one by proust. as to the constant freudian hints in malcolm that we are each of us entirely stuck in our own subjectivity: that's just false and no one believes it.
on the other hand, if you are going to tell a story about the world, then you are going to have to select, interpret, and so on, and it will be marked by your subjectivity and relation to the facts. take a murder, which is what morris and malcolm are arguing about. there are indefinitely many ways you might tell a true story about it: you could do it in french or swahili; you could do it in 100 words or a million; you could do a fictional reconstruction or a documentary film, a graphic novel or a hyper-link tree, each of which could take a thousand different shapes; you could shape a classic hyper-coherent narrative, working up a climax and denouement, or in the style of james joyce; you could do it with multiple narrators or in the third person. and so on and on. obviously, the event and the trial etc do not determine all these things. but i will assert this, for example: there are even more inaccurate ways than accurate ways to tell the story. you might be wrong about who did the killing, for example, or you might construct in your million words a grotesquely skewed or even self-serving interpretation.
in short we do not have to and we cannot choose between facts that dictate how they are to be represented and a world melting into narrative strategies. ok?
and just one other thing: there are many ways of representing the world that just are not narratives or stories: statistical tables, maps, paintings, dry and relatively unorganized listing of facts, and so on. there are many ways of writing that do not consist of telling stories: polemics, outlines, scientific papers, the tao te ching. is this blog entry a story? is an argument a story? what about super-string theory? i think there will be many items in today's new york times, for example, that are just not best understood as stories. here's one at random. is it a story? alright, help me out: what do you mean by 'story'? also in the 80s and 90s stories took over every other mode in which the world could be represented (or if you prefer, constructed, invented, hallucinated), but that was just disciplinary imperialism by litcrits and certain sorts of psychologists. i guess you can work on that if you want to, or try to show that my road atlas is a story after all, but as you do, i think you'll notice that 'story' no longer at all means what people actually mean by it, so you lose the essence of the doctrine you're supposedly propounding.
so i did promise to stop writing so angrily now and then, or to write about things i love as well as things i hate. i watched beasts of the southern wild last night with my daughter. what a beautiful and moving thing; those performances are unbelievably true: so true, as many have remarked, that they don't seem to be performances. of course, i also admired the ethos: we're trying to preserve our place and our people, fucked up though they are too. it is, for one thing, an enactment of emersonian self-reliance in every dimension, even for people who are 7 years old. (and see, that can be the self-reliance of a real community as well as of individuals; those are not in tension.) jane, i have to say (who was also very moved by the film) did not understand at all why they insisted on staying, why they wanted to escape from the shelter, and so on. and i do think that the idea that people would want to live eccentrically, or in a context not fully institutionalized by bureaucracies, is not something that people who are being processed through an urban public school system are liable to find comprehensible. but i'll also say this: at 12, she's starting to become aware that a lot of what they're telling her is manipulative claptrap; we're going to see a more independent person emerging as time goes on, i believe.
anyway, i don't think that the giant boars added anything to the film's real power; they seemed a very ham-handed, kind of jungian way to drive home points that were already completely developed: you have to face death, you have to face some fundamental dimensions of aloneness, you have to find your own place and your own peace and your own courage. we could say: you have to face the beasts, but then to make that quasi-literal does not make it more profound; all those things are so there and so perfect without that. having giant boars represent the beasts within etc is too easy in a film that everywhere else takes the hard way, as if in a romcom you cut away to a rose during each kiss. (the most egregious example of this technique is tree of life, in which the kiss/rose cut would seem subtle, but way too happy.) now i just feel like a chronic quibbler or something, because that is quite a great work of art. and the beasts were also depicted with great visual power and intimacy. indeed, even as a pure visual experience, the film was varied, beautiful, right.
and, to all my liberal friends and family members who loved that film, i would ask you: is the ethos of beasts of the southern wild compatible with your politics?
watching spielberg and kerns-goodwin again on morning joe on lincoln. they're helping me to a formulation of my political orientation: with regard to anyone who might think or say, like the god of israel, 'i am clothed in immense power': i will strip your ass naked and show it to the world. power is an outfit, a uniform, a disguise, a shroud, a photoshopped self-portrait. what kerns-goodwin and spielberg are expressing - and really they just almost say this straight out - is the continuing cult of political power = our continuing need to be subordinated. it is literally idolatry: the god on his throne in his temple in our capital. lincoln the film is just that. on the other hand, it's hard to deny that lincoln had at his disposal a very large army, capable of burning your city in a pinch. so i suppose he was clothed in immense power. of course, there's the part where spielberg or k-g or kushner point out rather perfunctorily that lincoln was a flawed human being, not a god or a myth. well, they're right there, only they are being entirely disingenuous. isn't there a moment in the film where someone says to lincoln, speaking for all the auteurs involved: you've reached semi-divine status. maybe they have a half-conscious idea of connecting mythologies: the cult of political power and christianity: god is...human. but infinitely more. lincoln of course gets the christ treament routinely. and on kerns-goodwin's own account, this material, also central to obama's understanding of himself and his role, is a defense of politics as a transformative enterprise. well, the message of the book/film is 'compromise,' or as sesame street would put it: share. ok. but in her centralization of that quote, k-g shows what she really means: a super-powerful person can transform us: find someone and do what he says. then we will be as one.
