Saturday, May 22, 2010

Another POV: Bruised Heads and Bruised Heels

I'm at the McDonald's in Whitney Point surfing the Internet instead of mowing my lawn.

In the process of surfing, I found Nathan Wilson's review of HtTYD:

I appreciated this perspective that I missed:
"...dragons were bad. They raided the village stealing sheep. They burned it down constantly. They killed people. Lots of people. And here’s one of a few things that stunned me. Why did they do these evil things? Well, because they served The Dragon. The big one. The huge, ancient, evil one. And the story progresses not with one small boy (Hiccup) successfully communicating to his father (Stoick) that dragons were misunderstood, but with that boy crushing The Dragon’s head and . . . losing his foot in the process."

I appreciate what Wilson brings to the story here and I'm almost convinced, but I'm not entirely sure that the slaying of the large dragon is developed enough to be consistent with or contrast enough with what has come before.

Some Quickly Muddled Thoughts on Not Slaying Dragons

How to Train Your Dragon is a fun mess of a message movie.

Surprisingly enough, HtTYD is about the dominion mandate.

And God blessed them. And God said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth."

Dominion does not mean killing things (though it doesn't exclude it). Dominion means ruling with authority. And in the immediate context of being made in the Image of God, it means ruling with authority in love.

In such a way that even the deadliest of dragons is under the authority of King Man.

The problem I have with HtTYD, as a fun-spoiling adult, is that the dragons become too cute and cuddly. They are subdued much too easily. By the end of the film, we're asked to forget that sometimes a dragon is just a dragon and wants to kill things at the same time that we get the satisfaction of killing a giant dragon.

I think I'd be okay with young children watching this as long as it was played as a double feature with Grizzly Man.

(That's a joke.)

In "real life," it is possible to tame dragons/serpents/grizzlies, but the enormous difficulty of this task shouldn't be glossed over.

(I'm probably being inconsistent here because I still love Nausicaa and her bug charming ways. But there's a different tone in Nausicaa and it is stressed that she is extraordinary in her talents and gentle understanding even as she leads her people to a greater understanding. I think that it's HtTYD that is inconsistent and not me, but maybe I'm wrong.)

There's a scene toward the end in which Hiccup is supposed to kill a dragon in the arena and instead puts down his weapons and approaches the dragon with outstretched hand. I wanted so badly for the dragon to eat Hiccup and for the credits to roll. But, that's a different movie.

Minor gripes aside, the reason this film works at all is because it works hard to reinforce creative dominion through love.

You can easily get a dog to lie down by shooting it in the head. Bravo! You've subdued that beast! This is the sort of biological/ecological dominion practice that the West at its worst has been guilty of. But no king lasts long on the throne by killing all of his subjects.

The "green" movement is to be praised in recognizing that we have responsibility for a living kingdom. Green folks err whenever they insist that we abdicate responsibility and get out of Nature's way. Not ruling at all is not a proper alternative to poor rule. The obvious (but difficult) task before us is ruling well.

Back to the dog example, we properly exercise authority by working to have Fido lie down in obedience to a verbal command. Not by beating him to a pulp or by leaving him to do as he pleases when he pleases.

I've got a rooster (the closest thing to a dragon in Nanticoke) that I respect. I like him. Sometimes I have to kick the sorry bastard for his own good. He needs to learn that it is not ever okay to attack human children. He's walking a fine line between head of the henhouse and headless on the butcher's block. I like him. I'll like him in a different way roasted.

I don't know why I brought up the rooster. Maybe because it's important to kick him and possibly having to kill him. Even more so, it's important to not kick him the large majority of the time and let him be about his proper business as a rooster. A rooster is a rooster. Let it be so.

A dragon is a dragon.

The strange part of HtTYD is that it works so hard to establish that dragons are just misunderstood puppies, then ends with a climactic fight against a larger dragon. Hiccup does not try tickling this dragon into submission. He never engages it in love or respect. Based on everything that has come before, why not?

