This Great Evil

Month: August, 2012

Rambling

There are moments in life that are simply perfect. They go a little something like this-

You’re sitting at your desk after a good meal. You’ve got work, be it productive or creative, planned for the evening. Just as you settle into a comfortable position in your seat, a breeze comes through the window. It’s substantial and long enough to be felt, but not forceful enough to be uncomfortable. You realize just how pleasant the room is right now, the pleasing colors outside, be it the glorious fading light of the day or a dance of stormy clouds. Suddenly, the blank Word document in front of you looks a whole lot less intimidating.

Or, alternatively-

You’re in your friend’s pad, chilling. Someone says something funny. You laugh. Someone bounces off that guy (or lady friend) and says something even funnier. You say something funny. They laugh, everyone laughs together. You forget about the petty grievances you might have against this friend or that dude, and you remember why you love the people in your life so much.

You’re driving down the highway with a friend, going home from a day out. The night has reduced everything to a blur of lights, colored dots. You switch radio stations and on comes this massively overplayed bit of pop music. You both start belting out the lyrics (which you both know by heart) at the top of your voices, embarrassment and civility forgotten.

You sit in front of a computer at a desk. The breeze through the window gives you the courage to try and articulate your feelings on the internet…

These moments are never premeditated; the satisfaction from finally reaching or accomplishing a goal is far different than what I’m talking about here. Planning or actively seeking out this kind of perfection robs it of the magic, its effect.

These are the times when you’re suddenly and potently reminded that life is great.

Sure, life can be unpleasant – maybe sad, maybe lonely, maybe empty – but how else could we fully appreciate the good? The breeze is meaningless unless you’ve experienced cold, frigid winter nights and hot, sweltering summer days.

I hate to end on such an unbearably pretentious note, but here’s that bag scene from American Beauty. While the execution leaves much to be desired, I get where the writer was going with it. And I agree.

 

Onwards.

P.S. Not to sound like a curmudgeon or anything, but is there a way to get rid of that damn smiley face at the bottom of this WordPress template?

Intermission

We’re more than halfway through the year at this point, and, I think, roughly halfway through the year’s slate of compelling/event movies. Now seems as good a time as any for a little evaluation and reflection.

Most problematic “good” film (so far): Beasts of the Southern Wild

Beasts does an admirable job of creating vivid and well-realized characters. It just doesn’t seem to have much in the way of understanding or respect for its characters. The film operates on a Dances with Wolves or Winter’s Bone level of outsider observation, capturing ably the textures of a place and a time while completely missing the soul. In the case of Winter’s Bone, the resulting film was a dispiriting, joyless grind. Beasts fares better than that film because it is ostensibly a fantastical fairy tale or fable. When it’s purely operating on that mode, the film works quite well – it’s bold, affecting and mesmerizing. Where it falters is in its attempts to capture the soul of Cajun territory in an abstracted setting dubbed ‘The Bathtub.’ We don’t get anywhere close to figuring out how The Bathtub ticks; the ties that bind seem to be just ego and self-delusion.  The film also bizarrely asserts that the resulting clusterfuck of Hurricane Katrina was purely down to the hubris of poor, black people. Strangely, FEMA is portrayed as a largely competent if soulless entity in the whole brouhaha. It’s patronizing and beyond insulting, a telltale sign of very, very white and very, very middle class filmmakers. Spike Lee would flip five shits if he saw this movie.

Most meta-movie (so far): 21 Jump Street

For a R-rated comedy based on a retro TV show, 21 Jump Street possesses an unusual amount of intelligence. It functions as a critique of the applicability of pervasive 80s John Hughes style high school stereotypes/notions in modern day high school settings, as well as being meta up the ass. The film makes fun of cop films for being stupid and contrived, other high school movies for being stupid and contrived and itself for being stupid and contrived, often all at the same time. The film’s stuck very much up its own ass, but it’s done so in a devilishly entertaining manner.

Greatest single moment in a movie (so far): The climax and ending of Killer Joe

Greatest really should be in quotes here because there’s a reasonable school of thought that would call the climax and ending of Killer Joe morally abhorrent and endemic of America’s cultural decline. To define precisely what happens here would be to ruin the revolting Kinder Surprise that is Killer Joe’s last act, so I’m not going to do it. Suffice to say director William Friedkin (of French Connection fame) makes the most of his NC-17 rating here. However, even if you find the content supremely distasteful, there’s almost no way you can find the the ending of the film not brilliant and not in keeping with the rest of the film’s gnarled, beyond fucked sensibilities.

