Wednesday, July 13, 2016

The Night Of

"I can't be alone tonight."

There's a scene in season one of The Wire where paperwork is being filled in order to secure a wiretap from the court. Showrunner David Simon jokes on the commentary that this is the only show that stresses paperwork. But he touches on something that draws me into these types of crime dramas: the process. The horror of watching an individual get churned through the gears of an indifferent system. The Night Of is another one of those shows that stresses that very process.

The director Steve Zaillian has made a handful of features, some very underrated (Searching For Bobby Fischer, A Civil Action), but nothing really prepared me for this. Right at the start of Pakistani college student Nasir 'Naz' Khan's journey through New York in his father's cab, we are shown through various perspectives of surveillance. All timestamped. The toll booth, the gas station, the police stop later on. You get the sense that you are being prepared for something or Naz is unknowingly being prepared. Things lock into place. Wheels set into motion.

So much so, that after an event like a girl wanting to have him stab her hand has one thinking "how will this ripple outward into this man's life? How will it effect later events?" Zaillian wisely takes that notion and ratchets it up throughout the rest of the hour.

We've had plenty of true crime dramas play out in documentary form: The Thin Blue Line, the Paradise Lost Trilogy, Making A Murderer, The Jinx and most recently O.J. Made In America. What keeps me coming back to The Night Of is Zallian's directorial choices and Richard Price's writing. It's not a perfect opener but it's a hell of a lot better than many other crime shows.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Notes on Notes

"I am a sick man. I am a wicked man."

This is how Fyodor Dostoevsky begins his novella Notes On Underground and what a way to kick things off. The novella is neatly cleaved in two. The first containing most of the novella's philosophical import and the second section reinforces the first through narrative. Now it's important note the footnote toward the beginning of the text.

"Both the author of the notes and the Notes themselves are, of course, fictional. Nevertheless, such persons a the writer of such notes not only may but must exist in our society, taking into consideration the circumstances under which our society has generally been formed."

The Underground Man is not Dostoevsky himself. He was a devout Christian who fought against feudalism. He couldn't have possibly advocated the narrator's views.

Or is it? Dostoevsky does something clever at the end of the book. He directly contradicts his claim at the beginning of book that the Notes are fictional. Now he presents them as if they are being copied. "The notes of this paradoxalist do not end here. He could not stop himself and went on. But it also seems to us that this may be a good place to stop." It keeps in line with the parodoxical claim to love all things and then destroy everything. It's watching an intellectual ping pong between two polar opposites.

As far as philosophical novels go, it precedes Albert Camus' The Stranger and Sartre's Nausea as what is looked upon as the first existential novel. Friedrich Nietzsche would go onto rate reading Dostoevsky as "among the beautiful strikes of fortune in his life," Interesting in that the Underground Man's thought process works off of something akin to a Master Vs, Slave morality. Something Nietzsche would take further in his worldview.

Fyodor was someone whose works were banned in Russia after the Communist Revolution. They were taken to be highly subversive to Stalin's worldview. Being that Dostoevsky was a conservative.
When he was young, he was a socialist and stood in front of a firing squad when at the last minute, a note from the Czar commuted his sentence to labor. So he was sent to a labor camp for four years where he would form most of his thoughts and views.

In his novella, we see that he deals with the concept of freedom and our need to seek happiness out in rational ways. Dostoyevsky's underground man objects to this need. His belief is that for freedom to be genuine, the entire spectrum of possibilities must play out. It shouldn't just be those that give us gratification and happiness. If only happiness and gratification were the case, the automatic choice to choose the pleasant experience would result in us being more mechanical than genuinely human.

Dostoevsky's character celebrates the choice to choose to do something destructive.  To sabotage yourself. Choosing to do something harmful or negative out of pure caprice. Human beings, he puts it, are not reducible to a mathematical algorithm. 2 + 2=4 but can also make 5.

The human capacity to want is another theme explored. Our narrator posits that if one day they find the formula according to precisely how these wants are spread and "what they strive for in such-and-such a case and so forth" that man will immediately stop wanting. Man without desires or wanting is nothing but a sprig in an oil barrel. Is it impossible, then, while preserving reason, to want senselessness? Certainly not according to the underground man. It's a battle against reason.

