Saturday, December 28, 2013

Best Films of 2013

Trying to tell you of this year's favorites, mine, you understand, has nearly destroyed me. It's not some other guy's list, one that dutifully lauds INSIDE LLEWYN as a masterpiece, not that I'm not glad the brothers Coen have found a muse in T-Bone Burnett and made themselves a Nashville Skyline of a MacDougal Street freak-out, but I liked it better when it was called O BROTHER WHERE ART THOU and everyone hated it. And 12 YEARS A SLAVE is I'm sure really great, but I'm still recovering from DJANGO and that at least had catharsis. Films in this list fit the Acidemic parameter: subversion of the norm, man. Some are nowhere near in the same league as GRAVITY or even CAPTAIN PHILLIPS but this site isn't Leonard Maltin. Why would it want to be? Do you know he only gave DJANGO **1/2?

Oh and FRANCES HA... I love the director Noah Baumbach, I love Greta Gerwig, and I love black and white, so why is this movie so unbearable? Is it that the writer doesn't know his subject or that the subject doesn't know itself? As someone who's dated them, I can assure you that girls here are not this air headed and vapid. Most of them are total sharpies, not these crumpled bags blowing in the leafless trees. Why make a movie about such unrealistic idlers? They would never last a month in NYC. (see BROAD CITY instead, those girls rawk).  Maybe I'm wrong about FRANCES HA. People loved JUNO and I hate that film too, yet love Ellen Page and love the Diablo Cody-scripted JENNIFER'S BODY.

As one who hates piety and second thought morality in otherwise badass films, a genuine subversive influence like Harmony Korine or David Lynch is an automatic in. They remain the sole chroniclers of the myriad ways drugs and dreams and reality can collapse into one another to create cinema, the way Marion Crane's pupil collapses down the drain, or Bill Pullman collapses into the son of a Nolte in LOST HIGHWAY.

I focused as much as I could on films that aren't on anyone else's list, rescuing my personal favorites without regard to 'importance' or 'artistic merit.' I am taking a cue from Danny McBride's burn-the-money performance of the year as himself in THIS IS THE END, Rather than some good safe white elephant of a film or a smutty feel-bad historical repressionist masterpiece, these are films that have escaped the maze of cliché with moxy, wit, and nutz. They all deliver something that makes me feel about movies like I used to feel, all wild-eyed and inspired watching OVER THE EDGE or THE BIG SLEEP over and over again with a drink in one hand and the other hand over my right eye to stop seeing double, faith restored as if wading in the sludge of an overflowing holy fountain.


Two "end" comedies came out the same year, one in the UK, one here. Ours is better, though both are great and sorely needed in horror's now hopelessly overly zombied landscape. END delivers on all the sodomy-phobic joking these clowns have been doing since the dawns of their careers but Danny McBride's turn from genial dirtbag to gonzo post-apocalyptic cannibal chieftain elevates the craft of acting. THIS IS THE END is his WRESTLER, his BLACK SWAN, his Heath Ledger Joker, his Jason Robards in LONG DAY'S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT, his Colonel Hans Landa, his Daniel Plainview, his Angelina Jolie in GIRL INTERRUPTED, If Seth Rogen wasn't in it I'd say it's his Seth Rogen in OBSERVE AND REPORT! May we all be so lucky one day to have our own grim chance to break through into dance-in-the-flames insanity before it's all conformed, stacked, and canned.

2. ROOM 237

ROOM 237 is a lightning crack to the head. All is illuminated, and terrifying: first because paranoid psychosis is very contagious; two, because the film is terrifying in and of itself; three, because it mirrors all our film deconstruction / analysis, from the ur-dry Bordwellian breakdowns (as in "before getting started, we all have to agree what we mean by a film") to the ultimately meaningless doctoral theses of nonwriters in a publish-or-perish deadlock, all the way to the gonzo freaks like me who see what we want to see through magic glasses; four, because we tend to forget that since we're a nation conditioned to 'recall' movies with an ever-dwindling series of studio-sanctioned iconic images--which in THE SHINING's case means the "Heee-rree's Johnny!" grinning Jack Torrance peering through his bathroom axe crack-- the SHINING's power is that it's just crazy enough to resist any attempt. Forget about being reduced to a simple icon, the SHINING is all about losing all connection to icons, all signifiers, until objective consensual 'meaning' vanishes into the fog of the purely subjective. ("Lick Danny's Dopey Decal Off, Baby)

Dir Sebastián Silva

...a 'Red Desert-style modernist melt-down mixed with I Walked with a Zombie-style poetic ambiguity' it is -- a hard thing to pull off really well but Silva aces it--and the photography by the amazing DP Christopher Doyle only justifies his reputation; his stunning use saturated color (stark yellow raincoat against a purple-blue sea) makes the film look how one might imagine the Polanski mid-60s trilogy: Knife in the Water, Repulsion, and Cul-de-Sac would look if shot today." (full)


 Of the reigning images of 2013, two involve James Franco ascending to heaven. Both times he fails to make it all the way but kudos for rising. BREAKERS molds 80s sex comedy dough into a GUN CRAZY-PIERROT LE FOU crescent and doses it with delirious contagious psychedelic sound mix-breathing-set shivering like ENTER THE VOID for a day-glo nite brite money chute that's intoxicatingly dangerous. It pulses and glows like the secret chamber in a Twin Peaks bordello, only on DOM (i.e. STP) instead of TM (via ESMR-style binaurals). Once the Jesus freak girl goes home, this shit really gets good, turning into a badass bizarro version of Charlie's Angels with drug dealer James Franco inhabiting the role of a southern fried gangsta rapper seducing and being seduced by the ready-for-anything blondes, and squabblin' with the other drug king of the druggy St. Pete strip. The music and ESMR whispery sound editing made my blood run cold, so I finally figured out what that phrase even means. Some of the end shots, wherein the three survivors walk into an infinite pink sidewalk point are like a reverse of the climax of THE RING, they're merging into the infinite. "Pretend it's just a video game" and live forever.

