Sunday, August 23, 2015

12 Unbelievable Thoughts I Thought About Carly Rae Jepsen's New Album (And The Third Is Surprisingly Dirty)

We were reading stories about Planned Parenthood literally cutting open the face of an “intact case” to obtain and sell his brain when we happened to notice that the creator of the famous Call Me Maybe song had just dropped a new album, and then we noticed that freaking Pitchfork ran a review of it.  Naturally we had to get on the case and write about Carly Rae Jepsen’s latest intact record, because let’s be honest, how couldn’t we?

This special guest issue of The Author’s Playlist was written by Beatissima journalism student Dom Forke.

Carly Rae Jepsen, Emotion – Album Advertisement Review

Run Away With Me – Pure pop gold. I love the reverb and echo effects done on Carly’s voice.  This just makes me want to take my hands off the wheel, throw them in the air, careen straight into a tree, and kill myself.  My favorite lyric is, “I’ll be your sinner in secret / when the lights go out.”  So playful and flirtatious.

Emotion – Sounds exactly like a Haim track.  Gotta love it.  I’m glad that Carly Rae Jepsen is reaching out and ripping off a wider variety of artists now than she was earlier in her career.  Riding on suggestive lyrics about fantasies and tequila and inappropriately seeing women in one’s dreams, this clearly isn’t the same young and innocent Carly Rae Jepsen who stole our hearts with It’s Always a Good Time and Call Me Maybe.

I Really (Really, Really, Really, Really, Really) Like You – Hands down the best pop single since Shake It Off.  So catchy, with a chorus that’s instantly relatable to anyone who’s ever fallen in love or tricked themselves into thinking that they’ve fallen in love with someone to whom they are merely sexually attracted.  I love it when she says, “All I want to do is get into your head,” cleverly rhyming with red, like the color of her lips.

Gimmie Love – Obviously a reference to the late and legendary Biggie, Carly further pushes the boundaries by dropping a PG word (“whole damn night”) in the second verse.  This one grew on me more slowly than the rest, but after I listened through the album for the 11th time straight, I appreciated the simplicity of the repeating title in the chorus and the looping electronic bass line.

All That – A synthy, slow-paced throwback to the very best of easy listening.  Gives Thinking Out Loud a run for its money as the most touching and irresistible love song of the 2010s.  Make sure to listen alongside a muted torrent of Dirty Dancing or Grease for maximum impact.

Boy Problems – Listen up, girls.  This one’s for you.  Carly sings about how she just broke up with her boyfriend, but like Demi Lovatory, she doesn’t really care because she’s just got worse problems.  With an inspiring message about not defining yourself through men, this is necessary listening for girls who are going through those difficult, confusing tween years and don’t know what the heck is happening to their faces.

Making the Most of the Night – “Here I’ve come to hijack you,” belts Carly on the most seductive and blissful song of the album, which is an obvious innuendo referring to other female pop stars like Taylor Swift.  Insane production values and mixing make this a standout track in Jepsen’s catalog.

Your Type – Oh, the woes of being in the friendzone!  There’s a common misconception that only guys get friend-ed because girls can get sex whenever and with whomever they want (FEMINISM 101: umm, that’s totally not true), so it’s reassuring to see a major pop artist singing about this dreaded relationship stumbling block from a female perspective.  This reminds me of T. Swift’s You Belong With Me in all the right ways.

Let’s Got Lost – “I never wanted to discourage everything / your eyes encouraged silently.”  Beautiful and sugary with a sexy saxophone section entering over the bridge.  It’s good to know that Carly Rae Jepsen appreciates the sophistication of smooth jazz.  Remember Whiplash?  That was such a kick-ass movie!

LA Hallucinations – Sounds like a hip-hop-infused mashup of twenty different artists in one, but still a distinctively C-Ray song.  She even manages to work in a stinging jab at “Buzzfeed buzzards and TMZ crows”, which is just one of 22 reasons I love Carly Rae Jepsen.

Warm Blood – If Banks’ Warm Water and Taylor Swift’s Bad Blood were combined into one super-song, it would sound like Carly Rae Jepsen’s Warm Blood.  Probably the most experimental and progressive song she’s recorded, which is a good thing.  Many Carly Rae Jepsen fans don’t like it because it sounds so different from the style featured on her first album and her second album, but artists need to evolve artistically and we should support any traditional pop musician who has the courage to try new and different things like electronic pop music.  How could Kanye have made the auto-tuney, electro masterpiece 808s and Heartbreak if he didn’t first make the leap to break away from the stale, classic-sounding rap beats that dominated The College Dropout?

When I Needed You – Well, this is it.  We made it to the end.  I mean this is amazing!  Really sends the album out with a gunshot, that is a bang.

If you like weird, boring indie music by stuffy, overrated art musicians like Bjork, Led Zeppelin, Arctic Monkeys, Fiona Apple, Massive Attack, The Strokes, Jack White, The xx, Spoon, or Radiohead (ugh, I can’t stand those guys), you probably won’t like E·MO·TION by Carly Rae Jepsen.  If you just don’t get any of those people and like your basic Top 40 pop music as Basic as it can be, you’ll probably love this album. Carly Rae Jepsen isn’t a little girl anymore, and she’s here to prove that she can run with the best of them.

