The Journey of Natty Gann

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It’s easy to understand why The Journey of Natty Gann is not up there in the Disney girl-movies canon; a tough tween tomboy who smokes and fights and mudders “shit” makes her way across Depression-era America train-hopping solo from Chicago to Washington State to find her quasi-Communist labor-organizer single-father of a dad, until she be friends a protective and intuitive actual-wolf (who goes by “Wolf”) who becomes her BFF, and then mostly they just walk and enjoy each others company amid the struggle, he as her canine protector and fur pillow, as they live by their wits, and occasionally encounter a a young John Cusack, in the role of a Wisened Orphan™. It’s not exactly Little Mermaid.

It’s more like Days of Heaven meets dog-terror B movie classic White Dog.

I watched this movie about a dozen times as a child of the eighties and dreamt of being Natty Gann, taking zero shit from anyone in her drab butch woolens and smart newsboy cap. She’s on a crusade to find her dad (played by Ray Wise, aka Laura Palmer’s dad)
Ray Wise_thumb, who is seemingly the only love she has ever known (that is until she meets this wolf and sort-of fraternal/crushy teen John Cusack) and she throws as many punches as she takes and is just snaking through the adult world that barely cares for her to find her own way, to manifest her destiny. It’s hard to imagine a movie today where as many adults swat, slap, push or punch a child, and the movie is not shy about that realism of kids barely being in school, or working full time by age 10, or running in homeless packs, being prisoner in abusive reformatories or just being told to not bother the adults and be home by dark.

The other strange thing about the movie that would keep it from ever being made now is that it is essentially, like, a horror movie now. Natty is constantly in places and situations where you cannot rightfully put a child in a movie anymore because we recognize it as a telegraph of terror. She does stuff like wander into a dogfight filled with drunk men, she lives in a men’s boarding house BY HERSELF, or wanders through hobo encampment, rides in a boxcar alone with a scabby looking stranger-man. We know all of these situations now, in 2014 movies, as shorthanding a kind of girl-peril–invariably, the girl is going to get attacked or hurt–girls do not triumph because we are used to so much torture-porn. But in Natty Gann she just is like “piss off” or triumphs (by living!) or is defended by her wild-animal companion and just continues on, walking for days on foot with pitstops for eating out of the trash or lapping thirstily at a stream.

Natty’s tough-girl instincts serve her well is the essential text of the movie. Pre-teen girl as gambler–she has to be! Save for the kindness of her family friend/neighborhood sage played by Scatman Crothers,
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all the adults in the movie alternately yell at her or try to use her. Whilst she is out hitchin’ in backwoods and byways of the American west, some creep tries to cop a feel while driving (“you’ll like it!”) and she DOES A TUCK N’ ROLL OUT OF HIS MOVING PICK UP TRUCK but not before Wolf breaks the glass of the cab and attacks the creeps face (YES!). One of the best rape-revenge scenes this side of Ms.45/Angel-grade films.

Meanwhile, amidst all this, Natty’s dad is calling back to Chicago to check on her, only to discover she has taken off from the flophouse where she had a bunkbed with dad, a puppy and Scatman Crothers her only solace–why would she even stay?! Her wallet (word to wallet-carrying 12 year old girls everywhere) has been found under a train in the Rockies, the assumption made by her dad being Natty’s dead. Her dad starts doing the most dangerous tree-top work back in the logging camp, in some Gift of The Maji kind of move–he has no family, he might as well die, creating tension as we know Natty is risking her life every second of the day to get back to the only family she has, will she beat the clock and find him before he suicides himself in some clear cutting “accident”?! Will her wolf-friend be sufficent protection from all the fucking creeps and predators of the world? I WILL NOT SPOIL IT FOR YOU.

Like the movie’s tagline says “Two thousand miles of danger separate her from her father. Only love, hope and courage can help her find him.” That should actually read “and courage and her wolf friend and her girl strength to survive an indifferent world”. It’s an unheralded tween feminist classic–watch it today!

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MITT

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When Josh called to tell me he wanted me to come over and watch this with him, my first thought was “no thank you.” My second thought was “wait, what?” and my third thought was “ok.”

Full disclosure of my multifaceted subject position:
– I think billionaires should be put into prison and horse-whipped daily
– I think it is most likely that all high-level politicians are some breed of psychopath or at least they would register at pants-shitting levels of narcissistic personality disorder were they willing to be tested
– I am married to a film theorist and due to his constant monologuing during film-viewings I have become sort of inured against a lot of the editing/musical choices made by filmmakers that are intended to emotionally manipulate the viewer
ON THE OTHER HAND:
– I hate seeing people get disappointed or hurt, particularly old men

This movie is being hailed as an amazingly “humanizing” portrait of our one-time would-be president. Everyone at Sundance or wherever was like “wow if this had come out before the election he definitely would have won.” So I was thinking this was going to be some incredible document of a man’s secret side and that I was going to have to work really hard to maintain my feelings of passionate loathing and disapproval for him.

But frankly I don’t see what all the fuss is about. I mean, are we supposed to be astonished that Mitt Romney seems to love his human sons? That he hugs his wife? As much as I think these guys are all monsters, I think even the most hardass liberal on earth probably is aware that they love their children and eat food and do other things “humans” do. That’s part of what makes them monsters–that they do actually experience love and other emotions, but ONLY for people directly related to them in some way. Millions of civilians in some loser country or in the inner city or whatever can go fuck themselves. It’s an extension of their narcissism, really, that they are only able to have feelings for what’s right in front of them (the mirror). George W. Bush would totally help you if you fell down on the sidewalk in front of him, and everyone would be like, wow, that’s so “human,” like we’re supposed to be impressed when our government officials don’t actively stomp right on our backs as we lay there helpless in front of them. Like, lets set the bar a little higher, America.

So yeah. In this documentary you will see Mitt Romney hug his terrifying wife, Anne. You will see Mitt Romney laugh at his creepy humanoid sons’ jokes. You will see Mitt Romney express amazement that the liberals don’t understand how they are destroying small businesses. And you will see Mitt Romney seem slightly depressed after losing first the 2008 primary and then the presidential election. If that is enough to give you a warm human feeling toward him, then I am sorry for you and a little bit scared of you.

I’ll go through my notes now and give you some of my indispensable commentary using my characteristic devil-may-care tone:

So, somehow this one Mormon filmmaker got this incredible access to the Romney clan, and basically hung out with them and a camera for years and years, and they only gave him one condition, which was that the movie couldn’t come out until it was all over one way or another. I have a lot of questions about this relationship and how this all went down, but kudos to you, filmmaker! This is definitely his Queen of Versailles but weirdly less interesting, just because his subjects are sort of wooden and boring.

Anyway, we open on the Romney family–Mitt, Anne, their five sincerely creepy human sons, and various small children who were unclearly attached to individual grownups–taking a vote about whether or not Mitt should enter the race. Mitt’s creepiest son, Josh, is worried that Mitt’s “message” will be lost because Mitt will seem “too good to be true,” so no one will vote for him. Let me just tell you that this is exactly the kind of scintillating political insight you can expect from Josh for the rest of the film, and that indeed it seems to me the biggest mistake Mitt made as a candidate–aside from, you know, being unable to interact with strangers, especially black ones, and generally giving everyone the howling fantods–was listening to his dumbass family, often even when they directly contradicted stuff his actual campaign team was telling him. And actually this flaw is surprising because one of the interesting things about this film is that you get to see a Serious Businessman at work and it is TERRIFYING. He seems so affable but then when he’s pissed about something he puts on this chilling Real-Life-Jack-Donaghy act and you can see people just dissolve into puddles of cold sweat. More on this later, but my point is just that you’d think such a freaking hardass number-crunching “what does the data say” guy wouldn’t let his weird son Josh give him political advice. Perhaps this is “humanizing?” That he listens to his family? Great. You’re welcome America–you were just almost ruled over by JOSH ROMNEY. It would’ve made “Billary” look like King fucking Solomon!

So the family, while worried because America might just not be ready for the blindingly beautiful light of their Dad, the quote unquote “best guy in the world” (–Josh, obvi), nonetheless point out that he has a “duty to the country” to run for president. “How about you start by just paying taxes?” said Jessica, one of my viewing mates, and I think she makes a great point about duty and about how presidential candidates who say this kind of warmed-over horseshit are usually just egomaniacs.

The Romney campaign is on the march! Spirits are high. We cut to a fabulously gay hotel clerk who says he gets all his news from the Daily Show and Colbert, and has never heard of Mitt Romney. These “man on the street” interviews where people say they’ve “never heard” of Mitt are meant to be charming, FYI, because ha ha, just think, in a few short years not a soul on God’s beautiful creation will have failed to hear about Willard “Mitt” Romney and his beautiful hair.

Mitt gives various fund-raising speeches. He is a staid and methodical public speaker; there is absolutely no verve or charisma but he does lay out his facts clearly and he seems affable enough for a guy who ruins tens of thousands of people’s lives every day for a living. At one point he says “there’re a lot of guys in this room who could run the country as good as I could” which is probably true but also isn’t saying much, if we’re talking a room full of unhealthy looking old white men who just paid $10,000 each to shake the hand of the guy who runs Bain Capital.

The brief interview with the guy who does the lighting for the primary debate was my favorite part of the film. The lighting guy is a GODDAMN ARTIST! He doesn’t care about politics! He had more passion for his craft than Mitt displayed for anything in this entire film. “Good for you, lighting guy!” Josh said wholeheartedly. LIGHTING GUY FOR PRESIDENT

At the debate it turns out that the terms of the debate have not been made clear–which is admittedly bullshit, you indeed would think (as Mitt points out later in a rare moment of pique) that at “this level” the great men plus Michelle Bachmann I think who are doing the debating would have been given at least one sheet of paper telling them how it’s gonna go down–and Mitt essentially makes the show-runner guy cry like a little baby. It was like when Rush Limbaugh ill-advisedly went on Letterman and Letterman just legitimately tore him seventeen new assholes but never stopped laughing and joshing around, like whatever you feel about Letterman that performance was SPECTACULAR, I saw it my junior year of high school and I’ll never forget it, and anyway later one of Letterman’s crewmembers said “I’d never seen someone sweat that much.” This is what I thought of while watching the debate show-runner dude sweat his actual balls off in the face of Mitt Romney’s frigidly cold biz-man disdain. Mitt set to work clarifying the terms of the debate in a style that revealed his cutthroat biz personality–unflappable/flapping everybody else–and I could suddenly EASILY imagine him firing 1,000 people at once and then going home to enjoy a hearty steak dinner. Like, say what you will about Mitt Rommey but he is clearly actually good at his job, which is being a sociopathically successful capital-accumulating machine. He’s not a George W. Bush character, who kind of actually is a bumbling jackass, who clearly couldn’t run a corner bodega. Mitt Romney is a wolf in sheep’s clothing, I’m telling you. You should SEE HIS FACE during this scene. My stomach hurts just remembering it. (Is THIS the humanizing part? Because if so then you people are CRAZY, I’ve seen ROBOTS who scared me less)

The debate is a disaster, largely because of that asshole John McCain! Remember him?? “I brought change to company after company,” says Mitt, only to be interrupted by a snide aside from McCain: “We agree, you’re the candidate for change,” he says, getting a sort of ugly laugh from the audience. This, in case you’ve forgotten, is a reference NOT to the fact that Mitt fires people who go on to watch their children starve to death–which, after all, is a major plus in a Republican candidate–but rather to Mitt famously being characterized as a “flip flopper” during both his campaigns, which is my least-favorite political accusation. Valorizing people for never changing their minds! I don’t give a flying fuck about Mitt Romney but I have to agree with him that that is a lame critique of his candidacy. P.S. John McCain why don’t you look in a damn mirror, son? Talk about flip flopping!