Why are we asked to hate this dragon after we've learned to love all the other dragons? Simply because it's bigger? This dragon somehow has evil instincts that the other dragons lack? Why do the other dragons hang around this large dragon? Why is there only one large dragon? Is it an essential part of their ecosystem? How do they later function outside of their nest as pets in a village?

HtTYD falls apart.

(This is another place in which Nausicaa is more consistent and far superior in its insistence on embracing the ugliest and worst of bug creatures and also having a developed logic behind its natural world.)

I know I'm being a killjoy, but HtTYD's fun is marred for me by its mixed messages and failure to seriously engage with its own themes. I had fun with HtTYD, but for the long run I'll stick with Nausicaa and Grizzly Man.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Born without arms

In light of our discussion, I had to re-watch Julien Donkey-Boy.

The hose scene:

[If I was laughing "uncontrollably" (and I don't doubt that I may have been), it was probably largely due to my not having seen the film in a long while and then being nervous about showing to you and Carey a film that I have a personal investment in which I know is usually not well received by anyone.]

[As far as laughing at "inappropriate" things, Abby will tell you that I did laugh hard during Breaking Bad Season 2 when an ATM machine falls on a man's head.  I still chuckle thinking about it.  That was the episode before or after the one with the severed head strapped to an exploding turtle.  I'm writing this in my living room and Abby just commented that I've had a big grin on my face while writing whatever I'm writing.  See?] 

Back to Julien Donkey-Boy.

It's actually the father and the brother Chris in the hose scene, not Julien (I did misremember this).  

The humor comes from the father (who is HERZOG!) saying things like, "Be a man," and "don't be a moody brooder" as he douses his son in cold hose water.  Really, it doesn't change much if it had been Julien.  

The father is not "just" an abuser and his family victims.  He is a father who loves his children, but doesn't always express this "appropriately."

There is horror (extremely uncomfortable at times) here AND love.  The father is misguidedly trying to help improve his son(s).  The father also very much has his own mental/moral/spiritual problems.

[The hardest scene to watch (which also has its own humor) and also the worst reflection on the father comes later when he does completely verbally abuse Julien.]

I hazard a guess that your "problem" with the hose and wrestling scenes and others is that you are still only seeing through one perspective.  Korine has the audacity to love and side with the father as much as with the more obviously sympathetic Julien or any of his siblings.

What's really important is that immediately after this scene (the hose scene) of strained family dynamics and a brief cut to Chris alone and painfully asserting his manhood, we get a scene of the sister singing the Agnus Dei, pleading as it were on behalf of her family.

-Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, have mercy on us.-

This is the heart of the film.

Later, the wrestling scene is among the best in the film.  When Julien, the Jammin' Jammer, yes, in bra and undies, is being pinned by his brother and being yelled at by his father to be serious, he declares repeatedly "I love you, Chris."  This is heart-rending soul-stopping schlock, yes it is. This is living wisdom, wrapped in flailing flesh and failing words.  Yes it is. 

More than this..

When the sister hits the ice and the baby dies, there is an amazing scene after this when Julien steals the dead baby.  For a moment, he is absolutely clear in his communication.  Sober as death.  The remaining few minutes are devastatingly lovely.  Call it melodrama if you must.  I won't deny it.  

You can't stop me from crying.


I do concede to you the inexplicable opening involving what appears to be the spontaneous murder of a young boy over a turtle.  I don't know what to make of it.  I think I may have brought up to you in the past my idea that not every image in the film is to be trusted (masturbating nun, hm?) and that the editing/construction of the film attempts to reflect Julien's schizophrenia at times, not necessarily a "factual" narrative.  I tend to forget that opening sequence of the film when I think about it.  I don't know.  I don't even have a clue.

