and sometimes poetry

comedy

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.


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


50/50 (2011) | Review by Hannah Brooks-Motl

50/50 is a cancer movie for people who love cancer.

Increasingly the long, flat planes of Joseph Gordon Levitt’s resemble an Easter Island Statue—the child actor petrified in his own talent.

Seth Rogen’s annoying is inversely proportional to his paunch: we almost found ourselves attracted!

Let us consider the effulgent hokum of Anna Kendrick’s career: trapped in a small, chipmunky body, her choice of roles seems hopelessly doomed to that of the good girl, the bitch friend, the single, flowering frond of adolescence waving in the wind—we at once liked her and despised her, her luscious mountain of boob heaving sympathetically, uselessly, at JGL’s precipitous visage, her tight mouth purse…

….

….

….

OMG are we yet fronds in the winds of adolescence, waving?

50/50 is a cancer movie for people who like cancer movies equally as much as they like male sex talk and pot jokes—you do not have to choose: 50/50 gives you insights ranging from “bitches who live with you should be REQUIRED to give you blow jobs” to “do not be afraid to confront the fact of a loved one’s impending death from cancer with them.”

We cried merciless, fecund tears about 7/10 of the way through 50/50; and by “we” I mean Mark and me.

When Mark cries in a movie I can always tell because his breathing gets a little funny, in the way that one’s does when one is trying very hard to disguise the fact that one is crying; but I was also breathing funny, also crying, and at one point I let out a jagged, horrible laugh that I think Mark maybe thought was a great sob of anguish—really I had just endured a vision of our faces if 50/50 were the audience, and we the movie.

50/50 has some woozy shots meant to mimic, I think, the effects of marijuana; these shots in no way made me want to smoke marijuana, nor did they make me wish I had cancer—is this a failure of 50/50?

50/50 was successful as a character-driven movie about potentially saccharine subject matter in that it felt both “real enough” and “enjoyable enough”; while nothing surprising happens in 50/50, you still want to watch scenes to their conclusion.

The qualifying “enoughs” are probably because I am grumpy about the fact that this is yet another movie of “male friendship” in which the inside banter of white, late-20ish men is displayed as though it were some incredible ethnographic find—“Froggy position” you say? Fascinating!

However my normal ire is mitigated because this is a movie of male friendship with the tender edge only cancer can give.


50/50 (2011) | Review by Mark Leidner

Joseph Gordon-Levitt is a great actor because he can play both iconic heroes as well as idiosyncratic wierdos; this movie in any other actor’s hands would’ve probably blown ass.

Rogen’s schtick is getting more efficient. It’s like the Jabba the Hutt of cheap jokes started working out; now his puerile misogyny lands 8 out of 10 punches instead of 15 out of 45.  If he’s going to make it into comedy heaven, Rogen needs to focus. In a few years he’ll be too bloated and hamster-faced for any audience to stand looking at, and will go the way of Jon Favreau.

Felt sorry for the bitchy hot chick, whoever she was; there was a creepily rapey scene where the bros destroy her painting by lighting it on fire and throwing axes at it while laughing. Fuck bitches! Men Rule! ‘S’cool cuz he got cancer.

( Has there ever been a Law & Order SVU episode where the perp is motivated by a terminal diagnosis to commit a series of heinous sex crimes, then gets arrested and tried but dies of cancer before the jury can render the verdict?)

50/50’s LOL-factor was one step above mediocre. Angelica Houston is a good-ass actress. She’s the mom. 50/50 made me want to not get cancer.

It  made me happy that I could cry obscenely in such a medium-good movie. It’s been so long since I cried at all, and the last time I cried, it seemed like I would never stop, so it was kind of nice, knowing the tears were the inspired by temporary, external stimuli instead of something you perceive to be permanent and internal.

50/50 contains one of the best murderous screams of  existential torture I have ever seen (Joseph Gordon-Levitt is a great actor).

