Friday, January 29, 2016

The Author's Files Now On IMDb

I meant to stick this on the end of the Oscars post but got so caught up in the moment that I forgot about it.  As you already know if you’ve been reading these Files for a while, back in 2014 I disavowed the use of a common lettering system to grade whatever movies I review, in part because I abhor the competitive ranking of films that vary widely in tone and theme but mostly because I realized that offering a grade defeats the purpose of writing a review at all, since 90% of people will just look at the grade and skip the review, learning nothing thereby.  So why do you go on IMDb, Josephos, you hypocrite, you two-face?  The answer is threefold: one for the sake of immediacy, given that my current full-time schedule prevents me from producing timely critiques of every film I watch, two for my own convenience, so I never lose track of anything and can better prioritize the content of future posts, and three because these aren’t a substitute for actual reviews so much as a handy, easy-to-use reference for people who already trust the Author’s judgment and want a prompt opinion on which films are worth their time.

To start I’ve rated every film I saw in 2015 and early 2016 that I bothered to log in my notes except the ones I didn’t watch a majority and/or enough of (I saw about ten minutes of Tammy before giving up and zoomed through Andrei Tarkovsky’s Stalker at 4X speed), don’t remember very well (Curse of Chucky), didn’t pay attention to (should be Inside Out, but I voted to counter-act its 8.3 rating), or feel I need to re-evaluate (Inherent Vice).

So click on through if you feel so inclined.  Bookmark it, share it, tweet it, snap it, bop it, protest it, boycott it, whatever triggers your fancy.

Also, here’s a clickbait video that was supposed to accompany the Star Wars review, but since that won’t be appearing for some time, we’ll just drop it here for your enjoyment.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

The Oscars and Diversity and Why You Shouldn't Care

Like many other Americans, I am sick of hearing about the Oscars.  Real fans of filmmaking, who go out of their way to see real movies instead of just Avengers: Age of Terminator, Concussion, Jurassic World, or whatever other mainstream crap is playing at the local theater, don’t give two cares about the Oscars, and neither do I.  But if anything could dwarf the major gripes I have with how the Oscars work, it’d be my hatred for the gripes that most other people have with how the Oscars work.  With that in mind, most of these forthcoming thoughts will be focused on other people’s thoughts and how unfounded they are instead of on the Oscars themselves.  I don’t expect anybody to read them all, and I’d frankly be OK if someone only read 42% of them.  I originally planned on titling this article something like Quick Thoughts on the Oscars and not letting it eat up very much of my time, but then events and articles surrounding the nominations escalated to such a point that I and the Academy got a bit carried away (as of a couple days ago they announced that they’d be hunting down their Racists and revoking their voting privileges).  I hope that someone out there finds this piece persuasive, but mostly I hope that someone finds it.

A Problematic collage of people who pretend to be other people.

1. The Oscars Made a Mistake, and What Else Is New?

Year after year people get insanely worked up over a television event that has repeatedly proven to be financially and culturally irrelevant, decrying one or another person’s exemption from an award that rarely goes to the recipient who most deserves it.  The Academy Awards are ultimately just a popularity contest for the most celebrated or trumped-up non-genre film of the year, almost invariably excluding science-fiction, fantasy, action, war, foreign, indie, arthouse, and other experimental films. Movies that haven’t been nominated for the Best Picture prize or much anything else include Memento, Fight Club, Apocalypto, Blade Runner, The Jerk, The Shining, Dancer In The Dark or Dogville, Risky Business, Edwards Scissorhands, The Fly, The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, The Road Warrior, The Matrix, and Leon, and those are only somewhat popular examples.  Significant, mostly respected directors who’ve never received a major Oscar include Stanley Kubrick, Lars Von Trier, Terrence Malick, Darren Aronofsky, David Fincher, Terry Gilliam, Paul Thomas Anderson, Tim Burton, Ridley Scott, Denis Villeneuve, Ingmar Bergman, Sergio Leone, Christopher Nolan, Bong Joon-ho, David Lynch, Zhang Yimou, and the heat goes on.  The list of acting “snubs” might be twenty times that length.

Movie not nominated for an Academy Award

The takeaway is that the Oscar almost never goes to the person whose work is most deserving because artistic excellence isn’t the reason people tune into the Oscars. If artistic merit actually determined the final nominees, then only a miniscule segment of the population would feel inclined to tune into the ceremony.  Most people don’t watch good movies one) because they’re hard to find and two) because they don’t like unfamiliarity, which is proven annually by box-office returns.  As a result, theaters consciously distribute bad movies knowing that they sell better, and casual moviegoers gradually lose the ability to discern a good movie from a bad one, to the point that when they actually come in contact with a good movie they dismiss it as artsy-fartsy, pretentious, stupid, or, worst of all, boring.  It’s to this group of people that the Oscars are primarily directed.  More often than not history does a good job of weeding out the good films from the bad ones, which is why people still watch Saving Private Ryan but not Shakespeare In Love, or Walk The Line but not Crash.  In most cases, though, it usually takes a while for the masses to cut themselves away from media hype and realize that Boyhood! or The Imitation Game or American Hustle or Hugo or Zero Dark Thirty weren’t all that great.  The same goes for electropop music, which seems to last an eternity from all the places we’re exposed to it but has a relatively short lifespan compared to, say, rock albums.

