CategoryBrick

November Novies

  • Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story (2007): This was fine! I laughed most at the running drug gag. Casting Tim Meadows is always going to endear your movie to me, as recently evidenced by Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping (2016), that other music biopic spoof that had way more attention paid to its songs than its composition or editing. I think maybe there’s a sense that when people make a movie along these lines, they feel they have something to prove with the soundtrack but not about the form of the film itself? Or maybe they just realize that people are more likely to get up and walk out during a mediocre song than they are during an indifferent sequence of identically lit shots.
  • Parasite (2019): Hbbgngbghghnnhhhhh. Beautiful and intense. I was less scared to watch this (emotionally) than I was of the two Jordan Peele movies I saw this year, and I think I was wrong.
  • Charlie’s Angels (2019): The thing about the Fast and Furious movies, which are accreting their own genre as such things do, is that their original unsteady weaving across tone and essence for four films wasn’t a bug, it was a feature. You can’t redeem the ludicrous if you don’t have something to redeem. I can’t blame Elizabeth Banks for wanting to make a Fast and Furious movie, because making a Fast and Furious movie looks fun as hell! And making women the stars rather than the costars is an improvement the FF series would be well served to try out. But even though Kristen Stewart tries her best, this movie doesn’t sell its own stakes, doesn’t engage with its own queer potential, and doesn’t make any sense. It’s hard to win me over without doing at least one.
  • Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000): Rewatch, for about the forty-first time, because Kat had never seen it. I’d never quite realized what she pointed out afterward: the Young Woman Adventurer genre of late-twentieth-century YA lit, with its cool swords and self-actualization, is what primed me to fall so hard for this movie in the first place. It falls right into place with Tamora Pierce, Robin McKinley, and Cynthia Voigt.
  • That Thing You Do! (1996): When I confessed that I was watching this for the first time, the entire population of Peach yelled my name followed by several exclamation marks, in unison. I liked it very much, but I can’t possibly offer a better review than my friend Elisabeth did nine years ago.
  • 17 Again (2009): The first of two movies I watched in the span of two weeks in which Zac Efron, at a solid three inches shorter than me, plays a high school basketball star. Considering that there is a concrete number in the title of this film, it really can’t seem to handle the arithmetic of its own plot. Even the film’s own Wikipedia entry can’t consistently decide if Matthew Perry is supposed to be 35 or 37!
  • Knives Out (2019): Well obviously this was going to be my movie of the year. I’ve been on the RJ train for a few stops now. The thread I’m starting to see through most of Johnson’s movies is a desire to challenge his audience within the bounds of genre, because he likes surprises and he likes genre. Given the opportunity, he’ll subvert your expectations about plot rather than transgressing or calling out the bounds of the category; he challenges himself to offer perspective on the rules of the story without breaking them. “No deconstruction” is maybe his core constraint. Knives Out, even though it switches genres each time there’s an act break, is still very much an Agatha Christie-style mystery made by someone who loves Agatha Christie and wants to do right by her memory.

    The other thing Johnson has to do every time is include one thing just to fuck with me. Here I am in an April flashback, grumbling tipsily into my telephone…

    … about exactly the accent Daniel Craig sports for the entirety of this film. The thing is, I know Daniel Craig can do a believable American regional accent, because his West Virginia twang in Logan Lucky (2017) was solid! That makes the grievous offense of Benoit Blanc even more baffling.

    I have only one operating theory about what led to this dialectic horror, and it’s not a strong one, but I like it anyway. If Blanc has a manner of speaking that… mostly… equates to a Louisiana drawl, and has a French name, it hints that his ancestors were Acadian: descendants of European colonists and indigenous people who were deported from their homes in a cruel forced migration, but into the United States, rather than out. I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say that this would draw a subtle line between Craig’s Blanc and Ana de Armas’s Marta Cabrera.

  • No Retreat, No Surrender (1986): An awful movie and the centerpiece of one of my favorite nights this year. I’ve had a fondness for Mystery Science Theater 3000 since I first became aware of it, back in the Comedy Channel days, but I was never a dedicated fan until late 2018. That’s when I started relying on marijuana and puppet wisecracks to deal with the loneliness and insomnia that came with the fourth year of my long-distance relationship.

