Movies 2013 (addendum).

In my list of favorite movies from last year I meant to include a list of movies released theatrically in 2013 that I wanted to see but haven’t yet, and some other notes:

Fruitvale Station, The Hunt, Capital, The Silence, Casting by…, Tim’s Vermeer, The Unknown Known, Labor Day. Most are docs, which don’t usually show in theaters here so I’ll have to wait until I restart Netflix. (Except for the Penn Gillette movie which I might dowload illegally, he’s a libertarian, so what’s he gonna do, send his militia after me?) (That’s a joke by the way, pre-apologies to anyone offended).

Movies I really really hated, or found excessively boring or stupid: The Incredible Burt Wonderstone, 2Guns, The East, The English Teacher, & (the first 20 minutes of) Gangster Squad.

Guilty displeasures (movies I wished I’d been moved by more):

“Nebraska” Never thought I’d say that about an Alexander Payne movie.

“12 Years a Slave” McQueen such a cold or distance filmmaker, I had the same reaction to his last movie about sex-addiction, but maybe he chooses subject that would be unbearable to experience with anymore emotional involvment?

“Much Ado About Nothing” I felt Denisof was miscast and his voice was too nasal. Amy Acker was wonderful, as was Nathon Fillion in the small, broadly comic role of Dogberry, but fuck…Fillion would have made a wonderful Benedick, and would have still kept it in the Whedon family of players.

My favorite movies of 2013.

(cross-posted from Facebook; spoilers, but if you’re curious, you can just skim for the titles.)

I saw many more new movies in 2014 than in recent years. I only missed two or so that I felt I wanted to see. Here’s my list, with some notes about them and why other flicks didn’t quite make it.

These are numbered, but they are all pretty much equal until it gets to the top two, which is listing technique I stole for Quentin Tarantino.

8. Blue Jasmin.

I almost jettisoned this Woody Allen movie because if it’s ridiculously unrealistic presentation of San Francisco, until I finally realized that that didn’t matter. San Francisco here is representing “Not Manhattan or the ritzy part of Long Island.” This movie has been compared to Streetcar and other works by Tennessee Williams, and that’s accurate. Cate Blanchette (who’s pretty much always good anyway) is power as this person who has spent her whole life construction a self, only to find forces out of her control making that persona un-viable. The last scene is pretty heartbreaking.

7. Mud.

This is, strangely, the only Matthew McConaughey movie on my list this year. Mainly because I didn’t see Dallas Buyer’s Club. I saw the trailer at least a dozen times and it’s the kind of trailer that hits every single story beat. You can even tell that McConaughey and Jared Leto will gets tons of well-deserved accolades. And it’s an important story. I’ll certainly rent it online at some point. “Mud” is a wonderful coming of age story. Or maybe two coming of age stories. That of a boy, and that of the title character, who is a man-boy. Though I like “Mud” better, it reminded me a bit of “Tree of Life”, it has a bit of the same mood (though none of that movie’s experimentation), but its same sort of contemplation of the complex emotional bonds everyone inevitably forms in life.

6. A Field In England

This is a trippy (literally) low-budget black and white four-character film set during the English Civil War. Like other Ben Wheatley films I’ve seen, it appears heavily influenced by low-budget British horror of the sixties, particularly, in the case, “The Witchfinder General”. It’s one of my favorite types of movies, a genre a like to refer to as “people talking.” Sounds uncinematic, but it isn’t, not if the performances, the writing, and the direction (I can’t bring myself to say the “mis-en-scéne” all work as well as they do here. (By the way, as shown below, my other favorite film genre is “people not talking”). There’s one scene (which begins with the horrifying cries of a man evidently being tortured offscreen) and that ends with long dolly shot, that’s as disturbing as anything in any movie I’m ever likely to recommend. I didn’t understand everything about the end of this movie, almost everything, but there is any action taken by a character right before credits roll that I didn’t get. Still, it’s the kind of weird, and visionary experience that, if it WASN’T a little inscrutable, would lose something. Sometimes it’s fun to be a little freaked out.