Notes From, Underground demands your full attention. It dares to show us alternatives to our lives that we never knew existed. Like the best literature, it forces us to confront our darker selves.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Movies I Love: The Godfather

It's a staple of American popular culture. It's been quoted, parodied and spun off a video game. It usually ranks 2nd on the IMDB Top 250 and currently number 2 on the AFI Top 100. Every Thankgiving, AMC marathons the first two films back top back. It's a classic. Sure it is. But I want to dig deeper. Coming up to people and asking them why they love The Godfather and their only response being "It's a classic! It's The Godfather!" Which makes me wonder, do they really like it are do they feel obligated to because of all the aforementioned accolades that has been bestowed upon it?

The first time I ever heard of The Godfather, to my knowledge, was at my grandparent's house. I was in the back bedroom and looking for things to do. I came upon the Mario Puzo novel. I would scan through the novel and come to read major portions of the text. A viewing of the film cemented the idea of what a perfect movie can be. Or to be more succinct, a complete movie. It didn't tell any more story that it needed to. We would get all the backstory in II.

As a teenager, I became infatuated with the movie. I would watch it as many times as I could. Dissect it. Print out a timeline of the Corleone family and a Corleone family tree. Geneology was something I took interest back then which correlates to my love of history. The family sitting around the table. The traditions that was a part of their Sicilian heritage. It felt like opening a door and spying on a family of a completely different ethnicity from me. It was and still is captivating. The first words uttered are "I believe in America." Even though the family hails from Sicily, this story can be applied to America and power systems within. No surprise when it pops up as a favorite among politicians.

More than just that, this was a saga that allowed the viewer to go back even further. Right up to the point where news breaks of Paolo being gunned down during Antonio's funeral.

The Godfather was the first movie that I saw that really captured that feel of generational struggle. Steinbeck's East of Eden would give me this same love of generational struggle but in an entirely different way. Being that it was a saga about a family entrenched in the mafia underworld, it took on the notion of domestic family vs. the Corleone family circle.

I don't know how many movies I can say this about, but it a piece of art that seduces the viewer into paying attention to every detail. Carmine Coppola's score that adds a spell of grand tragedy to the saga we are witnessing. The Prince of Darkness Gordon Willis' photography and the warm yellow and brown hues. Clemenza explaining to Michael how to "cook for twenty guys one day", Sonny writing the time out on the cabinet, the horrific sound of Carlo's foot smashing through the car window as he is being garroted.

The quick zoom in Coppola does while this man is singing. No one talks about it and it has stuck with me from my first viewing.

"Sit down. Finish my dinner."

Michael putting his hands over his head right before he goes to kill Sollozzo, 

The horror of watching this scene play out 

This scene and its mastery of inevitable doom. It's been referenced dozens of times but never quite duplicated. As soon as the toll booth attendant drops that quarter, you know Sonny's fate is sealed.

It's a film that holds me in its grip each time I watch it, finally choosing to close the door on me, an outsider of its world.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

2015: A Look Back


10. Beasts of No Nation (Fukanaga)

9. Mad Max: Fury Road (Miller)

8. Spotlight (McCarthy)

7. The Look of Silence (Oppenheimer)

6. Inside Out (Docter, Carmen)

5. The Lobster (Lanthimos)

4. Sicario (Villeneuve)

3. The Hateful Eight (Tarantino)

2. The Revenant (Innaritu)

1. Anomalisa (Kaufman)

Honorable Mention: Blackhat, Bone Tomahawk, Bridge of Spies, Carol, Ex Machina, Going  Clear, Phoenix, Room

The Green Inferno
Sinister 2

Favorite Male Performances:
Leonardo DiCaprio as Hugh Glass (The Revenant)
Tom Hardy as John Fitzgerald (The Revenant)
Benicio Del Toro as Alejandro (Sicario)
Walton Goggins as Chris Mannix (The Hateful Eight)
Liev Schreiber as Marty Baron (Spotlight)
Idris Elba as Commandant (Beasts of No Nation)

Favorite Female Performances:
Brie Larson as Ma (Room)
Cate Blanchett as Carol Aird (Carol)
Rooney Mara as Therese Belivet (Carol)
Elisabeth Moss as Catherine (Queen of Earth)
Eric Rivas as Romina (Wild Tales)
Alicia Vikander as Eva (Ex Machina)

Favorite score: Ennio Morricone, The Hateful Eight

1. Fargo Season 2
2. The Leftovers Season 2
3. Making A Murderer and The Jinx (tie)
4. Narcos Season 1
5. Ray Donovan Season 3
6. The Knick Season 2
7. Better Call Saul Season 1
8. True Detective Season 2
9. Orange Is the New Black Season 3
10. Mad Men Season 7 Pt. 2