    There is a younger version of Brendan—one to whom this very blog regrettably attests—who would have some choice words for a self who turned to substances for emotional problems. Present Brendan has more than a few choice words for that guy in return. But there’s no need to start 2020 by airing our dirty laundry. The point is, I had a temporary problem with making the time when I felt down pass in a more pleasant way, and I am glad the law and some remarkably cheerful sales experts allowed me to solve it. It worked! And now I live in Chicago and I get to sleep safe-and-soundly next to my fiancée every night.

    The hitch was that my very first experience with THC, years ago, had put me off it for most of the intervening period, because it made time pass much more slowly. I had never experienced chemically induced time dilation—except anesthesia, I guess—and even now that I’m more seasoned it can still wig me out.

    And then I discovered the solution to my solution’s problem: the steady schedule of the Satellite of Love is the gentlest way to reassure oneself that time continues to pass, at both the hourly and the yearly scale. I watched a lot of MST3K while hovering gently above my couch, and it helped relieve my brain of the duty of relitigating the 2016 election when I woke up to pee at 3 am. It doesn’t hurt that I can now relate to the idea of making bots as an isolation coping mechanism.

    All of which is to say that I count myself a devoted if not expert fan of the series these days and it was a happy coincidence that their live show came through Milwaukee the week after I arrived in Chicago.

    Here is my new mystery hat.

    It was pretty perfect. The only TV diasporant aboard was Joel, and this was purportedly his last live tour, but there was some good video action from Mary Jo Pehl and Rebecca Hanson, and I liked the rest of the cast very much. There were welcome surprises in the fictional basis of the show, too, like (spoilers!) GPC succeeding Gypsy so nobody has to say a word that hurts people anymore, and the hint that Emily Marsh (as Emily Crenshaw) might succeed Jonah Ray as host.

    If I counted all the episodes of MST3K as “movies” in my list this year, it would be a lot longer, but also inaccurate because I invariably drift off before it ends. But this one got my full attention—and sobriety, as I had to drive to Milwaukee and back that night—and I was rewarded for it. It’s a different, effervescent, and engaging experience to be present in the room where it happens. I say that like I’m surprised about it even though I got a degree in live theater.

    All right, sorry for being a pothead who talks about his cult basic cable entertainment for like eight paragraphs. One thing that dovetails with this entry is that I’ve noticed my favorite jokes in MST3K aren’t of the “insert a line” or “compare unexpected reference” variety—they’re the wry or exasperated bits pointing out fundamental filmmaking mistakes. Bonus points if Crow name-checks Roger Corman in a way that almost sounds fond.

Okay! It’s 2020 now and the world is frightening but it’s not allowed to go anywhere until I finish writing up my December post! Tune in very soon to find out the truth: did Brendan complete his goal of watching a hundred movies this year? A sentence in your near future will reveal the answer! Yes! Was that extra emphasis or a spoiler? Tune in very soon to find out the truth: wait I already said that!

Technoir

Matthew is running a cyberpunk story game called Technoir for Harry, Alex and myself. It’s very good, and I’m not just saying that because it cites Brick in its inspirations. Here’s part of the mechanic for healing damage: when your character has been tagged with something that describes permanent physical, emotional or social harm to them, you have to get surgery to implant a piece of cybertech that “replaces what has been lost.”

Left implied is that of course it fucking doesn’t, nothing does, that’s not how loss works. But it is how cyberpunk works, in one elegant sentence that happens to be a functional rule. That is brilliant game design. Well done, Jeremy Keller.

In which scrolling through Google Reader gives me a mild heart attack

Rian Johnson is posting like twenty pictures a day to the just-created Brick tumblr, for some reason. Happily, today he included this DVD-cover fan art that I did back in 2005. I always meant to clean that up and redo it; I had a couple other ideas for doing similar treatments of different scenes, but I don’t remember what they were now.

I’ve been thinking about Brick a lot the last couple of days, actually, because it’s occurred to me that I have pretty simple tastes in terms of plot. Give me any of the following and I will squeal with delight (double points for setting it in high school):

  • Emotionally crippled badass tries to get to the bottom of things (Brick, Neuromancer, Veronica Mars)
  • Young woman comes into her own and learns how dangerous she can be (Howl’s Moving Castle, The Privilege of the Sword, Bone, everything by Robin McKinley)
  • Tenuous network of friends and lovers collapses under the simple pressure of human desire (Lovebot Conquers All, Battlestar Galactica, Magic for Beginners)

And, of course, the latter is why I love Scott Pilgrim. Take away the video-game trappings and the fight scenes and the hipster music references and the fourth-wall humor and… okay, don’t take any of those, they’re great. But the real reason I have such an aching priapism for those comics (which I didn’t pick up until 2008! GAH) is the way O’Malley spends so much care and attention setting up what we in the Indie RPG Club call a relationship map. He gets you to like everybody in it, gives them each their own petty little wants, and then lets them tear each other apart.