The Oscars are nothing more than a slightly elevated, ultra-elitist version of the Grammys, doling out trophies to the most recognized movies of the year that didn’t feature superheroes or CGI monsters.  Most of the winners are “based on” or “inspired by” “true stories”, to which voters automatically and quite superficially ascribe a higher level of Importance, naively giving them priority over movies that aren’t presented as reality.  Did Eddie Redmayne give a better performance than Michael Keaton in Birdman last year?  No.  Was the Stephen Hawking movie a better or more meaningful story than Nightcrawler, which concerned a totally made-up character perpetrating mostly made-up crimes?  Also, emphatically no.  But this is the formula the Oscars follow, one that anybody who watches them routinely could identify.  So why do people get so outraged that so and so didn’t get nominated for Best Actor, or that such and such didn’t get a nod for Best Picture, when the best picture isn’t even the best picture but merely the one that the Academy deems most accessible or Important?

Movie not nominated for an Academy Award

If the Oscars were actually about honoring the finest entertainers and craftspeople of the year, they’d take place two years after the contending films come out so as to allow the voters time to witness all the more obscure releases that would otherwise fly over their heads.  This is what Youtube critic YourMovieSucks does, and so his lists are rendered exponentially more intriguing for avid fans of film.  The Oscars, airing promptly in the month of February and mostly sampling popular Fall or December titles, aren’t aimed at avid fans of film because the Oscars, at their core, are a commercial TV enterprise designed to draw as broad an audience as possible to maximize advertising revenues, which necessarily involves degrading the quality of the running list to accommodate people who don’t like subtitles, nonlinear narratives, symbolical, subjective storytelling, or internalized conflict.  So why do people get so upset when a movie they really loved doesn’t meet the Academy’s exceedingly low standards?

2. Diversity is Racist.

As you’ve no doubt heard by now, for the second time in a row there were no non-white actors nominated for the Acting categories.  If the nominees had consisted entirely of actors in minority-focused projects, as at the BET awards, the Oscars would no doubt have been considered “diverse”, notwithstanding all the actors being of the same race, but this is the funny world in which we live.  Assuming for the sake of argument that the Academy Awards are actually a good reflector of the best productions and performances of the year, then this can only mean that 2015’s finest white actors put on better shows than 2015’s finest black, Hispanic, or Native-American actors, which isn’t really a problem because acknowledging reality is never a problem.  But as we’ve already established, merit is not the chief criterion employed for the Academy Awards, which is why we’re annually subjected to an endless array of rehashed rundowns of all the more deserving (mainstream) films/actors that were “snubbed”.

Movie not nominated for an Academy Award

According to the mainstream media, the Oscars are bound to a higher calling than just distributing prizes to their favorite celebrities; in 2015, the Academy has a moral, social, even quasi-religious responsibility to generate a list that “looks like America”, whether or not said list adheres to the Oscars’ formula or credits the most meritorious people.  Demanding affirmative action for movie and television awards, aside from being one of the stupidest ideas we’ve yet heard from Black Lies Matter, ironically happens to be one of the most racist proposals of the year, assuming that black directors and performers are so naturally outmatched by whites they need special treatment just to compete against them.  In fact, the stupidity of #Oscarsowhite poses such an intricate and mystifying puzzle we’ll need at least four subpoints to cover it.

A) How does it happen?

Critics of the Academy Awards have accused its members of being outdated, male, white supremacist fuddy duddies who’ve actively conspired to keep awards out of the hands of people who do not look like them.  To qualify this monumental accusation they’ve pointed to a number of exclusively African-American actors or directors.  I’m going to explain why each and every one of them wasn’t nominated.  If you don’t care about that in the slightest, and you probably don’t if you have a steady source of earned income, you can skip down to the picture of the Prometheus captain and resume from there.