This movie reminds me why I never liked cocaine -- I'll gladly sacrifice the sexual gyrating in-the-moment heavy-breathing tactile intensity to not feel the blood run cold pit of the stomach disappearing empathy response. Coke turns me into a reptilian or reminds me I am one and that's why SPRING BREAKERS is better than the real thing. Even when the characters walk into GUMMO-style abstraction the film never loses its beauty. This is Korine's best; he's finally fusing his subversive experimentalism to sex and violence, like a real American, like Russ Meyer or Joseph H. Lewis or John Dahl before him. Haji Lives! (for best results, watch while alone, listening through good headphones)


Hard to believe that the most disturbing image of 2013 is a little British sound engineer breaking up lettuce heads while staring in dismay off camera, towards some unseen screen, from whence issues agonized female screams. Sure it can be hard to stick with this enigmatic fusion of Antonioni-esque ambiguity, Argento stylistic anti-misogyny, Bergmanesque post-modern meltdowns and Lynchian "no hay banda"-ism. But it's on streaming so you can take your time over several sittings. Sooner or later all elements merge in a deeply unsettling visually (and most importantly aurally) seductive post-structuralist fantasia wherein a reserved Brit sound mixer is hired for some reason to work on a horror film in 70s Rome. BERBERIAN SOUND STUDIO!

We never actually see the film they're working on, which just adds to the unsettling frisson. No visual violence can really match our sickening imagination, aptly mirrored in the sickening dead-inside feeling overtaking Toby Jones as he rattles the chains and drenches the bone crunches in echo (from the fractions of script and scenes the film seems one part Argento's SUSPIRIA, one part Soavi's THE CHURCH, and one part Fulci's CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD). Director Peter Strickland trusts his expert blocking and cagey actors and actresses in and around the studio's tight places, and though the rudeness and misogyny of some of the male filmmakers got on my nerves this is a masterpiece of enigmatic self-reflexive horror, with all the ingredients of an average Italian trash classic reassembled like a collage into a making-of fantasia that puts broader stuff like SHADOW OF THE VAMPIRE or A BLADE IN THE DARK to shame, and approaches the greatness of IRMA VEP.


I might be prejudiced because Delpy's strident and-a-little fed-up mother of gorgeous-haired twins reminds me a bit of my Argentine filmmaker ex-wife and her twins, same age, not mine but visible in occasional Facebook updates and I certainly had more than a few of Hawke's satyric problems, some of which I've only recently cured myself of in a jolt of 2012 alchemical pre-apocalyptic awakening. But what I loved most was that this was a film that was alive, fluid, in ways the other eurotrip sensual awakening family dysfunction wine-appreciating movies are not. There's no up-the-dress-of-the-virgin-camera-peering of a Bertolucci, nor the food porn of so many Sony Classics films, no Brit actors getting grooves back and hunky waiters bringing them little coffees before jetting off on their red scooters, a gloriously braless and tan Ludivine Sagnier in tow. Instead Delpy does a spot-on impression of a "bimbo," floored that she's talking to a man who writes books. That's perhaps the one fatal flaw of these films is that Hawke is not a believable writer. He's a believable actor though, and he seems genuinely turned on and worn down by Delpy in all the right places. Her problems with him are ours, and his hers and hers and his.

Maybe Linklater is still working on his masterpiece. Maybe it was DAZED AND CONFUSED. Maybe it is this film. The comfort it brings me to know that in Linklater we have a stealth auteur who can deliver the kind of thing we all thought only Rohmer or sometimes Antonioni could do, where huge gobs of unpretentious art and stuff almost happening sail by and you can't grab any one moment, but you feel the actors grabbing them all, and creating magic in a free flow spin on the ball of reality, and here this once, and maybe the next, a moment has landed. "I've been sleeping with a 41 year-old man, it's so gross, so obscene,"  Delpy says during a long Steadicam take around the village. Maybe it's the most stunningly detailed and fluid depiction of a romance in its ebbs and flows, as it sets out to sea, tide receding, that I, at least, have ever seen, and it is gross.

Certainly also - the sight of Delpy's middle aged body gone slightly to frumpy but still comfortable and flowing and sexy packs such a punch when they finally start making love (they don't get far) it's a tonic to the other big sexy actress flesh display of the artsy year, Lohan's in THE CANYONS (See "Lost Without Yr Text"), a joyless chronicle of compulsive sexual distraction, vanity, aloneness in the exhausting need to be perfect, even in the midst of an orgy. In MIDNIGHT at least is something like genuine connection, hope that sex in the cinema might still mean something other than titillation or distraction. It's painful without them but it's truth pain. It's a gift, from Linklater and his actors to us. They don't seem to be doing this for awards, it seems impossible to single out individual accomplishment vs the collective whole. Instead it masters the art of refusing to follow one's inclination to run away from a burning car.


Looking to get some of that PARANORMAL ACTIVITY opening weekend box office (the scary film thanks to that series is now understood as best seen with a late night opening weekend audience, ideally filled with keyed-up nervous young couples on dates), this film really didn't get perceived as the first class true story ghost picture it is. Starring one of my favorite actresses playing one of my favorite paranormal researchers, I'm predisposed to dig this film and even though there are some cliche'd tropes, it's got rich lived-in detail --the homes look like real homes the families have deep grooved verbal rhythms of the sort you rarely get nowadays (because it takes rehearsal and time to develop such rapport).

Maybe it's the cast: Lili Taylor's marvelously over-the-top possession and homey vibe, and Vera Farmiga's very real embodiment of demonologist-clairvoyant Lorraine Warren. Sure it's not the best movie ever, or the scariest, but I admire its chutzpah even if it denigrates one of my relatives, the real-life Mary Easty, who here is reimagined as a real witch who hung herself after sacrificing her young daughter to the dark lord. The real Easty was hung all right, in the Salem witch trials, an innocent victim in a land dispute with her false witness neighbors. Whatever, you can spot the real Lorraine in the audience at one of the Warren's slideshow lectures. Some critics are including STOKER as one of the best of the year, but I'll take this. For life!


The tale of an Oedipus complex writ large by white people across the dirty expanses of Bangkok, it's almost more of a Jim Jarmusch-meets-David Lynch on an Argento film set horror film than a revenge thriller. Then again, everything is a horror film for Sweden's dark lord of the Seijun Suzuki-esque macho melt-down post-modernist gangster genre, Nicolas Winding Refn, and GOD is his special love letter to those Angelica film snobs who saw his earlier films DRIVE and VALHALLA RISING and said, very good, Sven, but maybe slow it down a bit. Maybe don't have a protagonist who's such a chatterbox. There has to be one such film snob... somewhere. Maybe it's even me, for I'm keenly aware (since I'm Swedish) that to stand out from the legions of 'corrupt but honorable cop vs. redeemable but doomed gangster' Asian vengeance pics currently idling along the blighted "Dark Foreign Revenge Thriller" avenues of Netflix, Refn has to import his own brand of ice and snow onto the eternally wet floors of the Bangkok Dangereuse. We Swedes know that Thai swordsman cops can outfight us, so we have to outstare them and more importantly to stand firm against the severing of our hands, our dying of our flesh without a flinch, without a care, with no betrayal of despair. That's from NIGHT OF THE IGUANA. Like that film, GOD lives in the moment, you feel almost like the actors are making it up, moment to moment, and trusting somehow it will mean something. It doesn't, but at last we have a hero who might not even survive a real fight, the way real fights end far faster than the loser even thinks--one good shot to the head and you punch like a girl... (Suspiria for Men)