There’s a sort of cinematic moment of foreshadowing later when Romney calmly yet with simmering emotional intensity says: “Barack Obama has changed this race. He’s changed our prospects.”

Okay so then we have the first of many scenes of the Romney family praying together, which perhaps is part of what others find “humanizing,” I guess? “BOW YOUR KNEES” says a crying Anne Rommey, and the parents and human grownup sons join hands and close their eyes while Anne begs their Heavenly Father (what Mormons call God) for guidance, using “thee” and “thou” and “thine” in a really off-putting and often grammatically incorrect way, while weeping. If this is the kind of thing that makes you feel warm and compassionate toward somebody then be my guest. Josh (my Josh, not the creepiest Romney son) pointed out that “praying for contest outcomes is nonsensical” which is obviously true, not to mention, as I pointed out, “profoundly un-Christian,” but like, when it comes to praying to a literal humanoid patriarchal Dad in the clouds I guess who’s counting.

Apparently God told Anne that Mitt could run, because in the next scene there he is, campaigning! Oh I should also point out that in the Romney home there are a series of IMMENSE oil paintings of what I presume are their sons, and that are never commented on but we rewound so we could see them again and we laughed so hard. I guess I don’t know why–there’s nothing inherently monstrous about having gigantic oil paintings of your children–but the way they were sort of ignominiously located over the weird Dell desktop computer at the business-nook where Anne was checking her Yahoo or whatever was just so funny. Who was commissioned to do those paintings?? Make a movie about THAT person.

They do a focus group of like 20 half-witted old people who say they now would vote for Mitt Romney after hearing information about him and Anne again bursts into tears. There is also a scene where Anne playfully grabs hold of a horse’s tongue while laughing, which I will admit I liked.

They talk a lot about “flipping,” which is short for “flip flopping,” but every time I hear it I think it’s a Mormon swear, like “fracking” on BSG.

It is interesting to watch Mitt apply his incredible businessman-evaluation-skill spidey sense to HIMSELF. He just coldly and brutally assesses data without ever revealing emotions about it. It’s kind of amazing! He calmly talks about Obama’s skills as a debater vs. his own lack of skill, citing data showing how effective good debating skill is in winning elections overall, etc. This is what I mean when I say it’s then surprising when he lets his son Josh angrily tell him to ignore all his campaign manager’s advice and just wing it or whatever. Is Josh the one that threatened to punch somebody? I wouldn’t be surprised.

I ask Josh (my Josh) why anyone would run for president–are they ALL serial killers, or is it something else–and Josh (who works in politics) said that it’s “50% just wanting approval, 20% wanting to ‘do good’ and then 30% is hubris.”

So the point is that we are in good hands.

There are mystery Coke bottles in a lot of shots. Where are the people slugging Coke around the Romney clan?? That’s not cool, is it?

There is a great, BRILLIANT scene where Anne sits idly swinging one leg and lecturing Mitt about how he needs to behave, while Mitt grunts monosyllabically and eats huge forkfuls of noodles.

One of the sons, I forget which but it sounds like something Josh would say, says, of the upcoming debate against Obama and imagining how his Dad must feel about it, that “I think I’d be a little intimidated.” Oh you do, huh, you think you’d be “a little” intimidated if you had to debate Barack Obama on live television, you piece of shit?

We see the Day That Shall Live In Infamy, when Mitt, captured on a waiter’s hidden camera, says that 47% of the country are lazy parasites who should all be herded onto a ship and sunk in the Gulf of Mexico (exaggeration). He later says that’s not what he meant, and that “it breaks [his] heart to see people are struggling.” I’ve got to tell you, I find this very hard to believe.

Mitt tells a story about a business owner he met who makes guitar amplifiers and who pays 65% of his profit to the government. (My) Josh says that this is impossible, but I think it must be like what Al Franken said about all of Ronald Reagan’s weird apocryphal anecdotes: “sure, it wasn’t true, but it was a good story.”

Here is a verbatim thing Mitt Romney says while angrily talking about the business climate created by Obama: “I was with Papa John? Of Papa John Pizza? He said he wouldn’t even start his business if he had to do it today!” THE HORROR

Mitt Romney worships his Dad. How long must our country groan and sweat in servitude at the feet of these men who want to be president because they have daddy issues? Mitt delivers an emo monologue about how amazing his Dad was because he was born in MEXICO and yet somehow became a millionaire, can you imagine, and it’s the most passionate we’ve ever seen him. (My) Josh gleefully yells “YOU’LL NEVER MEASURE UP!!”

I LITERALLY can’t tell the sons apart except for Josh, who is the handsome one and who is the most obviously a serial killer. At one point you can literally see him going to his “happy place” during an intense conversation, in which he imagines cutting women into little pieces. He is TERRIFYING. I can not take my eyes off of him.

At one point Jessica finally googled Josh and found a Gawker article calling him “the creepiest Romney son,” so it’s not just me. The article went on to say that Josh “could play a Batman villain as-is,” which pretty much sums Josh up as far as I’m concerned.

Oh dear the requisite sad-music part where we hear about Anne Romney’s multiple-sclerosis. CAN YOU IMAGINE the injustice of ANNE ROMNEY becoming sick and having to face the possibility of dying before she wants to? Well, imagine it, because it LITERALLY happened. I know this is difficult to accept and even more difficult to emotionally contend with, but unfortunately even Anne Romney sometimes faces struggles. Luckily, this does not cause her to question her faith in a benevolent God.

My point is that the Romney family isn’t just upset when bad things happen to them, they are ASTONISHED. They actually can’t believe it’s happening. And it’s not the normal denial a regular person would feel. It’s a defying of logic–they can’t make it compute. Josh describes his feelings upon hearing his mother’s diagnosis: “She can’t be sick. Not MY mom. This happens to OTHER people, not to me.” That is an actual quote, America, enjoy! (My) Josh, trying to be generous, says, “well that’s fair, that’s just denial,” but then Jessica points out “Yeah, but bad things DO happen to other people and not to him!” JOSH ROMNEY FOR PRESIDENT.

There is a scene of Mitt ironing his own tuxedo sleeve while wearing it. “It’s workin’. It’s sorta workin’. Ouch. Ouch.” And then Anne says “Ok that’s good enough, Mitt, for GOODNESS sakes!”

While waiting for the second debate (in which, you will no doubt recall, Romney was straight-up obliterated by a Barack Obama who had somehow recovered from his bizarre non-performance in the first one) the family sits around a dinner table listening to David Sedaris on This American Life and laughing really hard, which I will admit was actually kind of charming.

After the terrible second debate the family is sitting in exhaustion in a dark Green Room and one of Mitt’s sons–again I can’t remember which but it REALLY seems like something Josh would do–starts arguing with him about how there’s no restaurants in the Delta terminal at some airport. It’s incredible. He actually googles a terminal map. Mitt is like “okay, okay,” like in that moment you can see the wages of raising five sons to be egomaniacal madmen, like son, what on EARTH are you doing here, I just got my ass handed to me by a goddamn Kenyan communist and you’re thrusting a googled Delta terminal map in my face? “Well, what would YOU do after an experience like that?” asks Jessica, and I say “I would lie on the floor and cry and poop my pants,” which is true. Like don’t get me wrong, I certainly don’t think I could do a better job debating BARACK OBAMA than Mitt Romney did. It would be a bloodbath. I’d be like “Votes for women!” and then he’d refer to some major policy decision I’d never heard of and he’d use some rhetorical twist I wouldn’t even be able to follow. It would be like the fantasy I have whenever I watch football where I try to imagine what would LITERALLY happen if I somehow magically materialized on the field in full uniform and they had to keep playing the game with me in it. I hold that I would INSTANTLY die, that like I’d get the ball (somehow) and then a dude would run into me and my head would pop off and go flying into the stands and everyone would start screaming and racing for the exits and it would cause a riot. Steve says I wouldn’t die, I’d just get the wind knocked out of me. I think he is just blinded by his unwillingness to imagine my body being instantly vaporized, which is to his credit for he loves me.

Mitt Romney trying to speak to humans is EXCRUCIATING. (My) Josh plays me the YouTube video of Romney weirdly saying “who let the dogs out. who. who.” while doing a photo-op with black people. He plays it over and over again. It is stunning. Also, Mitt Romney is always tidying up. In every scene he’s like in the background picking up paper plates off the floor and stuff.

The final scenes are of course of Romney losing the presidential election. I am exhausted and sincerely could not give one shit about a single person in this film, which I think means the film failed, although who knows what that filmmaker was shooting for. The Secret Service drives Mitt and Anne home and they sadly walk together into (one of) their palatial 20-bedroom mansions and sit down in the living room and look at each other like “what now” and that’s the end of the film.

In conclusion, I have no idea. I have gained no further insight into humanity or what makes a man tick. My feelings for Mitt Romney are utterly unchanged, except that I am now afraid of his son Josh, who I believe is running for governor of Florida or something heinous like that right now. Like here are these five human sons and you can tell that THIS is the one with the inherited Daddy issues. THIS is the one to watch out for, America.

Oh also I will point out that the Romney campaign did not bother to write a concession speech, which is hubris of a staggering nature and which (My) Josh, who remember works in politics, described as “insane.” In the five minutes before he has to call Obama to concede, Romney sits with his family and tries to write a speech. The results, as you’d expect and as you perhaps remember, are, in a word, lame.

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Quick Bits On Movies I Haven’t Seen Yet Or Saw And Have No Further Thoughts On

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HER

Even though I am tired of the sad sack dude movie, I admit that I love no one’s face more than Joaquin Phoenix’s and I am happy to pay money to stare at it for 2 hours. My friend group is remarkably split on this movie, which is always interesting.

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FROZEN

As a rule, I don’t see mass market animated features. The last one I saw was Wall-E and I was just monumentally disgusted. I get the technical virtuosity involved in making these things but I will never understand why grown-ass people find them emotionally compelling. I never saw “Up” either which I am beginning to think might be TOO crotchety of me. I really only like Miyazaki. Just looking at that promo image for “Frozen” irritates me.

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AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY

I will see this. Tight cast, story sounds brutal, and I read a review of it somewhere that didn’t make it sound twee like these family dramas so often are. I will watch Streep in anything, although I never saw The Iron Lady, and I love grown-up Julia Roberts playing DARK. Sign me up.

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AMERICAN HUSTLE

Boring. Felt like one of those Soderbergh movies that he half-assedly makes in 10 minutes after meeting someone interesting at a party, but without any of the charm. And I love every person in this cast! Renner was great, actually. A whole movie about that character would have been interesting.

Leonardo DiCaprio courts two hot blondes on a yacht on location for 'Wolf of Wall St.' with Martin Scorcese

WOLF OF WALL STREET

No thanks

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12 Years A Slave

Now THIS looks like a GODDAMN MOVIE.

