Friday, April 30, 2010

The artistic are not like you or me...

You know, as much guff as I like to give Neil LaBute, it is sometimes hilarious to realize how much more messed-up authors in the past could be. From the Voice's review of Alan Rickman's production of The Creditors:

These same anxieties led Strindberg, at the time of Creditors' writing, to have his penis measured by a doctor and an attendant prostitute, who both "confirmed its normal size."
Give him credit for being thorough in his investigations, at least.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Keep it all in perspective...

Sometimes in an artist's life, you need some sort of encouragement or boost from another artist.

Well, Francesco Marcuiliano (who writes Medium Large & Sally Forth!) has provided us with a resource as helpful as Not Real Arts Jobs.

 Follow this link to find out How to Cope with Artistic Failure.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

"The men are dressed like children; the kids are dressed like superheroes": GREENBERG

Finally saw GREENBERG last night at one of the last theaters playing it in Chicago. It was a well-done movie, that really mined the awkwardness of situations and the problems of the characters for laughs. It might make you hate people for a little afterwards, however. I wonder how Noah Baumbach can still be so misanthropic after having married a woman like Jennifer Jason Leigh. But considering she is credited on the story, maybe it's like that 30 Rock episode where Tina Fey and a popular, handsome guy who asks her out find they share the same withering misanthropy for the human race (genders reversed, in this case, I assume).*

Tim Brayton (whose wonderful Antagony & Ecstasy I have already added to my blogroll) does a much better dissection of the film qua film than I could. So I'll use this post to address a few points he raises in his review.

Tim doubts that we can really like Ben Stiller's title character, that we can really only feel sorry for him. And yes, I mostly agree. Roger Greenberg is excellent at sucker-punching everyone when they let their guard down. There's a rather brilliant moment where, one second after he finally says something nice to his best (perhaps only) friend (played by Rhys Ifans)**, he asks for Ifans to tell him every criticism he's heard about Roger.

The thing is, I had a hard time not feeling empathy (which is a little deeper than pity) for Roger at a few moments. One of them was when his brother starts ripping him apart over the phone because the dog got sick  while Roger is house-sitting. His brother lays into him in such a way to suggest a person pissed off at an incredibly bad employee, not your flesh-and-blood. His brother laments the fact that his dog is sick and he can't be there because he's on vacation. He's not concerned about Roger, who was just released from a mental institution and has been abandoned in an empty house while his family is a country away... by their OWN CHOICE! Which might be an understandable reaction to Roger, but still, to feel less loved than your family dog would really, truly suck.

The other moment was towards the end, when Ifan's character calls Roger on all his shit, including ruining their band's one shot at a career. And Roger says that he knows he screwed it all up, but he never thought the whole band was going to make the call based on HIS decision. He made a really bad decision, that he didn't know the scope of when he was just out of college, and he's been carrying around the blame for that ever since.

As for what GREENBERG's about,  I think it's as much a state of the union and/or eulogy for Generation X as a character study. The casting of Ben Stiller certainly plays into this, given his own significant role as filmic stand-in for Gen Xers (Reality Bites, the Ben Stiller Show, etc.). Greenberg's attitudes towards authenticity & irony, his use of comedy to tear apart other people, his own self-seriousness in contrast to his mocking views of everyone else, all seem very specific (though not exclusive) to Generation X. He's even lived out the rejectionist ethos that Chuck Klosterman identified in his essay on Empire Strikes Back, which he suggests represented every X-ers' desire to not become their parents. Unfortunately, living that life out sucks.

And notice his fear of kids and young adults throughout the films, especially his epic monologue at the party his step-niece throws, about how kids today are better-adjusted and well-trained and that makes them vicious to people like him. And given the way his step-niece and her peers treat him like some sort of amusing pet, who they overindulge unhealthily as much as they do the dog, only to get annoyed at the consequences, it's hard not to sympathize with Greenberg's point-of-view at least a little. Of course, a human should have more agency than a dog, but... well... Baumbach's not really interested in the "should'ves".

I know that doesn't quite say what Noah's message is, but there is something a little more than character study here. How else to explain the apocalyptic/epiphanic tones of Greenberg, walking in darkness after seeing laughing, impressed young adults fishing the drowned rat/skunk (?) out of the pool...

*Do not take that as a dig at Noah Baumbach. I just have an extremely high opinion of Jennifer Jason Leigh.
** If there is a character who symbolizes for this movie what people should be like, it's probably Ifans' character, who is subjected to so much hurt, but never glories in it the way Greenberg does. He's a better friend than most of us deserve, but he's able to stand up for himself when he realizes things aren't going to change. This might not be any kind of ideal, but he's probably the only person in the movie you'd want to hang around with in real life for any extended period of time.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Future events such as these will affect you in the future: FLASHFORWARD

As LOST wraps up its final season with a fair amount of fan argument & disappointment, it's easy to forget how well the show has blended soap opera with adventure, and straight-ahead adventure with an intellectual puzzle game. LOST is one of a very small number of shows where, even when I'm frustrated with the way characters are paired off, I'm emotionally invested in those pairings. And while it looks like (pardon the pun) the creators might not stick the landing, they've kept the show going through 6 seasons, making the numerous changes and compromises (creative & practical) look like part of a relatively coherent, focused show.

