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Young Adult (2011) | Review by Hannah Brooks-Motl

Say you shave your legs. That razor burn around your pubic area is like Young Adult. It’s pretty ugly and painful, right? I mean, muff-burn is fundamentally unattractive: red, pimply, polka-dotted with in-grown or -growing stubble—there is no section of my corporeal sack I am less pleased with, and yet I cannot stay away. I keep shaving it. It seems worse—to my person, to the world—to not shave, though it be vexatious, though I grimace at the razor’s swipe. Going to see Young Adult is painful in the way shaving, or not shaving, or shaving when your groin’s not really ready to be shaved again, is: unpleasant, compulsive, and, if you think about it too much, pretty self-indicting. But then again—not too self-indicting, since Young Adult, like the decision to shave your legs or not, and how far up to go, and whether shaving cream or just soap, and bar soap or Dr. Bronner’s, and which kind of razor, isn’t something that actually warrants much consideration in 2011, almost 12. I mean, Young Adult’s themes, topi, and attitudes feel similarly sophomoric; its points about culture, narcissism, females, ennui, nostalgia—the large existential points it strenuously tries to make—the stuff of college personal essays. High school sucks. Pretty girls in high school suck. Life after high school also sucks. Everything is kind of sad.

Believe it or not, these are actually realizations I will pay money to see unfold onscreen again and again. But Young Adult manages to stall its own gold mine as soon as the awesomely accurate opening sequence is over. Super hot-shit only a few years ago, Diablo Cody, like a box of Stoned Wheat Thins, has gone stale almost immediately upon opening. Young Adult actually includes chunks of dialogue that go something like: Patton Oswalt: “You’re a piece of work.” Charlize Theron: “You’re a piece of shit.” The movie can’t graduate to real analysis because Cody keeps her characters ensconced in a Big Food caf in which such ice cream scoop-shaped slop is slung. Left to wander the towns & parking lots that bloat and line America’s highways like neon whales, YA’s camera says its thousand words; Theron’s alabaster scowl, picking at her scalp and lining the golden hairs up one by one in a Hampton Inn while the TV spits out reality TV hysterics, its ten thousand more. This movie is disagreeable, which I don’t take issue with. But it’s also not challenging in any real way to watch Theron’s character stumble and embarrass herself—she is so broadly bitchified, so lacking in nuance save for the occasional whiffs of social commentary Cody’s screenplay emits like flatulence, that I only felt: gloatful. As though my own 16 year old self had finally delivered some comeuppance she’d totally forgotten she ever wanted. Which she hadn’t, and she didn’t. Go see this movie if you “hated high school” lol.


Hugo (2011) | Review by Mark Leidner

Hugo could have been more boring if Martin Scorsese had directed it from a chair attached by bolts to the shoulders of a brain-damaged Tom Hanks, like a cinematic Master Blaster of schmaltz. Twenty minutes in I started fidgeting, looking around at the other bougies packed in the theater, wondering if I was in the wrong film. Nay, the wrong skin. I’d read Hugo‘s ecstatic reviews, and heard Scorsese waxing poetic re: 3D on NPR. The premise—an orphan who winds the clocks between the walls of a post-war Parisian train station brings a robot to life, and accidentally befriends real life filmmaker Georges Méliès—seemed promising. But Hugo fetishizes instead of reveals the beauty of its subjects. Clocks, trains, machines, silent movies, and all manner of other steampunk knickknacks brindle brightly to melodic accordion music throughout Hugo, but the story never pushes them past the level of prop. I went in expecting steak and vegetables, salad and wine, cake and ice cream, but got a cotton candy buffet, and exited the theater with a stomach ache in my soul.

Hugo presents filmmaking not as porous, but implacable. Would that a story about the magic of visual storytelling had had a good story to tell itself. The never-ending army of precious objects—heart-shaped locks, flower girls, mechanical mice, blue-eyed children with British accents, blueprints, sketches, automatons, glimpses of le Tour Eiffel—all seemed summoned to underscore an obscure art history lesson: remember this director (who is actually interesting, but whose Wikipedia page is conveys more of why than the movie). Scorsese attempt to exalt art, imagination, adventure, etc; but in pursuit of these ideals, his heroes pay no price. Without stakes, the scenes are leaden, and the theme yawns on: in the adoration of precious surfaces stuffed with good intentions, a piety as dull as it is cheap can be achieved. The beautiful logic of what the clocks mean, how they or any of the other props surprises us, is beside the point if they are shiny, and everything is shot in friscalating 3D™ dusklight, and “celebrates imagination.” It’s haunting to me that a movie supposedly so sincere about art making climaxes at an awards ceremony. Remember that scene in Toy Story 3 where the toys, faced with their imminent meltdown into magma, turn to one another, then decide to hold hands, lest they face death alone? Nothing anywhere near that real or human happens here.