5. Blackfish

This is the Seaworld documentary. And as a work of film, I feel like it has implications far deeper even than its very important message about the inhuman and (at this point, at this level of civilization) is unforgivable. The implication I mean is that this movie also shows how corporations, this faceless, soulless killing machines, perfected to grow and grow and produce returns, and to do so with no other moral imperative, can manipulate and confuse their own employees, and their own customers, so that no one knows up from down and wrong from right anymore. If you’ve ever had that horrible feeling in your stomach, the feeling of “this is not right” but have had to swallow it or give up your paycheck. If you’ve caught yourself telling yourself “this must be okay, they wouldn’t be allowed to do it otherwise). Then this is the movie for you. You are not alone, and many times the things they are telling us, and the things that they say are not lies, really are lies. (Pro tip: After this watch “Dirty Wars” about the US’s current covert wars in 15 Muslim countries.)

4. The Heat.

I loves me some Melissa McCarthy. I loves me some casting by Allison Jones (Veep, Eastbound & Down, Arrested Development to name a few) AND I loves me some Sandra Bullock; but until this year she never made many movies in genres that appeal to me. I recommend “Speed” until the bus stops, then it is horrible, and also “While You Were Sleeping” which is adorable. Very funny movie. A standard sort of plot about two buddies who start out hating each other, but end up learning from each other, so it all depends on the chemistry (check) and the comedy (check). And that bobbie pin in the hair? That’s a very good character touch.

3. Drinking Buddies

This is directed by the mumblecore guy, Joe Swanberg (aren’t you impressed that I know what mumblecore is? I’ve never seen any of his other films so I don’t know, but this one has a cast of well-know actors like Olivia Wilde and Anna Kendrick, and also has good, if inexpensive, production values. About half an hour in I was on board, and I thought I was pretty sure where it was going. Half an hour later, still there. By then end, it has gone completely in a direction I could not have guessed. This is a really beautiful film about, well, buddies. It’s very very hard to do something truly simple. It takes a lot of confidence, a lot of vision, and a lot of artistic courage.

Speaking of which, here are my top two picks, both of which have that courage…

2. All Is Lost.

There is a particular scene in “Gravity” where George Clooney gets Bullock to start talking about her past. And this is the point in the film where is inserted one of the most tired and overused backstories in all of contemporary Hollywood cinema. It’s the back story given in over and over again in Hollywood movies, year after year, when the protagonist is either a single woman over thirty or so, or a young couple. (A different back story is given when the protagonist is a man. The lone male protagonist’s back story is, 9 times in 10, that his alcoholism caused him to become estranged with his adolescent daughter, whom he hasn’t seen in years. If it is more common than the dead child tragedy assigned to so many female protagonists, that is only because there are so many more movies with male heroes.)

During this scene between Clooney and Bullock, I actually has the fully-formed thought “how great would this movie be if they had cut all this”. Does Bullock’s character really need extra motivation to save her life. I liked Gravity a lot, and it might have made this list if I hadn’t seen the masterpiece All Is Lost, in which we are introduced to a character, alone in the universe. We don’t know his name, we don’t know what he does for a living, all we know is that he has people somewhere that he loves and wants to get back to. We can surmise what his class and worldly status is. after all it’s Robert Redford for fuck’s sake. It’s still a movie. But we watch him. He hardly speaks, there’s no one to talk to. He makes decisions, he make other decisions to deal with the outcomes of those decisions, and we watch, and we root for him. That’s about as pure as it gets. Not too many people saw it, which is too bad. It’s not going to be half so compelling on home video. And if they remade it with Sandra Bullock, it would still be great.