And the Author’s arbitrary rating is...
9.37 out of 10.  Eminently shallow but listenable pop music, unlike Kelly Clarkson, Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, etc. etc. excruciating hacks that you hear on the radio.  It ain’t Radiohead or U2 or Velvet Underground or some depressing fare like that, but it’s fairly fun for the flimsy stuff it is.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Horror Movie Roundup: Shaun of the Dead Is Scientifically Unfunny

This will probably mark the last horror movie roundup to be featured on The Author’s Files because there’s very little middle ground on people’s feelings about the genre.  Either you really love horror, monster, or psycho-thriller movies or you just don’t care at all.  My roommate falls within a nebulous region of hating scary movies while he’s watching them but always begging me to join him for more mental torture the next day; however, he’s an exception to the general rule.  I went with Shaun of the Dead and Caché for this final entry, the former because it appeals – strictly in theory – to a broader audience than just zombie fans, the latter because it was too ideologically repugnant to ignore.  The Author’s Files will still run reviews of these flicks in the future, but the variety will probably be confined to more recognized or recent releases that also have enough subtext for me to form an original opinion on them.

If you fall under the tent of rabid horror-consuming zombies, we have a new website written just for you called Descent Into Heck, because Hell was taken, and Heck is kind of funny, unlike Shaun of the Dead. Check it out.  The new blog.  Not this “romantic comedy, with zombies”.

I suppose I should offer a brief preamble to this piece, as its thesis will no doubt prove polarizing or sensational.  Hear me out.  Shaun of the Dead is a comedy movie featuring zombies, not a zombie movie featuring comedy, and so it should be criticized on its merits as a comedy.  Edgar Wright imbues his film with a light and cheeky tone that disbars it from being viewed as a seriously frightening or dramatic horror film.  Yes, there’s a fair amount of zombie culling and gory imagery that’s to be expected of any zombie movie worth its salt, but as satisfying as the makeup effects and exaggerated violence are, they don’t make or break the movie in the same way that they define the horror classics of George A. Romero or Sam Raimi.  What distinguished Shaun of the Dead from its contemporaries was an overtly humorous slant on the undead apocalypse, and so I feel it’s most fitting to focus on this aspect rather than on the makeup, special effects, or cinematography, all of which are fine but don’t make Shaun of the Dead what it is.

Here’s my argument: Shaun of the Dead is the Boyhood! of horror comedies in that everybody pretends to like it but no one really does.  It’s not dreadfully offensive to your intelligence and it has its fleeting moments of inspiration, but the film as a whole is so dull that it’s inconceivable why anybody who’s not a horror addict or a critic would sit through it.  The first time my roommate and I tried watching it, we made it about fifteen minutes in before I started hearing him passing gentle z’s from the couch.  I myself was technically awake but so detached from the film that I hadn’t mentally registered anything that happened, in the same manner that I often find myself “reading” a book, hitting the bottom of a page, and abruptly realizing I didn’t process any of the words above.  Granted it was after midnight and we’d just finished watching another, much more stimulating horror satire, but it’s undeniable that Shaun of the Dead obliterated any resolve we had to carry on with our days.

Out of Christian grace and charity, I decided to give Shaun of the Dead a second chance on a later solo viewing, and was profoundly disappointed when it didn’t get any better than those first fifteen minutes.  I won’t say that it’s without humor.  I chucked more often at it than I ever have at an Amy Schumer video. Here’s a list of all the somewhat funny or clever things that happen in Shaun of the Dead.

* Shaun’s fat slacker friend Ed asks him, his girlfriend Liz, and some others, “Can I get any of you c***s a drink?”  It’s funny because Ed is a douchebag and Nick Frost’s delivery is perfect.
* Ed and Shaun’s second housemate comes home and mentions being bitten on the way before demanding that they turn off their obnoxious electronic music.  Ed says, “Next time I see him he’s dead.”
* Ed greets Shaun and his friends by saying, “What’s up, niggas!”  It’s funny because Ed is a douchebag and Nick Frost’s delivery is perfect.
* Shaun and his friends beat up a bunch of zombies and flick the lights on and off in sync with Queen’s Don’t Stop Me Now.  This is really the only part worth watching.

… That’s it, I’m afraid.  Nothing else in this works on a scientific, objectively funny level, and I’m not saying that because I dislike Edgar Wright’s style (Scott Pilgrim is hilarious in its madcap, comic-booky way) or don’t get British humor (I quite like Hitchhiker’s Guide, some of Monty Python, and Mr. Bean).  I’m saying it because it’s a fact.

Let’s go through the movie point by point. So it opens in a bar and right off the bat there’s too much frank discussion of feelings and relationships without enough sarcastic quips to match the comedic tone.  Shaun currently lives with his best friend, another male and a bit of a childish jerk who plays video games all day and screws up everything he touches, because characters acting stupidly with no cause other than that they’re stupid is apparently funny.  There’s a ton of scenes in Shaun of the Dead that would be labeled cringeworthy or lowbrow if any other director made them, but because Edgar Wright is a respected hipster cult leader in the same camp as Wes Anderson he can get away with crimes like having Nick Frost impersonate an orangutan or showing Shaun and Ed repeatedly smack two zombies into the ground with a cricket bat and shovel.  Anyway, Shaun has lady troubles and shortly gets ends up getting dumped over his inability to commit to a more serious relationship.  The rest of the movie isn’t so much about him surviving a viral outbreak as it is about reclaiming his lost love, but both he and Liz are such thin characters that it’s not clear why he wants to reconnect with her.  He’s a nice guy who likes going out for a drink, and she’s a hot blonde, I guess… is there a deeper side to them that I missed?