MORE REAL MOVIES PLEASE

MORE GOOD MOVIES ABOUT REAL THINGS PLEASE, WITH REAL ACTORS ACTING IN INTERESTING WAYS IN THEM, MORE MOVIES THAT MAKE AMERICANS CONFRONT DIFFICULT SHIT INSTEAD OF JUST LAUGHING AT AMY ADAMS’ CLEAVAGE, THANK YOU

I fully expect to love this movie and if I don’t it will just be because it caused my psyche to dissolve and I am a nervous wreck

p.s. yes I know that’s an image from the film soundtrack

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INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS

Sure, I’ll see this. Why not

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ALL IS LOST

This looks TIIIIIIGHHHTTTTTTT

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THE SECRET LIFE OF WALTER MITTY

Even though it sounds like, by all accounts, they totally fucked this movie up, I still want to see it. It’s one of the best previews I’ve seen in ages!! Ha ha ha! But I’m being serious. Grown-up twitchy Ben Stiller doesn’t bother me, for some reason, and I will see anything with Kristen Wiig in it even though I hear she is wasted here. Just seems like a really promising film that I feel like is probably not that good but I will see it anyway. It can’t be as bad as World War Z, which I was SO excited about and which was SUCH a letdown. “It can’t be as bad as World War Z” is my new “two thumbs up”

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THE MONUMENTS MEN

Who is compelled by a movie like this? Is it just pure bourgeois cocaine, the cinematic version of a David Brooks column?

My proposed tagline: “We Must Save Our Cultural Artifacts So That J.P. Morgan Can Buy Them All”

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PHILOMENA

WANT TO SEE! WANT TO SEE!

I love Dench
I love Coogan
I love weird movies about old people

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CAPTAIN PHILLIPS

I know you won’t believe me, but I thought Captain Phillips was really good. Did a shockingly good job at sort of even being a dual-protagonist film (although Hanks is obviously the main dude). I honestly may never have seen a plot-driven Hollywood film do a better job at critiquing global neoliberal capitalism. It was wrenching and emo.

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NEBRASKA

Sure, I guess. thinking about this movie makes me tired. I don’t always love Alexander Payne. I do love Will Forte, Bruce Dern, and Bob Odenkirk.

I am starting to feel exhausted by all the White Dude Protagonist movies but I don’t feel like seeing The Hunger Games.

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DALLAS BUYERS CLUB

Uhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh YEAH I WILL BE SEEING THIS MOVIE
HELL YEAH

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THE BOOK THIEF

BARF CITY

No thanks

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ENOUGH SAID

I love all of Holofcener’s movies. This looks great. Why have I not seen this yet. Every time a new Holofcener comes out it’s such a relief.

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BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOR

Uh YEAH I want to see this movie! Are you joking me??
GIRLS
GIRLS
GIRLS
More movies about girls please

Plus whenever I hear that, like, the entire audience at Cannes or something thinks a director is “misogynist” then I know he is actually super feminist (Lars von Trier e.g.) because your average Cannes audience is not, like, how shall we say, SUPER good at critical thinking or nuanced plot interpretation

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THE GREAT BEAUTY

Oh my god ULTIMATE barf city
Did you read that New Yorker review of it? JESUS CHRIST, Anthony Lane x 12, ultimate Anthony Lane blowjob.

“Within seconds, we feel that we know this man. He yields to the moment’s embrace, yet surely he is wise to a heritage of ancient sins.”

“You could set “The Great Beauty” in America, but only if Harper Lee had spent her evenings at Studio 54”

Jep attends a piece of performance art and then “interviews the artist, picking apart her pretensions”

LOLOLOL
Sorry I had to go barf out of both ends of my body

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DON JON

You guys, this movie was GOOD. It seems impossible but it is true. It’s about real things. It’s thought-provoking! It’s about movies, too–it’s about how unrealistic representations of sex and relationships (porn and rom-coms) make people into superficial shitty narcissistic idealists. It’s about how idealism–the belief in perfection–is destructive and hateful and ultimately prevents you from interacting in a satisfying way with other humans! Idealism and the quest for perfection not only in sex/love but like in terms of obsessively pumping iron at the gym instead of playing basketball with other people. It’s about living SOCIALLY instead of all up in your own head obsessed with your own self. It’s got a cool twist involving Julianne Moore. I loved it.

I do wish Scar-Jo had gotten an opportunity to redeem herself as Jo-Go-Lev did but you can’t have everything.

Also it was funny and I laughed. Also Danza is really good in it. It’s really well-made too, just in terms of the craft of film editing and stuff. My old man, the world’s most exhausting snob, said he can’t remember when he has been so delighted by a film, so there you go. I know the previews look insufferable but give it a chance!

In conclusion school is starting and I will never go to a film again

goodbye

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Jack Reacher: Apotheosis Of the Dude-Dad Movie

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Okay okay. I know this is a movie that came out a long time ago, but I feel like complaining about the patriarchy. Plus, like Anthony Lane, I am not above shooting fish in a barrel just for the cruel fun of it, although unlike Anthony Lane, I don’t get paid what I assume must be at least $100,000 a year to do it. Honestly, who has an easier job than Anthony Lane? I’m going to say “all of Mitt Romney’s human sons” and “person in coma who gets cosmetics tested on them.”

Also unlike Anthony Lane, I am reaching my limit with Dude/Dad Movies. Movies with a (usually white but not always (“Flight”)) male protagonist who does brave or shitty or bravely shitty things and we are supposed to just be delighted and thrilled by his development or lack thereof. And there’s a woman in the background putting on her bra. This is difficult because almost all movies fit this description, including half of the ones I want to see currently. But at least, if we have to have mainly Dude-Dad Movies, at LEAST let them be interesting or well-made, and not just the exact same tired old horseshit thoughtlessly reheated in a microwave and served to us like we’re supposed to find it thrilling. I have seen that movie already over and over again since I was 4 years old and I don’t need to see it again! I get it! America loves our sad/bad boys! I don’t want to be “that guy” but seriously, I just feel like I can’t take it anymore. Guess what? I will not be paying money to see Wolf on Wall Street. I will see Wolf on Wall Street on Netflix streaming the next time my husband and I want to “get drunk and talk during a movie,” which is something we like to do periodically, and which we did last week with JACK REACHER, ULTIMATE DUDE-DAD FANTASY MOVIE

I have to say, Jack Reacher (tagline: “if he’s coming for you, YOU DESERVE IT”) was really invigorating, because it’s such an extreme example of the Dude-Dad Movie Genre that it becomes a deeply poignant accidental parody of itself that just ended up making me feel so sorry for your average helpless-feeling middle-aged white dude/dad. The Omnipotent Genius Army Guy Vigilante Fantasy is stretched not to but actually BEYOND its limits in this movie, and thus the fantasy’s facade cracks open to reveal its hysterically powerless and fearful foundation deep in the psyche of middle-aged straight white dudedom. Future generations of scholars will study this movie endlessly for what it reveals about our era. Much like the classic characters of turn-of-the-century blackface minstrelsy, “Jack Reacher” will become a generic name for a character type lost to the sands of time, who our descendants will have to read whole books about in order to even vaguely understand how such a character could have ever been entertaining or compelling. “But didn’t they see how AWFUL and STUPID it was??” college students will ask, and humanities professors will struggle to explain the pull of our worst selves; the dirty pleasure of submitting to ugliness. Just kidding, there won’t be college anymore by that point!

Jack Reacher isn’t even nearly a character. He has no personality of any kind. He’s not even remotely likable or even vaguely human. He’s a collection of clichéd catch-phrases and the actions of a childish wish-fulfillment. He’s an archetype of a passing age, revealing the fundamental emptiness that archetype is based upon even as he strives to be the MOST omnipotent genius Army Guy ever depicted onscreen. In his desperate attempt to manifest heroism in a slack and cowardly society he actually becomes that guy who shot the guy for texting in the movie theater. He is the poignant projection of the impotent rage of the White Male Privilege currently in its death throes (believe it).

It’s just an incredible film. There’s a sniper and he kills a bunch of people for no reason. But instead of signing his confession he just scrawls “FIND JACK REACHER” on a notepad. The detectives are like “who the hell is Jack Reacher?” and somebody is like “You’ll never find him unless he wants to be found. He’s a ghost. He’s invisible. We’ve been looking for him for 10 years and haven’t found so much as a credit card receipt. He’s your worst nightmare. He’s—” but just then the phone rings and guess who it is? JACK REACHER! But how did he– But where– But who– Our nation’s peacekeepers sputter in befuddlement at this first instance of what will become their ceaseless besting at the hands of this manifestation of Macho Military Genius, whose naked back we immediately cut to. He holds a phone manfully to his ear while in the background a woman slips on her bra. This will be the last time we see Jack Reacher have any kind of connection with any other human, and I have no doubt it was added to the film later due to viewer discomfort à la the famous Top Gun Love Scene Debacle wherein test audiences were confused because it SEEMED like they were watching a homosexual love story, but that couldn’t be right, because this is a movie about military jets. Jack Reacher though doesn’t even have a passionate friendship with another dude to redeem his humanity, so I think audiences must have just filled out their surveys with things like “but who MADE the Jack Reacher robot?” and “didn’t understand if the robot came back from the future or what” and “why didn’t Jack Reacher go to jail at the end of the movie”

Jack Reacher cares for nothing but JUSTICE. He lives anonymously on his Army Genius pension, buying clothes at Goodwill and throwing his old clothes in the garbage can at Goodwill so no one can trace him (?). It turns out that a long time ago he knew the sniper in Iraq, and he delivers this long illustrated monologue where the sniper, trained to kill, sits in a crows nest for 8 tours and never gets to pull the trigger. Can you imagine the frustration? the pent-up aggression? Teaching a man to do nothing but shoot people and then not ever allowing him to shoot someone, every man’s secret dream? Consequently, what was the sniper to do but take his gun one time down to some anonymous Iraqi village square and murder a bunch of dudes randomly. This makes Jack Reacher mad, because of justice! He tells the sniper, if I ever see you again I’ll kill you? Or something. So this is why the sniper writes “FIND JACK REACHER” on the notepad, because he’s actually been FRAMED, and he knows that since Jack Reacher cares for nothing but justice, Jack Reacher will overcome his hate for the injustice the sniper did in Iraq in order to prove him innocent, because being found guilty when you’re innocent is ALSO UNJUST. How Jack Reacher goes about balancing the competing demands of overlaid justices and injustices is a question the movie doesn’t answer, although it turns out that the original unjust random murders in Iraq aren’t AS UNJUST as being found guilty of a different crime you DIDN’T commit, because it turned out later that all the Iraqi men he’d shot were coming from a “rape party,” which is just what it sounds like, and which, when Jack Reacher mentions it to the defense attorney who is defending the sniper with the sole intention of making her daddy mad, she grimly averts her face in appropriately feminine disgust. So even though the sniper didn’t know the guys were coming from a “rape party,” it turns out Jack Reacher is willing to let that one pass because he ultimately accidentally performed a very Jack-Reacher-esque bit of vigilante justice, even though he BELIEVED he was just murdering random humans due to being a psychopath.

Let me tell you that there is a scene where the female defense attorney is sitting at her desk all like “it doesn’t add up! I can’t figure out anything involved in this crazy ol’ case!” and she’s like shuffling crime scene photos around, and Jack Reacher is sitting above her on her own desk, smiling benevolently down at her cute struggles to have a single coherent idea or thought even though she is an incredibly highly-educated and accomplished lawyer, and then he literally writes something down on a post-it, folds it, puts it in her hand, and then the phone rings and somebody gives her a piece of information regarding the crime’s motive, and when she hangs up and looks at the post-it, it turns out that Jack Reacher had written THAT EXACT THING ON IT. Before they even got the phone call!!! How can she not drop to her knees and suck his dick INSTANTLY. He’s like Sherlock Holmes if Sherlock had no character traits, predilections, idiosyncrasies, or sense of humor. Also why did he bother with that post-it note trick? Jack Reacher is constantly hysterically making sure everybody knows how brilliant he is. He’ll suddenly recite the date on a quarter to you that you didn’t even see him look at! Even though this is meaningless, useless information, it’s important for him to let you know that he remembers stuff better than you do. He couldn’t just TELL HER the motive, he had to make this sad little magic trick out of it.

