Here is an obituary of the Harvard philosopher, who has left this Earth. To be honest with you, most of Cavell’s work is over my head. Much of it seems to deal with the ultimate breakdown of language and the difficulty of meaning anything.
Cavell wrote the epigraph for my favorite book:
and at some point, somebody (Etan?) recommended I check out:
which meant a lot to me.
This book is a study of seven screwball comedies:
The Lady Eve
It Happened One Night
Bringing Up Baby
The Philadelphia Story
His Girl Friday
The Awful Truth
These Cavell calls comedies of remarriage. They’re stories (mostly) where the main characters have a history, and the plots involve the tangles as they struggle, fight, and reconnect.
What the book really gets it is: what is revealed about us or our society when we look at what we find pleasing and appropriate in romantic comedies? Why do we root for Cary Grant instead of Jimmy Stewart in The Philadelphia Story for instance?
It’s fun to watch these movies and read this book.
It’s dense for sure. I read it before the Age of Phones, not sure how I’d fair today. But I still think about insights from it.
At one point Cavell says (in a parenthetical!):
I do not wish, in trying for a moment to resist, or scrutinize, the power of Spencer Tracy’s playfulness, to deny that I sometimes feel Katherine Hepburn to lack a certain humor about herself, to count the till a little too often. But then I think of how often I have cast the world I want to live in as one in which my capacities for playfulness and for seriousness are not used against one another, so against me. I am the lady they always want to saw in half.
RIP to a real one!
Let me be clear I don’t really believe this conspiracy. But I DID think of it.
If Moonlight had won, award would’ve gone to Adele Romanski, Dede Gardner, and Jeremy Kleiner, the producers. That’s who would’ve accepted and given the speech. White producers winning for a movie directed by a black man about black characters would’ve been a terrible look for an Academy terrified by its own dismal record on representation and diversity. So, the Academy deliberately staged a mixup. This had the added benefit of helping the Oscars’ other big problem, people tuning out of the telecast, by making wild unpredictable surprises a part of the experience — “you gotta watch to the very end to see what happens!”
Again, I don’t believe this theory, there’s no evidence for it and significant evidence against it. Still sharing it.
The other day I was home sick from work, and Field of Dreams was on TV. Readers will recall Ray Kinsella goes to Boston to track down Terence Mann. What a specific take on Boston! No one is Irish or has much of an accent, and the biggest Red Sox fan is a black guy. Kudos to director Phil Alden Robinson for taking things deeper.
Amazing letter from The Academy. Imagine sending out an email in which you described your own organization’s action of slightly adjusting membership rules as “courageous.”
I made a one minute experimental film of Trump watching Sarah Palin talk.
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OK on we go!
Before we begin: We need to redefine “spoiler.”
Any news about what happens in a TV show or movie shouldn’t count as a “spoiler.” Saying Walter White meets a guy named Tuco is not a “spoiler.” It is perhaps unwelcome information, but you know what, you’ll survive. A true “spoiler” is something that would truly spoil the experience of watching the thing. That is a very high standard. Even then, you’ll friggin’ survive. I gotta say, I watched a recent famous episode of Game Of Thrones and The Crying Game knowing the “spoilers,” and found both to still be very compelling. Maybe my enjoyment was diminished 15%, but I mean come on.
Also I believe you don’t really remember stuff you hear about shows you aren’t watching, so most “spoilers” pass by like harmless gusts of wind.
A passionate Mindy Kaling take I am on board with: it is unmanly to whine about spoilers. Take your spoilers like a man. As a society we’ve become much too weak on this.
These write ups contain no true spoilers, but they assume you’ve seen the movie, so skip as you will.
A word about criticism, too: anyone criticizing anything should begin by saying “it’s really hard and brave to make any work of art. I have never made a movie. Making a movie is a crazy accomplishment. The credit belongs to the man in the arena. It’s a lot easier to sit here and criticize.” BUT: it’s also a good way to get yourself thinking about what you care about in movies and why, so it’s worth doing. Plus it’s fun!
Now I don’t know anything about shots and cinematography and all that film stuff. I do know a little about acting, mainly that it is way harder than it looks and that to make it look effortless is amazing. I do know a little about telling stories.
