Roma sucks, and I need to stop checking out the purported ‘best flicks’ of last year

Jenn and I had both heard good things about this Roma flick in the last month or so. It was on a lot of lists as one of, if not THE best film of 2018 so we checked it out last night. It wasn’t awful but it certainly wasn’t great. What it was, was pretentious — in spades. Wowee. Black and white; tons of long, slow, panning camera shots; tons of scenes where nothing much happens and you wonder if it might be significant later but it isn’t; tons of recurring “themes” like airplanes, dog shit, and space men. I don’t have a problem with any of those things in and of themselves but when they are all done together and in a particularly boring way, I get a strong sense of someone trying really hard to be a classic annoying artist type.

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This works on a few levels.

The airplanes, dog shit, and space men were the most annoying parts to me because I think that inserting something a few times throughout a film is such an easy thing to do, and if it’s vague or pretentious enough, it gives the artist immediate cred with all the sycophants. Like, “ooohh, notice how prominent the dog shit is in so many of these shots. Ooohhh, notice how the car’s tire smushed that dog turd. What’s it symbolic of? Fascinating.” I don’t find it fascinating. I feel like I could make a film and toss a few random details throughout the film to create similar “themes” that people would gush and crow over, even though the things were emotionally and thematically empty. For example, here are some random things: umbrellas, incidental weather reports on the tv and radio, and a female character putting on lipstick in the background of some shots. Throw those into your snail-paced black and white flick and the Academy Awards would surely sing your praises. “The director’s take on female sexuality is at once disarming and challenging. Best film of 2019.” I really believe it’s as easy as that.

Last year, I tried The Florida Project. This year, it was Roma. Well, fuck it. I’m not falling for this ‘best film of the year’ bullshit again. From now on, I’m sticking with the shit that gets lousy reviews yet still intrigues me. All reviews are trash. That includes this one.

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Movies are wasteful, and for lazy people.

Before anyone blows a gasket, I’ll clarify that I’m one of the lazy bastards that I’m going to bitch about.

It just occurred to me that every film or tv show costs millions of dollars to make, and there is a massive footprint left behind by them: scouting locations and actors; entire film crews flying all over the world to film a scene that lasts only a few minutes; cars and buildings blown up; elaborate costumes and makeup and special effects that will never be used on another film; countless meetings between executives and producers at high end restaurants so they can discuss what font to use on the poster; etc. Then there is the countless hours of physical labour that go into it — writers, producers, set designers, casting, lighting crews, film crews, sound crews, stunt doubles, etc.

My point is that even the shittiest film or tv show requires an immense amount of effort and resources to create — and then we, the audience, end up sitting on a couch in our sweat pants, slack-jawed, eyes glazed over, brains mostly turned off while we stare at the talking heads on the screen in front of us. It’s really quite absurd how much work goes into creating our passive entertainment.

Meanwhile, in the not-so-distant past, reading books used to be the go-to entertainment form, and books have a far smaller footprint and require us to actually use our brains.

This makes me feel guilty for not reading more. Of course there are still some great flicks out there that no one should feel guilty about watching but that’s probably less than 1% of all film and tv — the rest of it, we should definitely feel a great deal of shame over.

I think I need to start reading more.

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Mandy, Beyond the Black Rainbow, and the hypocrisy of the reviews these films have garnered thus far

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I loved Beyond the Black Rainbow, and this guy’s performance in particular.

In the last few weeks, I’ve seen two films made by Panos Cosmatos — Beyond the Black Rainbow, and Mandy. The former was widely panned by critics and has a low approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, while the latter has been lauded by critics and audiences alike.

Meanwhile, I’m baffled as to how these films could be received so differently when they are so similar to each other.

  • Both films are set in 1983.
  • Both are retro as all hell, a la Stranger Things, down to all kinds of wonderful details like the fashion and furniture of the time.
  • Both films utilize a plodding, glacial pace.
  • The dialogue in both films is delivered in a slow, dream-like way.
  • Both films clock in at about 2 hrs.
  • Both films tell simple fantasy stories (BtBR is about an evil doctor that imprisons a girl who has psychic powers, Mandy is about a guy seeking vengeance against some religious fanatics who killed his spouse, and their biker-demon henchmen) but tell them in ways and dress them up with interesting storytelling devices that make the films seem more complex.
  • Both films are quite violent, and have scenes where sharp spikes are driven into some poor bastard’s mouth — Cosmatos seems to have a fascination with penetrating orifices with sharp things. I like it.
  • Both films wear their influences on their sleeves, quite overtly: for example, the biker-demons in Mandy are clearly inspired by the Cenobytes from Hellraiser, while the “devil’s teardrop” knife from BtBR and Red’s axe from Mandy are clearly inspired by the films of Cronenberg. And of course, though less obvious to the layman, the slow pace and dream-like qualities of both films hearken to the films of both Lynch and Kubrick.
  • Both films share a nod to 80’s metal: in BtBR, it’s the ‘heshers’ listening to Venom by a campfire; in Mandy, its the Motley Crue and Black Sabbath shirts she is usually seen wearing.