He goes to work and tries to corral a bunch of impertinent hooligans into shape, but just ends up spilling ink in his dress shirt pocket, about which one of the hooligans laconically remarks, “You’ve got red on you.” Characters pointing out that Shaun has red on him will become a running gag of sorts, but it wasn’t even a joke the first time around, and all the subsequent occasions are only jokes because they’re references to the first time it happened.  Why would Ed point out that Shaun has blood on his shirt when they’ve just finished beating up two zombies in their backyard, Ed has blood on his shirt too, and they have no immediate plans to go out in the undead-infested public?  Why would Ed say, “You’ve got red on you,” when he knows it’s actually blood or brain matter?  Why wouldn’t he just say, “You should change your shirt,” or ignore it altogether because human civilization is falling to pieces around them and they have much more pressing concerns?  The only reason Ed says, “You’ve got red on you,” is because Edgar Wright is trying desperately to create a quirky, oddball comedy and doesn’t even care about the situational context of his one-liners.

After dispatching the backyard invaders by throwing vinyl records and swinging away with the cricket bat, Ed and Shaun form a plan to rescue the latter’s mom and girlfriend, get away from the zombies, have a cup of tea, and wait for the whole thing to blow over.  The one thing they’re undecided on is where they should seek sanctuary, so Edgar Wright plays through the same scene three different times in quick succession with almost imperceptible differences aside from ending in a different setting.  The only thing that’s remotely funny about it is how swiftly the editor breezes through the sequence each time, compared to similar battle planning montages in The Lego Movie, Thor: The Dark World, and, well, every other movie with a battle plan ever.  It’s just not that funny.  Likewise with the repeated tracking shot of Shaun walking to the convenience store, tripping on the sidewalk, and blithely interacting with people who become zombies the second time through.  There’s no realistic explanation as to why Shaun would ignore the blood on the glass or floor, the overturned trash cans, all the moaning homeless people, or any of the telltale zombie signs, so why are there so many stupid scenes of him cluelessly attempting to bond and socialize with the undead? I don’t think that Wright was trying to make a deep, insightful commentary on the mundanity and routine slog of a service worker’s life; this isn’t Boyhood! or some quasi-philosophical, awards crap like that.  It’s a movie about a man-child dealing with friendships that are falling apart and proving his mettle by taking on hordes of the undead with a less than ideal artillery.

Another common source of humor in Shaun of the Dead is contradiction and hypocrisy.  Characters say one thing – “I’m perfectly capable of keeping my work separate from my social life,” “He’s not my [gay] boyfriend,” or “We should turn the lights on,” –, then say or do something directly afterwards that implies the exact opposite.  It’s probably the easiest joke in the book to write, and Shaun of the Dead is stuffed chock-full of them.  Then there’s the vocabulary.  Early on, Shaun asks Liz what “exacerbate” means, and guess which word comes back multiple times from various persons trying to show how smart they are.  The two heroes also disdain the term “zombie” in referring to the infected, calling it the “zed word”.  Ha ha. What’s the joke?  The “special word” trope is such a cliché that no one could be bothered to delineate all the movies that use it.  There’s Warm Bodies, for one.

Shaun of the Dead isn’t quite as bad as Warm Bodies (really thorough thrashing probably forthcoming at Descent Into Heck), but the squandered directorial vision of Wright renders its generic zom-rom-com script that much more disappointing than Warm Bodies’ equally generic zom-rom-com script.  It’s nowhere near as entertaining as The Evil Dead or Zombieland, which came several years later and was also highly overrated.  Zombieland at least had strong, well defined characters who didn’t all kill each other at the end, and it united crazy Woody Harrelson, awkward Jesse Eisenberg, and brunette Emma Stone in one really enjoyable, violent, corny road trip movie.  Shaun of the Dead only has such a glowing reputation because it came First and all the actors speak in articulate British accents.  Who am I to begrudge a fellow American for liking a fancy British accent, but Shaun of the Dead is about as funny as watching maggots eat their way out of a caterpillar’s dangling corpse, which, for those who’ve never witnessed such a thing, is not a very funny sight to behold.

So, Caché.

The cover of the Caché DVD advertises it as a Hitchcockian thriller, “only creepier”, but to the best of my knowledge Alfred Hitchcock never capped his movie off by calling the largest segment of his viewers unrepentant accomplices in the self-destruction of underprivileged people who do not look like them.  This may be the most dishonest and insulting film I’ve ever made the mistake of giving my attention and time. The first hour sets it up as a drama about an unknown stalker terrorizing an upper-class family in France, sending them videotapes of their apartment exterior as well as creepy, childlike illustrations of stick figures with bloodied features, including a decapitated chicken.  We learn that the stalker was briefly the protagonist’s adopted brother when they were children, before the wealthy only child falsely accused the Arab orphan of purposefully intimidating him and got him sent away to an orphanage that would doom him to an inferior education and consequential life of poverty.

There’s still some debate online about the true identity of the stalker, but I think it’s easiest and most straightforward to accept the most obvious explanation, which is that the stalker was in fact the Arab colluding with his son and that both men were simply lying about their ignorance of the videotapes.  After all, people tell lies when they don’t want to get caught, and Muslims tell lies to themselves all the time anyway.  Some people think that the rich white guy was just stalking himself, for kicks or something, because he never searched the street outside for hidden cameras and because he’s the only other individual who would know where he was raised.  I choose to think that Georges’ passing by the camera a second time is just due to bad writing and direction, as Michael Haneke gives me no indication within this film that he’s proficient at telling an intelligible story.  There are so many other plot holes and unresolved motivations that it requires no stretch of my imagination to dismiss the character’s oversight as another flub by Haneke.  Nor does it make any sense how or why the rich white guy would sneak a hidden camera into the poor Muslim guy’s apartment and retrieve the footage from it to turn over to his boss (this serves no purpose in advancing the plot).  It doesn’t make any sense either why the poor Muslim guy would install a hidden camera in his room, especially if his end goal was to frame the rich white guy for murder, which video evidence would certainly refute, but at least he would have been physically able to create the setup. Aside from the Arab and his son, there are literally no other suspects in the movie and every single clue points to someone who has vivid memories of events from the main character’s young childhood.

