1x13: In school, you usually learn that every story involves at least one of four potential conflicts.
1. Person vs. Person
2. Person vs. Society
3. Person vs. Nature
4. Person vs. Self
In Louie, Louie is constantly going up against all four and loses and loses and loses and loses and loses. In this episode, we see Louie lose his date, he loses in his attempt to go clubbing, and part of his loss in attempting to club and fit in with society is because he lacks the confidence to know what to do, which means he has already lost against himself. If we consider "age" part of Nature, we also see how nature impacts Louie in every episode. When the two cool black comedians introduce Louie to the three attractive girls, they tell the girls Louie is 40. All three girls laugh at this. One says, "Oh my god. Seriously?" And Louie says. "I'm actually forty-two, yeah." Everyone stops smiling. The vibe is ruined. Louie has, again, lost to Nature.
My favorite moment, and I laughed out loud and not just out lout but LOUDLY out loud, was when the one cool black dude is trying to show Louie how to get a girl in a club. There are a bunch of hand gestures, then the guy approaches a girl who has her back to him. He puts his hands on her shoulders, talks in her ear, then they go and dance. It's been obvious since this guy appeared he is confident and awesome. Louie already knows trying to do the same thing won't go well for him. But. Louie plunges into the situation irregardless. He approaches a girl who has her back to him. His hands are raised, ready to land on the girl's shoulders. The girl's friend, facing Louie, screams and points. The girl Louie had been approaching, turns, screams. It's like they saw Frankenstein. Louie has lost to other people, again. But also to himself, again, because it's nothing more than his looks which have ruined a potentially good scenario for him.
When Louie enters the comedy club and does 5-minutes of stand-up, we see two things. One: that stand-up, while great for other people, is therapy for Louie. It's how he puts his defeats into perspective and copes with them. He is able to laugh at everything that happens. Everything that could otherwise demoralize and shatter him. Two: Louie wins. When Louie is doing his stand-up, he wins. All he has suffered fuels him and empowers him and gives him not only the courage to stand in front of people and make them laugh, but the material to stand in front of them and make them laugh. Even after something as brutal as the night Louie has had, he is able to make himself laugh, make other people laugh, and come out on top.
The show says a lot too about how being a good and loving parent can keep you sane. Louie, as I've detailed, loses and loses. But he always wins the love of his two girls. Louie says in this episode that he is the best masturbator in the world and also a good parent. These are the two things that he knows, at the end of the day, he has going for him. So many shows complicate family dynamics. They create conflict within the family to demonstrate family as polaristic: simultaneously the greatest frustration while being the greatest fount of joy. Films and Television shows love this shit. Brave with its stupid tagline at the end of its trailer of "Family is king". Everyone knows how important family is. It's not something I need a movie or a television show to remind me of. What I love about Louie is how simple it makes the whole thing. Louie loves his daughters. Yes, they complicate and frustrate him, but it's not the main source of conflict. This is a nice change of pace, because not everyone's family is polarized. People aren't consistently mean to each other then nice-when-it-counts because that's-what-family-is-for. Instead of simplifying the rest of life and complicating family, Louie is a show that complicates the rest of life and simplifies family. I can appreciate that. I think it's an interesting stance to take. Much in the way of Seinfeld never creating major conflict within the nucleus of Jerry-George-Elaine-Kramer.
Ending with the camera panning from the dark sky to the dawning sky, with the song talking about a new morning, while cheesy, is also well-done because it's one shot. Yes, I put that much emphasis on not cutting.
1x11: This is the episode where kid-Louie learns about Jesus's crucifixion. I'm going to go on record and say: there has never been an episode of television that's more like high-quality literature than this. When the doctor has kid-Louie hold the nail to his friend's arm and then the doctor yells at Louie to spike the nail into his friend's arm...it's insane. On the one hand, you know this is Louie! He could potentially do it. Wouldn't that be horrific?!?! On the other, this is Louie. We see, episode after episode, how "pathetic" he is. Of course he can't do it. As an adult, we know Louie is defeated at every turn. But here we see how early it started. And maybe even why he is so often reduced to acquiescing. To go from having kid-Louie so helpless as the doctor yells at him, to kid-Louie "saving" Jesus in the middle of the night...that's powerful.