1. Inside Llewyn Davis.

Until a few years ago I wasn’t very much of a Coen Brothers fan. I liked their crime movies: Blood Simple and Fargo. I loved their sort-of crime movie turned cult sucess, The Big Lebowski. I thought Raising Arizona was an unfunny mess. I thought Barton Fink was pretentious shit, that Miller’s Crossing, Hudsucker Proxie, the one with Tom Hanks, and Oh, Brother Where Art Thou, and The Man Who Wasn’t There, were all boring as fuck. I thought the deus ex machina, not to mention the plot holes in No Country for Old Men, showed just plan ignorance of narrative skills, but I guess Cormac’s probably more to blame for that. Then something happened. I responded to the political satire of “Burn After Reading” I thought “A Serious Man” was one of the best movies about metaphysical ideas I’d ever seen, and I thought “True Great” was the best western since “Unforgiven”. So there. I feel compelled to put all that down because apparently, from what I’m seeing online, “Inside Llewyn Davis” is one of those kinds of works of art, like Joyce’s last two novels, that by it’s very existence just pisses some people off. Obviously, anyone claiming to like “Inside Llewyn Davis” is just a poseur/hipster/liar whose giving a pass to an inferior movie just because it’s a Coen Bros. movies. Snobs and cretins in other words, snobs because of their professed tastes, and cretins because they can’t think for themselves. But has it occurred to anyone that snobs, of all people, LOVE to tear down the work of sacred cows. A snob likes nothing more than to trash a new work by an established master. Makes them feel good. Then there’s the infuriating belief that if something doesn’t appeal to you, then it must be making fun of you. That after the screening everyone else retreats to a fancy wine bar somewhere and laughs and laughs about your philistine response to the work that was intended for no other purpose than to instigate your humiliation. These people couldn’t actually like this artsy-fartsy stuff. No. And if they are not doing if FOR themselves, the must be doing it AGAINST me. That’s, if you’ll forgive me, a little narcissistic, don’t you think?

So if you don’t like movies that induce those sorts of emotions, be warned, Inside Llewyn Davis.

Maybe I can best explain why I loved this movie by going first to its correllary, “Francis Ha”, which almost made my list and is on a similar familiar theme: the struggling New York artist. Francis is played by Greta Gerwig (who co-wote and produced the movie as well). Greta Gerwig who is one of the most adorable people in the currently known world. Llewyn Davis, on the other hand, is a bit of a dick. He’s hard to root for (if you can’t, or more likely, won’t, root for Greta Gerwig, then you’re the dick), although they do both exhibit some of the same unpleasant behavior. They impose themselves on others excessively; they seem to find themselves on the taking end rather that the giving end of most transactions, at least at the point in their lives that we encounter them: the struggling phase. Because in both movies there is a real sense that they are struggling, not only with making a living, but also with themselves. They are excessively self-involved. They turn down very generous offers that could help them in their careers. They do this by gut instinct, as if their brains hardly work at all. Ultimately, “Francis Ha” becomes an inspiring movie about a young woman finding her niche, and that makes a very good movie, when, as here, done right. Inside Llewyn Davis (the title is ironic, we go all the way from Greenwich Village, to Chicago, and then, by later implication, all the way round again, but the one place we will never go is inside Llewyn Davis). Throughout the movie, Davis sings beautiful songs, he demonstrates almost no love or kindness toward any other person, yet he’s extremely concern about a cat he accidentally lets escape a friend’s flat. The question is often raised against such people “how can such a sensitive artist” be such an asshole? Some people don’t like movies about unsympathetic characters (though I’ll argue that Llewyn isn’t such a character anyway, in a moment), but if you’ve ever met any artists or actors or musicians or painters, you have probably met some assholes among them. Or, if you won’t call them assholes, then flakes, or drunks, or at very least crybabies. You’ve probably met some people who are truly inspiring in one minute and big pain in the butt the next.

I’m suggesting that these are all occupational hazards of creative people, and that theses traits are not to be romanticized, or excused, but lack they hazards of any other occupation, they ought to be examined. Hence a legitimate subject for movies.

Llewyn has a crust over him. It’s sad. It’s sad for him that he’s an asshole. And it’s sad that he doesn’t know if. The crust that started to form long before we meet him, and has been getting harder through the years of life’s inevitable trials. A big crust was formed when his former partner committed suicide, a year or two prior to the start of the film. That incident if crucial (in the middle of the film when Llewyn is offered a shot a joining a group that a big promoter is forming — a group based on Peter, Paul & Mary, Llewyn rejects the offer firmly, “NO! No double act!” Even if it’s a trio. For what it is worth, all of that makes him a sympathetic character to me.