Favorite TV Moments of the year:
1. The Sioux Falls Massacre in Fargo
2. Frank's walk in True Detective
3. The ending of The Jinx
4. Ray's Confession in Ray Donovan
5. Peggy and Don dance to Sinatra's 'My Way' in Mad Men


1. Kendrick Lamar- To Pimp A Butterfly
2. Steven Wilson- Hand Cannot Erase
3. Death Grips- The Powers That B
4. Chelsea Wolfe- Abyss
5. Lamb of God- VII: Sturm Und Drang
6. Between the Buried and Me- Coma Ecliptic
7. Native Construct- Quiet World
8. Leviathan- Scar Sighted
9. John Carpenter- Lost Themes
10. Ghost- Meliora
Honorable Mention: Faith No More- Sol Invictus, Iron Maiden- Book of Souls

Directors I've Discovered:
Roy Andersson
Robert Bresson
Don Hertzfeldt
Kim Ki-Duk
Masaki Kobayashi
Hirokazu Koreeda
Chris Marker
Kenji Mizoguchi
Gillo Pontecervo
Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger
Paolo Sorrentino
Hiroshi Teshihagara
Edward Yang

Bands I've Discovered:
Aphex Twin
Foo Fighters
The Knife
Kendrick Lamar
Janelle Monae
Native Construct
The Police
Queens of the Stone Age
Chelsea Wolfe

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Seen/Read/Heard in January

1/1- The Twilight Zone
1/2- The Life of Oharu (r)
1/5- Concussion, The Hateful Eight (70MM) (r)
1/6- The Big Short, Inside Job (r)
1/8- The Revenant
1/9- The Enigma of Kasper Hauer
1/10- Carol
1/13- David Bowie- Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars
1/14- David Bowie- Hunky Dory, Aladdin Sane
         Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence
1/15- Wild Tales
         David Bowie- Low, Scary Monsters and Super Creeps
1/16- Death Grips- The Money Store
         The Look of Silence
1/19- Cleo From 5 to 7
1/22- Dogtooth (r)
1/23- The Lobster, Anomalisa
1/29- The Simpsons
          World of Tomorrow (r)
 1/30- Songs of A Dead Dreamer and Grimscribe by Thomas Ligotti
          Death Grips- The Powers That B
1/31- The Collected Fictions of Jorge Luis Borges

Friday, January 29, 2016

Favorite moments in film: Three men trade war stories

What is the scariest part of Jaws?
There is the beginning, Alex Kitner's death, the two guys on the dock. These are effective scenes. No denying their power. For my money though, one scene outshines them all: Quint's Indianapolis story.

The set up for it is classic: trading stories about battle scars and singing while on a boat in the middle of the ocean. And then, the old man speaks. Quint delivers the story in the kind of way that an old sage would to two students. Their hanging onto every word and Hooper's reaction tells us everything. "Didn't see the first shark for about an half an hour." All the while Quint tells us what happened to the USS Indianapolis, we hear the waves lapping up against the boat. It amounts to a fear and an experience that none of us would want to have. To be stranded in the middle of an ocean and see a shark fin coming toward us. It's as poignant and vicious a segment in Spielberg's canon or just about any other director's canon. 

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Haberdashery of Horrors

There's been a lot of talk about Tarantino's latest, The Hateful Eight and its treatment of certain character(s). There are spoilers from here on in so be warned.

1. Now seeing that Jackson gets top billing and is the main character,people keep seeing him as the hero or even anti-hero. Look at every Tarantino film before this one and you will likely find one:

  -Reservoir Dogs: Mr. Orange
  -Pulp Fiction: Jules Winnfield and Vincent Vega (the anti hero)
  -Jackie Brown: see title of film...
  -Kill Bill: The Bride
  -Death Proof: Abernathy, Zoe and Kim
  -Inglourious Basterds: Lt. Aldo Raine and his basterds, Shoshanna Dreyfus
  -Django Unchained: Django and Dr. Schultz

In Hateful Eight, there are no Djangos or basterds to save us. We are stuck inside of a haberdashery, due to a blizzard, with reprehensible characters.

Are well not allowed to have a film filled with villains and no heroes? I am not talking about anti heroes either. I am talking vile, nasty human beings. When ambiguity upsets the order of categorizing characters into either heroes or villains, the knives come out.

