Thursday, January 1, 2015

2014 in Shit: Wrap-Up

Twenty three thousand words over twenty three total posts. Largely unread, but goals were met. Here's the rundown.

Fox Drum Bebop by Gene Oishi
[Fox Drum Bebop] is necessarily a political novel, of course. But there aren't, to my knowledge, many discussions of things like the radicalization of young, interned Japanese Americans.
The Midnight After by Fruit Chan
Fuck this movie.
Boss Fight Books Season One
Baumann's Earthbound was a perfect book; it set my expectations low, and the editors from then on did their best to never jostle them too strongly.
American Hustle
What a bad, bad movie.
Crows : Explode by Toshiyaki Toyoda
The first day is now host to a ritualized "first fight" type thing, a bit of an open call for the student closest to taking over the top to tangle with whoever (although it very much seems like a number one contender sort of deal). As the movie goes on, this is hinted at more broadly; there are official rankings maintained by what must be some sort of third party group, that sort of thing. Basically, in the month since Takiya vacated the throne, a sort of Vegas atmosphere has developed, or a boxing/MMA contendership structure, or something
For No Good Reason
For No Good Reason is a documentary about Ralph Steadman, who you better know as the illustrator affiliated with Hunter S. Thompson, or else this movie doesn't give a shit about you. Which, really, is fine, because it's an awful movie that you shouldn't give a shit about.
Birdman by Alexander González Iñárritu
Reading Birdman as a film that is not just an attempt at a technical feat of filmmaking as such, but one which is meant to evoke the experience of the theater which it portrays, would seem to only underscore its position on the thematic argument. But by embedding that argument in the structure of the film, the question of genre (Hollywood vs Broadway, again, which is a slightly different use of the term than I usually prefer but which I think is nevertheless apt) is less something declaimed upon and more constitutive. And I do like thinking about genre, especially as a constitutive factor.
Joe by David Gordon Green
Cage plays an alcoholic struggling with anger issues who becomes a sort of surrogate dad for Sheridan, whose real father, played (often incredibly) by Gary Poulter, is a drifter and a drunk. There's a scene where Poulter murders another homeless man for a bottle of liquor, but that's one of the only moments where Joe becomes the sort of movie that you might expect it would be.
The Tale of Princess Kaguya by Isao Takahata
[M]ore than anything else Princess Kaguya had to teach me how to watch it move. ... [I]t does this beautifully, letting the early scenes linger, giving the viewer ample time to learn to see the hinges and then to see past them well enough to forget they are there.
Hercules by Brett Ratner
Also I think The Rock back body dropped a horse? It might've been a belly to belly suplex. Good stuff. The whole movie wasn't The Rock fighting animals though. I promise.
Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki by Haruki Murakami
(I hate writing about Murakami. Everything I've read about him has been garbage. Everything I write feels the same. I wish I could do some justice to his work. I cannot.)
Short Peace
Drone stuff maybe. I dunno. The whole anthology was kind of a let down.
I, Frankenstein
I feel like there's a genealogy to this movie that exists just outside of my knowledge and taste, and that using it would be the only way I could get a foothold into the movie. I suspect it is something like the Blade films and Blade Runner. Except that I've never seen the former and don't give the remotest shit about the latter. But maybe someone could use that.
Under the Skin
It's a particularly dull kind of criticism that sees its tools translated into its object and uses that translation as a means to valorize that object, though. Which is to say: I don't really care much for movies that do what I like claiming movies do.
Why Don't You Play in Hell? by Sion Sono
I kinda just want people to watch it. So maybe do! I think it's neat.
[T]here's kind of this weird thread of action films in the last few years whose whole premise is that the villains are right wing extremists.
Maleficent's central argument is that everyone in the Disney Animated (Princess) Universe relies on a very rigid set of narrative tropes in order to justify to themselves why they have ended up where they have.
The point is: Godzilla kind of suckered me.
Noah by Darren Aronofsky
I wrote about Noah and authorship and money and pedagogy back in May, and I don't have much of anything to add to that post.
The Babadook
I just like reading a lot I guess. It's neat and I think about it a lot and do it even more and I would like more things to think about it and work on that. Especially things like weird breakout horror films, which is a genre that is basically entirely predicated on cultivating and exploiting intelligent reading practices. It's a good movie though, you'll probably dig it.
Snowpiercer by Bong Joon-Ho
I suppose, had I had a different experience -- like, say, expecting Snowpiercer to be some brilliant Marxist polemic, rather than a film from a director I respected and was excited to see getting to work in a new environment -- I might have also been somewhat disappointed in it.
The Wind Rises by Hayao Miyazaki
I had dreams of writing a big defense of The Wind Rises.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