First up, Creed.  Given that Ryan Coogler’s first “movie”, 2013’s Fruitvale Station, was a total catastrophe, it doesn’t really surprise me that Rocky VII didn’t make the cut, but since I’ve yet to see it I’ll withhold my judgment.  1) Was anybody really considering this as an Oscar film when it came out?  No, and the only reason they’re talking about it now is because of this supposed dearth of diversity that’s plaguing our nation’s entertainment.  2) Creed is a sequel.  The Academy doesn’t like sequels.  Even worse, they tried to disguise the fact that it was a sequel/reboot/spinoff by shifting the title to Adonis Creed.  3) Creed is a genre movie.  The Academy doesn’t like genre movies, and when they do, they’re only making an exception for a well-established director they really favor, e.g. Mad Max: Fury Road or Her.  4) This is Ryan Coogler’s second film.  The Academy tends to favor creators who’ve proven their mettle over a long, illustrious career. Coogler is not a Spielberg or an Allen or an Iñárritu or an Eastwood or a Scorcese.  Relatively speaking, he’s a nobody, and he doesn’t make for good ratings.  5) Ryan Coogler’s not that good a director, even among minority creators, being far overshadowed by Steve McQueen and a bunch of Mexican or Asian people, but we’ll get to Asian cinema later.  6) Relatively speaking, Michael B. Jordan is a nobody, and he doesn’t make for good ratings.  7) Creed has no real-life basis, telling a fictional story that (from what I can tell) doesn’t involve Important gay or race or gender issues.  If it did then Armond White would have said something about them.

Moving onto Straight Outta Compton, which was probably the blackest movie of the year.  Unlike Creed, Compton was mostly exempted from Oscar gossip until the day the nominations were announced.  Nobody thought that this was a legitimately Oscar-worthy movie, and the only thing that’s made it Oscar-worthy in the minds of social media is that it has a lot of black people in it.  This, of course, is ironic, considering that the very director of Straight Outta Compton recently said the nominees should be selected by merit, not by racial quotas, and that N.W.A. member Ice Cube mocked awards show mopers for “crying about not getting enough icing on their cake”.  Possible reasons why it was dismissed:  1) It was a summer movie, and not a very good one, so voters forgot about it.  The Academy seldom nominates anything from the summer season.  2) All of the cast members are unknowns, and unknown people don’t make for very good ratings. 3) All of the major cast members are male, which doesn’t make for good ratings, especially for the Oscars (which drew a 62% female audience in 2013).  At least Lupita Nyongo from 12 Years A Slave, another relative unknown, had natural camera presence and could rally stupid people on the internet into talking about stupid things like fashion and makeup.  4) Director F. Gary Gray is a relative unknown, which doesn’t make for good ratings.  5) The only other movie he has to his name is The Italian Job, which was a remake and was just OK.  6) Compton isn’t a film, per se, so much as an N.W.A. commercial.  7) Compton has no flawed protagonists sorting out life issues, which effectively shuns the Oscar formula.  8) Black Lives Matter understandably makes people uncomfortable.  9) A group called Niggers With Attitude make people uncomfortable.  10) Old Academy voters just don’t like rap music, which many people to this day only tenuously count as “real music”.  11) Academy voters may have thought that praising Compton would actually set back affirmative action, social justice, whatever because of its aggressively offensive subject matter.  More on this later.

Concussion has me stumped, seeing how Will Smith adopted a fake-sounding accent and played a real-life character solving an Important, Problematic issue.  For all intents and purposes it should have translated into Oscar bait, and yet it didn’t.  I believe the reason why it slipped was merely the presence of so many more appealing and formulaic options: you had Leonardo Dicaprio as an Indian Spiritualist grunting and dying on camera (score), Eddie Redmayne playing a tranny (score), Bryan Cranston as both a persecuted communist and a filmmaker (playing Academy voters – double score), Michael Fassbender as Aaron Sorkin’s version of Steve Jobs (just died, leftist icon, score), and Matt Damon as a courageous government explorer (vocal leftist in real life, score).

Tangerine is one of the worst excuses for a movie of the year, and with a box-office of $702,000, thankfully nobody saw it.  Pretty much no one saw Dope either, for good reason, and its 150+ uses of the N-word would make it a controversial candidate prone to backfire.

Beasts of No Nation stood a better chance in theory with Cary Joji Fukunaga directing and Idris Elba in the lead, but it had several things going against it.  1) It was one of the first films to be released originally on Netflix, having a truly pitiful theatrical run.  The Academy don’t like new production or distribution methods, which is why it took them (and many critics) so long to warm up to digital technology.  2) It’s a real downer of a movie, filled with graphic violence, child soldiers, pedophilia, and other things that might have turned them off.  3) It’s not a true story.  4) It wasn’t produced by Fox, Warner Brothers, Paramount, Columbia, or Weinstein.  5) It’s possible that nobody even saw it.  6) Maybe they just didn’t want to give the award to Idris Elba.  It’s their dumb award, and they can give it to whomever they want.  7) Idris Elba lost his final chance at winning an Oscar when they ignored him in Prometheus.  Vickers, are you a robot?