Hugo (2011) | Review by Hannah Brooks-Motl

Hugo brought lots of other movies to mind—Amelie, Ratatouille, Kontrol… I mean, upon exiting Hugo with the rest of the unwitting Thanksgiving-weekend throng, I wished to see another movie immediately so that I might wipe the dull taste of Hugo from the mouth of my poor movie brain, Hugo being like a chocolate-flavored rice cake: containing a necessary trace of hydrogenated vegetable oil, a kind of passable color-flavor combination, but underneath pure tasteless healthy.

The other movies it brought to mind—two set in the same accordion-soaked Paris as Hugo; one in a similar train-station conceit—were far superior if only because their directors showed a defter hand than old Scorsese with the construction of world—construction of viable, idiosyncratic worlds being the only thing any movie, nay work of art, is responsible for—Ratatouille was good because that little rat knew his way around the kitchen in explicitly unknowable ways, his rat-ness driving both story and scenery; Hugo, alas, is neither animated nor particular savvy about its ostensible locale: the eponymous child actor seems barely able to navigate the obvious back-lot he’s found himself on—at one point hiding from the station inspector by crouching in front of some stacked-up chairs.

I mean come on! He’s supposed to live in the station! Know all the crannies! Take us on a mind-whizzing tour—in Kontrol, the main character knew his labyrinth so well he could even sleep there, avoiding the security camera’s gaze, and didn’t Amelie understand the sightlines in her little apartment complex well enough to set up some seriously adorable hi-jinx?

Yet there are so many things wrong with Hugo, it seems unfair to linger on just that one: besides its sins of worldlessness,  Hugo falls flat in an NPR-kind of way. The New Yorker, mine old frenemy, declares, “Hugo is superbly playful,” and yet the kind of blitheness Hugo achieves is distinctly pat, almost platitudinous: art is the arena in which the most trivial kinds of redemption are looped in endless reels of feel good puffery. Everyone ends up smug and satiated in Hugo,including Sasha Baron Cohen’s maimed Station Inspector, who seems to have wandered in from the set of a much funnier, more interesting movie. Had Hugo simply played the old movies it tries to celebrate, with some Ali G commentary to boot, I would have been totally and completely satisfied, my movie mouth full of cavities like it should be.


Take Shelter (2011) & Melancholia (2011) | Review by Hannah Brooks-Motl

Insipidly lovely, Melancholia charts the deadly subdural hematoma of the globalized petite bourgeoisie. Beautiful with pain, Take Shelter charts the last emphysemic wheeze of the American working class. Both movies hew to a kind of apocalyptic realism: vivid colors, slowed or frozen sequencing, wrenching innocent-child symbolism, creepy natural imagery, disturbed and distressingly enigmatic protagonists, poundingly “classical” scores… but only one of these two movies is any good. Where Melancholia bored and angered me, Take Shelter literally drove me sobbing from my seat; whereas Melancholia seemed a confused display of viciousness masquerading as “insight into the human condition,” Take Shelter stressed me the fuck out in a way I can only say felt “real,” as though my life too were bound up in the outcome of whatever it was Michael Shannon was facing—schizophrenia or a true end-of-the-world type situation, I’ll never know—and I found myself praying mid-movie: Please don’t show us his dreams again, Please don’t show us his dreams again…

Melancholia, on the other hand, wants to have its empathy and shove it down your pitiful, tiny throat too. Its characters are less despicable than they are dull—because the movie happens exclusively in a hermetically sealed metaphor (It’s a castle! That’s a hotel! That’s also a golf course! That’s about to explode!), the characters are allowed to reap nothing of context, nothing of reference: we watch them behave badly toward one another and are never asked to care why. Kirsten Dunst is some kind of arch saint for snobby girls, her big boobs a silent rebuke to all those who do not take her depression seriously: she’s seriously depressed guys!

Melancholia: rich people acting shitty and then the world explodes—the final act, in which Dunst gets to tell off Gainsborough for wanting to make the world’s end “nice,” but goes and builds the movie’s kid actor a teepee to sit in as the planet smashes to smithereens anyway, betrays Von Trier’s basic misunderstanding of the human condition.  Take Shelter: even in ending-less form, so pervasively empathic as to let us see anew the thin line we all walk in the stories we tell, or try to tell, each other and ourselves.


Tower Heist (2011) | Review by Hannah Brooks-Motl

Ah, the tower: sturdy symbol of priapic hubris, at once trans-historical (Babel, Pisa, Empire, Twin) and inter-textual (Dante, Shakespeare, Kafka, Crichton), dialectically isolate and amidst its surroundings, lonely, proud, horrifically erect—perfect fodder for the latest blockbuster Hollywood film, Tower Heist

Which interrogates none of these archetypes, explores not one of these fabulae…

Tower Heist: 22.3 minutes aggregate of genuine mirth; 58.5 minutes of pleasurable tedium; 6.2 minutes of self-scandalized am-I-racist-for-laughing-so-hard-at-Eddie-Murphy balls-out hilarity

Walter Benjamin believed we watched cinema in a state of distraction and indeed I was distracted throughout much of Tower Heist