So the poorly educated 99%er commits suicide right in front of the privileged white guy who got him evicted as a spoiled, selfish 6-year-old boy.  The rest of the movie is about convincing us just how arrogant and stubborn but privately guilt-ridden the rich man was for making the poor man slit his own throat.  The bully puts the victim through living hell, making him constantly fear for the safety of himself, his wife, and his son, and then the victim is the one at fault when the bully discerns that #BullyLivesDon’tMatter and chooses to end his own despair right there.  On the DVD’s behind-the-scenes interview, Haneke says something like, “While the protagonist is technically right in saying he was only six at the time… isn’t that an excuse we all would make?”  Yup.  It probably is.

I’ll confess to knowing nothing about the European-Algerian relations that form the backdrop of this movie’s plot, but I don’t think I need to as Haneke himself claimed that the story has universal parallels for every world society that harbors hidden “political triggers”.  Caché is one of the worst movies ever made, a simultaneously sycophantic and self-righteous Social Justice screed that stems from a warped view of human self-determinism and essentially accuses its primary demographic of disabling or even killing anyone who isn’t as well off as them.  The dialogue stinks, tension and release are nonexistent, and the narrative proudly wallows in its artsy ambiguity, never justifying the 110 minutes it takes the viewer not to figure out who was stalking the family or for what reason.  The only redeemable thing about Cache’s execution is cluing me in that Funny Games probably isn’t necessary viewing for indie horror fans.

The Megyn Kelly Movie – The Good Parts Version
Rated PG-13 for sexual references and blood coming out of her wherever.  Yes, it’s long, but we will never apologize for doing “good journalism”.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

"Best" Movies of the Year Part 4 (Under the Skin, Lucy, and The Loneliest Planet)

Continuing the Author’s severely belated countdown of the most acclaimed (and not acclaimed) films of 2014.  Scroll through the movies tag section long enough and you’ll find the other parts.

Is Under the Skin the most overrated movie of all time?

Of the three arguments I’ve had the profound displeasure of repeating over and over again the last year with my newfound peers, the most persistent one has been over the proper function of film.  A lot of my friends are voracious consumers of Marvel products – I mean films –, and have labored to prevail upon me the notion that filmmaking’s primary purpose is just to entertain.  This is not an unpopular notion, nor is it exclusive to the Comic Book Guy community, as even unhip, stodgy, supposedly more critical Oscar voters have regularly seen fit to reward movies that do nothing but entertain them (Argo and The Imitation Meme).  If the movie inspires an emotional state of mind or engages them on an intellectual level, that’s a nice bonus, but most college kids and Basic moviegoers with the brains of college kids would be entirely content if every film played out like 21 Jump Street with Jonah Hill and Channing Tatyum – a nonstop stream of punchy one-liners, inverted stereotypes, hammy acting, and visual gags.

There’s nothing wrong with appreciating that series, which consistently delivers all the above things with exuberance and hilarity, but do movies of its ilk really perform the highest, noblest potential of the visual medium?  Jonathan Glazer’s infamously conceited arthouse experiment Under the Skin argues, “No,” emphatically.  While there are some truly magnificent Scottish landscapes and Glazer could have cast a less attractive lead, there’s not a moment in his film I found enjoyable to watch, and I was honestly staving off sleep through much of the middle.  Under the Skin is anti-entertainment, begging to be slowly digested and respected as art, whether or not you hate it while it’s playing.  I stepped away from it thinking I’d just watched 2001 on steroids, and that wasn’t really a good thing in my mind.  What the heck was I supposed to take away from this, and why did it take so long?

Then I read a little about the production process afterwards, and I realized that for all my initial indifference towards Under the Skin, it’s not a film that I or any other unaccomplished critic can beat up on in good conscience.  A documentary about the making of Under the Skin would probably be a more interesting project than the movie itself, which seems to rebel against all conventional rules of filmmaking.  From what I gather, major portions excluding the more stylized sci-fi scenes were shot without a script, a storyboard, or even real actors, and the editor was tasked with piecing together a legible, complete story from hundreds of hours of disassociated, mostly static footage; in this he largely succeeded.  It’s easy to complain about the protracted close-ups of Scarlett Johansson’s eyes, of Scarlett Johansson raising a fork to her lips, of Scarlett Johansson going for leisurely strolls in the forest, or of Scarlett Johansson perplexedly examining her human boobs in the mirror (OK, nobody complained about that part), but the truth is that very few people could have pulled together such a coherent narrative from so much random nonsense.  Nor would it have occurred to many to outfit a van with concealed cameras and record an ‘undercover’ Scarlett using her natural allure to pick up real Scottish dudes oblivious that they were appearing in a movie.  If I’d known beforehand what I know now about the creation of Under the Skin, I’d probably have taken a much greater interest in its proceedings.  Maybe that makes the whole movie a gimmick, but I have to give Glazer credit for its execution, especially when I’ve never directed and likely never could direct anything quite as ambitious and inventive as the pretentious monster that he’s birthed.