Aside from all these particular so-called snubs, none of which I’ve seen (except the ones I said were bad)* but which I can definitively say fall well outside of Oscar formula, the premise that the SJWhiners would have us believe is so far divorced from the reality of the Oscars one can only wonder how it’s gotten any sort of foothold.  Contrary to the mainstream narrative that elderly, racist members are deliberately spurning African-American entertainment, the Oscars have an established habit of nominating a token black movie every year whether or not the film exhibits superb artistic competence.  Notice Selma, Django Unchained, The Help, The Blind Side, Precious, and, most notoriously, Crash.  That’s not counting 12 Years A Slave, which took home best picture, supporting actress, and screenplay in the same year when George Zimmerman tragically went to court for shooting Trayvon Martin.  In many cases, the Academy knowingly compromise the integrity of their awards just for the sake of increasing diversity.  Do I think it’s a very big deal?  No.  We’ve already observed that the Oscars don’t have much integrity in the first place, which brings us to the second subpoint.

B) Why does it matter?

I believe it goes without saying that those who’ve greeted the all-white news with such visceral anger have never had to deal with actual racism a day of their lives.  On the same note, notable actors who were “slighted” by exemption from the awards have lost nothing from the oversight.  Take Will Smith, a multi-millionaire who rose to fame on the backs of white directors like Roland Emmerich and Barry Sonnenfield and is now rolling in so much dough that he can fund nepotistic pet projects for his own children.  Has the Academy socially disadvantaged Smith in any way by excluding him for Concussion, which looks terrible and was marketed as a gay, anti-sports agenda movie?  Will Smith is as much of a victim of white privilege as University of Missouri student Jonathan Butler, son of a railroad marketing executive who literally ran into a car that was backing up to lie about being injured by an uncaring, out-of-touch white man.

Critics say that the Oscars are culpable for a shortage of strong black-led movies in Hollywood, but one could much more logically argue that the shortage of strong black-led movies in Hollywood is culpable for a shortage of black-led Oscar winners.  Academy voters don’t make the movies, at least not all of them, only voting for their favorites of those presented to them, and the hard, foul truth is that there simply weren’t that many well distributed quality movies led by black people in 2015.  The problem – if you want to call it a problem – isn’t that the Oscars are failing to bestow charity honors on minorities but that most minorities just aren’t interested in making or selling films.  If all the world’s journalists and internet hacktivists had taken every single hour they’ve cumulatively wasted complaining about phony awards show Racism and invested it into creating the very thing they dishonestly bemoan the scarcity of, they could have doubled the number of black-centric screenplays for the next year.  This action would hypothetically double African-Americans’ chances at securing what’s apparently a very important idol to some people, but the fact that no one’s publically admitted to doing so shows how little the leftist blogosphere actually cares about black-created or black-themed art.  In this we once again see a fundamental difference between the way conservatives and liberals think: when the former note an absence of something – a story, a service, a business – they want to see, they get to work and make the thing themselves, but when the latter can’t use something that they wish existed, they go online and whine about how no one’s bothered to create it yet (sustainable energy, cure for AIDS, gay entertainment on AMC, an Oscar-worthy movie made by and for black people).

As the blogosphere doubtless already knows, there is no institutional barrier to blacks producing quality entertainment focusing on their own culture, heritage, or domestic struggles.  Anybody can make and release a movie nowadays, as evidenced by

  • The atrocious and critically applauded Tangerine, which the directors shot for $100k on iPhones using first-time actors and actual locations in Hollywood.
  • On an infinitesimally higher level, Fruitvale Station was made for a paltry $800k and extorted $16 million over its theatrical run.
  • In 2003, Jared Hess got together a bunch of his Mormon friends and shot a high-school comedy set in an ambiguous period for some $400,000.  The movie was called Napoleon Dynamite.
  • Christopher Nolan managed to shoot his first film Following on black-and-white 16mm film for $6000 total; six years later he was rebooting Batman.
  • Many of the most insanely profitable horror movies start as minimally funded experiments by limited but driven individuals that later get acquired by a major studio and rocket their way to fame.  But the Academy doesn’t care about horror films, so we’ll discount that fact for the sake of argument.
  • Red Letter Media just released the long-awaited “science-fiction shlock film” Space Cop on Blu-ray, made essentially by three or four friends over the course of many years with no studio backing or professional VFX artists.  I’ve yet to see it myself because I do not own a blu-ray player, but my intuition tells me 2016 already has a strong contender for the movie of the year.

To suggest that the Oscars, or White Privilege, or Unintentional Prejudice, or some other mythical, modern-day leviathan is obstructing the storytelling impulse of an entire class is to deny the self-determination, creative faculties, or work ethic of millions of people solely upon their race.

And yet somehow it’s the Academy members whom we must label Racist.

C) Why does white entertainment threaten you?