This "saving" is, to me, also interesting commentary on Catholicism. There's so much talk about Jesus suffering and suffering and suffering. And here the image of him nailed, flesh torn, pierced has spanned generations...why do people continue to leave Jesus in that state of being? You can see kid-Louie wondering why no one does anything for Jesus. You could argue, I guess, that had Louie stayed in his Catholic school he would learn more about Jesus's rebirth, etc. etc. But here the show is presenting us with a quandary: what does the guilt do for us? Does it just cow us? The larger question, in terms of the show: has Louie ever recovered from the experience? I guess I'm not taking into consideration what Louie was like BEFORE the crucifix explanation, but we see the trauma it caused. And we know the type of person Louie becomes: someone who is hesitant to act, is often debilitated by what he encounters in the world.
This is the closest TV has come to walking in-step with Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, which is considered one of the best novels ever. Yes, I'm saying Louie is, in terms of "art", one of the best TV shows ever.
Season 4, episodes 9 and 10:
I uh...I still don't really "care" about any of the contestants. I can't remember how I felt during season 2 and 3. Most of the performances I remember are from knockout rounds and on? But I still remember enjoying the contestants more than the judges. So far...I'm watching really just to hear the judges. I don't think this season is any worse, in terms of talent? Hm. Usually I'm crushing on five of the girls and emotionally rooting for three people and wanting to be friends with several of the dudes. Nothing like that so far. I don't know what the problem is. It's like...I'm watching and...what am I thinking about...well, all I'm thinking is "Shakira, Shakira, Shakira, Shakira, Shakira". Maybe that's the problem? I love Shakira?!
This is the live action Rurouni Kenshin, not the anime. I've watched the entire anime. Loved the entire anime. Can't tell you how excited I was for the live-action film, especially after reading all the positive reviews.
Keep in mind: I love asian cinema. I love samurai movies. I think if I had never watched the anime, knew nothing about the anime, had just watched this movie, I'd be touting it as insanely good and ahead of its time. Does it have the same depth and societal impact of, say, films by Kurosawa or Gosha or Miyamoto? Not quite. But I think it's a unique blend of "masterpiece samurai cinema" with "21st century blockbuster".
There are some cool tensions developed in the film (as in the anime). The first could resonate with modern America and the gun debate. Kenshin's central conflict is with his past as a manslayer and his present as someone who has sworn to use his sword to protect but never kill. Various characters promulgate how a sword's only use is to kill. With Kenshin sayin he doesn't believe this is true. The debate about a sword's use and purpose is a reflection then of what is true within a character's heart. That whole "eye of the beholder" thing, or "guns don't kill people; people kill people".
What's also cool to me, and is understated in the film, is in the final showdown: the new manslayer, Jin-e, is using the sword abandoned by Kenshin when he gave up being the "battosai". And Kenshin is using he "reverse-blade" sword. We then have a clash between someone who wants to kill and someone who doesn't want to kill, while also having Kenshin's past sword battling his present sword.
The film goes to lengths to show us that while one era of Japan has ended, thanks to Kenshin's efforts during the revolution, in the first 10 years of this new era everything is still molten. Power has not solidified. The defining passions and mindsets are not established. Kenshin is a symbol of a new mindset. In the anime: characters didn't just fight characters: ideologies battled ideologies. The same is true for the film. We have Kenshin battling, first, Kanryu, who represents business-minded westernization. Money, money, money. Kanryu hilarious makes it rain multiple times throughout the movie. After Kanryu, there's Jin-e, who embodies not just WHO and WHAT Kenshin was in the previous era (a human slayer/battosai) but also a mindset that transcends eras: the sword is meant to kill.
The movie is deep. The action is awesome. There is hyper-real bloodshed that is disgusting and cool at the same time. There's humor. I think one of my favorite things ever is the fight between Sanosuke and the enemy brawler. They legitimately brawl, even pausing to eat food and drink wine. While upstairs Kenshin is fighting the masked-dude with grace and style.
People might think Rurouni Kenshin is just a solid, adaptation. But I think it's some legitimate cinema. Like. If Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon is "art" that leans toward "mainstream", then Kenshin is "mainstream" that leans (heavily) toward "art".
Dragon Ball Z Kai:
Episodes 80-98: In terms of narrative arc, this should be where Dragon Ball Z ends. We start in the first episode with Gohan demonstrating a mysterious power, and here, by the end of the series, Gohan controls and wields that power. He uses it to defeat the most vicious enemy the Z fighters have ever faced. He saves the world. He transcends his dad and Vegeta. We have the true "ascended" Saiyan: Super Saiyan Level 2.
Relating to our idea that DBZ is a giant metaphor for skill mastery, what does Gohan represent?