I don’t want to talk about it any more, but to me this movie is a classic narrative of a classic sisyphean hero. This is beautifully and elegantly revealed in only the very last scene when the Coen unveil the true and previously hidden structure of this particular narrative. And of course, by the last words, Llewyn, that common French phrase that means something different in it’s literal translation, and which John Collier used for something of a similar effect as the concluding two words of one of his most famous stories, “The Chaser.”

As a side note, the movie has a beautiful imagery. Great dark humor. Really lovely songs, and great quirky performances. It maybe has symbolism. I have the sense that the Coen’s but stuff in their movies that even they don’t understand. Stuff that just feels like it ought to be there, or maybe just seems like its worth a gamble. In a young artist this kind of thing can often be a mistake (not that young artists should be afraid of making mistakes). But in a couple middle-aged guys like the Coen’s its damn good. An effort to understand like begins with incompetence and enthusiasm in youth, moves to control and confidence in adulthood, and then, for the the very awake and the very lucky into a middle or late age of “well, who the fuck knows?”

13 states raising pay for minimum-wage workers

USA TODAY: 13 states raising pay for minimum-wage workers.

Here’s how I know raising the minimum raise won’t damage the economy. Look at the map on at the link above and you will see that the minimum wage in Wyoming is $5.15. Obviously MacDonald’s and WalMart want the keep their margins high, that is a universal goal of business. What if they were forced to increase their wages there by, say, a wopping 80%. What a huge burden that would be. Obviously they would have to cut jobs, close locations, why that would be almost $9.30 an hour!

Oh, wait. Look over at Washington. Minimum wage is $9.32 an hour? Clearly there must not be any fastfood or bigbox stores in Washington, how could they survive paying 80% more there than the Wyoming rate.

By the way, the minimum wage in Australia is $15 an hour. She there must not be any fast food restaurants of box stores there either.

Rage wages up to a level that people working full time are no longer eligible for government assistance like food stamps and we will all benefit. Wages paid go right into the local economy for goods and services, unlike excess corporate profits that get invested overseas, or as Apple does with its cash reserves, just stockpiled in banks.

Also here’s a funny joke from Chris Rock: “You know what it says when your job pays you minimum wage, don’t you. It says ‘We’d pay you less if we could, but it’s illegal.’”

The truth about getting customer service help via email.

Here’s part of post I did on Facebook that some people might find useful. Ever get frustrated trying to deal with a company’s email complain system? Here’s a general email of how they work. There’s less need to get frustrated if you know the game they are playing (and why — which is because they don’t want to hire enough people to do the job decently), it takes patience but you almost always get your way. Not kidding about that.

SInce I did this kind of work for months, I know what a bullshit system it is, some I’m prepared. You will never get an answer on the first try. They will send a generic response to answers common questions. That will be useless, because you are a smart person who has tried all that obvious stuff yourself. So you write back. It always helps to be polite, but really, at this stage it doesn’t matter if you are rude or not, because there’s a high likelihood your second email will be answer by an algorithm too. Even if not, the person reading your rate will just paste in the apology scripting and then follow that with the scripting most likely to fit your actual issue. They don’t have time to get upset or sabotage you because they will have a quota that’s impossible to manage by doing anything more than very cursorily skimming for the real issue.

(They started me with a quota of 100 emails a day, when I met that they raised it. And they raised it again. I met that. And again. The only way to get faster is to start taking shortcuts, like for instance, don’t bother trying to access your analytical skills, or really any higher brain functions. Cut and paste, just cut and paste. They would glare at you when you went to take a piss because you’re not going to answer very many emails standing at a urinal, are you? And I met that goal and they raised it again. To 350 email responses in a 7.5 hour shift. (Now, let it be known, that in the two years I worked as a temp for them, both as a phone rep then an email rep, I never received one single raise. I was never offered permanent employment or benefits. I never got a paid holiday. I never got a paid sick day, until Seattle made that illegal. When my new goal of 350 was assigned, I went in and gave her my notice. Enough is enough.).