ok then, let's talk about steven spielberg. i want to say, it really is amazing all the things you're not supposed to say, and all the people who are more or less above criticism. but anyway, here's my idea: steven spielberg may be this and that, but he is not an artist. i'd say the very budget of these films precludes them being particularly expressive or embodying anything like a personal vision: the films are elephantine, inert, manipulative rather than meaningful, and really quite banal, though of course impressive as spectacles. they lurch between sentimentality and didacticism: spielberg is always teaching you another lesson, and all the acting and emotion and stuff is like a crocheted cozy on a bludgeon. the lessons are very much at the level of sesame street: they're just cliches: precisely because of the gigantic commercial emphasis and investment, the messages must be uncontroversial, and boy are they. nothing strange or subversive or original or idiosyncratic has ever appeared in any steven spielberg movie. and have you ever tried to watch indiana jones and the crystal skull? he's just the chap to do a hagiography of lincoln: there could be no more redundant or predictable gesture by an american filmmaker.
spielberg will be remembered as the second-rate riefenstahl of squishy totalitarianism, the vanilla pseudo-auteur of the era of copyright protection. the stuff emits the scent of bureaucracy, or centralized planning of the arts. when it becomes impossible to spend that much money on a movie, movies will be better. with the deranged level of promotion, in which all media outlets conspire, it's almost like you're required to watch it and like it: it's socially compulsory, baby. i wouldn't necessarily trust the sincerity of any particular person's ecstatic response in a situation like that, especially critics. and i'll tell you this, the pentagon-style media organization - in publishing and recording and visual arts as well as film - has been an aesthetic wasteland, divided between big sortof highbrow art things and shimmering meaningless corporate pop. it's been the era of the blockbuster: way too much unanimous concentration on and promotion of way too few big bloated items: way too few novels; way too few songs; way too few paintings. you have to manufacture a critical consensus and give the bookers and stuff just to fend off facing your own conventionality and mediocrity. we must have the dullest and safest arbiters of taste since the romans. there's a difference between taste and authority, david remnick, and you are failing in your duty to be interesting. every sign that the culture is multiplying or disintegrating - and of course there are many - is good for the arts. insofar as we have universal cultural touchstones they will be way too huge and puerile. gigantic art should be resisted.
nothing kills a pop star like death. whitney isn't quite on the michael level, but any rational person has already had enough of the stirring tributes and endless re-hashing of the addiction. ok her version of dolly's 'i will always love you' is astonishing. first time i heard it was at the gym at vanderbilt; i just stopped dead, couldn't believe what i was hearing, especially because it was already one of my favorite songs. she had good poppy moments, such as 'how will i know.' on the other hand 'the greatest love' is just dreck. her mother was a great gospel singer; 'the greatest love' just replaces god with...oneself, about the worst and most implausible and most pitiful idea we ever had as a species. don't believe me? ask whitney's 12-step sponsor. the song was a high point in the wave of contentless self-esteem-enhancement and unearned self-worship that in particular women have been surfing for decades. but, like a good spa treatment, all the plastic surgery you can absorb, and all the chardonnay in the world, you deserve it. anyway, i'd say i was at best indifferent to most of her records. great singer, basically meaningless, extremely middle-of-the-road material.
i'll never forget a review i read of the bodyguard (wish i could recall the name of the reviewer). he said that when whitney houston and kevin costner kissed, 'it was like two boards clacking together.'
best picture, 2012: limping steppes, a deeply human portrayal of kublai khan's bum knee and the physical therapist who helped him conquer asia. starring - i don't know - important shakespearean ack-toors.
watcha watchin, crispy? exit through the gift shop, which i thought was a documentary about banksy, whom i regard as the most important artist of the last decade: the stuff is representational, made with great skill, funny, profound, and it actually has a variety of subjects other than art itself: these are all things that we need art for, and which art has ceased to provide. plus it is criminal, anarchist. an exquisite contrast would be to someone like jeff koons - who at least is funny, if empty - or matthew barney who just sucks. you know jeff koons's emptiness is indeed partly redeemed by his consciousness of his emptiness, and his consciousness of that consciousness, etc. but christ that doesn't actually give the crap any content.