In one of the more fascinating scenes, Scarlett picks up a disfigured man (played by a real person without any makeup, unlike someone else) and tries to strike up a conversation with him as though he’s just another average homo sapiens.  Whether she does this because she’s learning how to show compassion or because she doesn’t perceive beauty the same way as we do remains unclear.  All the motivations and visuals are pretty unclear, for that matter, beginning with the slowly materializing neon circle patterns that will make you initially question whether you got a broken DVD.  The bottom line is that Under the Skin is not a film for those who demand clarity in everything they read or view.  Like its central character, it manages to be intermittently hypnotic, eerie, and unemotional, and some of the images – a faceless motorcycle driver racing down an empty lakeside highway with the camera close behind, a diminutive swimmer fighting brutal currents while Scarlett stares passively from the beach – are beautifully stark and bleak.
A sample of the strangeness that is Under the Skin.

As a sci-fi horror film, Under the Skin never crossed over from disorienting to genuinely disconcerting, and as science-fiction it was more concerned with the general idea of an alien visiting our world than with depicting the culture or behavior of an alien species.  I don’t think the movie has a message, per se, but if it has any underlying purpose, it’s to be as alienating a movie about human beings as one could possibly make.  This is also why it’s impossible to enjoy Under the Skin while one is watching it, because it’s shot from a perspective that we as viewers will always find distancing or incomprehensible.  The seemingly random and unfocused cinematography, curiously dwelling on the most ordinary of human public behavior, is probably meant more to bewilder than to bore us, enticing us to look at ourselves and our civilization through the eyes of an outsider.  How’s that for some artsy-fartsy bulls***?

So is Under the Skin the most overrated movie of all time?  Certainly not.  Yes, Johansson wears one blank expression for almost the whole film, yes, it could do without some of the extreme, 40-second close-ups, and yes, the scratchy, experimental soundtrack gets to sound really grating and repetitive, but the creators succeeded for the most part at making their purposefully boring arthouse picture really inhumanly boring.  I only insinuated it was the most overrated movie of all time to make you read the article.  The real most overrated movie of all time is Spirited Away.

Scarlett Johnasson is a whore.

Lucy Cannon

Speaking of Scarlett Johansson, I also saw Luc Besson’s controversial return to directing wonky science-fiction, that being the succinctly titled Lucy.  Unlike a lot of people who get paid to ‘critique’ movies, I don’t give a damn that the movie’s underlying assumption (humans only use 10% of their brain’s full capacity) is biologically inaccurate because it’s a movie about a superpowered, telekinetic woman who throws bad guys around with her mind, changes her facial features at whim, and literally turns back time with the swipe of a hand.  Lucy is inherently unrealistic, absurdist storytelling, and if you can’t accept the premise within the movie’s tone, I struggle to comprehend why you’d even watch a sci-fi action movie in the first place, let alone offer your opinion on it.

As with the latest Mad Max movie or Whiplash, Lucy has a story that can be condensed into one or two short sentences, but the strength of the film lies in how the story is told.  Aside from a couple hokey but not excessive or boring cutaways to Professor Morgan Exposition-man lecturing before an assembly of enlightened Darwinian college students, not one scene feels superfluous or unessential to the whole, which darts by in a refreshingly compact 89 minutes.  Instead of treating us to a long succession of gratuitous explosion and shootouts, Besson discreetly regulates his special effects so that whenever something spectacular is happening we’re absorbing some new revelation about Lucy’s capabilities.  In the hands of a less competent director-writer, we’d get a training montage sequence of Lucy failing to move objects around her house which would forecast a later resolution of her disarming a bunch of thugs all at once, then of throwing bad guys into each other, and finally of pushing over cars or even entire CG buildings, repeating all these tricks until we’re beyond tired of them.  People complained about the trailer showing almost every action scene in the film, but that the marketing team was able to fit almost the whole thing into a two-minute advertisement is a testament to how briskly composed the film is.

Indeed, the greatest attribute one can credit Lucy for is its efficiency at packing so many distinct, original visuals into a framework while largely avoiding repetition, a filmmaking virtue that effects-driven movies seem to have lost in the age of the Marvel or the DC Cinematic Universe, both of which thrive on grandiloquent, infrastructure-wrecking final battles that invariably stall the forward momentum of the narrative.  Lucy, in contrast, is a constantly escalating thrill ride that hits its peak only at the very end, when Scarlett watches a city dissolve into a prehistoric savannah, somehow warps to the beginning of 2001, makes contact with an early monkey-man, and finally transcends our material reality entirely.  It’s a concept taken straight out of H.G. Wells’ Time Machine but makes for the perfect closing to a movie that revels in its weirdness.

As Lucy unlocks more and more of her severely constrained, Obama-towing neurons, her humanity simultaneously fades to the point that many viewers, unable to sympathize with an invincible character, will be disenchanted by the movie’s final act.  Lucy’s not nearly as memorable or endearing a heroine as Leeloo in Besson’s former picture The Fifth Element, but I don’t think she needs to be for the purposes of her own movie, which is an incredibly simple, short form narrative about a tragic figure spiraling out of control and everything going to heck as a result.  Nor do I think the movie lacks an emotional arc, as there’s a really potent scene midway through where Lucy makes a phone call to her mom and explains the overwhelming sensation of feeling literally everything.  Lucy is kind of like A Fault In Our Stars in that it’s all about bracing oneself for impending doom, but instead of simply dying, Lucy is helpless to retain everything that connects her to the rest of mankind.  One story is about gradually losing all the humans you know and love, the other is about suddenly losing everything that makes you recognizably human.  One of these movies is also quite well-made and entertaining.