2014 in Shit: The Wind Rises

I had dreams of writing a big defense of The Wind Rises, Hayao Miyazaki's maybe-it's-real-this-time retirement film about the designer of the Zero fighter aircraft that Imperial Japan employed extensively throughout the Pacific War. I thought I would have the time to dedicate and the energy to follow through in a way that didn't end up coming off as an apology for Japanese imperialism. I don't have either. I'll try, to a certain extent, but the best takeaway I can give is this: The Wind Rises is one of Miyazaki's most gorgeous films, and is significantly more complicated and ambivalent than even its greatest defenders have given it credit for.

Here's the thing: it isn't untrue that The Wind Rises is ultimately difficult to disentangle from mainstream right wing rhetoric and political action in contemporary Japan. There is a reason that Miyazaki had to write an Op Ed decrying the prime minister (and many others) plans to revise Article 9, the piece of the Japanese Constitution that forbids the country from having a standing military. There's nothing directly in the movie that condemns the consequences of the actions of its hero. There is, in fact, a number of arguments made that are clearly attempts to dissociate those consequences from the story being told. Which, at least as long as we're here, I don't think is entirely unfair, given how many of the condemnations of the valorization of Jiro Horikoshi seem like they border on the sort of tactical ahistoricity that they are accusing the film of*. Horikoshi's actions contributed to many horrific things, but saying that the movie is bad because of that is ignoring the conditions that lead to the rise of Japanese Imperialism and allowed for his work in the first place. Which is all to say, I suppose, in a roundabout way: what has been completely absent from the various discourses around The Wind Rises is that Horikoshi couldn't have done what he did without the material conditions permitting it, and those material conditions were ascendant imperialism and military dominance in a then-recently industrialized nation that was undergoing all the social upheaval that goes with those things, and that this all happened at a historical moment coinciding with the rapid development of the technology of airflight. So Miyazaki's "he didn't really mean to/he was a genius used for evil" tack is bullshit because a "genius" for aircraft design is only recognized when the conditions are there for it to be used (and created).

The point, though, is that talking about the designer of these planes should allow us to talk about the conditions under which he designed them, whether or not the dialogue in the movie is amenable to that conversation. Perhaps especially if not. The Western conversation around Japanese Imperialism in the 20th century is still so nasty and useless; so much of it reads like a "but yes look over here," an implicit denial of white supremacy, yet another way to frame the nation as Weird Japan without doing so quite so explicitly. Any discussion of Japanese Imperialism without a discussion of the resistance to it is fetishizing.

And yeah, I think that means The Wind Rises is a fetishizing movie as well. The other evidence for that: the real big narrative about it was that Miyazaki was retiring after this one. It's hard to tell whether that's stuck, but there is a lot about the movie that makes it feel like it is meant to be a retirement film. Not the least of that is how much the narrative of Horikoshi is transformed into a "noble artist working in a compromised medium, but still forging ahead." It's hard not to see the parallel to the man who still insists on the hand drawn animation technique that has been dead or dying for decades in the industry which he leads. So much of the film is an elegy for artistry, and, as gross as that sounds, it can be incredibly touching. There are moments where it feels like Miyazaki knew he had to pull out all the stops, and others where it seems like he just always wanted an excuse to animate a particular thing, so he shoehorned it in to be able to. The meet-cute during an earthquake certainly reads this way to me, and it is easily one of the most effective moments of the film.