What I think about with movies is usually the stories so that is where I will focus my attention.
Let’s have some fun with movies!
What the fuck went wrong with this movie? I saw the trailer for it and was moved to near-tears, like “YES! Goddamn it, let’s go rescue The Martian! He will never stop fighting to survive!”
But then in the movie, it’s like who cares. Does the Martian have anyone on Earth who cares about him? Does he have a family? A wife? A mom? A cute kid? Go for it! Tug on my heartstrings! Is a class of schoolchildren watching him?
It felt like The Martian was like deliberately choosing not to do that, out of some kind of integrity or something. As I understand it, the book The Martian was written by an engineer and has none of that bullshit, it’s just hard-ass science. Which, I guess is cool but c’mon. You got Matt Damon there! Give me a reason to care whether he lives or dies!
Also, the Martian has that awesome speech in the trailer about fighting to survive when the shit goes down. In the movie, that speech is plopped down as literally a classroom lecture after the Martian is safe and sound and the movie is essentially over. Who gives a shit anymore?
Ridley Scott is amazing. He made Alien which is as perfect a movie as has ever been made.
He also made Kingdom Of Heaven. I remember vouching for that movie to friends, being like “hey Ridley Scott made a movie about the Crusades. It’s gotta be at least worth seeing!” I believe I was still making this argument to myself, having failed to convince my friends, when I saw that movie alone. It taught me the lesson that a truly great director with near-infinite resources is still left with a piece of shit if the story doesn’t make sense. Kingdom Of Heaven twisted itself into story knots trying to make Orlando Bloom friends with the Muslim guy. Hey man, if you’re gonna make a movie about the Crusades, either do it or don’t. And maybe don’t, because the Crusades were fucked up and I don’t want Orlando Bloom getting involved.
I thought The Counselor was very cool. I think a flaw with the Counselor, which is not really Cameron Diaz’s fault, is that Cameron Diaz is supposed to play a character who is like the pure distillation of female evil. And, that can’t happen because I like Cameron Diaz even when she’s telling me “the slaughter to come will be beyond our imagining.” Maybe that was the idea?
Anyway back to The Martian:
Science-wise: was the solution Donald Glover proposes in The Martian anything? I mean, I don’t know a ton about space travel but I thought the most basic idea is that you’re slingshotting with gravity, how had they not thought of that at NASA?
Worth reading Ridley Scott’s quotes page on IMDb. Two good ones:
I’m a yarnteller. My job is to engage you as much as I can and as often as I can. I love the process and still continue to adore the process, actually. I don’t get attached to anything. I’m like a good antique dealer. I’m prepared to sell my most valuable table.
Never let yourself be seen in public unless they pay for it.
It might be crazy but I did leave The Martian hungry for potatoes.
The writer Caleb Crain has a neat blog, and at this time of year he puts up a bunch of stray matter under the heading NOTES. I printed it out to read at Tatsu, and his take on The Martian was so interesting I ripped it out to save:
(I will also use the word “suthering” now!)
A+ acting I thought by Matt Damon.
Great Debates Topic: Matt Damon is as good at what he does as Tom Brady is at what he does.
Somehow I started following Dublin-based journalist Amy O’Connor on Twitter. She is terrific. Enjoyed her take:
This movie was excellent, very well-made. It dig bug me a bit though why Saoirse got married — like, why include that at that point in the plot? If she’s already married, she doesn’t really have much of a choice in Ireland, does she? At least it’s a lot messier. If she’s married, she’s kind of jerking poor Domhnall Gleeson around, no?
Anyway good film. Why didn’t we get the screener on this one? A rare miss in a bonanza year of screeners.
Kudos to this movie for not shying away from the physical ugliness of the Irish people.
A+ acting by Saoirse and Domhnall.
Into it! Any movie that can get your emotions up around a scene of a woman vouching for her self-invented mop is terrific. Great job.
A+ acting by Jennifer Lawrence. Does it seem like I’m grading on a curve? Well, maybe we’re just blessed with good actors. B+ to Bradley Cooper. A+ to Isabella Rosselini.