Similarly, there is a scene where Jack Reacher goes to a bar and a teenage girl hits on him and he immediately calls her a prostitute and her five brothers say they’re going to beat him up and she’s like “I don’t mind the sight of blood” and he goes “yeah because when you see blood it means you’re not pregnant” and that line is so ugly it’s like even the girl seems to step out of the movie for a second and her face is like “??WTF” although really you know she wants to fuck him. Then they go into the parking lot and Jack Reacher is like “here’s what’s gonna happen, I’m gonna take you out with one punch, and then those two friends are gonna run away, and these other two will stay to help, and then I’ll punch them both to death” and the guy’s like “ha ha you homo, NOBODY COULD KNOW ALL THAT” and then it all happens EXACTLY LIKE JACK REACHER SAID and the guy is like “HOW DID YOU KNOW ALL THAT”

Which like, if you were Jack Reacher how could you even inhabit the same universe as these punk kids? How could you even imagine wasting your time beating up random townies, much less showing off to said townies about how you knew you would win all along? Also I thought Jack Reacher was supposed to be all about the honor of women (the “rape party”) but here he is calling a woman a prostitute for no reason. WAIT, it turns out later he knew she was just a patsy all along, and he was just playing along, and so he goes to visit her where she works at the Best Buy or whatever, and he’s all “why don’t you take off, leave all this behind? Why do you keep hanging out with guys like that?” and she LITERALLY says:

“That’s what girls like me do.”

Too true! If by “girls like me” she means “girls that middle-aged angry white dudes jerk off thinking about slapping during sex.”

Also earlier in the movie he’d forced the attorney to go visit the families of all the people the sniper killed, to teach her a lesson about how you shouldn’t defend criminals. She says things like “I’m sorry, I’ve obviously made a horrible mistake” while the father of one of the dead people is like “HOW COULD YOU BE SUCH A MONSTER, MY DAUGHTER WAS ABOUT TO GO TO EUROPE TO LEARN ABOUT ART.” Then later when Jack Reacher is like “…how was YOUR day,” she’s like “I guess it went…about the way you wanted it to go.” She’s very contrite about having wasted her life becoming a defense attorney! It turned out she’d NEVER THOUGHT ABOUT how it would be sad for your daughter to get murdered. Once you realize that, though, you of course understand that the only sane course of action is for an ex-military genius to go around murdering people with impunity.

There is a car chase where Jack Reacher is driving a souped-up Mustang muscle car and then he gets out of it because the police are about to catch him and he sidles right into the crowd of onlookers, all of whom immediately shield him from the police–an old black man gives him his Phillies hat–because we all know the police are bullshit, but seriously, the crowd doesn’t know anything about this guy, he could have just kidnapped and murdered a little kid, he could be Jeffrey Dahmer (although poor Dahmer would never be able to handle a Mustang like that, real talk) but they don’t care because it’s exciting. Then he and the old man get on a bus and ride away together smiling. Is this a racial commentary? Police should stop being racist, or black people will start aiding and abetting white criminals? Sure, why not

I haven’t even mentioned the fact that WERNER HERZOG plays the villain; an indeterminately eastern-european guy who gnawed his own fingers off in a Soviet gulag (I think?? the timing seems off, wouldn’t he have to be like 90 years old? Maybe I misunderstood his backstory) and delivers wonderful amazing monologues about survival (I could not stop thinking about Paul F. Tompkins’ delightful parody of Herzog’s character in this film: “Who has two thumbs and very little else? I am such a person” ). There’s a scene where he’s betrayed by one of his henchmen, and he tells him he will shoot him in the head unless the henchman gnaws off HIS own fingers. The henchman is like “I can’t do it!” and Herzog is like “you are not like me, I would do anything to survive” and his main henchman shoots the other henchman in the head. Herzog’s motivations seemed really out of character–he’s supposed to be this incredible evil mastermind whose heinous experience in the gulag allowed him to transcend all human morality, but then the big crime he’s pulling off is just about trying to pressure a woman into selling her husband’s business.

The movie really becomes the apotheosis of this kind of movie at its rainy, explosive conclusion (involving Robert Duvall as an ex-marine who agrees to go with Jack Reacher and SHOOT LIKE TWENTY PEOPLE TO DEATH based solely on the fact that Jack Reacher used to be in the Army), during which there isn’t even a nod to “justice” but rather just a simple bloodbath during which Jack Reacher actually just murders every single bad guy in more-or-less cold blood, finishing with Herzog himself, who says American prison will be a cakewalk because America is so soft on its criminals, so Jack Reacher kills him because he knows Werner Herzog is right and we must have MAXIMUM PUNITIVITY for our bizarre psychotic generically easter-european fingerless bad guys, and isn’t it such a goddamn shame that America coddles its criminals, lo, if only Jack Reacher could finally rest but he can’t because the prison system is so cushy.

The final scene of the movie is Jack Reacher riding on a bus back into his anonymous life filled with bra-less women in the background. The defense attorney delivers a monologue about justice in voiceover, and then we hear from somewhere behind Jack Reacher a man’s voice say “you shut your mouth!” and then a SLAP and a woman’s cry! UH OH, UNCHIVALROUS INJUSTICE, we know there’s nothing that chaps Jack Reacher’s ass like rudeness to a woman, unless it’s himself calling a woman a whore for no reason! So the final shot of the film is Jack Reacher making this sort of shrugging “oh boy here we go again” expression and standing up manfully, to go murder the guy on the bus presumably.

It really was an amazingly apt movie to see directly before that jackass murdered that other guy in the movie theater. It’s a movie totally upholding the moral landscape blisteringly satirized in a great movie like “Super” where Rainn Wilson becomes so enraged by all rule-breaking that he murders a bunch of people, screaming hysterically in the apocalyptic finale: “YOU DON’T CUT IN LINE! YOU DON’T MOLEST CHILDREN!” as though those two infractions are equally weighted. Like texting in a movie theater–admittedly obnoxious and socially unacceptable–is as deserving of instant violent death as, I don’t know, genocide or something. YOU DON’T TEXT DURING A MOVIE! YOU DON’T MURDER AN ENTIRE PEOPLE! Jack Reacher is the embodiment of this totally un-nuanced, infantile moral code, and it was a terror and a privilege to be exposed to it in fictional form directly before being exposed to it in reality. That dude in Florida absolutely believes he is Jack Reacher, but what we find out is that real life is not like the movies, and that Jack Reacher in person is just a fucking awful empty sociopath with no joy in his life.

In conclusion, this movie RULES

Lane-style barrel-fish-shooting OVER. I promise my next review will be of some weirdo French film. Actually I just finally watched Claire Denis’ “White Material” and it was FUCKING INCREDIBLE but instead I had to spend 45 minutes of my life gleefully heaping scorn on Jack Reacher, sorry

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Gravity

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Well.

This movie has a 97% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and I have yet to read a bad review of it, aside from my friend Claire’s excellent one. Everyone, from what I’ve read, seems to say something along the lines of “sure the story and dialogue are horrible but WHAT A GREAT MOVIE.”

I am realizing I no longer understand what criteria your average reasonably intelligent person is using for evaluating the merits of a piece of cinema. Do we now judge movies based SOLELY on how cool the technology used to make them is?

Claire points out the dearth of spirituality in this movie, and I agree with her that “space” itself was treated in a profoundly uninteresting way that actually surprised me, like, how hard do you have to work to make OUTER FUCKING SPACE seem domesticated and boring? I think for Claire, “spirituality” has everything to do with a respect for the awe-fulness of the universe, the sheer bewildering immensity and mystery of the cosmos, and so in this sense the movie did lack spirituality.

But I want to point out that there IS a sort of pat, childish “spirituality” shoehorned awkwardly into the plot, as when Sandra Bullock, mute, characterless, and cold, tells the unnamed guy over the radio to “pray for me. I never learned to pray. Nobody ever taught me.” As if herein lies the secret that will unlock her frigid heart–as indeed IT DOES. After the ghost of George Clooney tells her to just use the landing fuel to steer the escape pod or blah blah, she’s filled with purpose and a ferocious desire for life, after which she immediately begins basically praying–to the ghost of George Clooney, and saying deeply embarrassing shit like “please tell my ghost angel baby I love her when you meet her in Heaven,” like as if that is something any even half-assed PhD astronaut would fucking say to their colleague as he goes spinning out into the void, his fragile mind disintegrating. Your dead baby is not in Heaven, Sandra Bullock! Anyway so in this sense the movie was infused with this vague idea of spirituality as something that instills strength and the survival instinct–recall the Buddha statue we see in alarming closeup as she’s re-entering Earth’s atmosphere, e.g.–as if no one could “want” to get back to Earth badly enough to actually accomplish it, unless they were moved by a vision of their dead baby in Heaven world with Jesus patting her on the head. Wouldn’t that vision just make you more excited to die?? Also note all the “born again” imagery of the film, in the whole “learning to walk”/emerging from the womb ending, and like in the escape pod she floats for awhile, fetus-like, framed by the portal looking out into space.

In addition to this kindergartener’s take on religion, though, there is a much more powerful ideology woven into the film that I think serves as its version of spirituality and that is really dark, and that is actually the reason that any real spirituality or emotional content is totally effaced. This religious ethos is the one in which the individual is the only unit that matters; the one in which individual ingenuity can attain success even in spite of overwhelming odds; the one in which just the IDEA of an individual triumphing and conquering something makes us sob. In short, it is a film espousing the ideology of neoliberalism to an almost spiritual degree.

This is the spiritual vacuity I think Claire is identifying, in a way, and anyway it’s the one I felt. The movie supposedly confronts the viewer with the immensity of space, but ultimately comforts us by depicting that immensity as something that can be jerry-rigged using good old common horse sense and a little elbow grease. As if you can just go shooting through space with a fire extinguisher and ride a falling piece of Chinese machinery back to earth like a hobo hopping on a boxcar. Just like World War Z, when Brad Pitt–NOT A DOCTOR–solves the global zombie epidemic just using common sense! Turns out you DON’T need a fancy degree to go into outer space and drive all kinds of high-tech vehicles around. Anyone can do it, if they believe in themselves hard enough.

This is where we can see the economic theories of neoliberalism becoming more akin to a spiritual ideology, as indeed they are for crazy jackasses like Thomas Friedman and, you know, the U.S. government. Within this set of beliefs, individual liberty and choice are the only universal goods. While on the surface this seems like a good thing to us–we are, after all, steeped in this culture and can’t totally get away from its value systems–valuing individual choice above all other considerations leads elegantly to the destruction of unions and social security and all manner of government-funded social safety nets. Because within the ideology of individualism, not only are your triumphs ALL YOURS (remember how all Romney’s fans got so mad when Obama said “you didn’t build that”), but SO ARE YOUR FAILURES. So anyone who dies from having no health insurance, or who can’t get a job, or who loses their pension, well, they made bad choices didn’t they? They failed to maximize their individual potential. If you don’t like being poor, you should have gone to Harvard like I did, duh. Sandra Bullock almost fails because she doesn’t “believe in herself” strongly enough. She’s too much of a cipher. She needs to activate her heroic individuality to excel the data and maximize potential. Like her failure would NOT be because a government on Earth, ignoring the threat to individual humans, shot a missile into space and caused terrifying space-debris to go shooting out all over hither-and-yon. No. If you are brave enough, you can triumph over whatever deadly garbage a government flings at you, it’s so easy, quit complaining about the garbage and start flying through space like superman! You’ll be happier and better off for it! And if you don’t manage to succeed under these circumstances, it’s because you didn’t believe in yourself hard enough. You didn’t get over your dead baby or whatever. Regardless, your failure is NOT because of the garbage the government dumped on you.