now one thing exit through the gift shop might be is a hoax or parody of the art world, perhaps put on by banksy and shepard fairey, both of whose styles are sucked clean of meaning by the "filmmaker"/artist mr. brain wash. it's the kind of documentary where you think it's a documentary about banksy but however it's actually a documentary by banksy about making a documentary about banksy. either way, it certainly expresses banksy's disaffection with the art world, though in an arch superconscious way that is effortlessly taken up into the discourse it attacks. i could say i hope that's not the directon of banksy's work in the future. rather, the question is how to continue to do art outside of the venues of the artworld even while dealing with or accepting artworld success: ultimately the point is where these works are and how they got there, and for banksy that can't only be "here at moma," though that is inevitable.
whether the film is a hoax or not, it is seriously funny. (yo self-praise is no recommendation but i was teaching and even writing about banksy ecstatically long about 2003.)
i watched how to train your dragon the other day with ten-year old jane. well i'll be damned. the story was cute etc. but the animation just floored me. i keep thinking that cgi isn't quite there: still the motion doesn't look quite right; there is a lot of ingenious compensation for the not-quite detailed renderings; you'd see an amazing mass of tiny people and weren't supposed to quite realize that they were moving mechanically, or that they were basically cut-and-paste iterations of a few figures etc.. here the detail is almost unbelievably replete. the treatment of cloudscapes, fire, water, is not only convincing; it's breathtakingly beautiful. you know i've always kind of laughed off the idea of virtual reality a la matrix on the ground of the incomparable richness of real reality. this was an element of my "bone-head realism": there's nothing like a real world! now i'm not quite so sure.
well, exactly. and here is a review of 'winged migration,' from back when i was trying to use my website like a blog:
7.16.03winged migration this is a french documentary produced by a cast of hundreds and i guess fundamentally a product of the french government and the european union. it is ravishingly beautiful. as it follows flying and waddling and swimming and fishing and hunting birds around the world, you feel that perhaps for the first time you actually understand what bird flight is. the film reminds me of leni riefenstahl, which i mean as a compliment: much of the effect is achieved through brilliant, rhythmic editing. but i think the film is compromised fundamentally by issues with honesty. obviously, it was filmed from light aircraft, watercraft etc with amazing telephoto technology. but the conceit is that you are merely seeing the birds; the filmmakers are never present. the idea is to create a magical experience, a pure contact with birds. but had i been making the film i would have indicated, in the film, how it was made, and the presence of the planes would have been explicit. of course, first of all, the behavior of the birds was affected by the presence of the filmmakers, but that is never thematized even for a moment. and there are certainly cooked scenes; faux seasonal changes, i think, and a complete adventure near the end that purports to show a tropical bird escaping from a poacher on the amazon that is palpable jive. furthermore, obviously if you're filming birds from an airplane, you can't come up with the pure sound of beating wings in the absence of engine noise. this means that the entire sound of the movie, which obviously is intended to convey the impression that you're hearing what's happening, is an editing effect. in other words, the purity and magic that they are trying to convey are palpably false, and the magic they aimed at could only have been achieved through honest means. at the beginning, it says that the birds were filmed entirely without special effects. i have a bit of doubt about that, concerning what are apparently satellite images, some of whole hemispheres, in which birds seem visible. but either way it is supposed to convey the claim that this is the truth you're seeing. it's not.
so i sat up last night and watched ghajini, on the rec of my student charlie. it's supposedly the highest-grossing bollywood movie ever. it is excruciatingly bad, and i might just leave it there but i won't, of course. i should say that i don't know from bollywood, which could be part of the problem, but it will...stay that way.
one thing that's remarkable is the juxtaposition of genres. ghajini is based on memento, and (half-heartedly and half-competently) conjures up the super-dark tortured paranoid collapsing-time atmosphere of that film, but it's also a light-hearted screwball romantic comedy and a series of michael-jackson-influenced music videos and an oprah-like uplifting social commentary. the incoherence is absolute, but maybe it also accounts for the fascinating trainwrecky charm.
anyway, as a dark concept/action film it has everything that memento had except the intricate jigsaw plot, the cool cinematography, and the intelligence. it revolves the backwards time structure into a flat series of flashbacks. the super-bloody action scenes seem to be the only really decently-directed moments, and really, not so much.
the romantic comedy elements are far less believable than, say, the average sandra bullock movie, which is saying something. it's about a supposedly super-cute billionaire who meets a poor...model. together they save orphans etc. it at once gives you an absolutely uncritical cult of consumption and an unbelievably superficial commentary on the brutality and injustice of poverty. there's also no apparent actual connection between the actors, though the girl is kind of whimsically charming like bullock on a good day or whatever. the dude wears three-piece suits that also in every scene grab his biceps like a claw so you always see how buff he is, the real theme of the film, the only thing that holds it together.