Sympathized with this take from the great Tom Scharpling:
Ugh, am I really gonna have to see this? I guess so. Man, I love Charlie Kaufman but it just seems like a bit much to ask me to drag myself to the Arclight to watch some puppets mourn over how the cost of consciousness is despair or whatever.
Ugh, it’s probably great, haven’t seen it, is a thought I had a lot in 2015.
Everyone should read this BAFTA speech by Charlie Kaufman.
LOVED! A triumph! Any movie that tries to really depict the earthy details of some fucked-up primitive period in American history I am INTO! Previous title holder in this category was The New World.
Drudge was not being crazy to hype the bear rape element of this movie. That scene was definitely shot to at least suggest/hint at rape, don’t be cute Alejandro Iñárritu, you knew damn well what you were doing.
Thanks to Cherry for demanding I see this, really might’ve missed it, it seemed like too much snow for me.
Michael Punke, who wrote the book on which The Revenant is “based in part on” (why say that? felt a bit petty) sounds like my kinda guy:
When he was a teenager, he also spent at least three summers working at the Fort Laramie National Historic Site as a “living history interpreter.”
(Should we have seen Fort Laramie’s Three-Mile Hog Ranch in the movie?:
The ranch was described by U.S. Army Lieutenant John Gregory Bourke:
… tenanted by as hardened and depraved set of witches as could be found on the face of the globe. It [was] a rum mill of the worst kind [with] half a dozen Cyprians, virgins whose lamps were always burning brightly in expectancy of the coming of the bridegroom, and who lured to destruction the soldiers of the garrison. In all my experience I have never seen a lower, more beastly set of people of both sexes.
Um, try the parking lot at Whole Foods Bourke!
(Bourke is fascinating, he could read Irish, Greek Latin and Apache. His field notes, Evan Connell tell us, fill eight feet of shelf space. More on him in the next Helytimes Premium.))
And now Michael Punke is the US Ambassador to the World Trade Organization in Geneva? What a dope dude!
Punke allegedly came up with the idea to write the novel while on an airplane, after reading a couple of lines in a history book about real-life frontier fur trapper Hugh Glass. Punke was also working at the law firm of Mayer Brown at the time when he started the book (1997), so he would go to the office as early as 5:00 AM in the morning before anyone else got there to write pages for roughly three hours, and then do his job for eight to ten hours. The book took a total of four years to complete and according to his brother Tim, Punke actually caught pneumonia at least four times during the writing process.
You KNOW I clicked the wiki for Hugh Glass spoilers!!:
Glass was thereafter referred to as “the revenant,” from the 19th century French verb revenant, meaning someone who returns from a long absence, or a person or thing reborn.
After recovering, Glass set out again to find Fitzgerald and Bridger, motivated either by murderous revenge or the desire to get his weapons back. He eventually traveled to Fort Henry on the Yellowstone River, but found it deserted; a note indicated that Andrew Henry and company had relocated to a new camp at the mouth of the Bighorn River. Arriving there, Glass found Bridger but apparently forgave him because of his youth, and then re-enlisted with Ashley’s company.
Man Tom Hardy is fucking crushing it this year.
A+ to him. A+ to Leo as well, although who had the harder job?
Hypothetical: If Leonardo DiCaprio’s sole goal in doing The Revenant was to try to win an Oscar (and I don’t think it was but play along) was pairing himself was Tom Hardy:
a) brave: compete/push yourself with the best to raise your game
b) sensible: not brave, just be with the best and make a good movie and maybe you’ll get lucky
c) an accident: he didn’t consider that element
d) a huge miscalculation: Tom Hardy blew him away?
e) neither, DiCaprio knows the Oscars are a fucked up contest where your work at enacting yourself as a movie star over years matters far more than what you did in the one movie
It wasn’t c.
Hardy made his big screen debut in Black Hawk Down, a great one by Ridley. Now, that movie had a simple, clear story: heroes vs. savages. What’s that? Problematic take? Oh well we moved on.
Says Hardy to The Guardian a few years ago:
So what drives Tom Hardy? “I want everyone to love me.”
And has he got what he wanted? “You get to the point where you can’t please everyone. I don’t want constructive criticism, I want adulation,” he beams. “That’s immature but it’s totally there. King Baby.”