It’s easy to complain about the Oscars getting too white over the years, a piece of cake in Barack Obama’s Hopeful Age, which Hillary Clinton humbly reminds us has done little to drain the ocean of White Privilege in which she’s swimming.  Where it gets a little tricky is when social-justice-warriors try to mathematically describe the proportion at which the Academy’s whiteness becomes transgressive, threatening, or, worst of all, Problematic; but so far none of them have attempted this Herculean labor.  Do black people have a right to two of the twenty acting nominations, roughly in line with national demographics?  Four of them, one for each category?  Ten, to achieve a perfect 50/50 racial parity?  But in this day and age of rampant Police Brutality, Voter Discrimination, and Educational Microaggressions, even giving half the spots to Caucasians perpetuates the heinous misconception that White People Problems prevail in our post-racial society.  If the Academy really cared about diversity, they’d sideline all the pampered, overprivileged whites for a year or two or however long we need to give minorities a chance to shine wallow in destitution before the world.

To say the Oscars have gotten pound sign too white is to blankly claim that a vapid establishment like an awards show can attain an excessive level of whiteness, which is to insinuate that there’s something inherently wrong with whiteness.  In this sense, the rancor brought to bear against the Oscars’ whiteness is just as intolerant and closeminded as the disdain social conservatives have (sometimes rightfully, sometimes wrongly) directed at rap music, heavy metal, R-rated movies, or “violent” video games they don’t even play, but because rich white people are now on the receiving end of all this vitriol, white apologists in the media decline to censure this new bigotry as the divisive thoughtcrime that it is.  Quite to the contrary, they coalesce behind it as yet another trivial symbol of high-school clique-based oppression, wailing about the inability of one person or another to infiltrate the ranks of the cool kids.  What is it about stories starring white people that makes Jada Pinkett Smith, Spike Lee, and ethnic traitor Michael Moore so appalled they have to avert their eyes from the hideous whiteness?  What discriminating fan of high art, regardless of his color, would flippantly dismiss a piece just because the people involved don’t speak his first language or look like him or come from a similar background?  Considering they can’t divorce a story and its artistry from their own life experience or identity politics, do the Pound Sign Oscars So White sheeple even care about the Oscars, let alone movies in general, or are they just bored, illiterate left-wing crusaders meandering from the Ice Bucket Challenge to the blue-and-purple dress to Donald Trump’s daughters to saving the migrants to concerning poop swastikas to Phony Racism and back again?  This is a much more valid question than why Leonardo Dicaprio hasn’t won an Oscar yet (spoiler: he doesn’t deserve one).

D) Double standards

First of all, the claim that no non-white filmmakers have been nominated over the last two years is either a) factually incorrect, b) misleading, or c) a lie.  Mexican directors have taken home arguably the most distinguished Oscar two years in a row now for Gravity and Birdman, and Alejandro Gonzales Iñárritu appears poised to do it again for The Revenant; it’d honestly look kind of silly if he didn’t.  Prior to Birdman, 12 Years A Slave basically swept the 2013 awards in all categories, so as with all the bad science that’s been used to promote Global Warming, the whole blackness scale of the Oscars changes dramatically if you simply bump the ceremony back 12 months.

The one omission that remains fairly constant throughout the Academy’s meddlings is Asian cinema.  Every now and then they make a worthy exception for Ang Lee (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Life of Pi, and the white cowboy movie Brokeback Mountain), but by and large Asian creators have a hard time procuring any Oscars love, and when they do, it’s usually in technical behind-the-scenes positions (Whiplash’s editor was Vietnamese-American) that common people don’t respect nearly as much as the casting and performances.  How the Academy repeatedly manages to pull this stunt when cinephiles lavish resounding praise on Chinese, Japanese, Indonesian, and Korean films should bemuse anybody who thinks the Oscars have a shred of credibility.  Just look at Wikipedia’s tables on this subject, by which we glean that the first and last Asian actor to receive a nomination for the lead award (excepting Ben Kingsley, who’s half-Indian but can pass for a white guy any day) was Yul Brynner for The King and I in 1957, almost 60 years ago.  Since that time the Academy has passed over such people as Bong Joon-ho, Zhang Yimou, Choi Min-sik, Chow Yun-Fat, Satoshi Kon, Yasujirō Ozu, Park Chan-wook, and a list of Criterion Collection mainstays that just goes on and on.  I don’t even want to mention Hayao Miyazaki, the beloved Japanese animator behind Studio Ghibli whose works I despise even though they exhibit thrice the artistry of any CG Pixar film that wins the Oscar by default.

Half of our most popular horror movies in the West are PG-13 clones of better Asian movies, and films like Oldboy, Akira, Snowpiercer, or Seven Samurai often grace critics’ retrospective best-of lists.  Sometimes the absurdity of these failures reaches such a crescendo that the Academy belatedly decides to bestow an “honorary award” on legends like Akira Kurosawa, but these are nothing more than consolation prizes meant to abate the rage of the few outspoken film geeks who study his work devotedly and don’t blindly assume that something’s good just because it was nominated for an Oscar.