Director Neil Jordan loves film, beautiful girls, and the coastlines of Ireland and Britain, in that order, and here delivers the existential women's picture (ala Suzuki not Cukor) yoked sublimely to the Anne Rice-readymade tale of a 200 year old vampire and her equally ageless daughter. The film has a rare style, so sure and gorgeous it seems unfixed to any one century, moving across spans of time with ease to create a darkly poetic mood of the sort that would enrapture both Edgar Allen Poe or a 12 year-old Twilight fan. Gemma Arterton continually astounds as the woman tossed by an uncaring officer into prostitution back in the 1800s. Saoirse Ronan is her daughter, an angel of mercy by only drinking-killing old folks, who all recognize her as death's sweet giftbox and proclaim one way or another their readiness to go. Jordan's style is all about dark beauty and how beautiful deep red scarfs and hoods look wreathing these ghostly beauties with the foggy English seaside dissolving around them. If you can imagine the scenes with Methuselah-syndrome afflicted J.F. Sebastian shacking up with Pris but with Sean Young in the Roy Batty role in BLADERUNNER stretched out over a postcard shop full of gorgeous shots, Jean Rollin-with-a-budget poeticism and Assayas-style postmodern go-for-brokerage, well, it's better.


Redresses a gaping hole in my heart's that been there since I missed the rooftop Bushwick loft barbecue of the season to drag my sneering prominent grunge band bassist girlfriend to the Emmerich Godzilla on a sunny summer Saturday in 1998, and having it suck and hearing her hiss and sneer under her breath the whole way through, and reproach me forever after. So that's 15 years it's been there, that hole. Every time Godzilla comes on cable I watch it and feel her chiding resentment and my own shamefaced disappointment in Broderick, Emmerich, and myself, and especially Hank Azaria. Now that the hole is closed, the resentment is canceled, because for the first time someone's bothered to capture the draggy feel of the actual gigantic size in question. The Japanese with their Kaiju monster suit fights in old shows like ULTRAMAN, JOHNNY SOCKO, SPACE GIANTS and the later POWER RANGERS all had a gonzo greatness but could only use slow motion and landscape miniatures to create the feeling of behemoth size. No more. I love that this film kept the name Kaiju for the monsters and for the robots came out with the "Jaegers" - hand-crafted in a green bottle the size of 20 story office buildings, their every rippling metallic joint step creating huge gravitic pulls in the soundtrack, the titanic Kaiju creating huge thudding steps and extraordinarily detailed gushes of ocean and urban destruction. You really, literally, feel some sense of how big these fuckers are, and if, like me, you had some doubts about Guillermo del Toro as being little more than a Tim Burton with a better sense of narrative, wit, and darkness, then those doubts are as squashed as Roland Emmerich and Michael Bay trapped in a city bus underneath a Jaeger-Kaiju slapdown.


It's not for dopey films no more. In fact, because of the incredible cost of distribution more and more the stream has become to the 21st century what the drive-in and grindhouse were to the 20th. While Marvel continues to release its entertaining repeat-viewing ready franchises, and Mexicans like del Toro deliver where once Spielberg alone did trod, now we have up-and-coming talents, often working from Kickstarter campaigns, real grassroots stuff, like BOUNTY KILLER, ABSENTIA, IRON SKY, and JOHN DIES AT THE END. If they were released in the 80s they would be considered classics today. But there's so many options on streaming, its harder and harder to 'discover' something just because it's say, on one afternoon on HBO or UHF and you're not really playing attention or expecting it to be any good and then WHAM - awesomeness, the way so many of us first discovered BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA. Well, here're my BIG TROUBLES of 2013. Some of them are officially from 2012 but that date often just means festival debut, or Helsinki or something, so fuckin' whatever!


If you think it's easy to put a good Corman-esque babes-n-guns action film together then you've never seen SUCKER PUNCH or TANK GIRL or AEON FLUX or ULTRA-VIOLET or BITCH SLAP or CAT RUN or Luc Besson's less noted pictures, or the hundred other so bad they're not even good bad just inert movies that figure all a movie needs is a girl with a gun and rote mcguffin money packs and bald mobsters wearing suits that look like they have to be back at Men's Warehouse by five PM. That's why I'm giving a special place here to IRON SKY, JOHN DIES AT THE END and this, because they all use their under-the-radar leeway to do more than just make dick jokes and edit together video game carnage with sex scenes and hope no one's paying focused attention. Instead they hope someone is. They hope someone is looking for them, the right reader for their own handcrafted message in a bottle. In this one, I got the message. Christian Pitre stars Mary Death; Kristanna Loken shows up as the corporate ex-wife of the young Mel Gibson-ish Drifter. It's apparently based on a Kickstarted graphic novel. Stick around on the credits for bloopers like it's frickin' Jackie Chan. I love it. 


As John Carpenter ages into his RED LINE 7000 phase, a horror genius named Don Coscarelli has quietly stolen the title of the neo-Hawksian maestro de drive-in. A little bit early Sam Raimi, some Cronenberg, and John Carpenter x Quentin Tarantino if he ever made a horror movie, all rolled into one half-kidding, half-legit all weird voyage that goes deeper than most gone afore. It's a loosey goosey termite art digging and goofing around --simultaneously mind-expanding and brain-addling. It never has to rely on vicious sexual violence; it understands normal healthy adult sex is the creepiest most uncanny thing ever, once you can finally see it clearly for what it is, stripped of all its alluring-in-the-heat-of-the-moment bark. It's mad druggy (more: Pharamageddon!)


... if at first this seems way too-dependent on CGI to create elaborate but cold, almost-SKY CAPTAIN AND THE WORLD OF TOMORROW-style steampunk moon base panoramas with Metal Hurlant-style weaponry, stick it out. IRON SKY will take you some really bizarre places and in doing so eclipse nominal fuzzy sci fi cult-intended efforts like BUCKAROO BANZAI. Clearly a major labor of love for all involved, six years in the making, it's directed by Finnish industrial singer Tomo Vuorensola and it reminds me in a way of another under-rader meisterwerke, the Norwegian-directed prequel to THE THING (my praise here).