I think both films are fine (though I much prefer BtBR, most likely due to it leaning a bit more toward the sci-fi and horror genres) and very similar so I don’t understand why one was shat on while the other is celebrated. I bet it has everything to do with Cage being in Mandy, and all the sycophants pushing each other out of the way to eagerly suck a star’s dick.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: critics are fucking idiots. They are as biased as anyone else — nay, more so since they are paid to write their drivel and Hollywood hype machines don’t mind throwing a few coins at the monkeys when it’s to their advantage — so their opinions are actually less valid than yours or mine. Don’t pay any god damned attention to them. Just watch what you want to watch, and feel about it however you feel. You don’t need a fucking critic to tell you what moves you and what doesn’t.

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I’m on a mission here.

34 years later, I review ‘To Live and Die in LA’

I watched To Live and Die in LA a few days ago for the first time, and I fucking loved it.

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It’s not considered a classic film or anything like that but I’ve heard it mentioned favourably a few times over the years. I didn’t pay much attention until a friend bought the soundtrack on vinyl several weeks ago. The artwork on the sleeve showed the sunset photo shown above, and that’s really what made me want to see the film. Something about that picture is deeply unsettling to me. I think it captures the claustrophobia and paranoia of the city. It also speaks of man’s arrogance and ignorance, our insatiable desire to constantly conquer and the inevitable consequence of eventual catastrophe. This image fills me with dread and fear, and I love it.

So I watched the film, and I loved it too.

I wanted to avoid spoiling the film for anyone but I can’t help myself. There’s stuff I want to talk about, and considering nobody reads this, I’m not going to bother censoring myself if it’s not going to impact anyone anyway. So if you’re reading this and are considering watching the film sometime, Kyla and Ben and Golda, then stop reading now. There, I think that’s fair warning.

Here’s what I liked about the film: I liked how gritty it was. It was so gritty, it verged  beyond ‘gritty’ and entered ‘disturbing’ territory — the gun shots were graphic, especially the shots to the face. There was full frontal nudity, including the protagonist’s dick. That’s rare now, and it was even more so in 1984! I really liked the grim, unhappy ending. Seeing the protagonist die a violent death was totally unexpected, I actually gasped in shock. But what I think I liked the most was how virtually every character in the film was either revealed to be a piece of shit, or turned into a piece of shit by the end. I think that was the hardest aspect of the film to watch. The audience always hopes for a great redemption to close a film but when it never comes, and when the exact opposite happens, it leaves us questioning humanity, morality. We don’t get the easy satisfaction, the sugar fix we are accustomed to, and we are instead forced to confront our uneasy feelings.

I love that. I don’t want satisfaction. I don’t want sugar fixes. I want to feel awful. I want my faith in the human race shaken. I want to be left with feelings of hopelessness and despair at the end of a film, and To Live and Die in LA did that.

Kudos to William Friedkin and everyone involved in the making of this film. I know I’m way late to the party but I hope they are all proud of this particular work.

do things that give you joy, but don’t do them too much.

I’ve been playing in a Misfits cover band for a while now, and I love it. We don’t practice very often, only once every two weeks or so, and I think that’s part of why it continues to be so fun even after many months — if we were practicing like a serious band, for hours on end a few times a week, we’d be sick of the songs, sick of each other, sick of the time commitment. It would ruin the whole thing. But by only doing it every now and then, it stays fresh to us. It’s a dandy thing.

What’s even dandier is that there is a double whammy effect to this project staying fun: when people love what they do, that thing they are doing is injected with an energy and vibrancy that is difficult to quantify yet is easily felt by anyone who isn’t a complete clod. This element is actually one of the primary things I look for in art: does it feel like the artist is being honest? Does it feel like they are truly passionate about this thing they created? Does this art convey a joy that the artist experienced during its creation? That’s the shit I seek.

And I think our cover band has that — we don’t practice a lot, so it’s fun, and because it’s fun, our performances are infused with this intangible yet critical element. A good example is that there was a song that we played in a previous incarnation of the band but we axed it from the set because it didn’t feel good at the time. It felt limp, it lacked conviction. But then the band changed a few members and one of the new members really wanted to perform that song so we gave it another shot, and guess what. Now that song works — it has the conviction and energy that it was missing before. One guy loved the song, his enthusiasm infected the rest of us and affected our individual performances, and then those individual performances combined to create a unified, inspired thing. All the song needed to kick ass was some good vibes infused into it. Crazy.

The lesson here is clear: do what you love and don’t overdo it.

this blog is my sculpture in an empty desert

I’m taking a break from dusting. That’s a lie, I’m actually just looking for other things to do besides dusting, because I hate it so much. Even though our place gets dusty as all hell due to our wood stove and dry, sandy yard, I can only muster the motivation to dust the house once a year. I’ll let our ceiling fan turn black before I finally wipe the son of a bitch off. That’s how much I hate dusting. And did you know there are no good vids on youtube on how to dust quickly? It’s true. You think some clever bastard would have devised an ingenious method for dusting your whole house in 10 minutes flat, but no such luck.

