Imaginary Conversations, Movie Consolations

I used to hate people like me.

I’d had a turmoil in my life the past week or so, as well as a lot of running around the city, both on account of my now defunct job. One of the few pleasures I could derive from this, other than an ample opportunity to catch up on “60 Minutes” or “This American Life” was the “voice control” feature of my iPhone. Thrusting my iPhone into my compartmental winter coat, I’d let the cool-style iPhone Remote headphones peak out from the unzippered edge and instead of breaking it out to call someone, I’d order it “call Zach Weintraub” or call “Pops Feitel”. I’d marvel as it would repeat their names back to be, mispronounced in a helpful, computerized accent. “Calling Zatch Wine-trob” or “Calling Pops Fetal” it would reply back to me, as if that’s what I said and then, well, it would do it.

When I was in college, a time not so long ago, but seeming longer every day I try to figure out what to do with my life, I hated people who talked with their “Bluetooth Headsets” and walked with their earphones in, mumbling down the block. It seemed like a giant fuck-you to the world around them and a sign of self-purported self-importance that the people they were near were less important, less real than the people they were connected with, unseen.

But when you get used to being ordered around by other people, to the uncertainty, tentative disappointment and easily-broken hope of your own plans, it helps to have a voice that will respond to you, wherever you go. It helps to have something order around that will do it; to be empowered when it is your place to be powerless.

And anyway, it proves a good excuse for the interior-exterior mumbling of my own internal conversation, which periodically leaks out when I become embroiled in memory, reliving situations I’m angry or tense or happy about and talking in those situations as if I was there. It sounds nuts, but it’s natural to me, a way of working out what’s happened in my life, reliving situations and, sometimes, dishing out things I wish I would have said, but just probably-it-was-good that I didn’t say them at the time.

Friends of mine had been having interviews, I included, as my job wrapped up. I was stuck trying to figure out whether the menial labor that someone like “Zatch” was doing was the path I should be trying to follow with “writing on the side” or whether I should keep vying for the seemingly extremely limited amount of entry-level production jobs that I could find. I had no idea, I felt a voice in the back of my head say “both”. But I also felt like, in leaving my last job, I had invariably burned bridges, like a “last relationship” or a “last not-girlfriend” and finally, or again, I found myself in a place direction-less, mentor-less, waiting and applying as my self-worth ticked away.

So what did I do in this state of existential waiting?

Well, duh.

I saw movies.

***

Last night, I went out to celebrate with my friends Chadd and Jake. Chadd had just gotten a pretty damn significant honor: his music video had just been named No. 4 “Music Video of 2009” by SPIN Magazine, beating out such established directors as Jonathan Glazer, Jody Hill and Eric Wareheim (of the remarkable duo “Tim and Eric”). Not only was this an amazing achievement for a 22 year-old director just out of college, but the video was also made with a barely-known artist for literally, 0.1% of the budget of most of the other videos. So I called him up to congratulate him, only for him to tell me that he hadn’t even found out from the magazine (as a 22 year-old, he has no publicist), but from a friend of a friend sending a congratulatory Facebook message.

“Let’s drink to that.” I told him. “But first, Crazy Heart at 7:45?”

Well, I told you I was a film student.

Crazy Heart had been a movie I was looking expectantly to, since it featured one of my favorite actors, Jeff Bridges. The man seems unable to do wrong (at least in the films I’ve seen) whether he’s playing the ubiquitous “Dude”, playing a self-serious burnout writer in The Door in the Floor (severely underrated) or whether he’s just a youngish hapless hacker in Disney’s TRON. I love him. And in this film he delivers the goods. As “Bad Blake”, a Kris Kristofferson pastiche, Bridges sells his part like he was hocking churros on the side of the road: with a smile and a greasy, homey feel. His character is an alcoholic who has abandoned his child and pukes in the middle of sets, but damn if he isn’t likable. As Bridges plays him, “Bad Blake” seems to be channeling something unspoken about country music, something I don’t even enjoy: the purity of an uncomplicated lifestyle, acceptance of your vices and your mortality and embrace of the ever-shifting road. In short, he has all the self-awareness that George Clooney’s character didn’t have in Up in the Air. While lesser actors like Maggie Gyllenhaal and Colin Farrell (not believably “country”) disappoint in minor roles, Bridges never does and while the director can sometime hew to poor choices with his average-to-good screenplay (It is Scott Cooper, the director’s debut), Robert Duvall’s warm presence tied up with the superb songs of T-Bone Burnett (a national treasure at this point), makes for an overall good viewing experience.

As Chadd pointed out last night, Crazy Heart did have the easiest rehab scene of all time (Jeff Bridges stares at some trees and in the next scene he’s at Maggie Gyllenhaal’s door saying “I’m sober”), watching Jeff Bridges in action was a pleasure and I hope he gets the Oscar this year (him or Michael Stuhlbarg for A Serious Man), though somehow, just like how success eludes Bad Blake, I feel recognition might elude him again.

***

Not to keep on going on this story, but Chadd and Jake and I did drink a few after the movie, admiring dirty bars (like the one we were in), complaining about old hook-ups and discussing the confluence between the two. While that lasted for a bit, we were still film students and the conversation eventually turned to the actor Michael Shannon and the film Chadd and I had both seen separately, My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done.