The point of this rant is not to rag upon the Oscars for their deficient taste in movies, because we’ve already established how little faith I put in their good judgment (remember when Argo was The Best movie of the whole year?), nor is it to reprove them for their unintentional Raaaaaacisssmm!, because the absence of any product from a list doesn’t logically implicate the maker of the list in holding a grudge or prejudice towards the maker of that product.  The point is to ask just how an injustice as inhumane as giving barely any trophies to Asians for 60 years could possibly fly past the self-appointed purveyors of racial fairness and equilibrium, who’ve relentlessly waged a war for African-American rights to win an Oscar for doing nothing but turn a blind eye to our suffering, underappreciated brothers from the East.

Most of the time, black-helmed movies are distinctively American or, shall we say, Anglocentric in nature, utilizing western plot structures, filmmaking techniques, and stock ’Murican themes of liberation, seeking justice, or settling new frontiers in science, art, or politics.  The Wayans Brothers shoot a movie in much the same way Adam Sandler would, and their comedic styles or maturity of tone would make them indistinguishable if not for the color of their skin.  Not only does Asian cinema prominently feature entirely different languages, coaxing numerous groans from people who don’t like “having to read” their movies, but they also have jarringly different approaches to editing, direction, and thematic storytelling that you simply don’t see very often in the West; Tony Zhou’s Every Frame A Painting has several breakdowns of these differences if you don’t believe me.  If diversity and inclusion are truly the highest aspirations of the Oscars’ critics, then why have they so long neglected the invaluable cinematic contributions of Korean, Japanese, and other filmmakers who hail from another continent and have reaped a totally different set of religious practices, philosophies, folklore, and influences?

Dare I speculate that these advocates of multiculturalism are actually deeply ignorant of cultures outside Europe or America and thusly don’t appreciate great eastern art when it’s presented to them?  Dare I speculate that they don’t watch that many movies in reality and largely take the word of their friends on social media in lieu of experiencing something firsthand and having to formulate an original opinion?  Dare I speculate that they’re closet “racists” and/or nationalists who instinctively weed out Asian stories to a designated plane subordinate to American tales by black or white producers?  Dare I speculate that they’ve accidentally forgotten about the continent and its peoples in trading scientific terms for more nebulous P.C. verbiage like “persons of color”, which doesn’t invoke mental images of Asians or any ethnicity besides blacks?  Dare I speculate that they really don’t give a damn about “diversity” and are merely parroting whatever they saw online to convince themselves that they’re taking part in some historic, pressing movement?  Unlike an Asian or Arabic person winning Best Picture or Best Screenplay, that wouldn’t be a first.

* Update: Straight Outta Compton is the sort of film where you can go through scene by scene, even line by line, and extract hundreds of individual problems in scripting and filmmaking technique.  Somehow it got nominated for four Oscars, and even that is not enough for something that’s basically propaganda.  It’ll take me a while to review it, but National Review critic Armond White has a pretty good deconstruction of its odious, childish anarchism if you just can’t wait.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

2015 in Film: Black Mass, Beach Boys, and Why The Martian Appeals So Much To Liberals

So much “scientific accuracy”, yet no one bothered to science the sh** out of the script.

Friday, January 1, 2016

2015 in Music: More Top Ten and the Inadvertent Individualism of Grimes

Continuing the Author’s purposely disordered summary of the ten least worst albums he heard come out of 2015, which also happened to be the year in which he courageously started identifying hipstelf as hipstgender.  Pound Sign Dumb Wins.  For part one of hipst countdown and the other sections of this year-end recap, links have been helpfully appended at the bottom.

BØRNSDopamine –

Borns with a slashy thingy through the O isn’t the most original dude to leave a mark on indie pop this decade; he is basically aping Lorde’s singing and production style while swapping out the pessimistic teenage brooding for sappy love lyrics (“She’s sweet like candy in my veins.”  “Baby, baby, baby, baby... I’m thirsty for your ecstasy / so open up your heavenly gates.”) and more uptempo electronic beats, which people have gravitated to in the absence of any new Lorde LPs on the horizon.  While I want to knock him for veering too close to an innovative artist I’ve enjoyed much more for slightly longer, he’s still a decent, barely male substitute I have no difficulty recommending to Lorde, Glass Animals, Carly Rae Jepsen, Taylor Swift, or maybe even Kanye fans until the inevitable day he gets discovered by distributors and passes into the overrated club.