But then, that's also how I read the film's end, with the Zero planes ascending into the heavens. Others have taken this as evidence that Miyazaki is intentionally turning a blind eye to the real effects of imperialism, seeing it as a valedictory ascendance, a happy ending for the man who designed the deaths and enslavement of many. Maybe I simply remember it wrong, but I have trouble seeing that argument at all. From my memory, it was bittersweet at best; the final refusal of Horikoshi to come to grips with what he had had a hand in. It was a moment of the artist, final giving up the fight, cedes the meaning of his creation to history, knowing -- no matter how strongly he will deny it -- that the verdict will not be in his favor.

Which is what I mean, also, by saying that The Wind Rises is fetishizing. It is a catalogue of absences, a contorting of what's there into an object that can only ever represent what isn't. And it is beautiful, in a way that means something. Someday I will find the words to say what.

*I'm not including any criticism of the film from South Korea, for obvious reasons.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

2014 in Shit: Snowpiercer

I kept thinking I might end up having shit to say about Snowpiercer. It turns out I hella don't, except that it's great, so I'll just spitball for a second and then let you go.

I was really, really hyped about Snowpiercer coming out, because it completed a weird personal trilogy. Last year saw the first English language releases of two of my favorite directors active right now; Park Chan-Wook's Stoker, and Kim Jee-Woon's The Last Stand. Kim's Tale of Two Sisters and The Good, The Bad, The Weird (and, in a more roundabout way, The Quiet Family) were all crucial to me in learning about film; Park's Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance is arguably the most important movie in my development. The fact that they both got to work for subtitle-averse audiences excited the shit out of me. With Snowpiercer, Bong Joon-Ho entered the field of incredible South Korean film directors that came out with an English language movie in this tiny time frame.

Bong's most famous for The Host, which is a really fantastic monster movie. Unlike Kim and Park, unfortunately, I don't have nearly as strong an attachment to Bong's work; I didn't see The Host early enough, and as much as I loved getting to see Mother in the theater it didn't happen to line up in such a way as to leave as serious an impression on me. These are all weird little things, accidences of biography, but there they are; I wasn't as excited to see what promised to be a train movie with Marxist overtones as I was to see a Schwarzenegger movie about a bordertown sherif. And, I mean, I turned out to be right, because The Last Stand was the best movie of last year, but that's not the point. Or maybe it sort of is; getting to see Snowpiercer for me was some weird mixture of riding the high off of Park and Kim's showings last year and mediated (but still strong) expectations based on my own personal history with watching Bong's films.

I suppose, had I had a different experience -- like, say, expecting Snowpiercer to be some brilliant Marxist polemic, rather than a film from a director I respected and was excited to see getting to work in a new environment -- I might have also been somewhat disappointed in it. I would also be a very different film viewer, and would not be bringing this wonderful series to you, all my lovely readers. Film as prepackaged polemic is hella boring and -- well, weird, I guess I've talked about this for, now, three days in a row -- tends toward the sort of reading practices that foreground the boring version of worldbuilding that privileges narrative coherence over all. As fun as it might have been to grouse about the incidental aspects of Snowpiercer's train-world, the need to systematize things like precisely how the described conditions of, for instance, the food supply, works is weak as fuck. It makes sense, I guess, if you really want the whole to conform to a Marxism (or whatever), but, as magical as it might sound, characters don't need to eat. And, on top of that, they aren't to be taken at their word. Even -- especially -- when they are infodumping in science fiction. It's a technique; just because it is one with a history of being employed without a hint of ambiguity doesn't mean it's devoid. Science Fiction as a whole would be so goddamn boring if you took statements like "this train has been running for seventeen years because we go through a tunnel once every 365 days" to be anything other than a claim by a character with an agenda.