This is a message we are given every day.

While watching it, I kept thinking about actually how DESPERATE we have become. How desperate we are to see the individual glorified against terrible odds. Because, like, here on earth those odds have become terrible indeed, haven’t they? Un-conquerable, lets face it. And so our movies have to stretch harder and harder to present a larger-than-life obstacle for our Bildungsroman hero to triumph over. Gone are the faceless Nazi hordes conquered by a single American’s derring-do. That’s way too easy–now our heroic individuals have to triumph over FIVE BILLION ZOMBIES or over ENORMOUS ALIENS FROM ANOTHER DIMENSION or over OUTER SPACE.

This is deliberate, too. We just saw Pacific Rim last night, which was like watching Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, right? It was such a Clinton-era PG-13 movie based on an action figure. And that score! Jesus. But anyway I was mentioning the deliberateness of this INSISTENCE on individuality above all else–at the end of Pacific Rim, after this whole entire movie that seemed to be presenting a sort of important idea about TEAMWORK being what will save humanity, all of a sudden, with no warning and for no reason, the main guy just turns to his supposed teammate and is like “I can do this by myself” and then shoots her out to safety in the escape pod no one had ever mentioned until that moment. Like it was THAT important for the movie to make sure ONLY ONE HERO triumphs over obstacles and saves humanity. So all this shit about mind-melds and humanity working together was just a ruse, and really it’s just this one guy who mattered all along? Lord. I had hoped he’d float down into the alien world and have an “Abyss” like idyll, where maybe they’d chat, and maybe he’d do a mind meld with them and they’d be like “we’ve made a huge mistake, we’re sorry” or something. Instead it was just like “FUCK THIS PLANET” Val Kilmer style double middle-fingers and him somehow escaping a thermonuclear explosion with just the sheer massiveness of his individual heroism.

For some reason, I had believed that “Gravity” was going to be this really dark, brutal exploration of loneliness and despair, and the impossibility of hanging on to individuality in the face of the purposeless void of space. I should have known that no movie with that kind of plot could possibly be as widely popular as “Gravity” was. But I am naive. And so I went to see it. And instead it was just Beethoven’s Third yet again, the hero encountering totally manageable obstacles and triumphing over them. How can we not be tired of this story yet? It’s been the only story we’ve been told for like 300 years at this point. Longer, if you count the New Testament, which a lot of people do. Teamwork and other people not mattering anymore, only what is inside every individual heart, only what you personally believe effecting your personal redemption. Failure indicating a lack of personal belief. Aren’t we sick of this shit yet? Haven’t we learned yet that a nation of pure individuals is a horrible place where nobody is able to make sacrifices for the common good or even recognize each others’ common humanity? Do we really all want to be the crazy man in the cabin with the shotgun yelling GET OFF MY LAND?

I don’t want to think of outer space as a “manageable obstacle” that can be jerry-rigged. I don’t want to think of outer space as something conquerable by just a little old-fashioned can-do bootstrapping. I don’t want to believe that any old person can hop into a fucking spaceship and glance at a trapper keeper with instructions (IN A FOREIGN LANGUAGE) and go zipping around in it.

And I sure as HELL don’t want to be shown the glory of a single person finding the will to live because of her dead baby (why is it ALWAYS a dead baby, like women in movies can have no other motivation than dead babies?? If movies are to be believed, then, given how many miscarriages there are in the world, 90% of human women are walking around constantly on the verge of total emotional breakdown because of a baby (or “baby,” i.e. “embryo”) that died 30 years ago, I am so tired of this trope), and plummeting down to land and emerging, fetus like, into the primordial sea, and dragging herself to the shore, and then, as the music swells, walking AS IF FOR THE FIRST TIME, and thank god because of heroic individualism humans can finally conquer the Earth again, or something.

Imagine how great that movie would have been if it was the exact same in every way but instead of Sandra Bullock being the protagonist it was George Clooney, and so the final 2/3 of the movie was just him slowly soaring through the black emptiness, musing about life and death and the tininess of everything everyone has ever found important, and ultimately wondering who he even is anymore, and maybe he’s nobody and he never was

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An Essay On Zombies, and Then at the End There’s Some Rude Jokes About World War Z

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Hi everyone.

Well, the day finally arrived. The day I had been awaiting with bated breath. The day marked in my iCal as “WWZ!!!!!” I asked my old man “do you know what tomorrow is” and he said “midsummer!” and I said “no, you fool”

First, let me say that this entry contains spoilers. I am going to basically talk about every single thing that happens in the movie.

Second, let me tell you what I was excited about, in anticipating this movie, so that you can more fully understand what a let down it actually was. Telling you what I was excited about will amount to an essay-length pondering of the zombie genre in general–its history, interpretation, and evolution over time. So if you think that sounds boring, stop reading now and go see World War Z!!!

I was excited because it was the first true A-List zombie movie, and because I knew Brad Pitt had fought long and hard to get it made, and because I knew Max Brooks, who wrote the source material, is kind of a total weirdo, and all these facts intrigued me. I should have been more cynical about how many re-writes the script went through, how many times its release date was pushed back, how many screenwriters were hired to completely re-do the work of a previous screenwriter. I should have been concerned. But I wasn’t! “Who is the bigger fool, the fool or the fool who follows him?” I was excited because I thought, based on the preview, it might be the first zombie movie to really take a global perspective on the zombie apocalypse, and I thought that would be really cool, as usually in this genre part of the drama inheres in the characters having no idea what’s going on anywhere but where they happen to be when the S hits the F. The vague hope that somewhere, somehow, life is continuing like usual, and if you could just get there everything would be okay. In this movie I hoped those hopes would be dashed, and that in its bleak international picaresque it would be even bleaker than Z movies of the past. And of course I was excited about what looked to be a few interesting additions to the genre in terms of how zombies behave (the swarms, mainly (see above)).

I’ve spoken before about the rise of the fast zombie. I have mixed feelings about it. On the one hand, it makes for a more exciting film, on the surface, and of course it is an evolution in the genre that is very easy to ascertain the cultural subtext of (the internet), and I like to see our horror movies keep up with the times, as it were. On the other hand, there’s a cold, brutal dread surrounding the slow zombie that really disappears when they start running around like maniacs. To briefly recap:

Our monsters always tell us about who we are and what we’re afraid of. The vampire for example is an age-old monster who has changed dramatically with the times. At first, hundreds of years ago, the vampire was someone who had committed bad deeds in life, usually money-related, and/or someone who had committed suicide, and thus been buried in unconsecrated ground–ground not blessed or watched over by the Lord. Rising from the dead, it shambled back to the home it had known in life, preying parasitically on its kith and kin (just as it had done in life, by committing usury or other dastardly pre-capitalist money-grubbing operations). This vampire version activated anxieties about God and the afterlife, evil and sin, the parasitic possibilities inherent in financial transaction, and the question about whether evil might be transmitted through bloodlines–could a family be literally haunted by the evil deeds of its ancestors? Over time, the vampire, due to its parasitic lifestyle, started becoming a conglomeration of general xenophobia and racism directed at immigrants of all kinds, but mostly Jews. Later, in the 19th century, due to this guy John Polidori’s hatred of Lord Byron (long story), the vampire took on the aristocratic tendencies we now associate with it. Anxieties about class now enter into things. A monster with infinite financial reserves laying waste to a town’s upper-crust via thinly-veiled rapes against its virgin daughters, who, now either straight dead/undead OR “tainted” (read: made slutty) by the monster’s touch, are no longer fit to be married by good Victorian men, etc. etc. until Twilight, which, seriously, untangling everything that’s going on in Twilight, culturally-anxiously speaking, would take a whole book and I don’t have that kind of time.

All our monsters provoke a similar self-examination, provide a similar window into a time period or culture. Blair Witch Project worked on anxieties about the then-new reality TV phenomenon, the idea of cameras being in your face at all times, keeping actual reality at arm’s length. The werewolf is pure Freudian terror about the beast within that we all repress in order to have civilization. The mingled dread and exhilaration when we contemplate ripping all our clothes off and rutting out in the street and eating a goat with our bare teeth. Crucially, the werewolf doesn’t know he’s a werewolf–he wakes up in the morning NOT REMEMBERING the heinous bestial things he’s done under the light of the full moon (and people have always been stressed out by the full moon–I have seen medieval engravings of the moon’s rays physically entering the skulls of village women and turning them into witches or at the very least sluts). In the 50s it was all giant mutants caused by nuclear bomb radiation or radio waves from Mars–science stuff, Hiroshima stuff. I recently read about how American audiences watched Godzilla for fun, screaming and throwing popcorn, but Japanese audiences watched the film in silence, and left theaters in tears.

So, in light of the fact that the monster movie wears its cultural anxiety perhaps more blatantly on its sleeve than other cinematic genres do, I’ve always been interested in them. But the zombie movie really takes the cake, as far as me and my particular profile of interests are concerned. Because what I’m interested in isn’t just racism or class or sex but rather misanthropy itself, the hatred and fear of ALL PEOPLE, the IDEA of people, the whole enchilada, and there isn’t a more misanthropic genre than the zombie genre.

There were zombie movies before George Romero (they mostly involve Haiti and voodoo (“I Walked With A Zombie” is an especially weird one)), but they really don’t cohere into a genre concept until his Night of the Living Dead, released in the talismanic year of 1968. The year mass protests ignited the world; the year the individual was felt to be asserting itself against authority. The individual flexed its muscles; authority pushed back hard. Firehoses, dogs, tear gas. What everyone saw on TV during that time were hordes of people, people indistinguishable from one another, vast melées of human beings running, fighting, pushing cars over. Explosions, bombs, the first fully televised war. The march on Washington. Individuals were asserting themselves but they were doing it in these massive group movements, which was both exhilarating and sort of overwhelming, or even downright terrifying, depending on your political bent. Like anything, it had layers and complexity, these visions, this new consciousness. It had any number of dark sides. David Harvey points out that the countercultural attitudes of the 1960s actually accidentally helped to pave the way for the neoliberal ideology (and actual practices) in which we are now so hopelessly, hatefully mired. The belief in the intrinsic moral righteousness of individual liberty above all other considerations in some ways leads to a nation of single units, individuals alone, each with his or her own panoply of narcissistic interests, beliefs, musical tastes, social battles, etc. What does the lone individual feel about his or her compatriots, countrymen? Those others start feeling like faceless no-ones, pressing down from all sides, their very existence threatening your ability to lead the life you want to lead. Union becomes impossible–literally, unions started falling apart around the early 70s, helped along by rhetoric about personal choice and freedom propagated by major financial institutions. General progressive revolution becomes splintered and thus ineffectual–Black Panthers, feminists, commies, unions, gays, minorities, the poor, immigrants, various religious sects, all of us trapped in our own unique subject position, unable to forge the unity that would truly make us the 99%, an unstoppable force for change.

Added to this grim political death march you have the rise of a real mass culture, a consumer culture based on the acquisition of products marketed to these subject positions. Once you have an established idea of “mass culture,” then how easy it becomes to see yourself in opposition to it! I’m an individual, I make my own choices, so I wear this brand of shoes instead of that other brand everyone else wears. Splintered and sundered from one another, fighting desperately to assert our supposed individuality in the face of truly vast political and market forces we individually can make no impact upon, our consciousness becomes alienated from the human stream of life. Mass culture–the masses–starts seeming like an enemy. Your self-sufficiency, even your self-actualization as a conscious human, starts feeling threatened by the mere existence of everyone else. Overpopulation, as everyone knows, as everyone has been told with ever-increasing hysteria for the past several decades, is going to be the literal death of us. The planet groaning under the weight of all our combined bodies, crushed together in ever-denser urban centers, while everyone keeps popping out baby after baby after baby, babies who have an ever-increasingly slim chance of actually building any kind of a life for themselves, babies born into the debt-financed consumer culture global warming nightmare bequeathed to them by their parents and grandparents, etc. etc. etc.

So into this hodge-podge of just-burgeoning modern anxieties shambles the Romero zombie. What is this zombie? Well, at the individual level, it is perhaps first and foremost a CORPSE. A dead person still semi-ambulatory, although unlike the modern vampire it is soulless, mindless, its only animating impulse one of hunger. This is why the slow zombie strikes that cold icicle of dread into your gut when you consider it. Its death is emphasized by its slow, shambling struggle to move. This was once a person, like you, but it is no more. It is a person made Other by death (Julia Kristeva is my favorite philosopher when it comes to this stuff–the Abject, the corpse which is us-but-not-us, that which causes us to shrink away in a disgust that is more than disgust, that is really a Freudian-uncanny soul-deep horror of RECOGNITION, the presence of something infinitely familiar but long-repressed–that corpse was once me, and one day I shall be it. Corpses and poop, really, kudos to Julia Kristeva for writing a whole book about corpses and poop).

The slow zombie is easy to kill, but the point of these movies is that you can’t kill EVERYONE. Everyone is a zombie; the zombie is everywhere; the zombie IS THE PEOPLE. Individually they may be easy to kill, but in their mass togetherness, their single-minded focus, they are unstoppable. United they stand. But they can be seen as a fear of the masses and of mass culture, OR in my opinion they can also represent the horror of the mindlessness of capitalism and the free market. David Harvey also talks about how the financial elite of the world have learned to act as a class, united by the sole interest of BUSINESS, and that that is why they will always beat the rest of us, as we are all fighting amongst ourselves about all manner of other issue. The Business Class cares nothing about gay or straight, abortion or no abortion, it cares nothing for God or the Devil, it cares only about the ideal conditions for the generation of capital. This makes it unstoppably powerful. Harvey contends that the entire rest of the world, literally everyone who is not a millionaire, needs to start thinking of itself, together, as a class, and that only then will real revolution happen. So I think we can read the zombies in both ways. Us vs. Them is actually complicated because which is which? Am I us or am I them? Am I afraid of the business class or are they afraid of me, or is every person just afraid of the concept of humanity, generally?

So the zombies, united by a single shared purpose and a lack of any individual desires or considerations, encroach from all sides, and you can only machete so many of them in the head before one of them gets through to you, and then it’s curtains for you. The survivors, splintered from one another into little pods fighting for the basic essentials of life–helicopter fuel, food, a few hours of safe sleep–are menaced, constantly and unrelentingly, by the hordes upon hordes of what had once been their countrymen, their neighbors, their husbands and wives. The zombie movie is like “et tu Brutus” or whatever, over and over again. The horror of watching your dad or your friend or this soldier you thought would save you, the HORROR of watching them TURN. They leave you behind, isolated in your lonely individuality, as they slip into the mass unconsciousness. In the zombie movie, what’s really happening is that the increasingly small group of survivors is fighting desperately and with all their energy to REMAIN INDIVIDUALS. This is the anxiety that generates scenes like in Dawn of the Dead, when the survivors are sort of comically clearing the zombies from the shopping mall and sort of having fun with it, or in the D of the D remake, when for fun they go sit on top of the mall and take turns calling out celebrity lookalikes in the seething horde below, and then picking them off with high powered rifles and laughing. Re-emphasizing over and over again that THEY aren’t people, those simulacra below, but I AM, and I REMAIN SO. When of course that’s not the case–the anxiety exists for the very reason that those zombies ARE people. We always hate that which is closest to us, most like us. Freud calls this the “narcissism of minor differences.” And acknowledging that is too much for even the most circumspect survivor to contend with, intellectually. It would entail a soul-searching, a self-confrontation, on a profound level. What exactly differentiates me from them? The answer is, fundamentally, not much. I may wear Converse while they wear Nike but really it’s all just brands, and anyway didn’t Nike BUY Converse? So now we’re ALL wearing Nikes OH MY GOD

Romero’s social commentary is obvious and wry. In Dawn of the Dead, the survivors are trapped in a shopping mall, where they continue the routines of modern middle class life–they try on clothes and pick out jewelry, they eat steaks from the freezer, they sleep in brand new beds, they drink fancy booze and have parties with each other–while outside, the faceless hordes press unfalteringly against the walls, wanting in, wanting to return to those air-conditioned galleries of consumables they were habituated to mindlessly wander through in life. Romero gives us this delightful silly image of all these zombies, finally breaching the mall’s defenses (helped by a crew of Hell’s Angels who don’t give a fuck about anything, also very telling, the enemy within, the disunity of the remaining individuals), staggering around past all the stores, wandering in and out of the Sunglasses Hut or whatever, all dressed in their themed clothes–Little League zombie, bride zombie, Hare Krishna zombie, even skateboard zombie. It’s a joke, it’s a rude middle finger to consumer culture and to all the rest of us “sheep” who allow ourselves to fall into its ruts and be seduced by its glossy lies. The survivors ultimately turn out to be not much different than the zombies–everybody wants to hang out in the same shopping mall. The final scene shows the hero and pregnant heroine fleeing the zombies, but there is also this sense of relief at fleeing THE MALL ITSELF, like now we can start truly living, even if it just means dying. The final lines of that movie, as they fly the helicopter into parts unknown, are something like “how much fuel do we have” and she says “not much” and that’s the end.

Where can they go, with not much fuel? Is there still a place that isn’t infested with the mindless masses? The zombie movie has this undercurrent of longing, this wholehearted desire to GET SOMEWHERE WHERE THERE ARE NO PEOPLE. In the Dawn of the Dead remake, our survivors end up on a motorboat, dying of thirst, putting around in the ocean, just trying to find a place where they can chill out for awhile. They find a bigger boat–nope, there are zombies on it. They find what looks like a deserted island. Please god, could this be a place where no people ever were? Nope, such a place does not exist, woe, and the zombies come from all over, ravening, sprinting mobs. The motorboat is out of gas. We hear gunshots, and the screen goes dark. That is a rad ending.

28 Days Later, in my opinion the greatest zombie movie ever made, has this marginally hopeful ending where they go to a deserted forest mountaintop and it’s this huge relief of getting up and away from people, from populated areas, into the trees and meadows and clean air, where they can finally get some fucking sleep. Or that scene where they’re watching the horses run and it’s so sad yet so awesome, so nice to see animals minding their own beeswax without people around. 28 Days Later also has the really excellent added element of The Enemy Within, like you think nothing could be more horrible than the zombies but then when they get to the army compound, nope, it’s actually worse. And it gets very interesting, because at that point, Jim, the hero, seems to sort of merge with the zombies, to get into their vibe, and that’s what helps him conquer the army guys. Jim, gaunt, besmirched, barefoot, and shirtless, first camouflages himself in a pile of corpses, and then moves, silent and zombie-like, almost joining with the massed hordes as he helps them infiltrate the compound. We end up feeling compassion for the zombies, who are being picked off for fun by all these drunk crazy rapists. It matters that Christopher Eccleston is ultimately bested not by our hero but by the zombie former-comrade who he’s kept chained up and taunted in the yard. Is this the first time the Us vs. Them nature of the zombie movie has been complicated in this way? It’s like Danny Boyle and Alex Garland (who, never forget, wrote The Beach) are peeling back a layer, and reminding us of what these movies help us forget–that the zombies are US. Someone made them the way they are, but it wasn’t their fault, and “we” are more like “them” than we may choose to believe. What is worse than being a member of mass culture? Being a part of the military complex that keeps the masses docile and protects market interests, maybe. Who is more inhuman? The mindless zombies, or the army guys who think it’s funny to use them for target practice, these sad shambling entities who were once someone’s mother, someone’s son? And then in light of this, the marginally hopeful ending, where they’re relaxing in nature and then a military jet flies by and dips its wing at them, like, don’t worry guys, I see you and am coming to the rescue…well, in light of what happened at the army compound, this ending is perhaps a bit more anxious than it ought to be. Is the jet going to take them to yet another army compound? Maybe it’s better to stay out here with the zombies, who we at least UNDERSTAND.

28 Days Later is also interesting because (a) I believe it’s the first fast-zombie movie and (b) I also believe it’s the first one where it’s made explicit that scientists accidentally created the zombie plague in the first place, in an effort to find a great military weapon. Boom.

Okay so. Due to all of this stuff, I was very excited about World War Z. I thought the idea of trying to truly depict the global zombie apocalypse, in terms of countries talking to each other, “Russia’s gone dark,” that sort of thing, looked promising. The lone individual helpless in the face of the rampaging swarms of humanity threatening him from all angles, no sanctuary even to be found on the high seas, etc. But the problems with World War Z are deep and troubling, and really it betrays its genre in a lot of what I think are crucial ways.

It opens solidly, with the classic stuff where we just get hints of news broadcasts and maybe a few too many helicopters in the air. Brad Pitt and his wife Mireille Enos (the badass from “The Killing”) and their two annoying children have a nice life making pancakes and loving each other. One daughter has asthma, a plot point I thought was going to be a big deal but never was. Another daughter establishes through childlike questions that Brad Pitt was once some sort of fancypants U.N. soldier but has now given it up to be a family man. Already I am kind of chuckling, having been trained to think of the UN as just as ineffectual as the rest of the world thinks it is. UN soldier! Ha ha. Oops, turns out I was wrong to laugh, because Brad Pitt is apparently such a great UN soldier that the government of America sends a helicopter to rescue him and his family because he is the only man who can save us or something. Brad Pitt figures out that if you get bitten by a zombie and count to ten and still haven’t turned into a zombie you’re probably fine. (I would here submit that I don’t totally love it when characters in a zombie movie actually use the word “zombie.” I kind of want each zombie movie to exist in a vacuum where no one in the movie has heard of zombies before. “Zombie” just sounds so stupid when somebody says it to a military general). He drives an RV to a pharmacy where everyone is looting, and he sees a cop but instead of helping the cop is just looting like everybody else. Is Brad Pitt the only good man left in America? Answer: yes, except for this one guy in South Korea and a sad man in Jerusalem who delivers a really weird speech about the nine men who control all of Israel.

So anyway, there’s a great opening sequence. Zombie mob! Car crash! Asthma attack! Flight up steps of darkened New Jersey apartment building, let inside by family of Mexicans. UH OH, Mexicans, this isn’t going to turn out well (for the Mexicans). So Brad Pitt is calmly talking to the parents, who don’t speak English, but their little son Tommy translates. How much do you want to bet that the parents will make a bad decision that will get them killed? They don’t even speak English! Of course they can’t accept what bold strong American Brad Pitt is saying to them. The son, translating, is comically disappointed that his father refuses to go with Brad Pitt, as indeed it is very normal for children to immediately side with strangers against their own parents. So the Pitt family leaves and goes up on the roof where a helicopter is going to pick them up, and Tommy’s family gets eaten by zombies, but Tommy escapes and makes it into the helicopter after all, because he speaks English and thus has a leg up in this crazy world. After this, not a single mention is ever made about how Tommy was just chased onto a roof by his mother and father trying to eat him and then watched them get machine gunned by the American military.

