Saturday, May 31, 2014


Thinking about movies, particularly American movies in relation to the rest of the world.  I was blown away by Mother and it made me feel a bit sad about the state of American independent film.  This new film, Blue Ruin, is getting decent press.  I was surprised by the smallness of the movie.  And I don't mean small in a good way.  I mean, the ambitions and thoughts put into the film were small.  The story was routine and not particularly well put together.  The acting was low-level.  There was no envelope being pushed.  There was no grand ambition.  My impression of a lot of American films is they are satisfied with merely existing.  They take poses rather than positions.  They say "I belong to this form of pop culture, I listen to this kind of music, I like these kind of other movies, and so forth."  In short, they are largely driven by ego.

Maybe Americans no longer believe in our mythos, particularly amongst the chattering classes.  Maybe we really do believe we are just like any other country and place in the world.  And if we believe that, we should just recede into the shadows and allow other places with bigger ambitions and self-belief dictate the way the world ought to be (Russia/China).

Where is the grandeur?  Where is the belief in something larger than ourselves?  Where are the ideas?  Where is the sacrifice? The tragedy? The joy?

I'll give it to James Gray, he strives for these things, if not always successfully.  And I want to be generous to first time filmmakers.  People need to learn and start small.  But remember, Badlands was a first film. As was Citizen Kane. As was Hard Eight.  Just saying.

Film: Mother by Bong Joon-ho

Is Bong Joon-ho one of the best living filmmakers?  Watch Mother and consider it.  While earlier this year, the American literati went wild for True Detective, over in South Korea five years ago, a filmmaker makes a crime thriller considerably more sophisticated in filmmaking form and narrative style.  Consider the central relationship - a possessive mother has a dim witted son who is accused of committing a murder in a small South Korean town. He is caught and convicted within one scene and the mother insists on the impossibility of her son committing and murder and takes it upon herself to find the real killer.  Both characters are completely unreliable.  The film both uses and upends nearly ever convention of the mystery-thriller and utilizes it utterly unique ways.  Take for instance the convention of learning about a hidden secret about the victim...used in just about every Law and Order episode to lead toward the real killer. Mother waits until near the end of the second act to use this device and instead of it leading to discover the killer, it plunges the character into deeper madness.

As a screenwriter, I was blown away by the storytelling. As a film lover, the direction was stunning - disciplined, evocative, controlled.  No one will talk about some show-offy 5-6 minute tracking shot.  The filmmaker is more subtle and skilled than that.

Memories of Murder and Mother. As much as American audiences love the mystery and crime thrillers, it's shocking the most sophisticated use of the forms are made in South Korea by this one guy.

It look me overly long to notice Bong Joon-ho because I was not a fan of The Host.  Maybe I'll need to revisit, but honestly, his two additions to the mystery genre are enough to cement his legacy as a filmmaker and the guy is still only 40 or so.

Friday, May 30, 2014


Film: The Immigrant

My least favorite James Gray film. Here, Gray gets away from genre and goes for opera. It doesn't quite work on first viewing.  The style doesn't match the content.  It is both too realistic (set design, classical shooting style, acting style, dialog) and then, too stylized (melodramatic plot).  For film watchers, the dialog is too "on the nose" and the characters behave foolishly (unbelievably) at times.  This could work in other forms and clearly he is going for something, I just don't think he quite succeeds.  Still, worth watching.  Formal qualities great.  I still think he gets better performances out of Joaquin Phoenix than anyone else.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014


Novel: They Don't Dance Much

Best noir I've read in a long time.
Dazed and Confused

Watched a bit last night and it made me feel like America used to be a more pleasurable place to live.

Action cinema has become chaos cinema.

Thursday, May 22, 2014


Now that would be a squad:
Your 2014-15 Cavs (potentially): LeBron, Love, Kyrie, Varejao, Tristan Thompson, Jarrett Jack, Dion Waiters and their choice of three ring-chasing veterans who would commit murder to play on that team. A little more palatable than that 2014-15 Heat roster … right?
It'll never happen because predictions by the press never happen.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Decline Is A Choice

Delivering mail is now too expensive. A new proposal to get rid of mailboxes to save money. Really? We can't figure out a cost-effective way to deliver the mail?  Our ancestors really were better people than us, weren't they?