That said, stakes defined; Snowpiercer was an incredibly pretty movie, in the way that elaborate set construction* and tight cinematography and the presence of Song Kang-Ho tend to lend themselves to. Another silly thing: that it was criticized for being videogamelike, which seems like the sort of criticism levelled by those for whom Film as Art is still somehow a proposition that must be adamantly defended. The whole thing goes like this: for the past two decades, on a large scale, videogame designers have cribbed from the language of cinema in order to drive their narrative elements towards respectability commensurate with their sales. This is mostly noted in terms of things like cutscenes in games, where player control is obviated to advance story, but is probably more important in how games (especially since becoming predominantly 3D) pace themselves in order to satisfy both the mechanical ("fun") demands as well as the more traditionally narrative demands. Ever since games started to actually be able to strike some semblance of balance between the two -- I would that this happened in 1998 when Metal Gear Solid, StarCraft, and The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time all came out, but I'd be open to dispute -- films have been accused of conforming to that semblance, largely because of having the things that games cribbed. When movies are like videogames its exciting. Snowpiercer was also exciting but for nothing remotely resembling that reason.

Spitballing doesn't often lead to my talking about the movie as such. Oops. So here's the thing: it's as gorgeous a movie, in terms of set design, as anything I've ever seen. It fucking works, to, by artificially isolating its environments in ways that the structure of cinema makes coherent. And it's a pleasure to watch, framed as it is on terms of class and environmental politics, which are developed on the terms of its spaces. And the whole movie seems mostly interested in making you despise the whiteboy lead, because he is a completely insufferable dick.

There, that's it really; if you haven't, do see it, and keep in mind that the movie is in no way in the corner of the whiteboy lead. He sucks and it knows it, and it shows you that. From the classroom scene's opening relentlessness to the questionable finale to the running of the torch during the tunnel fight scene, whiteboy sucks. It's the best.

*Here's yr worldbuilt marxist critique; the narrative level is a hole-y fabricated space, which is itself a function of a fabricated fragmented set-space. The materials create the condition of possibility. The absence of critique that captures the totality is a consequence of the material fragmentation. Movies aren't fucking magic, keep that Spielberg bullshit out of your mouth; they are real moments. Moments are not the whole, they don't matter, yr trend tracking is worthless, the train is powered by child labor and Ed Harris' performance here is literally identical to his performance in Pain & Gain because of that shit that circulates like M-M'.

Monday, December 29, 2014

2014 in Shit (Bonus): The Babadook

I saw The Babadook about a week ago, which is why I didn't include it in the projected reviews, and why I won't be able to claim that I barely remember any of it in this review. Luckily, I was incredibly tired when I did see it, so I was both a little sour on it and not able to focus as well as I ought to have, so I get to claim those which are effectively the same as not remembering. So good call on me for that.

Here's the thing about The Babadook: I can dig a The Aristocrats joke as much as the next white boy, but when it's told exclusively through masterful sound design and the punchline is that the monster chitters like the fucking Dilophosaurus from Jurassic Park it's all a bit much. Honestly rude, y'all.

No, okay, it was a fine movie. It was probably even pretty great. The monster was pretty fantastic, the sound design really was phenomenal and made the movie clip along with springy tension, the acting was suitably uncanny, and the appearances of the monster (excluding the last one where he's visible and has just come back from Jurassic Park for whatever reason) were exceptionally well done. There were also a number of smaller, gradual things, like how the slow shifting of the mother's perspective over the course of the film was reflected in the cinematography and how the non-central characters were realistically and gradually written out of the film through a series of sudden events, that I thought were pretty cool.