so if you had an interminable sandra bullock romantic comedy juxtaposed with and ending in a bad imitation of a quentin tarantino bloodbath...but even that doesn't do the thing justice
because then there are the music videos: we just stop the film entirely and lurch into, say, a desert landscape, where the actors do pelvic thrusts in florescent polyethyline outfits to mind-numbing hindu techno. when the first one came on i thought it was a super-ironic joke or parody. by the third i was just screeching and writhing in terrible pain. the music is utterly empty, meaningless, with overthtop hyperemotional lyrics. really, india, like continental europe, should produce no popular music domestically, but import it all from us; they just have no frigging idea of any kind.
the "acting" is appalling. i guess my favorite performance was by the pop-tart/lingerie model who played a "medical student." the plausibility of her being a medical student was entirely expressed in the fact that literally every other sentence she uttered started with "as a medical student, i.." "hello, i'm a medical student and..."
the sub-titles were only sort of in english, which did help the comedy: "her trivia are priceless!": a deep expression of love.
but you know somehow i didn't turn it off. i'm not sure whether i watched it because i was charmed by the idiotic kitsch, or because i somehow got caught up in the absurd story, or because the world series is over, or because i was too demoralized to press the power button, or what. but i did watch to the ohsotragic yet uplifting end (an amnesiac birthday party at the orphanage!), rooting for the whole cast to die, painfully but forgodsake quickly (the thing is over three hours long). and i guess i learned something about art, by contrast.
so i'm sittin here watchin crank 2, which is approximately the baddest-ass movie ever made, with the possible excption of crank. the visual language, the music (perfect), the unbelievable chases and action sequences: incomparable, like its star, jason statham. also it's very very funny. plus it features the great dwight yoakam as an utterly vice-saturated
(booze, pills, hookers, etc) defrocked doctor. not to mention,
unbelievably, david carradine as a sex-addled 100-year-old. no
autoerotic asphyxiation, though, but damn near everything else. somewhere right now, quentin tarantino, the great genius of pomo cinema, is watching crank 2 for the sixth time, having a filmic orgasm. one thing though: probably you shouldn't take the girlfriend, the wife, etc. she's not going to like it. it's so guyish that you got to check your estrogen at the door. don't worry about the premise, which is insane. but within that, the plot does make sense, not that that's necessary. whoever these people are (="neveldine and taylor"?), they're dragging cinema past the millennium.
took my daughter jane (9) to ponyo, the new hayao miyazaki film. both of us are cultists. our all-time movie (like a lot of dads and daughters, i'd think) is totoro. also kiki's delivery service and castle in the sky. the recent ones have been almost too elaborate - like spirited away and howl's moving castle - for small children, with amazingly-visual horror-film animation. but even sam will actually put on princess mononoke, which is beautiful and disturbing.
anyway, ponyo is a perfect synthesis of these two styles; it was so breathtakingly beautiful and real for janie. it's a masterpiece of visual imagination: just teeming with hand-drawn images. girls dancing on tsunamis. it would surprise me if miyazaki (like jane's sister emma (21) hasn't been looking at winsor mccay, with his hyper-replete images, and the sea is the perfect chaotic environment that allows you to go beyond psychedelic. not to mention the transparent/reflective qualities of water, here presented in a tour de force of animation.
for reasons a trifle elusive, i've always hated meryl streep. i guess i feel like it's not exactly watching a great actor, or it is, but also someone who, at every moment, is saying "look at me, the great ack-tor." one more accent would kill me. but i do appreciate the fact that she's now making movies that i wouldn't see even if she wasn't in them, movies about, you know, abba or julia child. this relieves me not of my dislike, but of my bad conscience about it.
perhaps only tarantino could make an incredibly bloody/incredibly funny/incredibly stylish japanese-gunfighter/american-samurai movie. well maybe someone else could. but only tarantino could do it as a re-make of shakespeare's henry vi - the war of the roses as scored by ennio morricone, cast with beautiful asians, and set in nevada - or at any rate such is my speculation. but one other thing. not all men, putting it mildly, have quite understood the incredible sexiness at the heart of feminism. tarantino does (cf kill bill). in sukiyaki western django, drunk grandma turns out to be badassest gunfighter of all. the film is not attributed to tarantino, who "acts" in it, as the only white dude. but i'm speculating more or less that he made it. one nice touch: the credits are all in unsubtitled japanese-looking script, so that it's origins remain obscure, at least to me.