Cancer is awful; let us all take a moment in this time of global economical and political turmoil to catch our breaths. Let us remember whatever our differences might be as humans–gender, race, class, language, age, nationality–that death is the common enemy. It is the naturalest and yet oddest paradox that we all degrade, decay, go limp, and plunge back into the nothingness from whence we were summoned, but achieve our highest fulfillment as men and women in the way we attend to others who are closer, or are slipping faster toward the grave than us. Let us not forget the words of me, later, when I say now that whatever is waiting on the other side, heaven can occur on Earth if we all pull together. That doesn’t mean grabbing candy out of our better-costumed neighbor’s bags. That means emptying our own bag on the ground in front of those with no costume at all, walking away into the shadows before they ask our name.


Fright Night (2011) | Review by Hannah Brooks-Motl

I saw Fright Night 3D on the sensible, square-toed, vaguely designer heels of The Debt. I saw The Debt on the trendy and brandless stilettos of One Day. Thus, I was prepared to endure yet one more sphincter-pinching round of the hot, stinky case of IBS that is Hollywood’s late summer. And yet…something felt almost cool, and nearly refreshing, as I moved my mouth around some popcorn, at once taking in awesomely effective squirts of Sprite and the crispy little tapas of subdivision that graces the film’s opening. Mark will say that FN3D suffered from a droopy diaper of a first act. And yet…I rather liked the scenes of the baked cow-patty of houses flung out into the distance of desert, the lights of Vegas glinting menacingly over the horizon. Though perhaps too much is made of the susceptibility of a “transient population of Las Vegas” to vampires, and the perfect cover that population offers because “they work at night and sleep during the day,” and too often, FN3D earns props for neither overdoing its nascent social commentary, nor indulging too indulgently in the meta-narrative that is de rigeur for horror flicks. Twilight gets its kudos, and some limited fun comes out of guessing which vampire tricks actually work in FN3D’s purposefully bland little world, but the greatness of this movie lies not so much in its willingness to inflect other movies as it does in its tentative steps into a world of its own.

I haven’t seen the original and have no plans to. What I liked about this Fright Night was its ranginess, its ability to juggle competing genres on their own terms. There is comic relief and something maybe kinda sorta about…the internet? our culture’s love affair with vibrant, freakish displays?…in the person of someone who is obviously supposed to be and yet is just as assuredly not Russell Brand. Or Johnny Depp. Or Keith Richards playing an old Johnny Depp playing a young Keith Richards. With Russell Brand on a bicycle doing coke off a tiny bicycle-sized rearview mirror in the background. Whatever. I really, really liked this movie’s willingness to call a spade a spade and go balls-to-the-wall on the casual misogyny. There is a scene were Colin “Feral” attempts to intimidate the main character, but cannot go inside because he hasn’t been invited in (score: that Swedish movie). So he lurks at the kitchen’s edge, pacing a bit and sniffing the air, describing the various scents the main women characters in the film give off. It doesn’t look much like he’s acting. And yet the women are allowed to be charactersas well. They don’t just get talked about and done shit to, they talk and do as well. It’s like: women get fucked, but whatever. When the final credits rolled to some sample of “99 Problems” I realized that I had just watched the nearest thing to cinema verite the vapid, desultory end of Hollywood summer season had to offer.


Fright Night 3D (2011) | Review by Mark Leidner

Fright Night 3D bores you with dumbness until you’re about to give up on it, then it bites into your neck with fangs of crazy bullshit. It pleasantly resembles Insidious in this way. An interesting premise that treats you like you are stupid—because, let’s face it, you are—until you forgive it for merely mirroring the void within. Then it rewards those base impulses with likeable weirdos wielding unconventional weaponry in a spree of set piecey fights. Colin Farrell Depps it up with dope, sprawling moronicness. The other guy who should have been Russel Brand but wasn’t was my favorite character only because he overacted on par with the bar the rest of the film set. The main character, a kind of skinnier, nerdier Shia LaBeouf whose name I forget, or rather, never knew and never will, did okay. It’s one of those movies whose first act is so exposition-packed that I don’t fault the main guy for being a bad actor. While he did not save the unconvincing conflicts at the center of these scenes, at least he did not worsen them.