Just yesterday I was talking about the weirdness of being called to watch a movie with an eye towards things like its continuity in worldbuilding and how I both respected and resented it. I had a similar experience, bizarrely, with The Babadook, though this was largely because I was really tired, I think. The introduction of the monster is through a pop-up story book that the child asks to be read after he has had some trouble at school; his mom doesn't recognize it, but starts it anyway. Very early on, there's the monsters name as onomatopoeia; the page in question luckily turns out to be in the trailer, so here's a screencap of it.

You'll notice that it goes "ba BA-ba;" for whatever reason this started to bother me a lot. Particularly when, later in the movie, the mother receives a phone call that turns out to be from the Babadook, who does do the three Dooks but only does two Bas. It's like that through the bulk of the movie; ba BA-ba becomes BA-ba, but DOOK! DOOK! DOOK! stays just the same. It's a bizarre, pointless, nitpicky thing to be worried about, but there's something about how central the noises are to this movie, and how tired I was, that made that whole bit stick out to me. Which might also be the case for the dinosaur sounds, although honestly for everything the movie does right I thought that final confrontation was totally shitty.

There's also the fact that the kids in this movie all had weirdly stilted, adult dialog, but then I'm just kind of finding pleasure in articulating these little nitpicky things (which, to be fair, is at least partially honest to my experience of watching the movie, even if I didn't particularly like that I was doing it then and like it even less now). Anyway.

If there's one thing underlying everything, I suspect that it has something to do with how the movie is one of those horror films that seems unduly invested in its own narrative ambiguity; how this plays out is in the very familiar "the monster may exist but it may also just be some sort of projection/whatever by the characters." It's a thing that a lot of people are fond of praising movies for; it's also something that I find tiresome and defanging. It's the sort of ambiguity that is much more productively left in the hands of readers than of writers, if that's a binary that I'm allowed to invoke despite the bulk of my work being quietly dedicated to dismantling it. When, I guess another way to say it, the ambiguous presence of the monster is a directed subtext of the film, it becomes a discussion of inches; does this scene or that scene more accurately represent the film's reality, do we take her eyes having closed to mean that it was all a dream even if they didn't open until much later, that sort of thing. The existential question of the monster is one that is only really interesting as a structural question; how do we make this whole thing hold up -- not just the narrative, but the POV, the themes, the everything -- in the absence of this generic material? And even that, sometimes, is just a tedious act of debate for debates sake, but it can also be productive in ways that I've never seen the intentional ambiguity be. Or, more accurately, the existential question is at least a step in the right direction, while the subtextual inclusion just resolves into the sort of nitpicky bullshit that I ended up spending my time watching this movie doing.

So what I'm saying is that The Babadook, for all its outstanding elements, falls prey to a form of valorization that propagates what I consider to be bad reading practices, and so I disliked that part of it enough to take pleasure in wielding those against it. It is good though, on the whole. Just don't be one of those people who are like "this is so smart because the monster might just be all in her head" because I don't think that's very smart at all. Or do because who the fuck am I, come on, why would I even pretend like I want people to follow my advice there.

I just like reading a lot I guess. It's neat and I think about it a lot and do it even more and I would like more things to think about it and work on that. Especially things like weird breakout horror films, which is a genre that is basically entirely predicated on cultivating and exploiting intelligent reading practices. It's a good movie though, you'll probably dig it.

2014 in Shit: Noah

I wrote about Noah and authorship and money and pedagogy back in May, and I don't have much of anything to add to that post. You're welcome to (re)read it instead of a new one, though.

I actually forgot to include the other two things I reviewed elsewhen when I was putting together the roundup, so I'll dump those links here too.

At the beginning of the year, I read Green Planets: Ecology and Science Fiction, and reviewed it for Strange Horizons. There was some neat stuff in there and I'd recommend it if it seems like it'd be your thing. Some of it I was pretty not fond of though.

I also read Fighting for Recognition and reviewed it (sort of, at least) for The New Inquiry. It's a book I wouldn't recommend, but that I hope leads to better things. Most of my review has to do with a mobile free to play card game called WWE SuperCard, which I found very interesting. I think I said some neat stuff there.