2. Character Breakdown

Sheriff Marquis Warren: Joined the war for the purpose of killing white folks. Was not flat out executed because he also had a penchant for killing Native Americans.

Chris Mannix: Joined the war for the purpose of killing black folks

Sandy Smithers: The Bloody Killer of Baton Rouge. Notorious for his slaughtering of black folks.

The three aforementioned character's despicable pasts are just that: a part of their story we have not seen. We are only informed about them by other characters or themselves. And while Sandy is the most stationary of those three characters, we also hardly see any of his physical hostility towards anyone. Thus leaving Mannix and Warren. Who become crucial characters in the blood soaked final chapter.

The Four Pasengers (Oswaldo Mobray, Jody, Bob, Joe Gage) are all seen slaughtering the inhabitants of Minnie's Haberdashery. Note that beyond revealing what their real names are (Pete Hickox,Jody Domergue, Marco the Mexican and Grouch Douglas, respectively), we are given little on their background. We know they are part of the Jody Domergue gang and that they are headed to Mexico and that their plan to ambush the stagecoach holding Daisy Domergue backfired on account of the blizzard.

John Ruth: Physically abuses Daisy several times throughout the picture. There is no moral compass that Ruth abides by.

Daisy Domergue: A murderer sentenced to die by hanging in the town of Red Rock.

She allows O.B., someone who didn't hit her once or called her a slur, to drink poisoned coffee which in turn made him puke his guts out onto the floor. She does the same to John Ruth and after doing so, shoots him.And she doesn't warn Mannix about the poisoned pot either, which Mannix himself point out later. This is a woman who laughed in the face of the guy who just puked out blood all over here and had just knocked two of her teeth out. She does the same to him as he threatened to do to her by shooting him in the throat. Without any hesitation or remorse.

The prisoner John Ruth was transporting could just as easily have been a male. Her gender is a means to subvert genre expectations. Which Tarantino has done throughout his whole career. Take a genre, be it the war film or the exploitation flick, and twist it.

3. I see reviews, Matt Zoller Seitz's one more than anything, that point to BOTH racism and misogyny. I, a white male, am not going to tell you that misogyny and racism does not exist or that it does not inform the creators of media that is consumed by moviegoing public.

But the arguments that only point out the fate of Daisy's character and not to anything else is suspicious. I've seen articles discussing Daisy's treatment and that she has no backstory but they don't discuss Warren's treatment.

And if said articles did so, they would be twice as wrong. Warren, a racist himself, is just as hateful a person as Daisy or anyone else in the Haberdashery is, save for O.B.

Everyone loves Django Unchained. Its great revisionist history escapism. Yet it runs the risk of allowing us to disarm ourselves against the racism thatis alive today. As Devin Faraci's brilliant article points out, Django Unchained is the Lincoln Letter. Hateful Eight is where Tarantino reveals the lie about living in a post-racial America. In the wake of Ferguson, Baltimore and Charleston, people still believe in the Lincoln Letter. Is it any wonder he marched in a Black Lives Matter march?

Which leads me to my final point

4. In the 19th century, America was a country filled with racism and misogyny and a propensity for gun violence. In the 21st century, nothing has changed. There is a certain point in the film that, upon first viewing, made me go from liking the way the story was set up to thoroughlly enjoying the set up. It is when Oswaldo Mobray discusses a point between making a dividing line in the middle of the Haberdashery. This a movie with a strong biting commentary. Think about all the aforementioned characters in one place. A place in which even the owner discriminated against a race: Mexicans.

Does The Bride or Aldo or Django use the type of justice that Oswaldo Mobray waxes on about to John Ruth and Daisy? Of course not. They are Tarantino characters. And with the characters of Tarantino, rigging a mansion or a theater with dynamite, using the 5 point palm exploding heart technique on the man that screwed you over, or simply beating a man to death and caving his head in with your boot, is the kind of justice they know. Frontier justice as Oswaldo calls it. There is no hero saving the day and course correcting history.

Oswaldo spells it out for the audience as clear as day: "Justice delivered without dispassion is always in danger of not being justice."

When Mannix and Warren hang Daisy they do it with passionate revenge. Tarantino finds that awful. As one of my friends pointed out, just note when the patriotic music starts playing. It is when they are reading the forged Lincoln letter.

This is a sadistic and perverse portrait of America that offers zero apologies. No wonder people are so divisive about it.