Bigger Budgeted Runners-up 
(Partly successful or one great element)

Spike Jonze's ten years-after apology letter to LOST IN TRANSLATION, this film will be a quick bolt to the heart of anyone who fell in love with a series of words typed from another person who, if only for a moment, captured exactly the shade of empty their unconscious archetypal animus/anima wanted to project on.  Dating in the age of the internet is fraught with paradoxes few of us understood in those heady days. Now we know... and aside from being way too emotional, this little rose-tinted masterpiece is of its time, and in refusing to judge or decry even the most dubious of choices it's a quiet little testament to the power of forgiveness, and the necessity of setting free any bird whose wing we mend, even if we built that bird ourselves from fucking scratch. And it's how everything really does look, literally, rosy, rose-tinted, when we are in the rush of love and finally free of fear and doubt and living in the pure joy. I had forgotten that rosiness, so thanks, Spike, on behalf of disembodied voices everywheren't.


It hopes nakedly and unafraid that America's doomsday prepper mentality might one day be exchanged for a more inclusive humanism and that a budding teen romance can infect the whole world as quickly as AIDS. Maybe love is a kind of alien anti-virus, a collective warm fusion, deliberately reaching across lines not only of gender, but class, race, dimensions, and now living/dead status. Like me you may have scratched the entry wound on your forehead at the glowing reviews. I grudgingly rented it. Lo! I was a crying mess by the end. Is it the most beautiful film I've seen all year or did I just need sleep? Weird. I certainly don't intend to see it again and find out... best leave it. (more)


It's got clothes and style of the 70s but there's tons missing from this tale of hucksterism and everybody playing everyone else but what it really is is a good bookend with the latest HUNGER GAMES in showing Jennifer Lawrence as the current reigning goddess of crazy, doing effortlessly what Sharon Stone in CASINO expended too much visible effort at, i.e. weaving around the coasting acting titans around her like they're Times Square tourists. Lawrence reminds us that all the great actresses make their characters feel genuinely dangerous. Amy Adams always feels like she's protecting the weaker men around her, propping them up, but Lawrence climbs on their backs and rides them to ground. And the last thing we need are more CASINO-era Sharon Stones putting gold patinas on their over-emoting. We need more BASIC INSTINCT Sharon Stones, for theirs is the kingdom and the power, even if other women get the glory.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Baiting Oscar: A Handy Checklist for Predicting Nominees

Blue is the Warmest Color will never be nominated for Oscar, though.
The Academy is notoriously unkind towards the female orgasm

The recent glut of 'safe' academy pictures is enough to make me wanna wretch! Sure, I haven't seen any of them, or have I? Is there any real point to a film like Saving Mr. Banks other than to give Hanks and Watson shots at another Oscar each? And what about The Book Thief? Nazi persecution + literacy + freedom of speech? You can't beat it .

What's actually kind of shocking is that this year there are so few period films celebrating movie makers as saints for lifting up the little guy, filling his sails with dreamzzz and/or helping hostages escape, or silent film stars learn to be team players... oh well - maybe they know we're onto them!

The things that win Oscars checklist:

1. Jews / Nazi persecutors

2. Old people with a kooky twinkle in their eye but a sadness too for their lost spouses.

3. A meticulous recreation of an old movie studio (c. 20's-50's).

4. A-list actor/s playing an iconic movie maker, star, or author from an earlier era.

5. An oppressed person with a love of reading or being read to, a reverence for the printed word.

6. Someone (a child or man-child) letting their imagination soar - so we see them imagining as well as what they imagine or dream.

7. Movie-making equated with some sort of divine gift from talented dreamers to a humbled, grateful world.

8. Decades-spanning historical sweep (with stars in old age make-up)

9.  Historical detail/ specific moment in history / injustice: political or social

10. Humble black folks caring/guiding white people

11. Unrequited / doomed love / reticent moping / guilt - one person lost in their alienated mindset

12. Bourgeois memoir / adaptation of classic novel with literary pedigree

13. Eccentric family memoir / celebration of the "little" people (homecomings - holidays, funerals  --allows for multiple past award winners to team up for a script that allows each at least two scenes to grab for some gold)


Saving Mr. Banks - 2,3,4,5,7,9,11,12
The Book Thief - 1, 2, 5, 11
American Hustle - 9, 12
Secret Life of Walter Mitty - 5, 6, 11
The Butler - 8, 9, 10, 11
Wolf of Wall Street -9, 11
Great Gatsby - 9, 11, 12
Inside Llewyn Davis - 9, 8, 7, 11,12
Gravity - 11, 6, 7
August: Osage County - 13, 12, 11, 8, 5
Nebraska - 13, 11, 2, 6
12 Years a Slave - 12, 5, 8
Blue Jasmine - 13, 12 (all Woody is #12), 11, 2
Labor Day - 11, 13, 9, 6, 5, 2, 1
The Invisible Woman - 13, 12, 11, 8, 6, 5, 2
------------------------- --------------------
Predicted Winner: Llewellyn Davis, Gravity or 12 Years a Slave

PS - I haven't seen very many of these, so I may be off in some of the elements. Forgive me... And of course, forgive me if I sound jaded. I'm sure most of these films are very well made, have something deep to say, and court Oscar only as an afterthought. Why not?

As I wrote back in Feb (Salieri Shades), the Oscar usually goes to a cool, termite art film after two bourgeois self-congratulatory "you artists of Hollywood deserve a hand" style prestige pics. The last non-bourgeois winner was The Hurt Locker in 2009, so Oscar is overdue. Hence I predict Gravity, 12 Years a Slave or Inside Llewyn Davis - which are all excused from directly courting Oscar via their auteurs' outsider statuses.

Not to be toooo cynical but I think the Village Voice film critics poll fits into this as well - albeit en verso:

Things that win Village Voice Critics Poll:

1. Youth, disaffected, alienated, mumbling, unemployed - in NYC or LA
2. By an Indie Auteur, established (in the last 20 years)
3. Groundbreaking something or other
4. Experimental edge, editing or film stock
5. Social issues: abortion, divorce, street hustling
6. Contempt for first world society
7. Death
8. Kitchen Sink Realism / Socialism

Her - 1,2,3,4,6
Frances Ha  - 1,2,4,6,7, 8
Inside Llewyn Davis  1,2,5,6,8
Gravity - 3, 4, 7
Before Midnight - 2,3,4, 5,6
Don Jon - 1,2,4,8,5
Upstream Color  - 8,7,6,5,4,
Blue is the Warmest Color -1,2,3,4,6
The Act of Killing -3,4,5,7, 8

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Rococo Gold: THE HAUNTING remake is better than the original - yeah, I said it.