Ostensibly a bit of play-within-a-play adaptation of a classical work (see: Kiss Me, Kate), the Orestes, the movie was actually the attempt of director Werner Herzog to pay homage/mockery towards the films of David Lynch, the film’s executive director. Within the film, which concerns a wacked-out bug-eyed son (Shannon) as he takes some hostages and kills his mom with a Greek sword as figures from his life try to piece together what happened,  their are various Lynchian elements, from the presence of Grace Zabriskie, who acts (marvelously) in a particular Lynch-ian style within the film, to the idea of dissecting performers in their method (see: Blue Velvet, Mulholland Dr.), My Son, My Son is filled with allusions, but also Herzog’s particular style of madness and absurdity. While this sounds kinda wonderful here, My Son, My Son is really only fitfully engaging as Herzog seems to be having too much fun making the movie to really give us anything that too strongly resembles an actual narrative or a sensible plot. What it did offer was some funny performances (a weirdo Werner Herzog-surrogate in Udo Keir’s theater director is well remembered) as well as some other gonzo elements.

In the theater, before the screening, I saw the director (who gave a brief introduction to the film) talking with Willem Dafoe, who plays a not-so-effectual detective in the movie. As they stood in the lobby of the IFC conversing, Antichrist, which Dafoe also stars in, appeared on one of the screens.

“Vat’s that?” Werner demanded jovially of his star. “Vat are you doing ova thair?”

Dafoe gave a crisp laugh. “Acting.” he replied.

I wondered if the implication was that he wasn’t sure how much of that he’d actually done for Herzog.

***

But while Chadd and I disagreed on what we thought of My Son, My Son (he thought that it wasn’t Lynchian in any way and, also, brilliant), we both pretty much agreed on what we thought about Armored.

Namely, that it was fucking sweet.

A few days previous, Chadd and I had grabbed large cans of beer (Two 24-ounce Modelos for Chadd and a 33-ounce can of Sapporo for me) and snuck them into the Loews 42nd St E-Walk 16, in a mostly empty theater to see what turned out to be a damn good B-movie (that it is a B-movie is something that me and Rob-going-to-PA-too-much-to-cultivate his-Beardo Malone and I can agree on). “Zatch” Weintraub would later tell me that it had been receiving bad reviews over on the secret stock floor at Topshop, where he worked, but I didn’t see much proof or reason for badness. A genuine “heist-gone-wrong” movie, Armored actually was about Ty (up-and-comer Columbus Short)  a saddled war-vet older brother who, recently returned from Iraq, is promoted to a guard of an armored truck line, serving with men who call themselves “his brothers”. As Ty is pressed by the foreclosure of his home and his brother’s errant behavior, he reluctantly agrees to the heist, but begins to back out as he sees the eroding souls behind his “brothers” eyes. Obviously what we are talking about here is not the heist, but the War in Iraq, fought for dubious reasons and with atrocities committed in an uncertain warzone. His crew’s decision to kill more and more innocents as the heist goes more and more wrong, echoes that of an out-of-control military operation and what began as serving your brothers, ends up being a question of whether you wish to step in to hell with them.

Or it’s just a fun heist movie with a lot of explosions.

Take your pick.

For this morality play/allegory, we receive an all-star team of actors including Matt Dillon, Lawrence Fishburne and even a recently unseen Skeet Ulrich as another guard with a shred of conscience. And while everythng wraps up perhaps a little too neatly (though it could be read as a deja vu/repeat), the film’s conscious style, its framing, its colors and really, its overall intelligence, suggest the work of other auteurs working in B-cinema, such as George Miller or even Nicholas Ray.

Make such conclusions or not. But when Chadd and I left the theater, our beer cans were empty and we both felt we’d gotten our money’s worth.

***

I’d elected not to see one movie with Chadd, that I decided to take my dad to since I felt like it might be his kind of flick.

The movie was Invictus and I was wrong, not because a Clint Eastwood movie is a bad choice to see with your dad, but because this particular movie sucked balls.

In the vein of such other wasteful, conspicuously self-important Clint Eastwood fare as last year’s Changeling, Invictus is a movie that is conventional, but not conventionally satisfying in the way of some Eastwood’s best films. In the film’s much better first half, we get to see the decisions of Nelson Mandela (played with slightly-concealed self doubt by Morgan Freeman) as he attempts to reform a nation. The messages are obviously similar to Obama-style rhetoric (though that could be as much of Obama’s take-off as Eastwood’s portrayal), but the problem is the delivery system. For you see, while it is fairly thrilling to see an exalted head-of-state attempt to reform his country while his former jailers stand dumbounded, there is no such thrill with watching a bunch of stupid, barely-sketched white people playing rugby. Matt Damon is in typical “Matt… Day-mon” fashon here playing a blond kid who looks stupidly at things and attempts to play Rugby, at first poorly, but then for mostly unexplained reasons much better. The film seems to suggest that national pride spurred on his team to great heights, but if that were true the Red Sox and Phillies, with thier fanatical fans, would win every game. It also seemed to suggest that rugby, more than the Truth-and-Reconciliation committee (here barely alluded to) was responsible for South Africa’s reformation, the idea is laughable, leaving Eastwood to resort to hokeyness to try to win the audience over. What we are left with is predictable schlock with little of Eastwood’s token fear of death or stylized humanity. Instead, the good guys win, the bad guys are humbled into good ones and everyone’s a winner, in a finale that might as well be the Special Olympics.

Hoo-ray.

***

Finally, a shout-out to my friends Jake and “Zatch” who both received festival acceptances this past week, Jake to the Festivus Film Festival, “the festival for the rest of us”, that begins with a director’s paintball ceremony and Zach who auspiciously got word that he was accepted with his feature, “Bummer Summer” into Cinequest. In my teacher Sharon Badal’s word: “That’s big.” Now, he’s off to make postcards and I’m off with a final question:

Me next?

Please?

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One Response to Imaginary Conversations, Movie Consolations

  1. Josh H says:

    1. I dig the A Serious Man reference. He deserves it. And I’m not just saying that because those bastards made the movie I’ve always wanted to, but because he deserves it.

    2. ACTING!!!

    3. Let’s grab a beer.

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