Good article on Westbrook.
When he’s hurt, OKC feels not just worse but smaller. Durant is a glorious basketball player in just about every way. He’s glorious partly because he’s capable of playing the game in exactly the way he imagines it. But no one is capable of playing the game in exactly the way Westbrook imagines it. He raises the stakes just by walking into the arena. Talent hits a target no one else can hit; genius hits a target no one else can see; Westbrook sees a target no one else would even recognize as a target. And once you’ve looked at the moon, how are you supposed to aim at anything else? He’d be the only player in the NBA to vote for an 11-foot rim.
I'd hate to play with or against Westbrook, which is what makes him a fascinating player.  In some ways, he reminds me of Kobe.  Or perhaps, the end of Kobe.
Dumb, Meaningless Criticism

I'm sure Gosling's film isn't good, but if I hear this criticism once more I'm going to vomit:
Here he seems to be just imitating stuff he’s seen on the screen, not in life.
When movie work they get called "brilliant homages" to other films.  When they don't, the filmmaker is a imitator, a hack.  People routinely talk about how awful movies are -- what about the criticism -- which is in my opinion, worse.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Equality as a False Norm

Too much common sense for this day and age. You need to find vintage stuff nowadays.

Monday, May 19, 2014


Last night's Game of Thrones vaulted Tyrion into one of the greatest TV characters of all time, if he wasn't already.  I can't decide which scene was better -- the one between him and Bronn or the one between him and Prince Oberyn.  The Bronn scene was a suburb expression of the limits of male friendship. The Oberyn scene was incredible and Dinklage killed it. His sad reaction to the Oberyn story about Cersi squeezing his baby penis to his joy of Oberyn granting him a new lease on life. What a turn of events!

Sunday, May 18, 2014

American Women

First "Can Women Have It All," then "Lean In," then now another big feature in the Atlantic about "The Confidence Gap."  The central point: how unfair and difficult it is to be an upper-to-upper-middle class American woman these days.  I'm tired of this noise.  American women of this social standing are among the most privileged people to every walk this planet and we are expected to devote cultural energy to figure how this group of people ought to be "doing better." Please.  At least the old aristocrats knew and acted like the privileged people they were rather than lamenting how bad off they had it.
Shockingly Fun

Laser Tag. Beats the hell out of paintball in my opinion as paintball attracts trained military types.

Film: The Yards

American film lovers owe James Grey an apology.  Why is he so neglected?  He gets better performances from Joaquin Phoenix than Paul Thomas Anderson.  The lighting in the Yards is better than anything I've seen in years.  He's trying to make the Godfather, for chrissake.  How do we reward this ambition?  Middling reviews.  Treating the films as middle-tier entertainments.  I am as guilty as anyone. I loved We Own The Night and it's taken me years now to watch The Yards.  All his other films are going to the top of my Netflix cue immediately.

I don't love PTA as much as most film buffs, but I used to think of all the working filmmakers, he had the best chance to make "the greatest film of all time" or the next Citizen Kane type of thing.  I'm not so sure James Grey isn't equally capable.

Friday, May 16, 2014

"Smart Growth"

SF Bay Area housing prices 3x relative to wages since the 1970s, the result of policies designed for "smart growth," ie less growth and the inability of demand to meet supply.

Look - the Bay Area is gorgeous - with tons of still open spaces all over the place. And traffic is still a problem, so I don't have a particular problem with it.  But that's probably because I don't live there and want to buy a house there.

Thursday, May 15, 2014


Film: Legends of Oz, Dorthy's Return and Blue Ruin

Movies done on the cheap, by irregular companies.  Is this the new normal? Take away the tentpoles, and unquestionably more movies made by indy and foreign financing are in the theaters.  They don't tend to be particularly good, but there's still some enjoyment in going to the theater.

Not to get specific, but bad movies possess the same story structure as great movies.  What does that suggest about structure?

The Mob Is Coming

The Liberal mob is coming after everyone. Someone should point out the Internet is helping.
No Free Speech

A number of commencement speakers out because of protests from the left.  We should very much worry about this development.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Magic vs. Donald

I love Magic Johnson, but one must admit his interest in buying the Clippers and outspokenness against Donald Sterling has a whiff of corruptness.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Tryion's Go-To Move: Trial By Combat

Am I the only one who thinks the legal system of Westeros doesn't work optimally?  With the trial-by-combat option, a guilty party always has about a 50/50 shot at freeing oneself while an innocent man can opt for the trial. The theory of trial-by-combat leaves something to be desired.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Flight 370

Another theory: the flight is in Pakistan, hidden by the same group of ISI who were hiding Bin Laden.

The wreckage in the Indian Ocean theory is losing traction because of no supporting evidence other than the radar lead (which is hardly bulletproof).

My question: why?
The Death Of...

...fill in the blank.  Will Self talks about the death of the novel.  Marginal Revolution points to the death of the NFL.