Not that I would know anything about what that’s like.

The Brothers Bloom

I loved Brick so much that I wish I had more and better things to say about Rian Johnson’s follow-up movie. There were some beautiful shots and some very good gags, and it actually earned a little pathos by the end. But the cleverness was worn way too obviously, there was a surplus of voice-over, all the Double Shyamalans got old, I never stopped believing that Mark Ruffalo was Mark Ruffalo, and there were some distinctly Orientalist aspects to Bang Bang that made me uncomfortable.

On the other hand, I think it passes the Bechdel Test–Rinko Kikuchi and Rachel Weisz are actually the best parts of the movie. And the Brick cameos tickled me. And the movie at least had the sense to joke about its own very overt, very LOOK-HE’S-WEARING-A-WHITE-SUIT symbolism.

I don’t know! It was okay. I’d see it if I were you, and I hope Johnson’s next movie is just a little less ambitious, and meaner.

Google is buddies with Clear Channel now and that makes me unhappy

Quick fanboy bit here, just for the benefit of Google.

There are three significant fonts in Brick, and I accidentally discovered all three of them in separate places. The block title on the posters is in Font Bureau’s Giza. The title that zooms away after the cold open is Todd Bushman’s Cipher. The front of the party invitation is MillaN’s Sand.

Okay, my real top ten:

  1. Brick
  2. Hackers
  3. Sneakers
  4. Punch-Drunk Love
  5. Grosse Point Blank
  6. Spirited Away
  7. The Matrix
  8. Unbreakable
  9. Dancer in the Dark
  10. Toy Story 2 (or maybe The Incredibles, this one is pretty close)

Honorable Mention: The part of High Fidelity where Moby hits Tim Robbins in the face with a telephone

You’ll notice that only two of these movies are older than ten years, and none of them older than twenty. If I get through even a quarter of my Netflix queue this year, this list will probably change a lot; I become more aware daily that I haven’t seen most of the movies that I would like, particularly with regard to noir.

Still, I’d say seven of the above are unassailable. (Consider Hackers pre-assailed.)

The Baxter is dropping Brick this week already! WHAT A SURPRISE. If you are one of the remaining few people I know in Louisville who didn’t get dragged to see it last Friday, let me know and we can go together. I will be seeing it again either tomorrow or Thursday.

Argh. For the record, I figured out why everybody reading this via RSS or LJ got the last fifteen entries today–I didn’t close a span tag when I edited the Brick rave, and RSS readers decided that the whole document was now a) different and b) invalid but readable. Sorry.

Sneakers, Punch-Drunk Love, Grosse Point Blank; Unbreakable just fell out of the top five

It took what, ten years? But early indications are that the #1 spot has finally changed hands. The fact is I know I can’t trust my judgment in the immediate aftermath of a revelatory experience, especially one I’ve been anticipating this much, so I’ll have to wait and see it again before I can make this official.

But I don’t think I’ll change my mind. Sorry, Hackers. Brick is probably the best movie I’ve ever seen.*

* Disclaimer: do not ingest this recommendation without salt. Consider my previous favorite, and that any low-budget indie high school western noir with its own slang dialect and a protagonist named Brendan is pretty much made just for me. Side effects may include shortness of breath and a desire for subtitles. See our ad in Nature. Brick: Thick As What All.

I am hyperventilating

A secret source with the initials “David Clark” brought me first the rumor, then the confirmation: Brick will be showing at the Baxter Avenue Theatres this Friday, June 2, at 12:50, 3:10, 5:30, 7:50 and 10:05. Normally I’d want to see it as soon as I left work, but I’d also like to see it with Maria, who has to electrocute children until after 8:00, and anyway I bet this is a movie better seen after dark.

SO! If you live in or around Louisville and love either a) me or b) good nasty detective stories, please show up at the Baxter for the 10:05 show! It will be a party! I will buy your popcorn!

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