Ultimately that’s all Besson wants his movies to be, superbly entertaining, zany, breakneck pieces of escapism, and why would anybody fault him for that?  It didn’t make it onto any critics’ best-of-year lists, but I loved enjoyed Lucy enough to go ahead and throw it on mine.

The Longest Planet

Speaking also of slow-paced, barely watchable indie dramas, I also sat through 2011’s The Loneliest Planet because it was free and the poster looked, well, pretty cool.  The movie itself looks pretty cool at times with striking nature photography and frequent juxtaposition of a redhead’s brilliant hair against vividly green hillsides.  I can’t say I wholly regret watching it, as it’s a very intriguing film conceptually and breaks a lot of cinematic rules we take for granted.  Whereas most movies are about things happening and characters who make them happen, The Loneliest Planet is all about what isn’t happening.  Nothing happens for the first hour, something really unsettling happens in a span of about three seconds, then nothing happens again for the next forty minutes.  Hence, if you leave The Loneliest Planet playing and take a bathroom break at the wrong place, you could very well fool yourself into thinking you just watched a movie about nothing, when in fact you watched a movie about one thing.  Yes, somebody falls down in a cold stream, there’s some sexual banter in one of the camping tents, and the woman eventually sings a folk song with the guide next to the campfire, but nothing of consequence happens in the grander scheme of the plot.  The characters just instinctually isolate themselves and (possibly) start to trust each other again towards the end.

Somehow it’s based on a book, even though the plot can be stated in fewer than 20 words.  Dialogue is really sparse in the first half and even sparser in the second, when the director mainly uses silence and spatial distance to convey the depth of a schism that’s emerged between a formerly perfect, inseparable couple.  None of the movie’s three characters talk openly about how they’re feeling, so the viewer has to infer what they’re thinking from the actors’ faces and their antisocial Body Language.

With that said, my gosh did this movie cry out for a Good Parts Version.  The average shot duration in The Loneliest Planet feels like two minutes or more, which wouldn’t be bad if there was more pointed dialogue or set interaction a la Birdman, but here it’s too often unbearable, with no fewer than three ultra-long, stationary shots of the hikers crawling across the frame like insects.  I understand that the director was trying to make the most naturalistic and believable film possible, and in a sense The Loneliest Planet is more successful at plopping you into a cold and foreign environment than any 3D, effects-laden picture. Similarly to Moby Dick, suffering from boredom, frustration, and confusion is just one of the feelings the writer wanted to induce in the audience, and it worked.  I was begging for the 20-minute fireplace scene to end as soon as Dato started divulging his whole life story; once it’s finally over, the film transitions to another stationary, wide shot of them packing up the camp, and then it cuts to the credits with no clear resolution whatsoever.  The Loneliest Planet was very obviously supposed to be an experiment in minimalism, taking the Show, Don’t Tell philosophy to its most extreme conclusion, and it’s absolutely infuriating.  The pivotal moment in the film is never rationalized even after the fiancée asks the escort to explain why it happened, so it’s really just a random plot device to justify the movie’s existence that could have been replaced by any natural disaster.

Would I recommend you watch it?  That depends on whether you can.  You could certainly be more liberal with the remote than your own Author, who patiently took in and admired every square foot of the colorful Georgian scenery waiting for something to happen that never did.  The acting isn’t as noticeable as, say, Benedict Cumberbatch’s emotionally overflowing performance in The Imitation Game, but that may make it even better, and the method of storytelling is nothing if not a daring risk.  Oh, and it was directed by a woman, Julia Loktev, so take that for what you will.

Actually, I hereby retract every criticism I made about this film.


Addendum: Jeffrey Overstreet, who doesn’t review nearly enough movies, has an intriguing and well supported theological slant on The Loneliest Planet at his Looking Closer website that I’d encourage you to read whether or not you watch the film.  The Loneliest Planet is such that any person’s evaluation of its technique is much more interesting than the technique itself, but Overstreet is especially good at elucidating meaning from an artwork that oftentimes seems meaningless.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Everything wrong with the GOP debate

Here are my spontaneous, disconnected reactions to the Republican candidates’ reactions to a bunch of carefully coordinated snares in the first GOP debate of the 2016 presidential race.  Technically it was the third debate of the race, but the one on C-Span earlier in the week and the one featuring all the pollster-certified losers don’t count because nobody watched them.  I’ll have another real article with structure and a thesis and such up later.

* Megyn Kelly on the moderator panel.  Who approved this?  She has a history of picking fights with every conservative- or libertarian-leaning person who comes on her show.  She didn’t get the job for her brain, folks.

* Pandering to Facebook viewers who don’t follow politics anyway.

* “Positioned on the stage according to where they are in the polls.”  Which polls?  Why would you tell us this, except to remind us that Trump and Bush are leading in the arbitrary polls you chose?

* What’s the fat slob with a record of political corruption and groveling for money doing here?  Who on earth is John Kasich and why did they invite him to argue here instead of Carly Fiorina, Rick Santorum, Bobby Jindal, or the ever entertaining Rick Perry?

* I apologize for calling Chris Christie a slob.  Apparently we’re not allowed to call people slobs anymore.

* The Pledge – This is not a debate.  This is a trap.

* “You fully understand…”  Why are you talking down to him, Bret?  Do you really think he’s a dummy?  Do you think your audience is full of dummies who need to be reminded that we’re effectively living with a two-party system?

* Rand Paul feeding Bret the troll on Trump’s pledge.

