Friday, December 23, 2011

2011 Round-Up - Erich's Best

Dads of Great Adventure: A Guide to Cinema's Post-Apocalyptic Hyper-Parent
Bright Lights Film Journal #71 - February
Whether or not 2012 will really be the end of life as we know it, the myth of the post-apocalyptic dad is emerging in today's cinema, and man, he's a bad father. Forced by cataclysmic events to cowboy up while his kids roll their eyes and talk shit about him, whether in bleak existential treatises like The Road or big-scale popcorn fodder like 2012 and The Day After Tomorrow, "the dad" has been center stage, his responsibility to keep his kid/s safe grown to astronomically tight-assed proportions in the wake of global meltdown. While millions die, he's forced to create his own hypocritical blueprint for survival, one that runs counter to his basic urge to just let it all hang out, save his own skin, and luxuriate in a quick, painless, CGI death along with everyone else. The almost unbearable responsibility to protect his children trumping his own humanity, the post-apocalyptic father uses global meltdown as an excuse to become a "my-family-first" neo-conservative, shoving other families out of the way to be first on the lifeboat; risking the lives of many to save his precious few. Is Hollywood using him as a tool to passive-aggressively condemn the recent trend in micro-managerial parenting? Or is it all just an easy way to ratchet up key demographic interest? Is parental anxiety the new black? Or is fighting to survive in a world with no TV or internet just not meaningful enough; one has to do it "for the kids'? 

One Pill Makes You Corporate: Limitless
August 21st
In the end, this drug just kind of turns you into Tom Cruise, and for the Los Angeles power worshippers, that's everything: assertive narcissism and total fearless confidence. We love that trait like we love gangster movies, or mad scientists, or Hannibal Lecter, but you can't have your face and eat it too, you can't expect that Bradley alone is rising the ranks, what of all the other super-brains struggling for their angry fix? Cooper's character seemed pretty stupid to begin with, but he loves his drugs and we're supposed to be in awe of him irregardless of Abbie Cornish's disappointment. In the end we come away angry at our own trapped potential, but there's a reason we shuttered up the upper rooms of our brain mansion: there be monsters! So tread lightly, and bring a good therapist, and a sword, or suffer the consequences, unless you're Bradley Cooper, for not even the darkest demon can compete with the gravitic drag of such black hole vanity.

Manhattan Sinking Like a Rock
June 1st
"My mom rented THE WARRIORS for us on Halloween when I was around 15 or so and living in Central NJ suburbs... and hard to believe now, but my friends and I were scared to watch it! Can you dig? Being 15 and scared to watch a film like THE WARRIORS? But that's what life in the pre-cable 1980s did to you - it was hard to see stuff with gore and nudity so you grew up kind of intimidated by it, which is good! That adrenaline-apprehension served us well; the film had tons of action but little blood or trauma, which was a relief, the best of both worlds. We saw THE WARRIORS again and again after that, but if you told me I'd ever move to NYC or Brooklyn I would have laughed in disbelief while quietly pissing my pants in fear."

The Last American Ruffalo: Lisa Cholodenko's Lesbian "Homespun" Family Values
 Bright Lights Film Journal #71 - February
For a supposedly hip feminist director, Cholodenko seems lost when it comes to seeing through the facile posturing of the insecure male psyche, in the process granting it both more and less power than it has. Ian is allowed to come off as a great all-around guy who remains super cool throughout and is in awe of this older woman in his life, McDormand, in a way that's reminiscent of Ruffalo's character with Julianne Moore. These men are both near-caricatures of confident "approachable" masculinity, while Bale's wounded son stands with the jilted boyfriend in High Art and Ruffalo at the end — also abandoned — of Kids, as the other side of the coin, the cast-offs.

 5. Vandal in the Wind: Over the Edge 
October 3rd
When a peer group is captured correctly on film, as in Howard Hawks, or Richard Linklater, you get a feeling of the power and joy of belonging, a power and joy most adults hiding behind the evening paper at  home have no recollection of. They condemn it in their children as dangerous, but without that kind of peer group power there wouldn't be a civil rights movement, a free India or America, or women voters, or even the current Wall Street occupation. And I can't help but wonder if EDGE wasn't shelved because instead of just screwing in cars and kidnapping the school mascot, its kid protagonists were genuinely dangerous...and right.