I do have some problems with Dopamine that have yet to be addressed.  First of all, when I said I’d recommend this to Taylor Swift and Lorde fans, I meant I’d recommend portions of it to people who want to hear almost exactly the same thing as portions of a Taylor Swift or Lorde album.  Take American Money, for example, which is an aggravatingly familiar copycat of Wildest Dreams, I Know Places, and Glory and Gore all in one. Maybe this is more indicative of the interchangeability of Taylor Swift’s melodies than anything, but it still bumps me how unoriginal this tune is.  Secondly, why did he take out one of the more fun songs from his EP (Seeing Stars) and replace it with some stinkers like Dopamine and Fool?  Thirdly, why is he staring at a naked girl on the hideous cover picture?  Is this supposed to indicate that he’s a big boy or a serious, grown-up artist now or something?  I give up, like I can’t even.  I’m just going to listen to the pools song or Dug My Heart again and forget the rest of this album’s nonsense happened.

Courtney Barnett, Sometimes I Sit and Think, & Sometimes I Just Sit

If Lou Reed was still alive and kicking but in a woman’s body, he would probably be making music like Courtney Barnett’s.  Barnett has a knack for grafting humorous lyrics and noisy guitar tracks that recall the best of The Velvet Underground’s regrettably short discography.  Sometimes she gets a little carried away in the clatter and the album becomes too brash for its own good.  Pedestrian At Best happens to be the most popular and most annoying single on the record simultaneously.  Just as Heroin, Venus in Furs, and All Tomorrow’s Parties were among the longer and finer cuts off of Velvet Underground & Nico, the better songs on I Sit Blah Blah Blah are those moderately paced enough to escalate to a point where the grandeur and clamor have been fully earned (Small Poppies, Depreston).  Anyway, even the songs that don’t make much of an impression musically still succeed in stringing the listener along with clever and unorthodox lyrics.  “Jen insists that we buy organic vegetables / And I must admit that I was a little skeptical, at first / A little pesticide can't hurt,” she muses on Dead Fox.  I should also note that the gayness level of this album is relatively high on the lyrical side of the equation, somewhere between Coldplay and Macklemore on the spectrum of heteronormatism, but I don’t like it strictly on account of that. It’s just good rock and roll.  Plus, that’d be pretty gay.  

Blur, The Magic Whip –

If you don’t know who Blur are, they’ve been around for quite some time, but you can excuse your own ignorance in this case seeing as how they took a 12-year break between The Magic Whip and their last venture Think Tank, which was perfection.  Blur are comprised of Gorillaz’s real-life founder Damon Albarn, who has brainstormed three additional bands on the side, insane guitarist Graham Coxon, bassist Alex James, and drummer Dave Rowntree.  The British band certainly has better albums under their belt than The Magic Whip, but their latest sticks within their traditional style of not having a style that carries over from each album to the next.  As the neon-lit cover might suggest, there are some video gamey, Nintendo-like loops speckled throughout, and I’d say the album as a whole has a poppier, more funky sound than past Blur projects, which depended more on Coxon’s aggressive guitar work.  It doesn’t veer as closely to the Gorillaz aesthetic as Think Tank did, but it’s still a good crossover point for Gorillaz fans to acquaint themselves with the rest of Albarn’s astonishing volume of composition.  As always, Albarn’s buttery, precise voice is a reassuring companion in what can be an off-putting, eccentric musical wilderness.

Elle King, Love Stuff

If you listen to the radio or go out in public, you’ve probably heard the lead single from Elle King’s debut album Love Stuff, and you might just even hate it by this point.  It’s still bad-a.  The surprisingly gifted daughter of Rob Schneider first entered the music scene in 2012, with an EP that included both the bluesy Playing For Keeps and a frankly awesome live cover of the dirtiest song ever written, My Neck, My Back. Her first LP scales back the grime and sexy stuff to a radio-friendly proportion of innuendo (“They always want to come, but they never want to leave.”), but it retains a lyrical maturity and credibility that evades a lot of alternative rock releases.  Even saying nothing of Elle’s unique and powerful voice, the music represented here features a wide range of influences, from rock to bluegrass to R&B to actually bearable country, especially on later songs like Make You Smile.  Contrariwise, Under The Influence sounds like the James Bond theme that never was, and would have made a much better choice for opening Spectre than freaking Sam Smith, while the gloomy folk rocker Ain’t Gonna Drown with its dramatic aesthetics could have been pulled straight from True Detective, season one of course, because the second totally messed it up.  The album’s not without its weaknesses:  Kocaine Karolina rips off Bon Iver’s Skinny Love almost chord for chord and I find America’s Sweetheart rather irritating and trite.  For the originality and catchiness of her album, though, Elle King more than earns a spot on George Stefano Pallas’ still relevant 10 Mean Old Things To Watch list.