Generational Transcendence. The idea that each generation overcomes what the previous generation has done. If this wasn't true, the world wouldn't be in the state it's in. We've gone from cowering in caves, to building villages in jungles, to clearing out forests to build towns, to constructing cities, to producing highways, to airplanes, to spaceships to the Internet. We see, generation after generation, progress. Gohan acquiring Super Saiyan Level 2 is progress. He needed Goku to reach Super Saiyan. That was a watershed moment. Just like Alexander Bell creating the telephone. Without the telephone: no cell phones. In 1999, Tony Hawk did the first 900 in a skateboarding half-pipe competition. Within the x-sports industry, this was huge. No one had ever done it before. In 2011, Tom Schaar landed a 900. Tom Schaar was 12.
We've talked before about the emotional impetus of reaching Super Saiyan. It's a combination of (time spent training) + (emotional charge). Goku couldn't go Super Saiyan when he fought Vegeta. He didn't have the power level. When he fought Frieza: he had the power level. Frieza provided the emotional charge (killing Vegeta and Dende and Krillin). When Gohan turns Super Saiyan: it's a combination of (time spent training) + (emotional charge). Gohan is not only under the duress of defending against his dad's kamehameha attack, he's thinking about all the times he has failed his friends, all the times he was too scared or too weak to make a difference. Frustrated with himself: Gohan transforms.
This is important. Failure fueled him. Many of us are scared to fail. But DBZ characters fail all the time. In fact, Saiyans grow stronger after recovering from near death situations. We talked about that in Viewing Diary 1. Steve Jobs failed and became stronger because of it.
When Gohan transforms the second time...Well, it's not due to Cell kicking his ass. Cell is beating Gohan. Torturing him. Attempting to force transcendency out of Gohan. It doesn't work. Gohan could have died. The difference comes from one factor: other people being hurt. Not just those Gohan loves: Krillin is being beaten, Goku, Vegeta, Trunks, Yamcha, Tien, Piccolo. But also Android 16. When Android 16 tells Gohan to let go and protect the world...something clicks in Gohan's mind.
The applicable thing to take away, the thing you can apply to your own life, is this: Gohan has made a choice. The speech Android 16 makes is about "letting go". Once Gohan stops hesitating, once he makes the decision to stop restraining himself, to stop depending on other people, TO give everything he has: he transcends.
The same thing happened with Goku when he went Super Saiyan. He went from being hesitant involving Frieza to being fully committed.
People complain that Vegeta should have been the one to defeat Cell. That if Gohan had the fuel to transform, why didn't Vegeta after Trunks was wasted? If the characters are nothing more than embodiments of real people, Vegeta is the person who wants skill for the sake of skill. Goku and Gohan embody skill for the sake of others. Piccolo acquires power through merging with others. He merges with Nail and with Kame, each time become as powerful as Goku/Vegeta (but always a step behind). Which means Piccolo embodies the power of the group, of individuals merging into a larger entity (think of a corporation). Vegeta's emotion is self-fueling. And what we see with Gohan, when Cell is beating him near to death, self-interest is a weak motivator. The true motivation for greatness is other people. A single parent doesn't work so fucking hard for their own gains but so they can support their children. An athlete who is chasing glory will never be as successful as the athlete who is inspired by those around them. Sure you can get powerful like Vegeta, but that only takes you so far. This is why Vegeta, despite being so fucking cool, never wins the day. His behavior, his mindset, his outlook: they aren't suited to long-term victory. The major difference between Goku and Gohan: passion.
Which means the entirety of Dragon Ball Z comes down to one thing: Passion.
The strongest characters in the show have more passion for fighting/skill-building than the weaker characters. Yamcha and Tien and Krillin mean well, but they don't have the same sense of purpose as Goku, Gohan, Piccolo, Vegeta, Frieza, Cell, Trunks.
To that end, of that group, Gohan has the most passion for those around him. It's fitting then that Cell is the ultimate enemy. Cell doesn't lack passion, but he lacks any and all concern for other people. He is, in a sense, Perfect Vegeta. Vegeta is self-centered, much like Cell, but Vegeta secretly cares a lot about people. Wanting to kill Goku isn't necessarily a good thing, but it does mean he cares about something. Cell is entirely self-centered/Cell-centered (couldn't resist). He's "perfect". So you have the Ultimate Narcissist versus the Ultimate Empathist.
It makes sense that the next enemy is Buu. With Buu being the Ultimate Nihilist.
I'd like to point out the movie For Love of the Game is pretty much the same message. Kevin Costner pitches a perfect game because he is fueled by his memories of love. It's the combination of skill and passion.