Julien Donkey-Boy is also a magnificent technical achievement.  The editing (including the sound editing) is probably the most important element, but I think the cinematography is also great.  The DP was Anthony Dod Mantle who has since then established himself as one of the more exciting and excellent DPs now working.

Because of all of the above and all that I've previously stated and for so many other reasons that I can't properly understand or articulate, I love Julien Donkey-Boy.  A desert island pick and an obvious inclusion on my top 50 that I have yet to compile.  

I'm really eager for you to see Mister Lonely.  I want to hear what you think of it.  Your last paragraph about Korine does have me excited.  

It's refreshing to hear your criticisms and reluctant praise.  I think that many of your objections are valid even if I can't share those objections.  I hope I'm doing a decent job of showing why I love Julien Donkey-Boy and conveying the reasons why I think Korine should be valued as one of our greatest current filmmakers.  Your post makes me want to revisit Gummo, which I haven't seen since college- at least a decade ago!

Unrelated to everything above, I did catch The Ghost Writer the last day it played at Cinema Saver.  All I can say is that I enjoyed every minute of it and don't care if I never see it again.  A perfect summer movie (even if it was released a couple of months ago!).  

So far, 2010 has been an odd year.

1) Alice in Wonderland
2) Shutter Island
3) The Ghost Writer
4) Iron Man 2
5) Kick-Ass

I'm still hoping for much better.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Conversations 2010 #11

Conversations 2010 #11

The old sky cake dodge.

With an (even more than usual) abundance of asides that break the flow of "conversation."

Brandon wrote:
{I haven’t seen THE SEVENTH CONTINENT so I can’t comment on “systematic dismantling“ or “metaphorical self murder” but if Haneke believes that the argument of modernism’s logical conclusion is suicide or senseless brutal murder (Funny Games) then I feel bad for the guy.}

For the record, those phrases in quotes are my own, not Haneke's and the argument is one that I see there, regardless of Haneke's intentions.  If you need to feel bad for someone, feel bad for me.  The Seventh Continent is also "guilty" of being filled with cracks for the viewer to project meaning into.  I don't know how many folks would come to the same conclusions about it that I do.

[Really, I shouldn't have brought up Haneke.  I don't really want to defend him and I agree that his attitude in interviews is often smug, condescending, and generally atrocious.  Whenever I re-watch Funny Games, though, I'll write the defense you've been waiting for.  Then, we can really go at it.]

Brandon wrote:
{I’m not a fan of nihilism in general, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that I am unable to enjoy, that’s not the word, appreciate art that harbors it. When I’m referring to “it” I mean those (artists, their works, or both) who believe that life is meaningless and therefore morality should not exist and we should either “eat drink and be merry“ or sulk around all day.}

I think you have that backwards.  It's not so much that "life is meaningless and therefore morality should not exist." It's more, "there is no morality apart from humanity's arbitrary whims, therefore life is meaningless or only has what meaning we assign to it," but your wording works fine enough.

If life and morality are not fixed (by fixed, I mean unchanging) (and, to be clear, I am unashamedly theocratic in insisting that moral law is both fixed and external of man), if it is not fixed, then man is indeed the measure of all things, or there is no measure.  

It's all well and good to have the opinion that man should always act in the best interest of other men (and animals, if you insist!), but, apart from an external law/measure, that opinion is no more true or valid than the opinion of the guy down the street feeding men and women to his crocodile.

[One of the funniest elements of Eaten Alive is that Judd insists that his pet is a fancy imported crocodile and not an alligator.  I'm sorry that I gave the impression that I had a miserable time watching it.  It wasn't all miserable and there were a few praiseworthy elements.  It's already provoked more writing from me than any of the Rohmer shorts I adored.  Take from that what you will.  Back to content, you are right.  There is a lot of screaming.  The last 20 minutes or so is pretty much exclusively yelling/screaming.  Also, I almost mentioned the Tarantino homage to Eaten Alive, but giving a little nod by rhyming 'Buck' and 'fuck' in your own movie isn't much more clever than it was in the source material and it didn't seem relevant to my post so I omitted it.  It's amazing to me that Tarantino is so steeped in 70's trash.  It's definitely part of what makes him unique as a director/critic.]


Some will theoretically defend someone's right to live as they please apart from any moral law, but this defense usually falls to pieces when this person is chained to a wall and slowly being tortured.  Then, all of a sudden, right and wrong are as real as a hot poker to the groin.

I love Hitchcock's Rope because it exposes the pretences and inconsistencies of intellectually rigid moral relativists.  Also, as we've noted, Hitch had a better sense of humour than almost anyone. 

To beat a dead horse (to use what I'm sure is one of your favorite metaphors), I need to quote you again:
{When I’m referring to “it” I mean those (artists, their works, or both) who believe that life is meaningless and therefore morality should not exist and we should either “eat drink and be merry“ or sulk around all day.}

You seemed to take strong issue with my saying that "Haneke follows the argument of modernism to its logical conclusion, suicide" and my implying that it also leads to brutal murder, yet you then define nihilists as those who either "eat, drink, and be merry" or sulk around all day.  These two things are exactly what I'm getting at.  "Eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we die" (wrongly understood) doesn't have to, but can and does sometimes lead to "pillage, rape, and feed my crocodile for tomorrow we die.".  Sulking all day doesn't always lead to suicide, but it's always a real option for the serious sulkers.

I don't know if you deny these things are true or if you're getting tripped up on my use of the word modernism, an epistemic system that has been demonstrated to lead historically straight to nihilism and our current "postmodern" situation.

In no way was I arguing that every modernist and/or nihilist should kill themselves or each other.  I was using broad language and maybe being a bit hyperbolic to make a point while contrasting two horror films.  

All of this matters and is relevant exactly because of one of the reasons you state for appreciating the horror genre.
{A lot of the horror genre is a wake up call, much like hip hop and punk music, it brings unpleasant realities/attitudes to the foreground for us the consumer to evaluate.}

If it is horror's "job," so to speak, to shake us up and make us more aware of the unpleasant realities of our current mental landscape...  And I agree with you, I think, that it is...  If this is true, then horror ought to horrify us.  My argument was that Eaten Alive provides a few thrills, then ultimately reinforces a safe familiarity and love for the way things are. The Seventh Continent, on the other hand, actually leaves one unsettled and unwilling, at least for a moment, to maintain any kind of deadening status quo.  

If it helps for me to stop mentioning Haneke, I'll throw out Cronenberg's Videodrome as a masterful horror film that shakes foundations of knowing/seeing/acting and does this questioning in a very visual, frightening and even almost primal way.  Videodrome is just as exploitative in its own way as Eaten Alive is, but it does not let anyone off the hook in its explorations.  Somehow it rides a thin line and uses a theme of exploitation as a critical running commentary on its own very real exploitative content.


Well, I wrote all of that on Monday night.  Today, Wednesday, I saw your Gummo post and I think that, as usual, we mostly agree.  We just sometimes strongly disagree about particulars.  

I hate Halloween II and think you give it way too much slack.

You fly off into a blind rage each time you see the name Haneke.  :)


As far as Korine goes, I think the problem many people have with his films is that the horrific (for example, a father washing his grown schizophrenic/mentally retarded son with a high powered garden hose while spewing degrading insults at him) is so uncomfortable and ridiculously inhumane that our (in)human response is to laugh at it or walk away from it.  Instead of denying this, Korine embraces the seeming contradiction and allows it to stand as is.  He creates what is just as close to realism as anything Rossellini ever achieved.

You wrote: {it’s deliberately hyperbolic and yet it strives to relay some sort of backwater realism.}

Yes.  Absolutely.  And "real life" is often filled with gonzo nuthouse maniacs who aren't killers and don't live in asylums.  They have families.