Tom Hardy is truly King Baby.
What a great movie to wrap Christmas presents to or to enjoy even if you don’t really speak English. These guys are doing what they’re doing and they’re great at it. I’m not sure what Vin Diesel does is “acting,” but he’s terrific at it. I don’t like how Tyrese was made to be a bit of a coward and a fool.
In one of the earlier movies, do they show Michelle Rodriguez/Vin Diesel wedding? Let me know, I would like to go back and watch that! Seriously if that happens in one of the movies and you know about that please email email@example.com
It’s good to see Ronda Rousey in movies because it demonstrates how hard acting is. Ronda Rousey, who is brave/confident/calm/controlled/disciplined/tight/skillful enough to fight another person in a cage, is noticeably bad at it.
Had a good time, seemed fun enough to me! Admittedly I was watching while helping build the White House out of LEGOs.
Could Chris Pratt’s character in the movie be the same guy he was in Zero Dark Thirty, further down the road? He was in the Navy in both movies.
I can see an argument that the migration from Laura Dern’s character in the old JP to Bryce Dallas Howard’s in this one illustrates a troubling backslide for feminism.
STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS
A+ job by Daisy Ridley. From her far too brief wikipedia:
Her great-uncle was actor and playwright Arnold Ridley, who played Private Godfrey in Dad’s Army.
Huh! Is that… good?
A Brief Digression
While watching Star Wars I was reminded of a delightful episode from my young adulthood.
As a young apprentice writer in Los Angeles, I heard about a book published in the UK called The Seven Basic Plots. The book was said to be over seven hundred pages long and the life’s work of one Christopher Booker. “My God,” I thought. “This man Booker’s cracked the code! If I can get my hands on this book writing will never be hard again!” So I sent away for it. It arrived, no small book either:
Maybe it should’ve told me all I needed to know that one of the seven plots is “comedy” but it didn’t. With pencil and highlighter in hand, I set to my studies to learn Booker’s wisdom. It started out well enough, but then I got to page 42.
“Oh dear,” I thought. Just to be safe I double-checked the very first words of the very first shot of the film Star Wars:
Uh-oh. Maybe this guy Booker wasn’t paying all that much attention to all these stories?
I wrote to Booker’s publisher, hoping they could fix this error, and they were actually kinda snooty about it!
Anyway. Anybody can get something wrong but it is funny to get something that wrong.
Don’t forget that Mad Max: Fury Road came out this year. What a movie. The main guy starts out the movie hanging upside down being used as a blood bag. Now that is putting your hero in trouble.
I thought at some point, a desire to watch this movie would arise in me. But it never did! I bet it’s great, I hope someday I watch it.
Cate Blanchett is one of the actresses whose face can be made to look most like a bunraku puppet:
Haynes knows puppets and human simulacra:
In 1987, while an MFA student at Bard College, Haynes made a short, Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story, which chronicles the life of American pop singer Karen Carpenter, using Barbie dolls as actors.
THE HATEFUL EIGHT
Damn. This guy is making stuff on such a crazy level it’s lucky just to be alive at the same time as he is.
If you’re a movie critic, how are you even supposed to write about this movie? Just for starters, Quentin Tarantino definitely knows more about movies than you and if you say anything at all, you better be damn sure he wasn’t doing exactly what you’re accusing him of doing exactly on purpose.
I have listened to lots of interviews with this dude. The one on Bret Easton Ellis’ podcast is very in depth. Think what you will of BEE, he has a strong take. (thanks to BJN for the rec).
Listening to interviews with him, hearing about the insane typos in his screenplays, his play-it-backwards-just-for-fun level of total genius not just comprehension but ability to execute in his movies makes me wonder if QT isn’t something like the version of Mozart in Amadeus:
Is there anything this guy thinks of that he can’t make appear on the screen more or less as it popped out of his insane swirling noggin?
Think of the twists and turns and levels for the actors to play in this movie! The stuff for Jennifer Jason Leigh alone!