Grimes, Art Angels –

Up until this entry, I feel I’ve taken careful pains to avoid coming across as a mindless, undiscriminating sheep a la others in the hipstgender community, but I’ll probably be dispensing with all that discretion hereon out.  To listen to Grimes for the first time (or maybe second or third, all variables not being equal) is to experience an epiphany, one that hits you like a brick and a stolen kiss at once; in that moment you will realize just how shallow and bland and lame the rest of the music you’ve been indulging really is, but you will also see the reason for music’s being, the material, formal, efficient, and final cause, and it will incapacitate you with joy.  Going straight through Art Angels from beginning to end with headphones or the loudest home theater setup you can manage short of upsetting the neighbors is positively euphoric, there being not a single stumbling block in the 50-minute endeavor aside from maybe the finisher Butterfly, which sounds a tad generic after everything else until the guitar kicks in at the third minute.  This is an astonishing collection of music, one in which each unit not only works on its own but works in conjunction with the rest of a well kept machine, where all the songs draw inspiration from some different source yet masterfully adapt it to the central vision of a brilliant mind who knows exactly what she’s doing and how to do it.

How much grander does this feat appear when one recognizes that Art Angels was written, sung, played, and produced by one person who was working, for all intents and purposes, in creative isolation; who then conceived of, edited, colored, and directed all the music videos accompanying the lead singles, handing only cinematography duties over to her brother; who crafted not only 13 perfect songs but verily the 13 most enthralling and blissful songs of the year; who accomplished all of this and more without the interference of record label forces or collaborators trying to coerce a familiar, broadly marketable and “popular” sound?  It’s kind of a shame that Claire Boucher is such a Canadian eco-leftist in her private life, because she’s arguably created the quasi-Randian, individualist record of our times.  Some of her older fans have greeted this fourth LP’s “poppier” tone with cynicism and nostalgia for her stranger, dreamier landmark Visions, but Art Angels essentially does to pop music what Sandman did to comic books, what Myst did to 1st-person adventure games, or what Descent Into Hell did to fantasy novels, taking something widely celebrated and pushing it so far into the realm of uncorrupted, inexplicable sub-creation it sheds whatever made it knowable and archetypal – whatever made it popular – in the first place.

Those who admire Grimes admire her music intensely, but they know they’ll always be a small minority of the population, and I doubt the wiser of them would have it any other way.  If Grimes had made the professional connections and executive compromises necessary to produce a true and proper pop album that could gain traction in the mainstream market, Art Angels would be ruined.  The more people Grimes could theoretically have piled onto this project, the more the opportunities would have emerged for someone to neuter a once expressive, interesting piece of art into something soulless, safe, and dull.  Look at the sobering artistic nosedive that Maroon 5 have taken over their career, from the entirely self-written and enduring Songs About Jane, produced by two people, to the vapid dance-pop pablum that’s defined their last three unavoidable records, built by hordes of unassociated co-writers, instrumentalists, programmers, and producers like Sia, Ryan Tedder, Max Martin, Shellback, etc.  Again, what has Gwen Stefani made in her “solo” career that can rival the glory days of No Doubt and Sublime?

We could go on, but for the sake of time I’ll close it here: socialist pushover and millionaire elitist John Green would probably insist that an album of this stature shouldn’t exist without a team of hired editors and helpers – other writers to provide a different perspective, experienced producers to cut back on all the superfluous layers that Grimes naively puts in her initial drafts, maybe even backup vocalists to lessen the load on her of recording dozens of tracks all by herself –, all of them working in concert towards the utilitarian goal of making an album that the group as a whole finds pleasing and market-ready.  I don’t think a group of music industry professionals could have given us Art Angels as it exists today, nor do I think a team of 50-something animators in Activision could have made a better Portal game than the ten developers in Valve who did, nor do I think it’s better to marry multiple spouses than one, nor do I think that diversity and/or inclusion invariably enhance the product of one or a couple people’s imaginations.  I think Art Angels more than proves this point, and I think it proves that Mr. Green is full of stuff.

John Green and his New Castrati associates, posing as proponents of free expression and stronger “artistic” awareness in education (that being awareness of their own commercial dreck, which kids can buy for $15 on paperback at Barnes & Noble or $20 at their local cinema), remind me of a pivotal scene in Miloš Forman and Peter Shaffer’s Amadeus, in which Emperor Joseph II tells Wolfgang, “There are, in fact, only so many notes the ear can hear in the course of anything… Just cut a few and it’ll be perfect.”  “Which few did you have in mind?” answers Mozart.

Who moves the world?  Is it the John Greens and their YA death porn groomed by editing cosmetologists to pristine bestseller condition, or is it the Grimes, the Mozarts, the Ayn Rands, the Lars Von Triers, the doers, the makers, the shakers, those who write and direct and sing and orchestrate not because society needs to hear them but because they need to do it for themselves, to carry out their own purpose?  History will show.

Fast-travel to other parts: