I have seen a lot of movies but I keep not wanting to deeply interrogate their subtexts and lambast their scripts in yon blog, for some reason. I think it all began when I saw
The Master, which I felt was too good to blog about, for I have not enough words in my pen to adequately express my awe and delight. I am a huge PT Anderson nerd, so I knew I would like it, but I liked it even more than that. A beautiful, strange film. My old man claimed to find the Jonny Greenwood “distracting” but he is a grump. I say: Greenwood forever! This film is so small and quiet, and yet it is more powerful than all the great epics put together, yes, including DeMille. It’s like that one planet where everything is 1,000 times more dense than it is on earth, so a golfball sized lump of its soil would somehow weigh a ton. Thank you for reading that analogy comprised of something I dimly remember from elementary school science class. Do you think Anderson is a dick or a cool guy? He’s married to Maya Rudolph, so I basically imagine that he must be more or less perfect.
Then at Steve’s house, after a heavy Tex-Mex meal and a large margarita, we watched
What a strange, hypnotic, disturbing little film. It intends to disgust and trouble, and it succeeds, yet rarely have I found disgust and trouble so riveting. In the grand pantheon of movies and novels (and real-life stories) about useless privileged pieces of always-male shit just kind of wandering around hurting people and pointing out how stupid everything is, I would rank this one pretty high. It felt like all the most disgusting, hateful elements of Tim & Eric but stripped of all the absurd fun-loving silliness. Just pure, focused abjection. I have always found those guys’ comedy to be unusually self-hating (people always say comedians hate themselves but I feel those dudes take it to a new level) and destructive. I really enjoy their comedy; I find it genuinely hilarious, but I also appreciate its dark constant undercurrent of nihilism and self-disgust. If, as Freud believed, all of human life is based on the struggle between the innate forces of Eros and Thanatos, and that if Civilization is to survive, Eros must eventually win, then the comedy of Tim & Eric represents the submission to the death-drive and the abandonment of all pretense toward love, and thus the rejection of any belief in human goodness or in the possibility of Civilization righting itself. I find it exhilarating and also fascinating. In “The Comedy,” we watch a surprisingly-good-at-acting Heidecker out-Caufield Caufield in terms of loathing everyone in the world. Where Caufield saw everyone as just kind of faking it, Heidecker’s character doesn’t even see anyone as human, least of all himself. I guess he’s a sociopath, but in a really aimless way. I appreciated that the film never even vaguely attempted to make him likable–this is not your classic Overgrown Manchild Finds Love rom-com or the like. In fact, there is a very long scene in which he half-watches a girl having a violent seizure, and almost falls asleep while doing so (see photo above). It’s the moment where, in a slightly dumber kind of film, the character might have found redemption or we might have seen something worth salvaging in him, if he, for example, tried to help her or at least manifested some sort of concern or even consternation, but “The Comedy” resolutely does not go this route. Nothing is ever resolved, nothing is ever explained–he’s just a really rich piece of shit, and he knows it, and that’s the whole movie. It’s excruciating to watch and I enjoyed it. The performances are, I would say, superb. Also features Eric, who as a rule disgusts me a lot more than Tim and who has one of the best scenes in this movie, and what’s his name from LCD Soundsystem.
Then we went and saw
Boy, I sure liked this movie. It also marks the very first time in all my life that I have found Ben Affleck sexually appealing. He’s grossly bearded, shaggy, and in full-on “70s Dad” fashion mode, and yet there is something compelling about him, at last, to my loins.
This movie is apparently based on something that really happened, and that is so crazy I still can’t believe it. Apparently during the Iran hostage crisis, six Americans escaped the embassy and basically wandered around the streets of revolutionary Iran, which were filled with furiously angry people who would have probably torn them limb-from-limb if they’d been seen, and they knocked on the Canadian ambassador’s door and he let them live in his house for 2 months in secret. Meanwhile, everyone else caught in the American embassy was held hostage, in what could only have been extremely stressful conditions, for 444 days. When the CIA found out that these 6 had escaped and were living in the Canadian ambassador’s house, they developed a plan so kooky it just might work, wherein an extraction expert actually went to Hollywood posing as a big-time movie producer, got together a full film–script, cast, crew, financing, director–advertised it with big glossy promo ads in the trade magazines, had full storyboards made and mounted, had press events where the cast did full read-throughs of the entire script, opened an office on the studio lot, and generally made a lot of noise about how he was going to Iran with a 6-member team to scout film locations for a sci-fi movie. Oh and also he pretended to be Canadian. Apparently this actually happened, like in real history, which makes you like the CIA just a teeny bit more (not literally). Bryan Cranston plays the salty CIA dude who okays this bonkers mission and gets to say things like “No sir, this is the best bad idea we’ve got…by a long shot” to a super-pissed Phillip Baker Hall. Everyone in the government thinks this idea is so stupid but literally no one can come up with a better one, so they basically just say “okay give it a shot.” Like, JIMMY CARTER knew about and condoned this scheme. In real life! That is so hilarious.
I could not keep track of who was who in the white house, but there are A LOT of men running around screaming things like “I WANT YOU TO DO YOUR FUCKING JOB” at each other and smoking incessantly. Coach Taylor plays some sort of Chief of Staff who yells manfully into telephones and has a big mop of virile black hair. Everyone else is bald and has absolutely hideous mustaches: hideous.
Well, what a delightful set-up for a picture show! The opening sequence, which depicts the Iranians storming the American embassy, is FUCKING HARROWING. I realized I was literally sitting on the edge of my seat and gritting my teeth. Holy shit!
But this leads me to the main piece of praise I have for the movie, which is that it carefully, consciously REFUSED to demonize the Iranians. Perhaps you will disagree, but I felt very empathetic for the Iranians throughout the film–at no point was I thinking “these horrible villains! why are they being so mean?” Indeed the film opens with a quick run-through of then-recent American history, explaining how Iran elected (? I think) this badass dude who nationalized all their oil and who put the country on track to become wealthy and stable and awesome, but then the U.S., needing said oil, staged a coup and installed their own puppet Shah instead, who was universally loathed and under whom all the cool reforms were rolled back. He also relentlessly westernized the country even though generally people weren’t into it. As revolutionary rage was ramping up, the U.S. evacuated the Shah, who was dying of cancer, and then refused to send him back to his country to stand trial. So yeah, you think the Iranians don’t have a right to storm the U.S. Embassy? Under the circumstances I feel they showed remarkable restraint, to be honest.
And throughout the film, even as you are of course being cinematically manipulated into identifying intensely with the hostages and with Ben Affleck, who just wants to make it to his son’s birthday party, and even as you are biting your fingernails hoping they will escape, there is never any demonizing. At least, I didn’t feel there was. Even the revolutionary guard who almost catches them in the airport during the insane climax is portrayed so humanly, it’s like, yeah, you want our dudes to escape but you’re also very much identifying with the Iranian dude, who is PISSED OFF FOR GOOD REASONS. Also the actor playing him is incredible. I thought about him for hours afterward. Nobody is a kooky caricature; there are no villainous Arabs hindering American freedom or anything like that, really. I think the movie does such a good job of presenting this as a crazy time, filled with people having a lot of justified feelings and trying to steer their country in a good direction; trying to hold other countries accountable for their totally nefarious and evil meddling. Imagine how mad you’d be if Iran came over here, killed the President, and stuck, I don’t know, Donald Trump in office, to rule over us all. That’s a bad example because Trump is so virulently anti-Arab but anyway, let me tell you, I would not like it one bit.
I also enjoyed how the film took big, lazy chunks of time off from the harrowing events unfolding in Iran to show us the delightful antics of Hollywood. See Alan Arkin give a scathing dressing-down to a posturing studio exec! See John Goodman make a bunch of jokes about show biz! See the hilarious press event with the readthrough! What fun!!!!
In conclusion: a good time at movies
I still need to see Cloud Atlas and, surprisingly, that Silver Linings movie, which seems like it ought to be terrible but which reviews are leading me to believe I might like. I’m on the fence about Bond. I’ve never been a big Bond fan. The only Bond movie I’ve ever liked is Casino Royale. I know that is crazy. I think young Sean Connery is gross. I think Bond is a sociopath. I just don’t find those movies compelling, there I said it. Casino Royale was good because he actually cared about a human and that made all the action compelling, plus that movie sparked my short-lived but intense crush on Daniel Craig, now thankfully mostly extinguished, so I look back on it with a certain frisson.