Imagine QT walking Jennifer Jason Leigh through this character. (Ugh, spoilers warning): “Ok, so, you’re going to be a murderous racist, you’re going to scream the n-word in Samuel L. Jackson’s face, you’re gonna get hit in the face five or six times, your face will be coated in blood and vomit for much of the film, you will play a heartbreakingly beautiful song, but that will be while taunting a man you know is about to die, you will cross and double cross and be a schemer beyond measure and a siren and a charmer and sister and and in the end you will hung and will die twitching, sound good?”
Incredible job by her. All the actors were awesome. A+ to everybody.
How about that Walton Goggins? Are you kidding me? There’s a guy named Walton Goggins? (Imagine the casting department for Justified:
“Uh, who should we get to play Boyd Crawther?”
“Um, Walton Goggins?”
“Wow sounds perfect, but can he do the accent? Where is he from?”
“Alabama, then Lithia Springs, Georgia?”)
Check out Walton Goggins’ blog where he posts photos from his travels and musings:
if Walton Goggins is half as good at blogging as he is at acting ain’t nobody gonna need Helytimes.
Did anybody else think Michael Madsen looks like kind of a roughed-up future version of Andy Jones?
I saw The Hateful Eight twice. First at a WGA screening a couple weeks ago with Medina. We loved it.
Then I ended up seeing it again, at 8:30 in the morning the other day at the Arclight. (I woke up too early because my bod was on East Coast time so I thought hell I guess I’ll go see Hateful Eight again.)
There was much that was illuminated on a second viewing. Here’s a spoiler for you: the 8:30am 70mm showing of Hateful Eight is full of weirdos. Nor what I would call a “ton” of ladies. One guy had brought a girl, but if it was a date it was not a success.
At the intermission a very old man in a Warner Bros. jacket walked to the bathroom muttering to himself “enough dialogue for ten movies!”
You said it pal.
The men’s room at the intermission for this movie, which comes right after Mr. Jackson’s speech about his dingus, is quite an interesting scene.
Got to thinking during this movie about Martin McDonagh’s plays, like The Lieutenant of Inishmore, which ends with the stage covered in blood:
No doubt McDonagh learned a lot from Tarantino, and had the idea to push the stage to its limit of blood. Now you can watch Tarantino himself try the same trick. Spoiler he is good at it and there is a lot of blood on the stage.
There is much to be said for this point raised by comedian Todd Levin:
In my own theater no one was comfortable enjoying the use of that word, the laughter was half distress-call.
I feel like QT gave away the skeleton key to his whole deal on Fresh Air last year:
GROSS: So here’s something I was wondering, I know there’s so much like, you know, African-American popular culture that you really love. And I was wondering when you were growing up if you grew up in an integrated neighborhood, if you went to an integrated school, if you had African-American friends or if your contact with black people was largely through popular culture.
TARANTINO: No, no. I went to a mostly black school. You know, it wasn’t all-black because I was there, but it was mostly black.
TARANTINO: And the different points of my life I was raised by black people, raised in black homes – between my mom’s best friend that I lived a lot of times with her and her family and just the kind of United Nations aspect that my mom’s house was in the early ’70s, right at the explosion of black culture. So black culture is my culture growing up.
GROSS: Your mother had a United Nations kind of home?
TARANTINO: Yeah. Well, it was almost like a sitcom, actually the way we lived in the ’70s because she was in her 20s, she was hot, all right, she was a hot white girl. Her best friend was named Jackie. She was a hot black girl. And her other best friend was Lillian and she was a hot Mexican girl. And they lived in this like swinging singles apartment with me.
GROSS: What impact did that have on you?
TARANTINO: Yeah, well, it was just yeah, it was just, you know, it was the ’70s so it was, you know, I lived with these three hip ladies all going out on dates all the time and dating football players and basketball players and, you know, my mother…
GROSS: Professionals ones or…
TARANTINO: Yeah. Yeah. My mom dated Wilt Chamberlain. She’s one of the thousand.
GROSS: Did that – this is getting too personal, but did that affect your sense of sexuality when you were growing up?
TARANTINO: In what way?
GROSS: Well, because most people can’t imagine their – so many people can’t imagine their parents having sex. And when you’re growing up with like your mother and two other women who are obviously engaging, you know, it makes you think of your own…
TARANTINO: Oh yeah. No, it was…
TARANTINO: You know, she was a woman. She was a, you know, she was living the life. She was having a good time and everything, you know? She was taking care of me, too, so everything was fine. It was hip. It was just cool. You know the boyfriends would come over and they’d take me out. They’d take me blacksploitation movies trying to, you know, get me to like them.