Is this a break? Has this whole thing been? Who knows.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

2014 in Shit: Godzilla

Back in June, I had a conversation with my friend Aishwarya about Godzilla, which I have reproduced below, slightly altered to make me look like I type like a legible human being on the internet. There is more to her side, but I am starting where I jumped in because I can't find all of her tweets. Apologies in advance.
A: (Except when [Ken Watanabe] brandishes a watch that stopped in August 1945 and is like "Hiroshima," in case you-the-audience had missed this.)
B: That was maybe my favorite moment in the movie (for me, it was [Watanabe] saying Fuck You to the whole thing though).
A: Introducing deliberate cringe, you mean?
B: From the audience (both attentive and not so), from the General (or whatever he was), from himself (presumably).
A: Not sure if it's a sign of how low my expectations are that I was just relieved they didn't claim the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were also America trying to kill Godzilla.
B: The bizarre multitude of explanations for Godzilla's existence definitely made me wary of that too (...which might have been another reason I was so into that scene, actually).
A: I can see that. It was the one non-terrible thing about that moment for me.
B: Yeah, can definitely see that. I was probably too generous with the movie because I got surprised Elizabeth Olsen was in it & I <3 her.
To give a little context; Aishwarya wasn't super high on Godzilla, for a lot of very good reasons. I was pretty into it, although probably a good amount of that was me convincing myself that I was. It's kind of what I do I guess.

There's also a good amount to unpack there. Instead of doing that up front, though, I think I'm going to start with just generalities, and let it unfold.

One of the weirdest things about watching Godzilla was that I ended up enjoying teasing at its narrative/worldbuilt limitations. I spent a chunk of the movie entertaining myself by thinking about why it was, exactly, that Godzilla didn't seem to eat the MUTOs when he killed them. There was some specific piece of dialogue speculating on the meaning of Godzilla that inspired these thoughts, although I can no longer remember what precisely it was. This is partially because of how long it has been since I saw the movie, but it is also partially because a lot of Godzilla is dedicated to folks speculating on what the hell Godzilla is or could be, what the presence of this thing means and how it will act. Which is about as good a thing as you can ask from a big budget Godzilla movie at this point, I think; one that is aware it has a lot of explaining to do and that that explaining will never remotely approach satisfactory. Dazzle 'em with (contradictory) exposition, in other words, or run the risk of allowing the overdetermined to wreak havoc.

Which isn't to say that Godzilla did anything remotely like successfully avoiding that ultimate fate. Charitably, it could be said to have embraced it. Really, really charitably, it could be said to be structured around it; everything from how incredibly white the film was to how Ken Watanabe's character or Elizabeth Olsen's character were portrayed in individual moments could be said to fall into a larger rubric of the impotence of a response to such a messy history by way of the response that all attempts are impotent. Something like that. Or Hollywood or whatever, I guess.

Despite the lackluster showing this year, this whole Year in Shit thing isn't about teaching you how to read films in boring ass ways. Or more specifically, the kind of charitable reading I prefer just doesn't happen to coincide with ideology critique, which that previous paragraph was trending dangerously close to. So, backing up.

The point is: Godzilla kind of suckered me. I found myself watching it in a way that I never watch movie, at least in part because I kind of hate it when I read about someone else's having watched a movie that way. I understand that there are pleasures in that kind of watching, and it does occasionally lead to something genuinely interesting, but I've rarely ever seen it do much than serve as a way to lock shit down. Whether that's alternative readings of a text (with the attendant stakes of differing priorities or methods of valorization) or potential audiences for it (Hi, every two star "As a physicist..." Amazon review), I don't tend to dig it. But Godzilla got me to engage with it, and for that I both respect and resent it.

It would have been pretty sweet if, after Godzilla blasted that one MUTO with his mouth laser through the throat, he started eating it, though. I mean, just in my opinion.