They fly out to these aircraft carriers in the ocean where there’s military guys and refugees. To make a long story short(er), Brad Pitt (whose name is Gerry) and his boss (whose name is Terry, just saying) survey all the carnage on TV screens and then Terry is like, “Gerry, that man is from Harvard and he is our best hope” and Brad Pitt is like “but Terry he’s just a kid” and that’s how we know this Harvard egghead is about to accidentally shoot himself in the face because he’s never held a gun before, leaving Brad Pitt to solve the global zombie plague on his own using good ol’ common horse sense, the kind you don’t need Harvard to teach you about.

Pre-accidental face-shooting, Terry forces Gerry to help the Harvard guy by re-joining the UN or something and going on this one last great mission, because he’s such an asset because he did a good job that time in Liberia, and this is like that time (???). Gerry says “my family” a couple times but Terry is like ” Gerry, if you don’t do it I’ll murder them” (exaggeration) and so Brad Pitt and his wife cry and hug each other and that’s that, off he goes to South Korea for reasons unclearly stated, with a literally absurdly small team, it’s like six guys, like couldn’t you send just a FEW MORE GUYS on this mission that is supposedly the last hope of humanity?

On the nearly-empty airplane, the Harvard brainiac, still pre-face-shooting, delivers an actually insane person monologue about how Mother Nature is a bitch and a serial killer and her biggest strength often turns out to be her biggest weakness, a speech Brad Pitt will later remember in reverbed flashback while looking at the stump of an Israeli soldier’s arm he’s just bandaged on a plane that’s about to crash, and this will help him solve a problem the world’s epidemiologists have been working on for weeks to no avail. Fair enough! He does seem like a smart guy, plus if the movies have taught us anything it’s that if you REALLY REALLY REALLY want to save your family you can do anything.

So they get off the plane (the first plane, not the one that crashes later) in South Korea and there’s zombies everywhere and then the guys at the army base there tell them some information that will prove useful later, and Brad Pitt talks to David Morse, who is a CIA spy who has all his teeth pulled out and says that’s how North Korea is surviving the epidemic, something something. Brad Pitt’s stupid wife calls him on the cell phone at a totally pivotal moment (so glad this world-renowned military genius left his ringer on during a super tense maneuver, BTW), a couple people sacrifice themselves heroically, and now it’s off to Jerusalem for some reason!

In Jerusalem, everything is fine! OOOhhh what does it mean. People are still walking around listening to iPods and carrying briefcases, a sight which dazzles the eye of poor Brad Pitt who just saw like three different cities get essentially razed to the ground by zombie apocalypse and military response to zombie apocalypse. Why is Jerusalem doing so good? Because, as some guy tells him, they finally learned the lesson of the Holocaust, which is that if you receive an anonymous email from someone in India with the word “zombie” in it, you instantly build a huge fortified wall. The guy takes Brad Pitt on a tour, where he sees that they are letting refugees into the city through checkpoints. “You’re letting people IN?” he says in disbelief (due to the admittedly horrendous safety issues presented by basically opening up big doors in this great wall, while outside literally millions of zombies are ranging wildly around in a really wonderful shot that was probably my favorite shot in the film), and then the guy says, and I quote: “EVERY HUMAN BEING WE SAVE IS ONE WE DON’T HAVE TO FIGHT”

!!!!!!!!!!!

So much politically garbled nonsense going on! So first of all, I thought the isolationism of Jerusalem was going to be presented as a problem, like how dare you build a wall around yourselves and not help anybody else, but it wasn’t, it was presented as smart, and also like it didn’t conflict with them helping other people, even though early on there’s a part where somebody is like “leave it to the Israelis to not tell the rest of us about zombie apocalypse.” Second of all, the film was very careful to show us that the city was letting people in indiscriminately–Palestinian flags and hijab were just as present in the crowds as Israeli flags and those dudes with the hair curls, which, I’m sorry, but I AM SO SURE that the nation of Israel would just be like “come, all ye in need, come to the safety of these walls, we care not for color or creed.” To quote John Wayne, “That’ll be the day.”

Look over here, Brad Pitt, people are praying to the wailing wall, while right next to them a bunch of Muslims are bowing to Mecca! This truly is a wonderful multi-cultural sight. So wonderful, in fact, that some of the refugees–an explicitly mixed group of Palestinians and Israelis, I love that all these refugees are like “wait, before I flee zombie apocalypse I definitely need to grab my national flag and put it on a stick–starts singing a song of togetherness and joy, now that they are finally in a safe place away from the zombie hordes. The song grows louder and louder as everyone joins in. Jews and Muslims, holding hands and singing together! Everyone is smiling. Someone picks up a microphone, so the song can get louder. Feedback starts squealing. The song of togetherness and multicultural human joy is amplified, projected outward, ever outward–OH NO! “It’s too loud!” Brad Pitt yells, as he recently learned zombies are drawn to noise, “IT’S TOO LOUD!” But he’s too late. The zombies outside, driven into a rage by the song of togetherness, immediately breach the walls and Jerusalem is destroyed in a pretty amazing set piece that’s worth watching the movie to see.

That is literally what happens. When will Israel learn? Don’t be so nice to those Palestinians! LOL

Brad Pitt is being rushed to his airplane by this badass Israeli soldier who’s just killing zombies left and right like no biggie. That’s when one bites her and in a fit of intuition Brad Pitt hacks off her hand and she’s like “WHAT!” The plane takes off without them, so they flag down this commercial airliner that’s trying to leave. The pilots let them on through a trapdoor in the cockpit, and there is a very careful, intentional shot of the pilots relieving them of their guns and dumping the guns out onto the runway. No guns allowed on planes, because of Obamacare! You know what that means….”when guns are outlawed, only outlaws will be able to shoot zombies on an airplane.” In this case “outlaw” means “Israeli soldier who still had a gun in her pants thank god”

Everyone on the plane is like “HOLY SHIT DID YOU SEE ALL THAT SHIT THAT JUST WENT DOWN” and then they all fall asleep. Brad Pitt washes his hands with vodka and bandages up the Israeli soldier’s arm stump and she’s like “are you a doctor” and he’s like “no” and everyone in the theater laughed. That’s when he has his aural flashback to the Harvard egghead saying that Mother Nature’s biggest strength is also her biggest weakness–which, I’m sorry, but what the fuck does that even mean–and he remembers seeing a little bald kid in Jerusalem and all the zombies just ran right past him, and that’s when he solves the epidemic in his mind, but if he could just get to the World Health Organization headquarters in Cardiff, Wales!!! He tells the pilot to go there and the pilot is like “ok.” Then zombies break out on the plane and everyone is turning into a zombie and the Israeli soldier wakes up from having her arm sawed off and shoots a bunch of them and then luckily Brad Pitt sees she has a grenade so he’s like “here goes nothing” and throws the grenade and so the entire half of the plane is blown off and every single person–zombie or otherwise–in the plane goes shooting off into space, and the plane crashes, and Brad Pitt and the soldier survive and then they just walk up to the WHO headquarters that are like half a mile away from the crash site, like I’m so glad zombie apocalypse waited like SEVEN HOURS apparently before breaking out on that plane that was flying to Wales from ISRAEL

but whatever, that’s fine

they hobble into the WHO and the WHO guys are like “wtf” and then Brad Pitt says “I’m pretty sure the zombies ignore people who have terminal illnesses because I saw a bald kid not get eaten by zombies one time and maybe he had cancer” and they are like “it’s so crazy it just might work, the only problem is all our horrible viruses are in this one vault that’s now filled with zombies” and Brad Pitt is like “me and this one-armed soldier and this other guy will go in there” and everyone’s like “ok go team” and they go, but they get split up, and so ultimately obviously Brad Pitt has to do it all by himself, and there are a lot of chills and thrills but then finally he’s trapped in the vault while a zombie that looks like William Fichtner but isn’t is ramming his head into the door à la the great final sequence of Night Of The Living Dead and Brad Pitt is in the vault with all these viruses, and no way to communicate with the actual scientists who are watching him on security cameras and saying things to each other like “no not that one, he’ll die instantly if he uses that one” etc., like why didn’t they discuss this just a little bit beforehand, like couldn’t they have at least given him a list of which viruses he might try? So he grabs one at random and injects it into himself not even knowing what it is, like maybe it’s ebola (and p.s. it’s lucky there was a drawer full of loose syringes in the virus storage vault, like maybe scientists sometimes are like “fuck this, I’m not carrying the virus back to the lab, I’ll just stick it in the rat here in the storage area”), and then he opens the door and the zombie ignores him. HORSE SENSE!

Now Brad Pitt, infected with AIDS or something, goes triumphantly down the hall, zombies ignoring him, and LITERALLY STOPS AND THERE IS A CLOSE UP OF HIM DRINKING A PEPSI. And then he drops a bunch of Pepsi cans and the zombies come running and he walks through them–against the current, if you will–back to safety, where he is given a shot of something that apparently counteracts whatever terminal illness he injected himself with.

The ending of the film shows all these different shots of people getting injections/being ignored by zombies, intercut with scenes of various military literally luring millions of zombies into places like football stadiums and then blowing them up with bombs. And everyone is like “WE DID IT!!!”

It’s crazy.

It’s all about the triumph of the human spirit, which is obviously the ultimate cinematic cliché, but the problem is that that cliché DOESN’T WORK with the zombie genre, because zombies ARE human. Theirs is also a human spirit that is triumphing! Usually whatever tepid “triumph” is present in a good z movie is this sort of deeply contradictory idea of the last shreds of individuality staying barely one step ahead of mass assimilation. In a good z movie, it’s not like the glorious human spirit uses its scientific ingenuity to blow up every other American citizen with a nuclear bomb and that’s great and life is precious and god and the bible. So if it’s like Brad Pitt’s noble individual human spirit triumphs–OVER OTHER HUMANS–and that’s presented unproblematically, like there actually just are some people who are more individual than others, then I just don’t know…there wasn’t a single moment of dread or horror at the fact that zombies used to be people, like there isn’t a single classic scene where somebody’s husband suddenly becomes a zombie and they have to kill him. There is no emphasis of the zombies’ previous humanity at all (or, for that matter, of the fact that they are dead, so there’s no “soon I too shall join you” undercurrent like in a good z movie). So really it’s not “human” spirit triumphing, it’s the triumph of….what? American masculinity? Military know-how? Science? The individual? Were all the non-zombies on that plane Brad Pitt blew up not individuals? Nothing really fits, and it leaves you so hollow, and not the good kind of hollowness you feel at the end of Dawn of the Dead, but the bad kind, where you feel like you got ripped off yet again by the culture industry. Drink Pepsi and the masses will part around you like water. Blow up your fellow human beings with bombs and then high-five each other. The nuclear family is saved from the mobs of anti-social anti-government weirdos. Isolationism is good; by betraying its isolationism, Jerusalem falls. Eggheads from Harvard can’t help us, only good decent hard-working horse sense can. Global institutions–the UN, the WHO, the military–are what save humanity after all–rather than what gets us into this mess in the first place, as they are in some z movies and certainly in most plague movies. Individuals are stupid and crazy but these organizations maintain discipline and everything works out, and good thing we kept a vault full of smallpox after all, in spite of international protests against biological warfare. Oh also, if you don’t speak English you will be eaten by zombies and your child will be raised by white people.