Everyone heaped so much abuse on Jan de Bont's 1999 HAUNTING remake when it first came out that I held off seeing it... until now... and boy am I mad. I could have been watching this film every day for years! Is it terrible? Naturally. But it's my kind of terrible. It's a terrible America needs on a cold rainy December Monday night after work when your feet hurt and the heater's spewing out weird mold smells and the cat's harassing you for more food and you just fed her. You need to take a shower but the thought of touching a faucet handle and feeling cold water while waiting for it to turn hot, hurts. Just the thought is as if imagining being dragged down an asphalt driveway in your shorts,  or looking down from a great height with no railing. The very thought of touching cold water or a cold metal handle burns the inside of your parchment skin like the thought of no junk burns the junkie. On and on, with no end in sight! Cat - feet - cold - thoughts like knives! Cats - feet... knives...

Rain... Monday... December cold...the journey home is dark and damp. The apartment is filthy. Why bother cleaning when it will just be filthy again?

But then THE HAUNTING emanates from Netflix Streaming like a warm absolving specter... not the original, but that maligned 1999 remake --it wipes all cares away in a wash of dark red satins and dark-eyed women.

Sure the CGI ghost aspect is super uncool today, that uncanny valley melting while staring us in the face like THE POLAR EXPRESS took a torrid zone detour. But in 1999 it had only just turned uncool. The idea of the uncanny valley was still forming -  no one quite knew why they were so skeeved out. So play along. Act surprised. Let's not alarm the children.

For me the tacky CGI ghosts are just part of the film's goofy rococo conceptual design. The production design for this magnificently colored and decorated house is so over the top, so immense, you feel like you've wafted through these tortured cavernous sets in dark dreams, the kind where part of you is thinking "it's 2PM, Erich, get up already" while the rest of you indulges in the heavy REMs. Such dark and well-lit purple-gold beauty meshed up against cutesy poo gold cherubs makes it all seem as if the ghosts are Disney ride sculptures come to life, as fake in their fakeness as the clay Orson Welles in HEAVENLY CREATURES (left). Let's remember, this film is from the 90s, so this HAUNTING is hoping to one day be made into ride. It's supposed to be fun, more like the original HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL than the pretentious Robert Wise original. It's not supposed to be a turgid white elephant downer with everyone snapping at one another and mouthing terrible pun-choked dismissive analysis that feels it has to justify itself to its imagined skeptics a dozen times a page. It has no ambition to be taken seriously in modern psychiatric circles. It's just trying to make it to 90 minutes, in peace, so it can go home, like everybody else.

So I guess that's what I mean by "better." I can admire the 1963 HAUNTING only from behind a velvet rope, while the remake invites me to walk around like SLEEP NO MORE through its beautiful sprawling, dark-colored, sprawling, uniquely designed, burgundy and blood sets, to get close up as the attractive dark-colored clotheshorse cast (the two girls anyway) to try and play off each other in cute bits of dark little business (and the men smirk and phone it in).

And during the prolonged climax Lili Taylor clobbers a CGI statue-come-to-life griffin with a shovel.

There's no comparison.

In the end, probably, it's taste preference: if you need artsy justification for pouring money and talent into a ghost story drain then you've already lost me. If the entire dark look of the film seems created to bring out the dusky lushness of Catherine Zeta Jones lip rouge then you have me, presuming I'm too beat by the cat-feet-heater-mold-Monday misery to resist. Winning acclaim and Michael Douglas would, you think, lift the Zeta above a desire to appear in throw pillow matinee nonsense like this, but the Zeta was made for just such nonsense and she knows it. Slinking around in her body like a luxuriant demon on a 24-hour pass (a demon who was expecting to rent some tired old lady and instead got this dope, vivacious body at the same price), she's so hot it's no wonder an old reprobate like Michael Douglas would drop whatever stone he was romancing to carry her away like an ADVENTURE TIME Ice King. She's a great one for interacting with good actors, a good mirror able to rise to any romantic opposite's heights or lows, but she's also fun riding up on mediocre scene partners, like when she connects with Owen Wilson--usually likable but here almost as insufferable as Russ Tamblyn--imitating his pronunciation, her eyes rolling at his self-adoring twinkle. With sweet and sacred Lili Taylor, though, she connects in a kind of patient slow-burn lesbian flirtation that doesn't have to go anywhere to be super foxy.

The women in both films are their best assets. The men the worst. As the 1963 original film's sole heir to the estate, Russ Tamblyn is such a one-note, "hey doc, come off it, ah? I mean (blah blah) but I never (blah blah) and all that jazz"-skeptic greedhead he can almost swamp the works, unless I'm in the kind of mood I can forgive him (for he is short and knows not what he does).
Wilson's character avoids that (he thinks he's there for an insomnia study) and seems mainly trying to fit in, and maybe hook up with Zeta. Well, who wouldn't? She sees right through Wilson's smug schtick but she doesn't snap his head off, treating him instead like her younger brother's puberty-hitting friend who keeps trying to find excuses to hang out in her room. I like when she's talking about Three AM making her feel like a genius, bringing about a general discussion of thoughts and inspiration, while all Owen can do is rant about the infomercials he watches. ("That's why god created barbiturates, honey" she tells him). But god also created the VCR, Owen. Watch goddamn WC Fields movies and learn how to drink like a man! You'll sleep like a bitch.

But the script and acting are fascinating throughout the remake as you get the idea these people really are meeting for the first time and all trying to impress each other, lying and inflating their egos, less secure and declamatory than in the original. I felt Manny Farber termites in some of the group's nervous politeness and campfire bonding in the first 1/3, the way the huge spaces of the house make them value each other as proof the scenery hasn't chewed them rather than vice versa, and the way their language betrays their lack of real life experience. When Owen tries to win Jones over by patronizingly talking about her in the third person to Liam, "I see a little Jackie Susann in Theo" for example, I like that she doesn't buy it, instead just gives him a "sarcastic chuckle" like she would if her five year old brother was making jealous jokes about her boyfriend.

Believe it or not, it's actually Liam Neeson who comes off the worst in this version, like he's never worked with CGI before! Bitch, what about STAR WARS? Oh yeah, he sleep-walked through that too. Don't get me wrong, I feel bad for actors forced to pretend with all their might that a ping-pong ball-covered boom mic is a racist caricature alien or a living four-poster bed, but that's why they get paid the big bucks. If I had to pick a favorite Liam moment - it's near the end when Liam has the demon bed hovering over him, fixing to stab him with one of its poster poles, and his reaction is more like a man hearing the phone ring while half-asleep than someone trying to not get crushed and devoured. Liam! Wake up! It's the devouring bed scene! Deathbed! The Bed that Eats!