All you need to do to realize how difficult this feat is to look at ABC's attempt to create a successor for the show. A show which debuted to high ratings on LOST's old night, which supposedly had 5 seasons worth of material already planned out... and now seems guaranteed to be cancelled after one season.


Tuesday, April 20, 2010

"I can't do this anymore": Lost, season 2, episodes 19


Synopsis: Jack decides that they should try to trade Henry for Walt. Meanwhile, Bernard tries to work towards rescue by building a giant SOS on the beach. When Jack and Kate go out into the jungle to the line to meet with the Others, however, the person that greets them is not who they'd expect.

After the last few episodes, which have fallen a little flat on the character front, we get what is a quieter episode but a more successful character-based one. Bernard and Rose, despite doing very little, somehow seem to matter a lot just because they are one of the island's successes. And what's fascinating about this episode is that Bernard and Rose's problems don't arise from resentment or hatred or disappointment, but from their own love.

So after a very sweet meeting that also encapsulates both characters' approaches to life, Bernard and Rose fall in love. Bernard proposes to Rose, only to learn that she has cancer and it's pretty much untreatable. But whereas Rose has accepted this, Bernard thinks he can fix it with a faith healer in Australia.

Now, in the present, Bernard wants to get them rescued while Rose just wants to settle in to the island. And Bernard's need to do something and Rose's acceptance of life's troubles are what the other one needs and finds charming, but unless they find some middle ground, it will also destroy them. Bernard's drive leads him to waste valuable time, but it's also what makes him still want to commit to what could be a very dire and draining marriage with a terminally ill woman. Rose's acceptance means she doesn't reject Bernard, but it also means that she'll just accept their issues without confronting him.

And once Rose actually confronts Bernard, revealing to him that it's not the faith-healer that cured her, but the island itself, then he can see that what he needs to do is be with her, not affect a rescue.

The whole storyline is very well handled, and the actors playing Rose and Bernard really sell what could be overly sentimental by letting the tiredness and disappointments in life play across their faces. Neither of their plans is made in ignorance or denial, but because their lives have led them to places where they think that is the best way to struggle on.

Grade: A

Other Comments
  • The show's approach to religion and the supernatural is interesting. I don't think we've seen anyone with religious or spiritual faith who isn't motivated to something greater by it or at least treating it as an honest calling. For example, you'd think the faith healer (a Patrick Stewart look-alike) would be a charlatan, but instead he genuinely believes in what he's doing and offers to return money that's been donated when he can't affect a cure. And he turns out to be right in his way.
  • I think it helps soften Bernard by showing him talking to that girl on the crutches as Rose is with the healer. Nice moment that shows why Rose loves him, even as she makes a decision that could really haunt them both.
  • The Island is starting to strike me as some sort of giant immune system, like something out of Grant Morrison. Everyone who comes there in crisis finds their buttons pushed by the Island itself and they either heal or die. Or they heal and then die.
  • On the other hand, really sucks for someone like that guy who broke his leg with the Tailies. Or Boone. Why didn't the Island help heal them?
  • I like Kate's fiery nature coming out at Jack in this ep. From the annoyance she expresses about being kicked out of "the club" to her apology for kissing him... and Jack kind of deserves it.
  • So they're building a church? Hmm... Plus, Charlie gets a replacement savior in Eko!
  • So what happens when the amount of people who want to stay are about the same size as the group that wants to be rescued?
  • And Michael Emerson barely says or does anything in this episode, but every moment he's on, you don't want to look away from him, hoping for some sign of something.

- Hurley: "We built a raft...That got blown up."
- Bernard: "Where's Craig? Where's Frogurt?"
- Kate: "Gonna waste another bullet?"
Jack: "We'll still have 13 more to shoot each other with."
- Bernard: "We won't ever leave, Rose."
- Also Bernard: "I would offer to take down the sign, but we didn't get very far."

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Dept. of Burying Your Lede, Econo-blog Edition

Some day I will post the final part of that blogging Tyler Cowen's book on capitalism & the arts, even though by now I've forgotten most of what's not in that rough draft. Still, today he has a post about the oft-raised idea of a movie stock market, where investors can bet on a film's box-office.

And even though I have to admit I'm not as strong on some of the economic stuff, he does have a good final few sentences about how the highly variable quality of movies (which is what allows the occasional masterpiece to slip through, as well as atrocious misfires), ending with this kicker:

So much of our cultural industries have been built on consumer mistakes and those days are coming to an end, rapidly.

RTWT here (it's only a couple of paragraphs).