Aside from the way that the exposition in the film seemed to me to be in response to the overdetermination of the subject, what most grabbed me about the movie, as referenced above -- or, maybe more correctly, what most inclined me to be charitable towards it -- was that I was unaware that Elizabeth Olsen was going to be present, and her showing up semi-regularly made me pretty stoked. I've mentioned before that she might be my favorite actor working, and that her appearance in Silent House was what turned me on to her. Her part in Godzilla was, largely, bullshit. She was the upset wife of, uh, whoever that dude was. The main character. I literally have no recollection of who he was or what he did. He sucked.

Olsen was good, though, in that way where she has a total bullshit role and just rides it out until she gets that one opportunity to turn up and she fucking hits it, and that's really all I get in terms of acting. Which brings us to Ken Watanabe.

What Aishwarya was talking about, prior to the parenthetical with which the quote at the top started, was how Watanabe's role was largely reduced to him (very expertly) grimacing at things throughout Godzilla, which I don't disagree with as an assessment of how he was used (or how he acquitted himself admirably, despite that use). Where we ended up differently was our interpretations of one of the only scenes in which he was given something else to do, and I suspect the disagreement stems from the sort of charitable and bizarre mood I felt stemming from those weird things detailed above. Which is one way of saying that I don't really attribute my reaction to the movie itself, but rather to my own temperament; I suspect Aishwarya's response is more accurate to the text as it presented itself, even as I will continue to defend my reading.

The particulars of that scene go like this: a US army general is being all hawkish about Godzilla, threatening, if I recall correctly, to nuke the monster before it can ravage New York City. He threatens this despite the fact that he knows such a course of action will leave the city in the range of the fallout, and all that. He's being a big dumb jerk, basically, as the military personnel ought to be in this kind of movie. Watanabe is in the room where this is being discussed, and is kind of sitting it out at the beginning, just being generally unhappy, and waiting for his turn to actually get involved in the proceedings. When he decides to take his turn, what he does is to show the general a watch in his possession. It's stopped at a certain time that, as he informs the general, happened in August 1945. That time, he then continues, is when fucking Hiroshima was bombed by that general's predecessor or whatever. It's a really strong fuck you that, again if I am remembering correctly, is kind of paid lip service with a fade out and then ignored because a new scene is shown. But in that moment, when Watanabe finally stops being sidelined, it's the best.

Or at least, I thought it was. Because it works to address so many different folks simultaneously, and in each of them there is a veiled fuck you; to the general, who he knows isn't just a hawkish shithead, but is so dull as to not piece together that the "August 1945" reference. To the audience, for whom the same might likely be said. To the movie itself, for elaborating so many different meanings of its monster without once taking into account how those meanings are culturally inflected, and for saddling him with a role of representing those inflections solely through his name and skin without letting him engage them. To all of the above for the aggressive ahistoricism, whether of the lack of need to due military power or to genre for its flattening systems or to the way that this Godzilla seems more interested in rebuking the issues with Emmerich's Godzilla than engaging with any of its other versions. And, in the moment, it even seems a bit of a fuck you to himself, to playing in a movie where he is forced to spell out that Hiroshima was a real thing that happened with consequences, that this world needed stakes that only tokenization could provide it, that everything, really.

I'd go so far as to say that Godzilla is worth seeing for that scene alone. I'm probably wrong about that though.

Other things of note about Godzilla include that Godzilla was pretty great, as a monster. The design was hella goofy though, in a mostly not great way. They did pretty good stuff with it, though. Also there was a weird meme going around that the movie was disappointing because of how little screen time Godzilla got, which I thought was weird and kind of indicative of people watching it who don't watch monster movies? Or whose only previous experience with monster movies was Emmerich's Godzilla, which was panned largely because it was just like two fucking hours of Godzilla stomping around and that shit is really boring? I guess what I mean is less that Godzilla was great in itself and more that it was used pretty well, at least visually, all things considered.