* “We’re going to move on… to be clear, you’re not making the pledge tonight?”  I thought you were moving on!

* “Ben Carson, your critics say…”  What anonymous critics?  Against whom is Carson defending himself? “Until a few months ago, you were unfamiliar with the political parties in Israel.”  Is Obama familiar with the political parties of Israel?  Are you, Megyn?  Does anyone care?

* Marco Rubio making Hillary the Enemy of the debate.  Actually, just about everybody making Hillary the Enemy of the debate.  Democrats and Democrat-Socialists are still jumping into the race and all you fools are acting like Hillary’s already won it.

* The Jeb Bush dynastic politics question.  That’s seriously the hardest leading question you could come up with for him?

* Megyn Kelly playing the sexism card.  “For the record, it was well beyond Rosie…”  Who else, Megyn? Why are you pulling out random quotes without supplying context?  Couldn’t one argue that hags like Arianna Huffington and Rosie O’Donnell got off really easy being called slobs and pigs?  It’d be sexist for Donald Trump not to call them those things just because they’re women and he should be nicer towards them on that account.  This is possibly the dumbest thing you could pull out of a bag to discredit Trump, so dumb that no one was even talking about these statements prior to the debate.  Isn’t your motto “We don’t make the news; we report the news”?  Why are you manufacturing news?

* “How can you win when you’re such a divisive figure?”

* “Would you really let a mother die rather than have an abortion?”  Who says they’re going to die, Megyn?  What scientific percentage of a chance of dying do you need in order to kill your unborn baby, and who will measure it?

* What is “everyday America”, Scott?

* Mike Huckabee sounds like a nut.  What’s he even taking about with the 5th and 14th amendment?  I thought the 14th amendment was about racial equality, not sexuality or citizenship or some other phony “civil right”.

* “Your Saint Peter rationale”.  Seriously, why is John Kasich on the Republican panel?  Why not abolish Medicaid altogether?

* “There should be a path for earned legal status…” but there is, Jeb.  Why speak for a minute about cutting back on immigration if you’re going to undercut everything you just said in your last 10 seconds?

* What does Chris want Trump to do?  Talk to Bush, talk to him, talk to the people who called him a man of “extraordinarily ugly” convictions?

* “What evidence do you have that the Mexican government is sending murderers, rapists?”  You’re a reporter, Chris.  Why don’t you tell everybody?

* Marco Rubio talks for a minute on immigration but advocates nothing.

* Scott Walker also says nothing.

* What are you blathering about, Chris Christie?  No one wants to hear about your not-dead wife.

* Rand Paul makes Christie look like a petulant, constitutionally illiterate stooge.

* “What would you do to take care of ISIS?”  Forty minutes into the debate, a legitimate question of policy.

* “How do you look at them now and tell them your brother’s war was a mistake?”  Was it?  Why are you hurling loaded questions?

* “Would you bring back waterboarding, Mr. Carson?”  Neverending stream of asinine, barely relevant questions is neverending.

* “We have to take care of the people who can’t take care of themselves, and I’ll do that through a different system.”  Who are those people, and why do they need help, Mr. Trump?

* Bret Baier: Jeb didn’t talk about Common Core, so why don’t you, Rubio?

* Yo, Jeb, Common Core is all about lowering standards.

* “That includes people who feel as though they don’t have the chance to move up… restore the sense that The Miracle will apply to you.”  What the Hell is Kasich talking about?

* “If Hillary is the candidate, which I doubt…” Thank you, Carson.

* “To save the entitlement system…”  None of these people should even want to save the entitlement system.

* “They don’t need that Social Security check.”  But they already paid for it, Christie.  I don’t suppose you’re going to say that high-earning people “don’t need another tax break” either.

* Huckabee has the right idea on Social Security, but then he doesn’t follow through to its logical conclusion.

* Do you really want to argue with Donald Trump about his own business ventures, Chris?

* Why is ISIS the target of every single foreign policy-related question?  Name recognition?  Public paranoia?  There are other terrorist networks out there, many of them armed by Iran.

* Barack Obama’s credo is “trust and vilify”.  Good one, Huckabee.  That didn’t sound canned at all.

* “How could you help a charity so openly committed to abortion rights?”  What abortion rights, Megyn, and didn’t we establish earlier on in the debate that you don’t think abortion is that big a deal?  Would you really let a mother have a baby rather than have an abortion?

* “I created a culture of life in our state.”  What is a culture of life?  You sound like a whacko.

* Is Megyn Kelly such a b**ch that she needs to flagrantly twist Marco Rubio’s position on abortion in order to make him look like a wishy-washy opportunist?  You’re the top-rated newsbabe on cable and #2 reporter overall, second only to O’Reilly.  Shouldn’t you be above that sort of rank distortion?

* “When did you actually become a Republican?”  What does that even mean?  They’re not competing for the prize of Best Republican.  They’re competing for the presidency of the United States and using the Republican party to get there.

* “I have said that Trump’s language is divisive.”  Every politician’s language is divisive.

* “I just happened to go to a gay wedding…”  How progressive of you.  Kasich says that supporting gay marriage is about “showing unconditional love” and “loving them no matter what they do”, and the audience eats it right up.

* Thank you for slapping down the marriage question, Rand Paul.

* Cut from Scott Walker talking about training police and restraining force into a movie trailer about the members of N.W.A.

* Walker’s head bobs when Carson’s speaking are driving me nuts.

* All these people need a more descriptive word than “increasing” and “decreasing”.

* Are we really going to talk about trannies in the military?  This whole event is a joke.