And obviously in JDB the father is doing something insensitive here at best, abusive at worst, but we need to remember that the father is not a monster.  We may want him to be, but he is not.  He is a flawed and troubled man with his own mental challenges, raising his children as best he can on his own.  I hope you don't think I'm crazy if I say that I can relate to even the worst of this character's actions.

A Lifetime Movie Network (or typical Hollywood) treatment of schizophrenia and low-income low-intelligence urban family life would make us cry and rage against the injustice of it all.  We need to save these people!  In so many ways, it would reaffirm our prejudices and confirm our smug superiority.

You and I both know well that even when the media types want to make a movie about the oppressed and disadvantaged, those "suffering" from mental retardation or mental illness, it is always the CR8s that make the news and get the praise and get the movie adaptations and TV series.  No one on the outside sees much of CR5 or even CR1.  We get Corky, not shit in the hair or "shut your fucking face, you fucking ass mouth, is it time to go home yet" which is always both extremely funny and extremely sad.  

Those who think that last part is only funny (like the punk kids glorying in the depravity of Gummo that you mentioned) are usually wicked and cruel.  Those who only think it's sad/awful usually think that it's sad/awful for the wrong reasons and won't ever understand the immense satisfaction of smearing shit on the wall as a token defiance of all who would seek to enslave the weak rather than serve and protect the weak.  We need to both laugh and cry simultaneously because neither one will suffice on its own.

Korine, at his best, seems able to hold that tension.

Korine does insist that "the least of these" have a place at the table.  

I honestly believe that Korine loves his actors and characters.  If he's laughing at them, it's in the same way that you or I would laugh at P.G., because the Giants won 17-17, because we love him and value him, not because we're so much smarter or better than he is.  

Anyhow, it's been a long time since I've seen Gummo.  I'm sure it does have traces of juvenile schlock and isn't quite as pure as I make Korine sound.  Maybe it is fair to think of him as mean-spirited at times.  But, how often do we love purely?

Korine has matured with each successive picture.  Julien Donkey-Boy is still one of my favorite movies of all time (I saw it three times in a short time span while it played in London and I've watched it multiple times on DVD since).  Mister Lonely is really beautiful and probably Korine's best film yet.  I am excited about seeing Trash Humpers eventually, but also think it looks a bit silly, which may be the point, I guess.   


Now it's Friday, and Jason, I just read your post.  Thanks for responding.  You hadn't posted in a while.  I thought we might have lost you.

Reality disconnect.

I do understand what you're saying here, and certainly I'm excited about Iron Man 2 and Jonah Hex and Robin Hood which will give me my thrills and make me happy for a couple of hours without having to think too hard.

I think my problem with certain horror may be that, in the horror genre as a whole, I'm looking for something that scares me, not something that I can have fun with.  For the most part, I don't like the over-the-top tongue-in-cheek horror that fans of the genre seem to adore.  I don't see much to like.  Degradation of women?  Heinous acts of violence and cruelty?  Really?  I'm supposed to smirk alongside the director?  These movies alsojust aren't all that scary.  They're annoying.  

I understand "wake-up call" horror.  I don't understand amusement park ride horror.

It's often the attitude of these films that I object to.  

I know that my continuing to defend Funny Games opens me up to all sorts of charges of hypocrisy at worst and/or inconsistency at best.  But, I do think that Funny Games has a fundamentally different attitude than other straight slasher genre films.  Like Videodrome, Funny Games walks a tightrope in using genre elements to relentlessly question the audience's motivations and responses.  There's also a sense in which Funny Games works precisely as a slasher flick, the same way that Videodrome is precisely an exploitation picture.  Paradoxically, this simultaneously strengthens and undermines the arguments of both films.  Both are flawed and fascinating.

Enough Haneke already.  Enough Cronenberg, too.