Also Elizabeth Olsen and Ken Watanabe were the shit.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

2014 in Shit: Maleficent

The strangest thing about Maleficent was that it ended up having the exact same issues with Benevolent Queeendom that made me sad about Wreck-It Ralph two years back. Maleficent ends with the least necessary coronation sequence since Ralph, and it's no less offputting then it was then. Except maybe it was a little more, because Ralph at least had things for me to geek out about. Maleficent just had the fact that it was a pretty great movie all told, with one or two really gratifying moments, and then a hot, dull mess for closure.

I remember being less impressed with Jolie in this movie than I'd expected to be, while also realizing how bizarre it was to have gone into a film with expectations of receiving an impression rather than of anything more specific. There's probably a fun spin to that statement but everything I can think of makes me feel like I'm a militant 14 year old with such opinions as 'society is bad' and 'all drugs should be legal' again* so I'll pass on those.

I also remember almost nothing about Sharlto Copley, except that I forgot it was him while I was watching the movie, which is just about the nicest thing I can imagine I'll ever say about the dude.

I also kinda remember geeking out a tiny bit at Jolie's horns, because at first I was like "why did they do her hair like that" and then I thought "wow those look incredibly artificial and shitty" and then the movie had been going for another hour and I was like "oh my god this was such a bizarre thing to commit to and I respect the fuck out of how weird and alienating on an incredibly small scale it has been even as it hasn't affected anything else about the movie for me" so I payed more attention to them than maybe I elsewise would have. Maybe that isn't quite geeking out.

There's a part of me that wonders if Maleficent isn't the purest work of detournement possible. The kind of thing that Debord would look at and smile at with a god damn you in his eyes. It's sort of a perfect movie in that way, even if the real Debord would've had no such reaction.

The big deal about Maleficent wasn't so much that it allowed a Disney villain the perspective of the film, but that it also followed through on that. It's been a long time since I've bothered with any of their famous animations, but it seems to me that the ways in which Maleficent tells her story is very much of a universe with how Aurora or White or Ariel tells hers. There was, if I remember correctly, some complaining about this critically; Maleficent telling her story in some ways made her character flatter, played boring sympathy cards heavy. A shout where a whisper would suffice sort of criticism. These sorts of moments are when the particularities of genre criticism become so useful; if you think of it not as a consequence of audience-pandering or stars or writers, and instead in relation to the rest of the Disney Animated (Princess) Universe, it becomes very easy to see how Maleficent's central argument is that everyone in the Disney Animated (Princess) Universe relies on a very rigid set of narrative tropes in order to justify to themselves why they have ended up where they have. Or, alternatively, that whoever is telling these stories from within the frame has this reliance.

I don't think I'm super down to go that much farther into that thread, though. I'll go back to memory.

I remember being super down with that final detournement, where Jolie's kiss is True Love's. I didn't think of it explicitly in terms of Situationism until just now, I guess, which makes it a lot weirder in retrospect. And I had a Benevolent Queendom to worry about then anyway.

Also, since we're back to that, it was especially offputting in that the initial characterization of the land Maleficent was from was encouragingly utopian. For whatever reason -- I guess maybe the reason is really obvious and tied to the observations about the Disney Animated (Princess) Universe above -- the happy medium between utopia and dystopia in this universe is a fucking monarchy? I don't know man. Videogames and fairies super don't need queens though.

I also remember being pretty into the first appearance of Angelina Jolie in the movie. From what I recall it was largely because it was clearly shot to be this euphoric moment of flight on film, and it wasn't bad at being that, but in a much sillier way than the cinematography seemed to intend. And then Jolie got her big close up on her face and it was also goofy (see: the horns, above). It was cool.

That's about it I guess. Disney Animated (Princess) Universe, narration, goofiness, socialism, detournement. Thanks for playing.

*Yeah okay I know.