Anyway, back to the help-y part So this 2nd response will also be useless, most likely, but your next email will likely get answered by a higher-tiered person, who is allowed more flexibility. You keep going up the chain until you get a clear answer, or they give in just to get rid of your. Or until some vice president gets sick of you and bans you from the site, but that only happened once in two years at the place I worked. The thing is, usually unless there is a legal issue, must company guidelines are fake. Only the underlings are required to try and stick to them. Some supervisors, most Directors, and almost all Vice-President can do what ever the fuck they want with the guidelines. Most of the time they just want to get rid of you, and have you not trash them online or to the BBB. All online businesses use email filtering systems like this, because they believe it is cost effective.

Dirty Wars (2013)

Dirty Wars, Documentary.

Depress yourself. Lays out the evidence of the Obama administration’s nixonian covert drone bombings and raids, undeclared wars in most every Muslim country. It may have started under Bush, just as the Indochina adventures of forty-plus years ago began with Democratic administrations and then carried over to Republican ones.

Maybe you don’t need to see it. We all know about these missions, anybody who wants to know knows, anyway. And we all know, because of our common sense and our empathy tells us this breeds new enemies, you can’t kill you’re way out of people hating you.

As the journalist observes in the movie: “The first kill list (the card pack” has fifty-five names on it. Then next kill list has 200. Then 3000.” We know this, but our knowledge does nothing. The truth does nothing. The nightmare feeds itself on itself and still grows stronger.

Dirty Wars Movie Poster

The Ray Bradbury MFA, Day 5

ESSAY:

“Of Unity in Religion” and “Of Revenge” The Essays of Francis Bacon. Based on the few I’ve read so far, Bacon has strong desire to state them obvious. Or maybe what he states wasn’t so obvious then, though I doubt it. In either case, it’s difficult for me to see how anyone could have ever convinced themselves that Bacon was also Shakespeare–unless they took the view that Francis saved the quirkiest bits of his worldview for the stage.

STORY:

“Heartstrong” by Rachel Swirsky, Through the Drowsy Dark.  Taking a common, yet colorful, metaphor at treating it literally has resulted in many bad stories. One has to have Swirsky’s nearly perfect eye for detail, and her will to completely commit to emotional truths, to pull it off.

POEM:

“a boy and his dog”, Charles Bukowski, Pleasures of the Damned. A character portrait of one of Bukowski’s neighbors, and not so much about the neighbor’s dog.

In a 2001 talk Ray Bradbury offered a way to fill up one’s head “a thousand nights” of reading: one poem, one essay, on story before bedtime. I’m giving it a shot at least for awhile (although not at bedtime), and when I think of anything to say about any particular day’s lessons, I’ll post about it. Read all posts in the series here.

The Ray Bradbury MFA, Day Four

ESSAY:

“Of Death” The Essays of Francis Bacon. Try not to sweat it too much, and anyway, odds are you’ll hardly feel it.

STORY:

“Our Daughter is in Heaven” by Elaine Menge is the lead story in 13 Tales of New American Gothic, an awkwardly titled anthology from Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine. A couple moves from New Orleans to a vividly-described suburban cul-de-sac in the Dallas-Fort Worth “area”, (quote: “Area. They no longer lived in a real town, or a city”) called Brigadoon, a tract of excessive, “mish-mash” mcmansions.

POEM:

“The Hourglass”, Jorge Luis Borges, trans. Alastair Reid, reprinted in Selected Poems . Borges concerns himself with very few themes, mostly fundamental ones: time, space.

In a 2001 talk Ray Bradbury offered a way to fill up one’s head “a thousand nights” of reading: one poem, one essay, on story before bedtime. I’m giving it a shot at least for awhile (although not at bedtime), and when I think of anything to say about any particular day’s lessons, I’ll post about it. Read all posts in the series here.