And buy me footballs and stuff. And we’d go to, like, cool, you know, my mama and her friends would take me to cool bars and stuff where they’d be playing cool live rhythm and blues music. And I’d be drinking whatchamacallit, Shirley Temples, I think. I called them James Bond because, yeah, I didn’t like the name Shirley Temple.
TARANTINO: I drank Shirley Temples and, you know, eat Mexican food or whatever. While, like some, you know, Jimmy Soul and a cool band would be playing in some lava lounge-y kind of a ’70s cocktail lounge. It was really cool. It made me grow up in a real big way. When I would hang around with kids I’d think they were really childish. I always used to hang around with, like, really groovy adults.
GROSS: Well, I feel like I know you just a little bit better now.
TARANTINO: Yeah. No, no. You know, Saturday – every time Saturday would roll around, it would become 1 o’clock, everyone in the house (technical difficulties)
(When they come back Terry asks about the New Beverly)
Man, if in my childhood cool black dudes would have sex with my mom and then take me to bars? I would remain quite fascinated with cool black dudes and their sexuality and language and behavior and values.
Two discussion questions about Hateful Eight:
Stories have values. To tell a story you and the audience must share some basic ideas about what’s a good and bad way to act, and a good and bad outcome. For instance, you couldn’t follow The Revenant if you didn’t understand that it’s not great to leave a guy for dead.
So, all stories have morality. The story can be pretty easy-to-agree with principles: surviving is better than dying, say or it is right to seek justice for others or love is good. (Greg Daniels was really good at talking about this, I learned a lot from thinking about things he said.)
What are we gonna do with the morality of a movie like Hateful Eight, where all the characters are, as stated clearly, hateful? What does it mean to get me to root for… their twisted revenge or whatever?Where the only thing in the movie there is to root for, really, is the gleeful shock of seeing chaos and calamity? Where nothing positive emerges at the end except our boyish delight in the total chaos of it all and our shrieking delight in the wicked talents of the filmmaker who made us enjoy at horrible words and deeds?
After ingesting hours of interviews with him, I feel like 1) I like QT and think he is not a bad guy and 2) whenever QT is challenged on something, he demonstrates that while he may not agree, he has certainly thought about the issue as deeply and usually much more deeply than the interviewer.
Like: you can’t charge him with a crime he hasn’t already put himself on trial and acquitted himself for. I’m sure that’s the case here, too.
But is it disappointing to see the talent this guy has and then watch him use it to tell a story that’s just about hateful people destroying each other? Can’t we ask of this guy, “give us a bit more joy than watching a mean bastard get hung?” Is it wrong to ask for some kind of positive energy to come from the movie experience?
I guess that energy comes from the staggering craft of the movie, the “fun” of its outrageousness, but… you gotta know in a movie where they’re screaming nigger at each other like they really mean it plus beating the shit out of a woman and being as cruel as possible, the energy of enjoyment is not gonna be all enriching clean fun.
Is telling an audience a completely unredeemed story like this a tiny bit wrong, wicked? dark magic? Or, is what’s troubling about it part of the point?!
Maybe you could ask the same thing about Moby-Dick and The Counselor and Blood Meridian — at least this movie has cool songs.
Second question: is the way the music swells and the camera rises at the end when we hear the “Lincoln letter” joke meant to be a cruel joke about our civic pieties? the idea that somehow Lincoln is an inspiring figure, whose words suggests progress and enlightenment can be the shared future for the races that share this country, is kinda turned on its head and suggested as a con and a trick? Is the final idea of this movie like “a Lincoln letter — HA! what a buncha saps we all are, when all there is is death and hate and blood and ruin?”
Even knowing it’s fake we’re semi-moved by it, is that the joke? How much we (even Walton Goggins’ Hateful Sheriff) crave it?
OK this has been Movie Roundup! Thanks to all of you for reading. And thanks to these great movies for entertaining me! I really like movies.
See you at the Oscars!
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