This the one movie I’ve watched this year that elicited an intense reaction from the audience. Killer Joe’s final 10 minutes transformed a reasonably collected group of hipster cinephiles into a raving, laughing, crying, gagging, vomiting mess. Sure the film’s morally bankrupt empty provocation, but it’s such invigorating and stylish empty provocation that it can’t be dismissed. Just don’t plan on going to KFC afterwards.

Worst advertising (so far): Magic Mike

Okay, so worst should, again, be in quotes. By most measures, Magic Mike was a marketing triumph, generating over $100 million in returns on a $7 million dollar movie. Yet, it did so by appealing to the lowest common denominator with promises of uncensored and provocative male stripping. Magic Mike is not that kind of a movie. Yes, it’s a movie about male strippers, but it proceeds more like a tragedy than anything else, a screed against the notion of objectifying and selling your body. The so-called glorification of the stripping life proceeds with a heavy yellow filter that paints the world in a boozy, hungover and unflattering light. In between the stripping setpieces are moments where the strippers are shown to be massively seedy lifers with little to gain aside from the occasional petty victory. So basically, you should probably check out this movie, even if you are a heterosexual male without an interest in ass.

Most baffling cultural development (so far): The Avengers

I think, at this point, that we can all definitely agree that the last 40 or so minutes of The Avengers is great. Exciting, dazzling, funny, thrilling, expertly staged, etc. What I simply don’t get is the near universal praise the entire film has been getting. For me, the rest of the film is soulless, derivative, contrived and, at times, pedantic fluff that carries all the entertainment value and satisfaction of watching a grown man play with some action figurines in a bathtub. This film has the same problem as Mission Impossible 4 whereby grown adults are reduced to adolescent caricatures in order to inject some “conflict” and teamwork-is-great moralizing into the proceedings. Robert Downey Jr. and Mark Ruffalo come out of it the best, mostly by sheer willpower and charisma, but the rest of the Avengers get lost in a sea of needlessly complicated plot. Most distressingly, writer/director Joss Whedon pushed both Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye and Chris Hemsworth’s previously fantastic Thor into the sidelines; they’re bystanders to the rest of the weird, juvenile character development of the film’s first two acts. Forgive me, comic fans, if I don’t find Captain America to be a compelling character at all, and forgive me, feminists, if I find Black Widow to be the most flimsily designed superhero in cinema since Ben Affleck tried out Daredevil.

Worst movie (so far)Jeff Who Lives At Home

Full disclaimer: I haven’t watched that many bad movies this year. I’ve mostly skipped out on covering the really shit movie assignments because rising Metro fares have robbed me of my enthusiasm for make-believe professional amateur duty. That’s not to say that I won’t check out LOL, The Paperboy, Battleship, The Raven, Rock of Ages, One for the Money and The Devil Inside once they become available readily on the internet. But, for now, Jeff Who Lives At Home remains the worst thing I’ve seen this year. It’s an insultingly pretentious independent dramedy with not a single ounce of respect or sympathy for its characters. Watching this movie is akin in being in a room with an intensely inarticulate and sweaty internet philosopher who stops every so often to jerk off into your face.

Best movie (so far): The Deep Blue Sea

I have immense respect and adoration of slow, dignified and elegant movies. To call The Deep Blue Sea a slow burn would be an understatement, yet the movie has an intoxicating magic all to its own. Every single scene is ravishing, filled to the brim with mood, detail and melancholy. The film’s highly subjective structure elevates the rather straightforward plot, complementing the hazy, grainy cinematography extremely well. Rachel Weisz is, as always, astonishing and Tom Hiddleston does much here to make up for his Loki performance. The film ends on an immensely graceful shot that replicates the opening one but with more acute melancholy and an enigmatic twist.

The Gilroy Legacy

Spoilers, yeah.

But if you can’t predict a plot point like the good guys win…get out. I don’t ever want to see you again. Leave. Fuck off.

The Bourne Legacy is a fine movie; it’s well crafted, well shot, slick in the right places and agreeably grounded. For the most part, it’s imbued with its own distinct personality, separate from the original trilogy. The notable bit of fan service that does exist is handled quite thrillingly: the story ends with the characters roughly where their counterparts were at the end of Identity and, at just the right moment, Tony Gilroy blasts an orchestral remix of Extreme Ways. In lieu of screensaver-esqe title cards, we get a lovely, elegantly composed shot of a boat floating away into the Philippine Sea.