Then there's the decor: floor to ceiling, vast, staggeringly ornate but beautiful, style so vividly and gorgeously unified that--in my misery--left me totally turned on and weirded out by it: cherubs don't usually creep me out in a good way but in a suffocating grandma doily under the candy dish way. Here, they're not scary but they don't suffocate me, and the house is so packed with great detail it's like the art directors thought they would never work again once this came out, so were determined to cram in the entirety of the rest of their life's artistic contributions into every hallway, no matter what it cost.

Then there's Jan de Bont's directorial style, which illuminates the difference between boring 'good' and fun 'bad'. Robert Wise, director of the original is a talented journeyman who occasionally gets inspired, as in parts of WEST SIDE STORY, but time and again mistakes boring for important (he didn't direct the dance numbers, so it's pretty easy to guess what he did direct --all the drippy nonsense between miscast Beymer and Wood). I love 50s sci-fi and have seen Hawks' original THING a hundred times but have only seen Wise's preachy DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL once or twice. Who wants to be reminded how lame humans are? Or suffer an all-American apple-cheeked sprat? Unless you're a nuclear war proponent, or ever took a potshot at a friendly, unarmed alien who only wanted to threaten you with planetary destruction, watching it is like getting yelled at for a crime you didn't commit. But oh it's iconic, Gort and all that. Yeah, what does Gort do? He just stops other people from doing things. He's strictly reactive. That's kind of Wise's style. Like DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL, his HAUNTING is considered one of the definitive classics of the genre. Yeah but... does it soothe your anxious soul on cold rainy Monday evenings? Fuck no it doesn't. Everyone shouts and yells, Julie Harris frumps and frowns brilliantly but the lighting is too bright (these people sleep in brightly lit bedrooms) though it darkens as the film goes along--I'm sure an intentional effect as the night creeps over the narrative, and the photography gets better and better, but the fear is offset by a sometimes bombastic score, and the askew camera angles (following sounds across walls, etc.), the echo-laden booming sound effects, and the relentless inner monologue commentary from Harris all hammer at the soul--we never know what is a diegetic creepy house noise and what is 'interior' like Harris' monologues. And topping it all off is the patronizing way they all want to send her away from the house the more she wants to stay, packing her bags and booting her out the door, ignoring her protestations like a child's tantrum. If construed as patriarchal it might scan a "Yellow Wallpaper" illustration of the belittling of women and by association of the spiritual and intuitive, but it also begs the question of what else was Dr. Markway looking for if not this very reaction? Naturally he's worried about the scandal if she dies, but if he's conducting an experiment where are his cameras and recorders? He wants to document the paranormal but makes no attempt to do so, merely babbles his sub-Jungian "who knows what lurks beyond the known" blah blah, reacting to every new incident that can't be explained with a shrug.

The thing with Wise's version is that maybe it's not a ghost story at all. Maybe it's all just in Julie Harris's mind--though that wouldn't explain the dialogue or the fact that other people are seen reacting to it. Also, she's a great actress but I never much cared about what's going on in her mind. To me she lacks chemistry, charisma, grace. What she does have is a compendium of asexual old maid neuroses to the point she seldom becomes more than a shrill hysteric of the sort one wishes one wasn't related to, and there's no earthly reason James Dean would ever fall in love with her in EAST OF EDEN instead of Carroll Baker! I love Lili Taylor though, in this version, and the dusky burgundy color scheme gives her eyes a steady twinkle - her emotions are always so on her sleeve that we're never sure just how much of what's going on is due to her own psychic projection or ours. We're spared interior monologues, drab patriarchal coddlings, and all the other malarkey associated with Harris' neurotic old maid. Not only do I want to know what's on Taylor's mind, I feel like I do - the window is wide open--she doesn't need that trite inner commentary.

Lili Taylor uses the Liz Taylor style of acting, Harris the Vivian Leigh style (i.e. movie acting vs. theater acting). Even when she's holding back, Taylor's like a cat that just swallowed a canary of a role and isn't afraid to let a few feathers fall out of her mouth. Harris or Leigh would just waft into the room with one of the feathers in her arms, cradling it like the calla lilies are in bloom again.

No, there's only one reason to re-watch the 1963 HAUNTING: foxy lesbian psychic Claire Bloom, especially in the sexy-scary bed scenes with Harris (though again, the scariness is undone by the flat TV lighting. But there are three reasons to see the 1999 edition: the gorgeous interior sets (the unique attempts to make the house seem alive are very Lacanian), and the two lovely ladies. Sure sure sure, who am I to dare declare the 1963 HAUNTING overrated and as drab as a sunny afternoon wasted watching SOUND OF MUSIC in the gymnasium on the last day of school, followed by watching the music teacher's alternative lifestyle be insinuated in condescending tones by the uptight spinster principal? I'm just a man who escaped that auditorium, who went to the bathroom and never came back.  And now I'm standing before Catherine Zeta-Jones and Lili Taylor as they run, hand-in-hand, through wild dark sets, and at last I'm feeling the grueling slog of a cold wet Monday finally melt off me, as if from a slug of laudanum with a Jaeger chaser. Mmmmm--so dark.... and so gloriously, calorically empty, like the warm glow of a phantom fireplace as imagined by a dying match girl.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Coal und der Switches Symplex: JINGLE ALL THE WAY

When it comes to holiday entertainment for the whole family nothing tops the "heroin-smuggling nuns" episode of the BIONIC WOMAN that played Xmas eve back in the 70s and has never been seen again. But we must settle. Mom wants the CHRISTMAS STORY marathon on TNT ("you kids loved that movie as kids, remember?") My brother and I roll our eyes since we endured high school with co-star Scottie Schwartz. My brother Fred likes BADDER SANTA but that kid grosses me out. I vote for the Pagan Solstice celebration of THE WICKER MAN! There's no kid at all in that, just evil Celtic children snickering at a cop's befuddlement, which is badass. We settle, always, for them all... and just wince whenever 'good' or 'normal' kids are present.