Foolish declarations.  Maybe I should become a bookie and offer futures bets and see whether these folks are willing to put their money where their mouths are.  Too many suckers bet on the new and dismiss the old.  They forget the old have survived the rigors of the world and remained while the new are more likely to die under increased scrutiny and demands for utility.

I predict I'll die before either the novel or professional football.

Film: Neighbors

Wesley Morris liked it.

Eh. I found it pretty forgettable. Mostly just gag after gag. Didn't build to anything substantial, didn't offer anything particularly interesting to say except "Am I still cool?" Made me wonder if it was a movie as opposed to a series of stunts.  Comedy films seem to be moving more towards Borat and Bad Grampa kinda humor -- basically raunchy gags strung together by a weak, uninspired, character arc.

I guess I still hope for a movie to be a movie - to be a story foremost and a genre second - but maybe comedy is different. I laughed a few times, but not very hard, and in no way cathartically.

And so can we safely say Zac Efron is on steroids?
Michael Rapaport

On the BS Report makes a smart comment about editing your movie: first you gotta love it, then you have to hate it.

Friday, May 09, 2014

30 of 32

The Niners passing ranks 30th in the NFL.  Now explain to me why Kaepernick deserves a big contract?  He got the Niners exactly as far as Alex Smith did.  He basically has the same record.  Granted, the NFC West did improve, but still.  Does he deserve the big money?  Do we pay for potential or results?

Thursday, May 08, 2014

Don't Get in a Pissing Match With a Skunk

Shelly Sterling will try and hold onto the Clippers.  The NBA acted emotionally and not strategically when they banned Donald Sterling.  It made everyone feel good for a few minutes, but the whole thing was not thought through.  That said, I am looking forward to seeing how the drama unfolds.  Remember my radical proposal to do nothing.  When this is all over, we will see which was the smarter move.

Let's see if the NBA gets into the business of punishing people for marrying idiots.

Wednesday, May 07, 2014

Spiritual Sickness

Finally, some decent reporting in Deadline. The ASC President talks about a spiritual sickness in the Hollywood filmmaking community.  Also, separate, but related, Deadline also reports that Network TV shows can't find showrunners since they cut back hiring staff writers in the past 10 years.

Every network wants The Sopranos and Breaking Bad, but would a young David Chase or Vince Gilligan get hired today?  And perhaps more importantly, would they get trained?  Do people in the industry feel any responsibility toward the next generation? Toward making good product?  Sure, everyone wants a hit, they want want to be successful, but the overriding sense -- and these articles suggest the work has become about ego, vanity, and money and not about providing memorable stories that help shape a national character.

And I wonder if there is any correlation to the content...isn't it strange how many popular dramas on television presently feature cannibalism (Hannibal, Walking Dead, Game of Thrones)?

Something is amiss.

Monday, May 05, 2014

Yes, They Will

Sooner or later, the mob is going to trample the voice of someone you like.
Online liberalism, as I’ve said many times, is not actually a series of political beliefs and alliances but instead a set of social cues that are adopted to demonstrate one’s class background– economic class, certainly, but more cultural class, the various linguistic and consumptive signals that assure those around you that you’re the right kind of person and which appear to be the only thing that America’s 20-something progressives really care about anymore.

Sunday, May 04, 2014


Film: Le Weekend

Saw this about a week ago.  Very disappointing. Does the world really need another expression of boomer narcissism?  Got late-life love problems? Go to restaurants and hotels you can't afford and stiff them with the bill.  The consequences?  None.  Just safely non-end the film with a Godard reference.  Le Weekend should remind us of the indignity of a life spent trying to be cool.  You will end up a beggar, hating your children, your peers, and yourself.  What a way to non-live.  The director indulges Jeff Goldblum and the result grows more and more tedious through the film.

Friday, May 02, 2014


The NBA suspects ZBo for a Game 7 for a weak-ass incident.  I guess they want to see OKC advance.  Horrible.
The Catastrophe of Suicide

Is suicide a moral affront or a public health concern?  The article argues for bringing back the moral element.  And Louie CK agrees.
Jason Whitlock on Donald Sterling

He's only sensible person on the issue.
In our zeal to appear righteous or courageous or free of bigotry, a ratings-pleasing mob hell-bent on revenge turned Donald T. Sterling -- a victim of privacy invasion and white supremacy -- from villain to martyr.  
In a society filled with impurities, the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers committed the crime of speaking impure thoughts in the privacy of a duplex he apparently provided for his mistress. And now an angry, agenda-fueled mob provoked NBA commissioner Adam Silver into handing Sterling a basketball death sentence.