That is how you wink to fans. What you don’t do is to go back and wink to the conspiracy bullshit no one liked from the previous two films, and try to shovel even more conspiracy bullshit down our throats to “expand” the “mythos.” No one liked that crap. If you enjoyed the Bourne series solely for the intrigue, you’ve screwed up. You’ve done it wrong. You need to take a step back, re-evaluate your life and figure out what led you down this dark, fucked-up road to ruin.

All those stories about Tony Gilroy’s atrociously lazy script for The Bourne Ultimatum? I believe that a whole lot more now – this film unreels much like a shitty first draft. Whereas previous director Paul Greengrass wisely sought to reduce the role of the conspiracy bullshit and use it more as a bit of flavoring or backdrop, Tony Gilroy appears to be too attached to his written work to do any pruning as a director.

The result is a film that endlessly references The Bourne Ultimatum through innumerable verbal power spats between Edward Norton and his merry gang of shadowy, fat, old, ugly, probably cancerous government cronies. Yet, this perverse dedication to a putrid plot sets the film apart from the previous’ installments focus on propulsive action. I suppose I’m grateful for that, to a degree. Tony Gilroy realized that he couldn’t compete with Greengrass in terms of sheer excitement, so he went for a different mood, a different experience.

And, despite my previous written appraisal of Tony Gilroy’s script, I have to admit that this man knows how to write and finesse this kind of dialogue. I mean look at Transformers 2 – equally preposterous conceit yet with much, much worse scripted dialogue and without any sense as to how to stage these beats with the right amount of gravity and drama. Suffice to say that while the intrigue of The Bourne Legacy is its biggest weakness, these scenes and the arc are never so horrible to drag me down.

I do wish that Tony Gilroy and editor (slash brother) Joe Gilroy cut out 30 to 60 minutes from the first half of the movie, and shoved it in during the Flowers for Algernon phase of the story, but that might have ruined the deliberate pace the filmmakers were going for.

As per my earlier assertion, Tony Gilroy and crew execute almost everything else in the film well. The characters are, across the board, far more interesting than anyone in any of the earlier Bourne films. Everyone (except the Asian ninja dude at the end) has a fairly well thought out backstory and enough motivation and depth to be quite compelling. The action is well directed and well staged, never quite reaching the virtuosic heights of Greengrass’s almost ballet-like set pieces, but still far, far better than, say, that Total Recall remake.

The film does climax on a rather limp note, though. Previous Bourne films developed the main government baddie for the payoff where Bourne royally fucks him/her over. Norton and gang don’t really reach a similar moment with protagonist Aaron Cross in this movie. Cross fucks up a henchman, and basically just leaves everyone with their dicks hanging out in the locker room. It’s dissatisfying, but I don’t really know where else they could have taken this story. Maybe if more time had been spent with the ninja dude, the climax would’ve been more fitting.

As it stands, Legacy ends on a whimper, followed by a Moby-driven bang. I’m glad that Tony Gilroy found way to revitalize the franchise, and hope that he finds a new writing partner for the next one.

P.S. There is a serious case of nepotism going on through the end credits. I’m pretty sure that Tony Gilroy co-wrote and co-produced the film with one of his brothers and used another as the editor. I guess the Gilroys really want to be the next Coppolas.

Oh fuck, it’s North Korea!

Wait, what?

Something simpler

This blog has been around for over half a year, which makes it the longest running journal I’ve ever kept. Through those months and 61 posts, I’ve kept the design the same. I remember not liking how most of the free WordPress designs were too flashy, too colorful. I settled on something minimalist, something pretty much monochrome. It was certainly functional, maybe even very functional.

So why does This Great Evil now look a good deal different? Well, every once in a while, I like to spruce things up a little. You see, I got really sick and tired of Grid Focus’s header links. I never liked the way the text was centered in those blocks, and decided that now was the time to do something different. The new design is, if anything, even more minimalist, now totally monochrome (except for images within each post).

There is, unfortunately, a regrettable trade-off in functionality – the rather handy sidebar and search box have been moved to the bottom of the page – but the benefits easily outweigh the shortcomings. For one thing, I think the new blog looks much nicer. Also, the redesign process is invigorating, much like how tidying up your messy desk puts you in a frame of mind to do shit.

That’s not to say that there will be an increased amount of shit doing on this blog (it is, after all, still summer), but I do think that a couple more involved blog posts to ring in the new layout should be expected.