Bridgewater-Raritan HS's Scourge
Then there's a second problem with Xmas movies, the classic example of which is in SCROOGED when Bill Murray starts his lengthy rant about how we should all sing soul music together because he's finally learned the meaning of Christmas. My friends, this is nothing more than Münchausen-by-proxy syndrome, the Xmas version, which I call Coal and Switches Syndrome. It's that thing where an egotistical workaholic proceeds to create pointless disasters so that Xmas is almost ruined, all so he can race in at the 11th hour and save it. Beside Murray's Scrooge, there's Nic Cage in The FAMILY MAN (2000) and Arnold Schwarzenegger in JINGLE ALL DER WAY (1996).

To get back to kids, for they pollute many Xmas films. If real kids could have any wish, could be anything they wanted, more than anything they'd want to be adults. They don't ever imagine themselves as kids. There wasn't a single kid in STAR WARS because Lucas understood this (but then forgot it). Misunderstanding this fundamental rule of viewer identification processes led to the idiotic decision to create sidekicks like Robin and Superboy and all those movies where we don't just see what a kid would imagine, but a kid imagining it.

I mention all this because Arnold Schwarzenegger is one of those men children want to be. His overly muscular body is almost a burlesque of how boys confuse muscles with prowess; we love his comically stern accent, his straightforward way with a catch phrase, wherein you can't tell if he gets the joke or not (it's better if he doesn't). Kids delight in seeing someone so free of layers and guile; he's a crazy playful tyrant six year-old in a giant barbarian body --and we love him for it. But in JINGLE, Arnold is just an ordinary gym owner/personal trainer and largely absentee father, avoiding his son's karate performance because (subconsciously) it would mean some other athlete getting the applause. Arnold thinking he can get away with being an average suburban dad in the first place is a really bad sign. He's like an unconvincing superhero alter-ego with no superhero to turn into.

Arnold needs to realize he is not, and has never been, an average dad figure. He is not all-American Joe material, if he was, why would we bother paying to see him? In the symbolic structure of the film, though, being unaverage is a crime tantamount to neglect and he must atone by finding an unavailable/sold out super hero action figure for his emotionally blackmailing son, the superhero itself being a burlesque of impotent male rage (as a kid you have the excuse --you have no rights, are dependent on adults, and easily beaten up by kids even one or two years older). Arnold wants to be his son's action figure, but such a character, like Lacan's Phallus, is defined (in a child's mind) by his absence. And in the guilt trip nanny state PC 90's, absence is also tantamount to neglect, so Arnold has a double neglect thing going. The result is that he has to bow down to a plastic figure because his son prefers the totemic imitation phallus to his dad's genuine absence. It's a bit like Jesus being told he's not a good messiah unless he writes a letter to Santa.  

JINGLE has hints of turning expressions of the capitalist system and its media culture against itself (which Guy Debord dubbed détournement): the film digs a canal into the rotting roots of the American capitalist frenzy Xmas tooth, only to fill it at the last minute with souvenir gift items available for purchase at a store near you. And like any good capitalist product, JINGLE knows how to incorporate its critique against itself within itself. That's recuperation!

One way Arnold tries to become the action figure phallus-fetish for his son is through the aforementioned Coal-Switch Syndrome: He creates drastic emergencies for himself, crises anyone who's lived in suburbia for more than five minutes would easily avoid. But he's an adrenalin junkie who rides suburban angst the way Charlie Sheen rides air currents in MAXIMUM VELOCITY. He ignores his secretary's notes that he needs to go to his kid's karate practice until the last minute, just so he can speed down the emergency lane because of the traffic. He combs through every toy story in town on Xmas Eve like a maniac as he slowly realizes his son's asked-for toy has been sold out for months, unavailable at any price. He asks for help from other shoppers and is genuinely shocked they laugh at him for being so naive. He seems to subconsciously invite contempt from fellow shoppers just so he can throw one of them into a toy display. His inability to get a call through to a radio station giving away one of the dolls leads to him smashing up the DJ booth. The fervency of his son's Xmas wish, and his own terror over seeming a bad father create a kind of eminent domain right to push and shove old ladies and children, resist arrest, trash a kid's jungle gym in the mall, willfully commit legions of traffic violations, impersonate an officer, terrify innocent pedestrians, break into and rob his neighbor's house, punch out a reindeer, and inadvertently interfere with a bust on a bootleg toy factory (run by carny schemers dressed as elves and Santas in the film's funniest bit).

In short he may not be a good dad but his reign of downtown Xmas terror makes a great metaphor for American foreign policy, especially as concerns third world countries: America is a nation so frenzied in our conspicuous consumption we trample every country who gets in the way, barging in wherever we smell oil and trampling any ecosystem like it's some slow-moving old lady shopper.

I imagine we're supposed to sympathize with Arnold's amok American dad, but the only dads who could possibly relate are, I imagine, the Hollywood elite who aren't off their cell phones more than a few minutes a year, and would be as dumbstruck as Arnold is if they suddenly had to do their own Christmas shopping. It would be more believable if Arnold was a toy come to life, fresh out of the box, believing his own cover story, like a Buzz Lightyear or post-Recall Quaid. Here he's supposed to have been living in the suburbs since before his kid was even born.  And that's just not believable.

When all his feigned ignorance and willful bull-in-a-china-shop methods fail, Arnold eventually solves it all by becoming the real life version of toy, by positing himself as the kind of father who's not afraid to use a jet pack to trash an African American family's living room as they're sitting down for Xmas eve dinner, praying! Arnold speeds through one window and out the other, just missing their heads for their heads are lowered in prayer, the only mention of God or Jesus anywhere in the film --all to prevent another African American from stealing the toy he's (unfairly) awarded to his own son by endangering the lives of pedestrians.

Needless to say, this was before 9/11 and now his behavior seems more unnerving than comical, like showing your son you love him by leaving unmarked black suitcases around an airport.

Who is to blame?

1) TOY MARKETING STRATEGIES: Perhaps it makes sense from a PR standpoint for toy companies to deliberately limit production on certain popular toys to drive the demand up, but in a country like America where everyone's self-worth hinges on providing their child with whatever they 'wish' for, it can create real stress on the national fibre. There's no reason that the most productive country in the world (China) can't meet the demands of the most demanding country in the world (U.S.) so the blame becomes personal --the dads who forgot to shop til the last minute are the victims. Movies themselves do this all the time. Disney lets their classic titles go "into the vault" to drive up resale value and ensure higher sales during releases / promotions, and certain rarefied cult director iconoclasts insist on releasing their own films on their own label, like David Lynch or Russ Meyer, ensuring the price never gets too low and avoiding middleman and PR fees but resulting in long stretches where they're not available. But kids don't understand supply and demand. They only know that if they don't get the toy they want, there is no Santa, and so they may as well become a derelict drug addict.