Brad Pitt is very handsome, and that night after the movie I dreamed I was having a really sexual affair with him and Angelina Jolie was talking to me sadly about it, like “sisters don’t do that to each other” and I was like “I have betrayed my beliefs but it was worth it because I had sex with Brad Pitt”

Thank you. Up next will be my reading of the poster for “Oblivion.”

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Urban Honking Presents The Official I SAW THAT Oscars™ Live Blog

Today the highly educated, well informed, and dazzlingly beautiful authors of I SAW THAT will act as your guides through the gowns, glamour, and gold of the greatest award in the history of our planet.

The 85th Academy Awards ceremony begins at 8:30pm East Coast/5:30pm West Coast. The Live Blogging starts some time before that…

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Live Blog Test

This is now a LivingBlog™.

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ROCK OF AGES

On the plane to Portland last week with my 9 month old son passed out on me I took full advantage of the six dollar screen rental and was like “I GET TO WATCH A MOVIE! WEE! WHAT SHALL I WATCH?!” And got to the movie pickins and lo the options of unseen films were either The Watch which in the perhaps 90 seconds I watched, I understood immediately why it was a total flop. Vince Vaughn screaming about how his neighbors are outerspace aliens want to take his skin and expecting us to believe is really one toke over the line, Hollywood. My other option? MOTHERFUNKING ROCK OF AGES. The other option was the most recent Batman, but I wanted to save it for the flight home, when I really needed it, you know? So, Rock of Ages which I saw from the mid-beginning until the start of the end is really a movie about Tom Cruise’s clawing attempts to remain young in our collective memory. Contorting and twisting about the stage, Iggy-like, arching his body so as to keep his torso taut. As an aging Sunset Strip metal dude, he was supposed to be carnal and nasty and lithe and I just kept thinking that he seemed like the only person in the movie not in on the joke and not playing it for laughs. He was going at it as serious as Daniel Day Lewis in My Left Foot, meanwhile Alec Baldwin and everyone else just plays it like this chance to wear bad wigs and sing and be super ridiculous. And ridiculous it is. It is a musical adapted from the Broadway stage and it keeps a lot of the cheap “humor” intact. If you like montages, you will love this movie, it’s contstantly montaging out during every big number, with the girl character going from angrily swabbing the blush off her face in a strip clusb dressing dressing room defeat scene to crumbling a few dollars in her hands after her shift angrily stomping on Hollywood Boulevard to her strip club boss/Madam in harem pants MARY J BLIGE (good lord girl what did you do to deserve this) singing a lecture about just how tough life is while 12 pole dancers raise their asses in punctuation. You want it to be mindbreaking but mostly it’s a very over confident kind of silly.

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Skyfall

“What did you think of it?”
“Well it started out pretty shitty…and then it got mostly shitty.”

This is a James Bond movie about how aging white men no longer feel powerful and important. You see, James Bond is old. How old? I don’t know, maybe 45 or something. His beard is all gray and white during the part of the movie when he is sulking because his mommy sacrificed him for the sake of a hard drive that inexplicably has all of Britain’s secret agents’ real names and addresses on it. When he goes back to fight more evil, he’s out of shape! He can’t shoot a gun, and even though his bod is still totally rocking (full disclosure: Daniel Craig gives me a huge boner that my husband finds embarrassing. He says it’s a “cliché” boner. I say one can not control one’s boners. He says he prefers my boners to be inspired by men of the Jason Schwartzmann/Mark McKinney/Harpo Marx persuasion (he also said “when a girl gets a boner, what happens” and I said “nothing, really, you just imagine James Bond crying in your lap so you can comfort him” and he said “gross”)), he gets real tired doing pull-ups. M clears him for duty even though he fails literally all of the tests. On the one hand I was thinking, Jesus, how long has this guy been out of commission? It seems like only a couple months. Does somebody like this really forget how to shoot a gun in that time? On the other hand I was thinking, why am I watching this movie.

Anyhoo, so the whole point is that Javier Bardem (best Bond villain ever, I wish the movie was just him chewing up the scenery like the Mangler in that one Stephen King short story, “The Mangler”), who is perhaps ambiguously pan-sexual and actually seems to physically come on to our hero at one point, a scene I very much enjoyed, I mean, can you imagine. But anyway the whole point is that Javier Bardem used to be a James Bond figure. He was a “brilliant” agent who M betrayed in order to save a bunch of other agents. He was tortured but kept her secrets, then tried to kill himself with his little cyanide pill but it didn’t work, it just horribly disfigured his face. Now he’s crazy and wants to kill M, who he refers to as “mother.”

Yes indeed! So it’s Good Son and Bad Son fighting for their mother’s love! And it’s aging people not feeling relevant anymore. This point is driven home roughly one hundred million times. See the new Quartermaster, who is like 17 years old and is just typpity typing away and oh, James Bond doesn’t know what’s happening! He even says “I can do more damage on my laptop in my pajamas than you can do with your gun” or something and James Bond is like “you wish, pal.”

It’s driven home when Ralph Fiennes wants to retire M because she’s too old. To be fair, M does seem really old. The prime minister is pissed because all these agents keep getting outed and killed and then Javier Bardem blows up MI6 and parliament is like, WTF is going on you weirdos? Why can’t you keep your shit together? Which I think is a perfectly reasonable government response to terrorist attacks in London caused by a rogue MI6 agent hacking into MI6’s own computer network or whatever, but of course the movie presents it as, like, these hateful bureaucrats who don’t understand the valiant struggle of brave men killing all goons. So many goons!

So M and Bond are both too old. The new Q is constantly making jokes about how old James Bond is, which just seems unprofessional. Javier Bardem is a computer whiz and has a magic computer that can follow them wherever they are and truly, guts and brawn are no match for the information superhighway, or something. The Prime Minister keeps being like “MI6 is old fashioned! We need people who can use computers!” and M keeps quoting Yeats or whatever and I was like, what the fuck is going on. Bond hangs onto an elevator and it makes him sweat, which is deeply disturbing because Bond is meant to be indestructible. Then a lady comes in and has sex with him inexplicably. Later he meets another lady and he tells her he can tell she’s terrified, and he wants to help her. He promises to help her. She believes him, and tells him to meet her on her yacht so she can take him to Javier Bardem who is holding her prisoner. By “meet me on my yacht” James Bond takes her to mean “sneak into my room when I’m in the shower, take off all your clothes, and then hop in with me, even though I just revealed to you that I’m so terrified for my life because of my imprisoned rape nightmare with this psychopath that I am shaking and can barely speak coherently.” It’s all good though because of the aforementioned rocking bod which shall subdue any feminine compunctions. Then Javier Bardem immediately gets James Bond to shoot her, after which James Bond reveals no emotion and just kills all the guys anyway and we never hear about that woman again. Perhaps the lowliest Bond woman situation I have ever seen, even though at least he didn’t rape her before he killed her (technically).

Javier Bardem’s computer magic is too much for Britain’s top agents to deal with. He makes a subway train crash through a wall into an underground cavern during rush hour. Must a trillion people die so that Britain can get this stupid hard drive back? I might be getting kind of sick of Britain. The computer magic is overwhelming and even somehow allows Javier Bardem to waltz right into a meeting of Parliament and try to shoot M right there in front of everybody. Soulless bureaucrat Ralph Fiennes redeems himself by shooting a gun and James Bond winks at him. James Bond kidnaps M and she’s like “where are we going” and he’s like “somewhere where people of our kind are no longer baffled and confused by the world of youth and technology” and she’s like “where’s that” and he says “BACK IN TIME” and then they literally just drive to Scotland, which seems really rude to me.

Ok it’s his childhood home! Now we are truly in the belly of the beast, a.k.a. James Bond’s horrifying psyche, which I picture as a depthless shrieking void filled with the ghosts of the millions of people he has killed, and gigantic disembodied boobs reaching out to him in a way that is somehow both wanton and threatening. Is this shit about to get super real? He has his mommy, finally all to himself; he has his childhood home, filled with the dust of ages and surely the memories of his parents; the ghosts are all coming out to play. Except he never reveals any emotions regarding his childhood, his childhood home, his parents, etc. What seemed like a promising plotline perhaps involving James Bond crying and clutching a dusty teddy bear just ended up in a helicopter exploding, like usual.

They know Javier Bardem is going to find them but since there are no computers or internet (?) they have a fighting chance. They rig the house Home Alone style, with booby traps and stuff, and a mirror that will make Britain’s most brilliant secret agent think there’s a real guy standing there! They get some old hunting rifles or something. Anyway Bardem shows up in a military helicopter and crashes it into the house and everything blows up but he’s still alive. We are treated to long luxurious shots of the entire sprawling Scottish manse exploding and being engulfed in flames; the savaging of his childhood, the combustion of the heimlich from which, presumably, all his horrible repressed unheimlich mommy-based nightmares flow. All he does is look at it for a second and boldly say “I never liked this place anyway.” Yeah no shit, James Bond.

James Bond falls under the ice. James Bond gets out from under the ice. M and an old Scottish man are hiding in Ye Olde Crumblin’ Chapel. Javier Bardem finds them and then basically has a psychic break with reality and is like “MOMMY” and hugs M and then tries to make her shoot them both through the head with the same bullet while he cries. I found this scene disturbing, then realized that it was because throughout the film I had pretty much been 100% on Javier Bardem’s side. You know what, it IS fucked up how M betrayed you, Javier Bardem! It IS fucked up, this horrible job and how nobody cares about you or knows your real name! You know what else, I’m just gonna say it, but James Bonds’s love of M is totally pathetic and sad. Imagine what such a man could have done with his life, but instead he chose to become a psychopath who only cares about this mean old government worker who would sacrifice his life for a hard drive. Anyway he kisses her on the cheek, his mommy, and she dies. What’s next for ol’ scrappy middle aged James Bond?

The worst part of the movie was all the wink-wink “fun” throwbacks to earlier Bond stuff. The whole movie is so defensive about middle-age and how old people don’t understand the world but really they are better than everybody else. So of course Bond is like “we have to change cars” and somehow it’s a 1974 Aston Martin or whatever that fucking car is. And then the old-school guitar-riff theme song comes in. And at the end of course it’s like “Oh I never got your name, girl I have fucked and had adventures with and who did once shoot me in the chest” and she’s like “It’s Eve……..Eve……MONEYPENNY” and you are supposed to be like “Ah!” and then chuckle delightedly. This is supposed to be fun? Am I having fun? It was like the whole movie was defensively saying “IT’S NOT BORING!”

There is literally a scene where a goon gets eaten by a giant dinosaur lizard in a Shanghai casino and James Bond is like “DINNER IS SERVED.” I made up that last part.

I have never liked the Bond franchise but then I really liked Casino Royale. Now I guess I don’t like it anymore. I mean, James Bond is a sociopath, and a drunk, and he just shoots people and is good at running, right? Is that really all there is to it? He’s a babe and he runs and he knows how to wear a suit and he’s clever. Some dillweed in the New Yorker wrote that Bond has been outdone by its descendants and I really think that is true. I really require my action heroes to have more going on upstairs, and in the emotions department. That’s why I kind of liked Casino Royale but apparently that one was a fluke.

In conclusion: Javier Bardem is a genius; Daniel Craig still gives me a huge boner; every time I see a Bond movie I think “I’m never watching another Bond movie” but then I do and the whole cycle is so enervating. Before the final credits they showed this Bond logo and it said “50 YEARS” and “JAMES BOND WILL RETURN” and it just seemed hysterical.

I was much more excited by the preview for Tarantino’s new period oppressed minority revenge fantasy.

Anyway, there, I said it. Also Sean Connery is disgusting, don’t even go there.

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