And that’s why, once a year, I have to spend a few hours doing this fucking job, and then break it into smaller chunks with some blogging in the middle of it to distract myself from the slow death water torture of dusting.

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“Wow, this job fucking sucks.”

Speaking of my blog, I wrote a post the other day that slayed me. I laughed a lot as I was writing it. That always feels good, to create something that I like so much. It also gets me excited for what my six friends who read this will think of the post I enjoyed writing so thoroughly.

But since I wrote the post, how much traffic has my blog seen?

One. One view, and it was probably a bot (based on the country the view is from, the viewer’s name, and lack of info).

On one hand, that’s a little disappointing. But on the other hand, it’s perfect, because I have an obsession with people creating stuff that no one (or very few people) will ever even witness. I even blogged about it here, and that’s what my blog essentially is: this is my solitary fire flower in an abandoned world, my TV and video games in the lonely desert night. It’s just sitting here, doing its thing despite virtually no one being around to see it. The only difference is my blog exists in the cold, vast theoretical emptiness of the internet instead of the dark of night in a desolate landscape.

That’s awesome. Just like the fire flower and TV and video games, it’s sad, lonely, tragic — if you just stumbled across it, you might wonder who made this thing, and who did they make it for? Why is it here? Does the creator know virtually no one cares about it, and do they care about that? What’s the point of this thing just sitting here in the middle of nowhere?

But the thing is, the answers to those questions don’t matter. What matters to me is that I create stuff I like and toss it out into the empty art gallery of the void, where it can inspire such questions on the few unfortunate souls who happen across it from time to time.

So, mission accomplished.

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These giant monoliths in the desert are an apt comparison to my blog. Perfect.

so much to say, so little time to fuck around on a computer.

there’s been lots of stuff i want to blog about lately but i’ve been too busy l-i-v-i-n-g — helping friends with renovations, getting firewood, exercising, fixing crap around the house, blah blah blah. which is good, i like doing stuff. i certainly don’t feel guilty when i neglect this blog but it’s also nice to have time to sit down and let the seething rage flow through the keyboard and out to the whole world.

let’s see what’s been on my mind.

  • i went to a few slideshow parties last week after encouraging a few friends who recently returned from traveling to host them. they were both lovely, almost exactly what i had hoped for. it’s a great reason to get together with people we don’t see often enough, hear what they got up to on their adventure, learn more about places and the people there. great stuff.
  • i LOVE doing firewood. it’s a bastard of a job sometimes but there’s something immensely satisfying about it. something i remembered particularly enjoying was stacking it and wondering if i would remember the history behind each piece. i often think about that. like, “will i remember that this arbutus came from the tree i took down for barb? will i remember what a prick this piece was to split?” i also like thinking about the day i finally put a certain piece in the wood stove, how it will patiently sit for a year or so for the day it finally does what it’s been waiting to. it’s kind of beautiful, poetic.
  • i heard someone use the word ‘vivacious’ today. i hadn’t thought of that word in many years. god damn, what a great word. i want to try to remember to use it sometime.
  • today i saw a box of saltine crackers and was blindsided by the memory of a few snacks i used to eat all the time as a kid but had completely forgotten about. i would place nine saltines on a dinner plate, cut nine pieces of cheddar cheese and put one on each cracker, and microwave it for 10 seconds. i loved that snack, wow. i also remember putting peanut butter on saltines. the microwaved cheese snack seems super trashy to me now, but the peanut butter snack is ok. it’s funny how things that can be so big and omnipresent in your life can vanish from your memory like that.
  • speaking of memory, our pal kate told us about an activity she was part of in a university psychology course she took many years ago. the course instructors had allegedly spoken with kate’s parents about three strong childhood memories her parents thought kate would remember. the instructors then asked kate about each of these memories. kate said she could recall the first two but the third was hazy. she was asked to keep thinking about it for a few days and let them know if anything came back to her. bit by bit, details came to her, until it was a fairly cohesive recollection. then she was told that the first two were legit memories while the third was completely false, just something they made up. the point of the exercise was to illustrate the fallibility of memory, how easily manipulated it is,  how real that false memory can seem to us, etc. i thought all of this was both fascinating and horrifying. i wonder if i were in the same activity, would i have bought into the false memory? of course, i like to think i would not, but like anyone else, i probably would. i hate to admit that.
  • van morrison sucks. i’ve never liked him, and i still don’t like him. this came up yesterday and someone said to me, “oh, maybe you’ll like him in 30 years,” implying that maybe i was too immature or inexperienced to appreciate his craft, that maybe i would understand his genius in time. i think that’s a terribly condescending thing to suggest. it’s art, FFS. it’s like pizza: some people like hawaiian, some like meat lovers, some like vegetarian. you wouldn’t say to someone who doesn’t like hawaiian, “you’ll come around when you grow up. you’ll love hawaiian once you are ready to understand it.” some people just don’t fucking like hawaiian, and that’s all there is to it.
  • i want to build a cabin in this style, like a log cabin but built with lumber. like a house made of jenga. mine won’t look this nice but this serves as good inspiration.

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that’s all for now.