2) MEASURING-UP ANXIETIES: I don't have kids so I don't quite understand, but from movies like JINGLE I glean a certain fear of measuring up to some paternal ideal that, to be honest, I don't remember seeing when I was a kid in the 70's, when parents looked after their own good time first (as on MAD MEN) and got us some, not all, presents we wanted. To get us all was considered bad form, 'spoiling' us. Overall we were much more bored than kids today: we had no internet or cell phones. But, in knowing our father's self-regard didn't hinge our approval, we at least felt secure. In fearing him, we didn't need to fear anyone else. Arnold's kid might not fear his dad, but pays for the luxury with a great deal of collateral anxiety. If the son says he wants a jet ski, for example, and the next day one is waiting in the driveway, what a great dad! But then the kid feels guilty because he sees dad's car is missing, clearly having been sold to pay for the jet ski. Now the kid can't even get a ride to the lake to use it.

A Wizard of Oz version would be if the dad--rather than standing firm on his split subject of the fearsome non-du-pere / old man behind the curtain able to hold the black bag of social decoration (the social order's equivalent to Skeeball prizes--tried to be the wizard all the time, s has to race to set up his smoke and mirrors at school for his son's soccer game or--in this case--karate demonstration. Finally, he collapses from a stroke trying to keep the illusion alive, only in this case since he can't separate the two, the illusion on the smoke and mirrors isn't a fearsome green patriarch but a sensitive square jawed smiling advertisement of the perfect 'soft' dad.

3) NO ONE LEARNS THE RIGHT LESSON FROM CAESAR MILAN: If you don't assert your dominance over your dog, your dog assumes you are weak and thus feels he must take over as pack leader. This makes your dog a nervous wreck. How can a dog take care of a family when he can't even open the front door?  Kids with needy parents wind up in the same position. Adults are able to navigate the social order and assess dangers far better than dogs or children. But if they are too weak-willed to be stern and authoritarian when they need be, then the children or dogs feel, however unconsciously, that they have to step in. This is illustrated perfectly when Arnold calls his wife to tell her his car is totaled in pursuit of the doll, and Hartman answers the phone saying he's eating Arnold's wife's cookies while she takes a shower. Arnold shouts into the phone: "Put that cookie down now!" He's trying to boss around Hartman like he's a kid, showing only a frazzled damage control kind of obsessiveness that's destructive to himself and those around. In other words, Arnold is like a five year-old trying to be the father and falling apart (like a bad pack leader), yapping at falling leaves and biting mailmen. He doesn't realize he needs to embody the role of the father, not the 'fun dad who's a pal' or the superhero or the 'swell generous appeaser' who will only create another nervous idiot like himself out of his son.

That cookie line has gone on to become quite the meme and gives Arnold the quid pro quo revenge excuse he needs to Grinch up Phil's tree :

While we're expected to root for Arnold, it's actually rival doll-seeker and uncouth mailman Sinbad who is the most complex and worthy of sympathy. The only one at the store who doesn't sneer at Arnold's confusion over the absence of Turbo Men, he even offers to join forces, an offer which Arnold coldly rejects. As we see then-relatively unusual sights like people macing and tazing each other over sale items at the department store, what's most amazing and sad is how completely oblivious Arnold is to the idea that he is not the only dad in the world who waited too long, that he is just another dopey sucker paying capitalism's harshest price for waiting to buy buy buy. In other words, he's punished for not fully absorbing the Pavlovian conditioning necessary for impulse spending early and often (he works out at the gym, rather than shops, for his endorphins). But he is still conditioned enough that he genuinely believes it's his right as an American dad to use excessive force in pursuit of his individual needs, never questioning the validity of his Coal and Switches Symplex. Even having a coffee with Sinbad, his only friend, guarantees nothing: Arnold shoves him aside to be the first caller into a radio station, then seems genuinely shocked and hurt when Sinbad does the same to him.

But all is redeemed as far as I'm concerned, when, after he hits bottom, Arnold shares a beer with the reindeer he knocked out the previous shot. It's his moment of alleged redemption, making up for decades of bad blood between him and the animal kingdom from when he drunkenly punched out a camel in CONAN. And even if it skirts around being a total anti-consumerist parable, I applaud the film's brutal satirization of the consumer mindset and the Coal Switches Syndrome, even while endorsing each in the end. That's the unique problem of a country with a free press, namely that once an institution incorporates its own critique, it nulls all criticism by depicting the critic criticizing it, of having the thing itself critique its own thinghood and thus having its cake but charging you for it anyway. Like the kid who punches himself in the face so the bully doesn't get him first, Arnold can only fight bigger guys than himself and have it be fair....just like Rock Hudson has to wait until the end of GIANT before he finally finds someone in his same height and weight class. (Sinbad comes close, as does this guy:)

The point is, fatherhood's integrity takes a bullet in the name of commercial fetishization and makes us wonder: who is it that thinks kids most want to see parents suffering indignities on their behalf? The same idiots who think kids want to see kids in the first place? Arnold's kid is an emotional blackmailer --he needs to have his father not get him the action figure. He needs to feel that terrible sting, suffer in his room for awhile, and get over it. it's part of the maturation process; having the figure under the tree would make him happy for a few hours, but he would lose interest in it by dinnertime, and dad--having busted so many heads to get it--will be upset and hurt his son's not playing with it enough. Not getting it keeps it at maximum value as an objet petit a. His son will need to Adults like Arnold in JINGLE are not avatars of how boys want to imagine themselves, but stooges, cautionary tales, comical, neutered, pleading, desperate, pissing themselves in vain attempts to win their children's fickle favor. A kid trying to impress his father is natural and helps both parties grow, but a father trying to impress a kid is unnatural and stunts the world, as we now know (by which I mean the world is stunted). Feminism, the nanny state, equal rights, and anti-smoking legislation have stolen the balls from out the father and then kicked him where they used to hang, saying 'see, if your balls were still there, that kick would totally hurt, so you're welcome!'

A handicapped man once said of women: "we let 'em smoke, vote and drive, even put 'em in pants! And what do we get? Russian roulette on the highway, a democrat in the White House, you can't even tell male from female.... unless you meet 'em head on."

That old man was played by Stuart Lancaster, and the movie was the Russ Meyer's 1965's FASTER PUSSYCAT KILL KILL! It's currently out of print, but if ever there was an Xmas movie worth running someone over for it's this one. RIP Haji... you were some kind of a woman... and ballsier than most modern dads. We could learn a lesson, if it was only in stock.

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