For this movie is obviously about contemporary American poetry

Its dull white poobahs installed at the top of the tower of contemporary American poetry…

Their endless columns holding us all unwitting hostage

While they recline in tastefully spacious apartment, done up with all manner of first-edition, and Darger original, and racks of medium-nice wine, just racks of it…

Hardwood floors; cupolas; hand-signed broadsides of Berryman’s 14th Dream Song…

And the hive of minorities and young people scurrying to keep this all going, underneath and among, in between, dreaming the big, glossy dream ourselves as we hold an elevator, walk a furry speck of dog…

All we want, Tower Heist cannily shows, is just one piece of that pure-gold Ferrari called poetry, we would settle for just one stinkin piece…

A carburetor chapbook…

Hubcap reading series steering wheel residency side mirror grant

Just some gold, just some gold, just some gold to fill our profoundly sparse little hands


Anonymous (2011) | Review by Hannah Brooks-Motl

I don’t want to go into why Anonymous might be “bad;”

Its badness relative to its goodness discomfits me less than the coming onslaught of semester’s end;

The blizzard of Anonymous’s plots twists is of no interest;

Nor the ways in which narrative itself becomes lost in a white rush it both makes and is made from, stumbling through deep banks of its own inconsistencies;

Ill-timed and unmarked flashbacks;

Triple helpings of indistinguishable characters bearing the title “Earl;”

I don’t care that Anonymous stirred the tepid soup of its political intrigue with a splinter of moldy spoon;

That moments of drama sputtered up like stray sexual urges from Maggie Smith’s wrinkly loins; that its themes received more serious treatment in the Elizabeth movies, or Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo and Juliet; nothing perturbs me about Anonymous because people spoke in complete sentences in it;

And some of those sentences were Shakespeare’s;

And the actor playing Shakespeare—

The fake one, the one actually named Shakespeare, not the writer, the actor, which Shakespeare also was, until he became a writer, which he doesn’t in this movie, because he can’t, because Shakespeare is the name of a nobleman, who is actually Shakespeare, though somehow Queen Elizabeth declares that “history will never know his name,” which, how is that possible, the point is it’s not! Complete sentences are the point—

Is a fine actor, and the name “Ben Jonson” is uttered at least 100x, and when was the last time a Cavalier Poet made it into a movie, huh Leidner?


Anonymous (2011) | Review by Mark Leidner

As Anonymous wore on, I wondered if I would remember the world when I reentered it again.

Seven years passed while watching it. I hobbled out of the theater feeling as if I’d been paroled in the waning years of a sentence whose heinous crime I could no longer remember, but had surely committed.

I scratched my beard and wondered, “Was Anonymous more boring? Or confusing?” Impossible to know!

And I almost longed for the blustery drear from which I had been freed.

Rivers of rats are hard to tell apart as they panic and scurry about on important quests; the many figures in Anonymous are equally indiscernible.

A bloated backstory cinched into a present action whose stakes are never established, wrapped within a different present’s cliffhanger, further tucked into a present-day Manhattan playhouse act that elicited nervous LOLs in the first thirty seconds of the movie.

Anonymous was halfway done before I realized who the main character was in the backstory. All characters past and present looked unlike their counterparts in the other timeline; or looked, sounded, and behaved exactly like their foils in the same timeline. I also remember none of their names, titles, or  connection to Queen Elizabeth’s jizz-sticky throne.

The fact that none of the mistaken identity or generic incoherency was intentional ironically highlights Anonymous‘ epic fail: making it abundantly clear exactly who Shakespeare was and wasn’t in the first Act. This liberated the overcooked spaghetti that followed from the one thing that could’ve made it bearable: the mystery of authorship that brought us to the theater in the first place.

The next two hours aren’t insane or explosive enough to be fun. Scenes are orgies of exposition unlubricated by dramatic tension or directional clarity. Wait, who was that? Oh, yeah, okay. Wait, but? What emotion am I supposed to be feeling? Why did they have to do that? grumbled the groundlings in my brain every time someone grandstanded or threatened or stormed from a room.

The only thing that makes less sense than the plot of Anonymous… is why Olivia Wilde wasn’t cast as the young queen? Or any of the other generically buxom roles she could’ve strapped on a corset to portray? In order to entertain myself during the bewildering dullness of every conversation, I pictured a skit where Olivia Wilde gets all excited going to go see Anonymous, but walks out in a rage halfway through because she realizes she isn’t in it. Outside on the street she fires her agent over the phone. Then she listens to The Shins alone in the limo en route to her penthouse.

Payeth not to see this pile of crap / for life is but a dream that ends too soon / and already meaningful, and full / of Everests of crap we come to know / in the theater of human time, for free / by opening our eyes, and aiming them. / Why pay eight dollars for one nightmare more / twining tiny meaning to minor terror / to be piled upon the greater mountain-nightmare / of waking being, which we are ever given? / Heaven being everywhere an error / in an error, the rumor in the rune, / except for fools confusing truth for ruin / who would give new craters to the moon?


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