Now, here's the thing.  I love genre fiction.  I dabble in LitFic.  I read the occasional Western, Crime, and even Horror novel.  I stay away from Romance, but I acknowledge that there probably are some great Romance novels.  Robert Morgan's The Truest Pleasure is a really great novel, a favorite of mine, and is essentially Romance, though it gets shelved with the LitFic.  

My chosen genre, though, is Science Fiction.  Off the top of my head: Hard SF, Space Opera, Science Fantasy, Time Travel, Future History, First Contact, Utopia, Dystopia, Alternate History, Slipstream, Terraforming, Cyberpunk, Steampunk, Fabulism, Interplanetary Espionage, Robotics, Singularity, Whatever, etc.  I'll read it all.  From Asimov and Blish to Weinbaum and Zelazny.

I guess I'm just bringing this up because I don't want you guys to think that I'm just taking a dump on the horror genre or even the slasher sub-genre.  I'm just not steeped in it.  I don't love it, either blindly or with eyes wide open.  I'm looking at it from the outside and I still don't understand it.  I see such tremendous promise and I see it too often squandered.

That's enough.

Breathless.  Yeah, it seems overrated now.  I too was a bit disappointed by it.  But, then again, few films have been hyped the way that that film has or share in its lofty reputation. It is very hard to see that film today the same way someone in 1960 would have seen it.  I agree that it doesn't quite hold up, but it's historical importance is impossible to deny.

The good news is that Godard went on to make a LOT more films through the 60s, each one seemingly better than the last.  My favorite is Les Caribiniers, but I confess that it is least like the other films he was making at the time, though it definitely shares many commonalities as well.  As far as films more representational of Godard's style at the time, I'd suggest Pierrot le Fou or, as Brandon suggested, A Woman is a Woman.  Godard also made a decent SF/Noir hybrid, Alphaville, at least a decade before Blade Runner, but if you don't like Godard, you won't like Alphaville.

Somewhere, Godard said or wrote that all he was ever trying to do was make a Howard Hawks film.  Along the way, he discovered that he couldn't make anything other than a Godard film.  I think his films are to be appreciated at the very least as singularly brilliant expressions/demonstrations of the idea of director as auteur.

Also, Godard just isn't for everyone.  If you don't like him, you don't like him.  There are plenty of happy cinephiles who can get along just fine without him.

To end all of this...

Lost is fun again.

Breaking Bad's 3rd season continues the series' high level of excellence.

The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus satisfied this Gilliam fan.  It's a fun revisiting of Gilliam themes and, as such, is a worthy celebration of Stories and Storytellers and Silly Imaginings.


And now it's late Sunday and confession time.  Another Hollywood Video is going out of business.  This is the one right in downtown Ithaca across from the Barnes & Noble and right next to the new skate park.  My first mistake was stopping at all.  Once there, I told my self that I was only going to scan the foreign titles, the Westerns, and the Classics.  Fortunately or unfortunately (I'm still not sure), the Classics section was pretty great.  3 for $12.

The Charley Chase Collection (McCarey)
Go West (Keaton)
Behind Locked Doors (Boetticher)
The Kennel Murder Case/Nancy Drew Reporter (Curtiz/Clemens)
The Titfield Thunderbolt (Crichton)
A Run for Your Money (Frend)
Whiskey Galore! (Mackendrick)
Passport to Pimlico (Cornelius)
The Baron of Arizona (Fuller)
I Shot Jesse James (Fuller)
T Men (Mann)
The Paleface (McLeod)
Summer (Rohmer)
Mysterious Object at Noon (Apichatpong)
Dear Wendy (Vinterberg)



Alright, it's Monday the 10th and I'm finally going to post all this.  I got paid to see Iron Man 2 tonight.  I wanted to walk out.  I actually had HUGE expectations.  I was sorely disappointed.  

Oh well.  Robin Hood is next on the summer list.

Eventually, Shyamalan will make things better.

Yup, that's a joke.

Oh, I've begun to dread the wave of Summer films that I was so excited about just a few weeks ago!