* Rand Paul had this exact same Israel argument with a dumb bimbo from the Today Show several months ago.  Why are you bringing it back up?

* The Facebook God question is a blatant setup, so why is nobody calling that out? This is an obvious act of sabotage meant to make Republicans look like the religious loony party.  Would the subject of religion ever come up in a Democrat debate?  How difficult is it to say, “I didn’t come here to exchange pleasantries about my faith.  I came here to sell myself and my future vision for government.”

* There’s a word for people like John Kasich that starts with D and rhymes with rag. But I guess he’s also a rag.

* “We gotta stop worrying about being loved and start worrying about being respected…”  Aren’t those the same thing?

* Ben Carson is right.  You all sound arrogant and stupid saying that you’re the only Chosen One who can repair America’s Obamanation.

* “I’ll be my best to do that.”

* This right here.

* Biden announcing his presidential run afterwards in a way that only Biden could.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Hillary Clinton Says Size Doesn't Matter

Article written by George Stefano Pallas.  Historical ignorance, sizeism, and APish style decisions practiced by the author are his alone and do not necessarily reflect nor should be construed as those of the Author.

Former Secretary of State Hilary Clinton took a bold stand Wednesday on what’s certain to be the defining social issue of the 2016 presidential race. With the battle to legalize same-sex marriage officially settled by the United States’ most powerful non-legislative body, the winds of change have now begun to veer towards another underclass that’s long been lurking in the shadows, craving the same privileges and dignity that most American citizens take for granted.

Aligning herself with the Tiny House Movement may be the riskiest and most rewarding decision Clinton will make this political season. Considering the controversial statements and condemnation that tiny homeowners have endured from almost every Republican candidate at some time, Clinton is setting herself firmly at odds with social conservatives and trusting that she’ll benefit from increased commonality with the youth vote and their progressive values.

“Whether you’re building a tiny house with four other people and putting it on your trailer or it’s a crowd going out for a walk one night and decide they want to buy that house, I mean, what difference, at this point, does it make?” she said in a broadcast message for the nonprofit Human Rights Campaign. “TINY rights aren’t just rights for tiny homeowners. It’s human rights for everybody.”

Clinton’s video quickly went viral on Facebook and TINY residents celebrated it as a new pinnacle in the acceptance of their community’s ideals. America has been rapidly evolving on TINY rights, with fully 41% of likely voters now identifying with the Tiny House Movement as compared to 35% at the beginning of the previous administration. Television has begun to reflect this growing tolerance with an increase in TINY-centric programming, including HGTV’s “Tiny House Hunters”, “Tiny House: Big Living”, and “Tiny House Builders”, as well as TLC’s “I Am Tiny” and MTV’s “Tiny, Not Tamed”.

The GOP’s strategy so far has been to stay away from TINY issues and focus on improving the economy, but Clinton’s historic move and the burgeoning cultural movement may force them to take a more open stance on the TINY community. Baby boomers and Generation X are content with knowing that 2015 is the best time ever to build a tiny home in America, but socially liberal people insist that the country has a long way to go before it’s guaranteed equality for all property owners. In most states, they point out, TINY residents are not considered a protected class and aren’t ensured the same necessary protections from police and firemen.

“When was the last time you saw a cop busting down a tiny house door to stop a burglary?” asked Salon contributor Sara Jessabelle Watson on The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer. “Exactly. This is what advocates of TINY living are talking about, you know, this wanton disregard for the rights of people just because their homes look different. And I think people are finally waking up to see the ashes, and there’s still a major gap between where voters are on this and Congress is. Tiny houses matter, and we won’t stop until we see as many tiny houses saved from burning down or getting robbed as regular houses.”
“We won’t stop until we see as many tiny houses... burning down or getting robbed as regular houses.” ~ Sara Jessabelle Watson

Once a requirement for enfranchisement in the pre-Civil War era, land ownership used to be a preferred weapon of the moneyed elite for suppressing the middleclass vote. Many tiny homeowners are concerned that religious conservatives will reinstate these laws to silence the voices of people with different living arrangements. “It’s definitely a concern of mine,” says Annalise Jefferston, who lives out of her trailer house with her roommate and friend Corynne Cox. “Like, I don’t plan on getting in a long-term relationship any time soon and to a lot of people, that’s just unbelievable to them because they think I should be barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen, so yeah I’m concerned.”

Tiny homeowners also continue to fight for equal visitation rights, which remain limited because of institutional discrimination against their living conditions. “If my good friend and typical suburban mom Donna Dees-Thomases gets sick in her tiny house while she’s on the road, then she can only have two friends or partners over at a time,” says Clinton. “That is not just, and that’s not what America is about.”
“its ease to talk the talk but lets’ see @HillaryClinton walk the wack #tinyhousemovment #notconvined” ~ @TinaSimone

Not everyone in the Tiny House Movement is impressed by Clinton’s stand, though. The Alliance of TINYs Against Taxation (ATAT) gave a press release commending Clinton for her positive message but calling for a stronger display of solidarity. “If Clinton really wants to show that she understands the struggle of tiny homeowners, then she should purchase a tiny house and try living in it for a week.  A lot of people suspect she already owns a tiny house. Why doesn’t she just come out and say it?”

The Author’s Files reached out to Clinton to ask what she thought of Marco Rubio calling for a bipartisan plan to enact comprehensive homeownership reform. Before the publication of this article, we had an emailed reply direct from Clinton herself, but then we accidently put our computer’s hard drive through a shredder and lost the message forever.  It won’t make any difference.