6. Abilene Point is Anywhere: How Texas Conquered Death in Southland Tales
August 8
"If DONNIE DARKO was about the apocalypse of self-immolation, the sacrifice of the individual so the world may live; SOUTHLAND is about the sacrifice of reality so that media may live. I'd contend here that boys--so disenfranchised and glum---may be more pro-apocalypse than girls. The nonstop parade of documentaries about 2012, Nostradamus, and the Ice Age on Discovery and the History Channel proves what Kelly's SOUTHLAND TALES hints at: some of us, self included, are excited for the apocalypse. It's a chance to stop receiving paper bank statements in a whole new way. I'd even argue our whole culture is apocalypse-dependent. Without the fantasy of a global reset button we'd be stuck with the guilt, hangover, and debt of seven generations. Aren't you always tempted to just blow up the house rather than have to clean it forever as you pay off a 300 year mortgage?"

Tree of Life (We Will Fall)
July 5th
"Jessica Chastain as the mother certainly helps redress this Iron John blood poisoning. She reminds me of a girl I once wronged, adding all sorts of psilocybic resonance to her wounded dove close-ups, which are so well shot that you can see the 'signature' stamps of alien DNA in her Celtic pale skin, practically translucent, you can see the blue webs of capillaries flushing with blood when hot emotions come across her face."

7. Bride of Bogartstein: In a Lonely Place
August 24
When something doesn't go his way the anger begins, and then every attempt to quiet him is regarded through progressively more paranoid eyes. This man should clearly be medicated but he's allowed to roam free, because he's famous. In the end, the murder mystery is solved and yet Dix has almost started a whole new one, his ego so inflated he shouldn't even be allowed to survive or even be in a film at all. Thank God Nicholas Ray let him, and made him sympathetic despite his repugnant mania, forcing us into the position of a child forced to both endure and still love an abusive father. Ray never gives up on any character, even when they're so foul we recoil in shock, refusing to judge them as villains or defend them protagonists. Instead of either there's something truly remarkable, love. His love for dangerous maniacs is his downfall, and our redemption.

LSD Godfather: Don Fanucci in the Vestibule
September 13
There's the Black Hand cultivating wives' tales with their propensity for violence and then there's that old wives' tale of the LSD user eating a live cat for the 'experience,' a fable I'm not sure I believe so much as remember from my halcyon days. Not that I ever did eat a live cat but while you're peaking even a stalk of celery can seem that way; you can hear its yowling pain in each crunch; feel the claws in the severed tendrils of the inner stalk. The piece in your hand is like Rhode Island being unmoored from the North American continent, like Jupiter adrift in space. Every gesture you make leaves trails that make it seem like you're wielding a dozen arms, like Vishnu on a bender. In the amber dimness of the apartment doorway where Fanucci is gunned down, a similar collapse of time and space occurs, making my many views of it under the influence in past decades no mere accident. What collapses is not just a man in a dimly-lit vestibule but the distance between the Catholic parade below and the film itself, and the theater with its constant shuffling of crowds, each a performance now collapsing into one of the quietest mob films ever made; all collapsed into itself like a dwarf star, shrunk away into nothing but a few red holes in a white suit. Every time Fanucci dies I feel the bullets. An alien of dark humor I barely recognize as mine comes bursting out laughing from my chest at his grotesque expression, at the bewilderment and anger pulsing out of his face and mine, the awful realization in the second before he dies that he'll never get to make his last macho boast, his last beak-whet, his last salut. The celery knows.

The Selected Writings of Pauline Kael: Book Review
Bright Lights Film Journal #74
"The fact is, the lions of literary fustiness may have adopted her as their own, but just read one of her pieces and you realize our irreverent saint of cinema was edgy and brave above all else, and she regularly, daringly scolds and condemns her highbrow friends for doing the very thing with cinema that they have since done with her writing, namely validated and lionized and sanctified, and therefore eroded the very meaning of it."