This summer’s Cowboy and Aliens offers an interesting counterpoint. Whereas C& A opens a tantalizing present of premise to reveal a steaming pile of shit, FN3D reaches into a pile of shit and pulls out $5 you didn’t expect would be in there. Leaving the theater felt like having a slightly shitty $5 bill in my pocket. I was excited about washing it off and using it the next day, but kind of sad I would have to wash these pants before wearing them again because they are my favorite pants and it’s raining, so doing laundry was going to be a problem, since there is no washer and dryer in my basement, which means I have to lug a laundry bag two blocks to the nearest lavaderia. In the rain? Not gonna happen. So that shit would still be in the lining of the back pocket of those pants as they sat on the top of my hamper. And yet, no one comes into my room but me. And I would still have that $5. There’s a lot of things you can buy with $5. Well not a lot. But some things that are pretty good cost under $5. And you can buy one or two of them with it.


Scream 4 (2011) | Review by Hannah Brooks-Motl

Never seen any of the Scream franchise. And yet their ethos has never even been a mystery—like, “what’s the deal with that scary movie, it’s about scary movies?” Like also how I’ve never seen American Idol, eaten at a Chick-fil-A, or listened to even a single song by Lady Gaga: their meaning as little splotches of candy-colored culture-poop on the vast sidewalk of media is instantly intuited and adroitly stepped around. Some products don’t need to be seen to be heard. Scream was the lay-man’s materialization of certain tendencies, or sets of jargon, haunting certain sectors of certain academic alcoves during certain decades of the last millennia, and its knowingness was both prescient and belated: in 1996, as I remember it, we were all still adolescents just realizing that a highly cultivated certain attitude  could constitute a kind of epistemology unto itself—ways and levels of ironic awareness, the intricacies of which conferred some painfully pleasurable (dis)ease, some luminescent tumescence…in the ‘90s were we not all initiated into the humid bathhouses of the post-modern? Did we not dip toes in the tepid, bacteria-swarming water, flop our pudgy,  bikinied bellies in the green murk, inhale the wet, musty funk of our immediate, pop-culturey past as it turned instantly and nauseatingly to barely-comprehended idiolect in ritual make-out banter? Isn’t that what Scream, with its sudden plunging of middle-America into the bright yellow pages of Genre Theory for Dummies was all about? Or did I actually miss something?

Scream 4 confirmed, for me, that I had missed nothing by staying away from that particular over-crowded, miserable, and garishly lit pool. Mark may try to convince you that this movie is fun, “like having sex when you’re drunk.” And yet drunk sex often leaves one with guilt, paranoia, infections—a set of real and really uncomfortable realities. Three days after my initiation into the venerable Scream-iverse, I can recall nothing of its codes, mores, and hues, other than Neve Campbell now simultaneously looks svelte and puffy. Also sad. Scream 4 tries really, really hard to be “contemporary”—to prove that its schtick is still meaningful, its currency still pegged to the market of the popular imagination. Once or twice it succeeds. The “Ghost Face” voice is now an app: smart. The opening Matryoshka of movie scenes: also smart. The shrill monologue some tween actress delivers wherein she informs a puffy—yet svelte, yet sad—Neve Campbell of the “new reality of the Internet: it’s not what you do, it’s what gets done to you BITCH!!!!”: not so smart. I couldn’t help but feel that Scream’s kind of self-awareness has a shelf life. Acknowledging your own awareness of the codes and conventions and constraints and reactions and expectations of whatever little mound of culture-turf you’ve claimed is a good activity, but it’s not quite an art. It’s also not exactly entertainment. It’s more like toil—its repetitiveness sunk to mere labor.