You can't be coughing on a moving train: CONTAGION
Sept. 19th
A couple billion people could die on this planet and--if you didn't know them--would you miss them? Would you weep with frustration at the big statistics in the paper--those numbers all had families, damnit!--or would you breathe a sigh of relief that real estate prices are going down? And what about the pigs, chickens, goats, cows, and fish who die by the billions daily to feed or varied appetites? I know there are innocent turkeys and pigs that have more on the ball than the slack-jawed yokel who assumes all this meat just comes magically from the back of the supermarket, and who gets indignant when he or she accidentally sees clips from the abattoir. If these humans weren't 'entitled' to a lifetime of free meals they are way too stupid to ever catch for themselves, natural selection might have a fighting chance. To use the TEXAS CHAINSAW analogy, we're a nation of comatose grandpas, too weak to even lift the hammer but still guaranteed a piece of Marilyn Burns. CONTAGION brought those emotions up, because the animals seen in the film are the only humans worth rooting for, and their welfare is in the hands of sadistic liberals who would kill an entire population of monkeys if it might extend the life of one terminally ill human pedophile for just a day.

Shining Examples: Pupils in the Bathroom Mirror
October 10
...the bathroom is ground zero when it comes to realizing the drugs are kicking in, since you can check your dilated pupils in the mirror, freak out when you close the medicine cabinet (checking for mom's Librium, no big deal) and see a figure standing behind you barely yourself, the space behind you shifting into a different background; the toilet looming serpentine and alien, the gaping maw of porcelain where we are mystified in childhood by the sudden presence and absence of feces as an extension of our body that vanishes in a swirling vortex never to be seen again. It is the place of hair-combing and critical self judgment and crushing bereavement. It is the place where coke moves from the tip of some girl's car key into your nose, or you sneak cigarettes from the head mother, or find the gun taped to the back of the old-fashioned toilet. We all surely know the 'boost' we may get when navigating precarious social situations by locking the door and looking into the mirror of the bathroom. Here we are able to reconstitute our ego, a little mini-resurrection. It is where we go to delude, and denude ourselves. We are allowed 'privacy' there. Time and language drift away in the solace of the fixtures. The bathroom corresponds perfectly with our visualizations of the the portal between our own unconscious and that of the universal collective.

Unironic Ventriloquist Radio: You Can't Cheat an Honest Man
October 5th
Call me strange but I've always been a little bothered by concert 'films' i.e. filmed music or comedy performances. Maybe I've been to too many Grateful Dead shows while hallucinating but I find the sight of people playing instruments on stage to be fairly obscene; all those phallic necks and jerking strum movements are dirty! And the music should speak for itself. You shouldn't judge a book by its dirty cover. Sometimes seeing the musician is off-putting to your musical enjoyment. What is the correlation, for example, between watching a hunched-over jet-black demon blowing through a shiny brass cornucopia and the the primordial jazz of Miles Davis? Or a bunch of balding white guys in tuxedos with horsehair saws to the music of Mozart? Or a big fat dude with crazy gray hair jerking off a long dorky hunk of shiny purple wood and a solo by Jerry Garcia?

Bob Hope Vs. The Swedish Svengalis: I'll Take Sweden, They Call Her One-Eye
Acidemic #7, August 2011
And so a queasy compromise with virginity is made - American couples are allowed to depart from convention as long as they suffer in guilt over what their fathers will think, and vice versa. Swedes must then respect our gentle decency as their casual sex lifestyle devolves into debauched ennui (Erik turns out to be a date-rapist). In other words, Hope will take "Sweden" but can't allow his daughter to do the same even though one look at Erik and you know he'd be awesome breeding stock for Jo-Jo. Hope's choosing mutt Frankie to come in and save the day is typical of America's preference for socially instilled mores vs. natural selection. He finally respects Frankie because Frankie, too, is terrified of sex - and would never dream of mating with Jo-Jo unless there were rings and certificates and demands from in-laws for grandchildren involved. In short, Frankie is American as defined by Hollywood in the half-Nelson of the production code. It was the style of the time, the early 1960s, marriage enforced under the states' stern censors; hotel detectives looking under beds for evidence of 'mixed parties' and women's dorm room 'matrons. So people back then would marry each other after only a few dates, go racing for their new room in married couples housing like their pants were on fire. Only later do they find out they are not so compatible... wasn't it unfortunate they never had those Swedish two weeks at the youth festival in Goombatten?

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