The ultimate point is, though, that passion most be developed and committed. Gohan had the potential. If he had never trained, he wouldn't have had the necessary skill level to fight Cell. If he hadn't committed to using that power, he wouldn't have been able to defeat Cell. Even at the very end, during the kamehameha back and forth, Gohan is holding back. He's worried about hurting the planet. Goku has to tell Gohan: stop worrying, the Earth will be okay, we can fix it with the Dragon Balls, let go. Gohan then unleashes his last bit of hesitation. His kamehameha defeats Cell's, obliterates Cell.
You could have all the skill and ability, but if you're not committed...you won't win. Someone who is more committed will win. You see it with athletes all the times. Look at the "contract year". When money is on the line: the athlete steps up and performs. Why? Because the athlete knows it matters. They're fueled by a desire for money. They perform. They succeed. They get paid. Then what happens? They aren't so committed to the sport. They are spending the money. Going out. Their efforts are diffused. They achieve much less than they could have. But the athletes who commit to every game, to every play, for their entire careers...they're the ones in the Hall of Fame. Vegeta, because of his commitment, is still a Hall of Fame player. Will he set any records? No.
So. There. Dragon Ball Z is the ultimate story on skill building. And the two key components of skill building are passion and commitment. Even Cell was committed.
That's the thing. We can't just commit once. We have to commit all the time. That's where the DBZ fantasy ends and real life begins. We don't have a Cell about to blow up the world. We don't have hyperbolic time chambers. We aren't ideals made for entertainment. We are people with crushing problems, with infinite distractions. We must overcome our problems, we must disregard distraction. We must, every moment, find a way to maintain the fire and commit. It's fucking hard. It's fitting though that Gohan was, at the very end, worried about the planet. Because that's what true passion and true commitment do: they change the world.
Now, with all of this in mind, watch the three videos below. You'll see exactly what I'm talking about.
I'm 99% certain Carl Dreyer made a bad (or even mediocre) film in his lifetime, but as of now, I haven't seen it. I really thought Gertrud had a legitimate shot, as I can see it's held in much lower regard as his other films, and it ended up being his final film, nine years after the much-beloved Ordet.
But I'll be damned. Gertrud is pretty much as beautiful as any Dreyer film. I even think it's better than Vampyr, which I've always found pretty overrated.
It is easily the most colorful black-and-white film I've ever seen. Seriously, look at that picture above! Nothing was an accident with Dreyer, and that shot (along with every fucking moment of juxtaposition in the film) reinforces an idea of exclusivity, loneliness, and the doomed search for "love".
"Love" is in quotations because Gertrud is unable to pinpoint what exactly love it. Even the psychiatrist--who seems perfect for her, by the way--can't seem to hit the right buttons. She's unsure of herself, quick to judge, quick to abandon, distant, cold, and loving. But most important, she's a human being. Dreyer crafted beautiful feminist tales because he understood these tragic flaws shaped real people. That's why Gertrud--an incredibly straightforward and simple film--is so gorgeous to witness.
I think I could write an essay on the various angles and props and placement of characters in this film and how it portrays Gertrud's relationship with each man, but I think my head may explode from trying to do so (plus, you know, I'm lazy).
What the hell is going on? Why am I watching all of these crazy 80s action flicks? And why oh why am I gaining respect for (*gulp*) Arnold Schwarzenegger?
(Modigliani here: just wanting to say: Arnold made some awesome movies. There'd be a problem if you didn't have respect for him. Now, get to the chopper, you beautiful motherfucka. (I know, it's "you're one ugly motherfucka", but I can't call Mort ugly. Have you seen his glorious facial hair? Oh, now I just read the next paragraph, and we both used the word "awesome". Nice.))
In order: awesomeness, because they're awesome, because he's awesome.
I don't watch action flicks very often (I'm starting to sound like a broken record (and soon I WON'T be able to say it anymore)). But my roommate and I's weekly drunken Wednesday nights are turning into the Arnold Hour, and I honestly can't believe what I've been missing.
Let me paint a picture. I went out drinking last Saturday afternoon (as most Chicago Bulls fans do to prepare for inevitable disappointment), and AFTER THEY WON (they were down by 14 with 3:16 left), we went on a drunken rant about movies. We started talking about Predator and how the Predator was the "ultimate man" and a reflection of the male dominance scenarios at play; we talked about how Total Recall was a meta-action movie that starred Arnold because he was the most bankable action star in the industry; I even think everyone let me ramble on about how incredible Elizabeth Berkley is in Showgirls at one point. I assumed we were the loud people at the bar that everyone hated. But as soon as we got up to leave, somebody said, "Don't go! If you leave, the IQ in this bar will go way down!"
I'm not bragging (OR AM I). But. I don't think people are used to talking about these action films academically. And it's a shame. Schwarzenegger is one of the most influential and important actors in the history of film, and it doesn't have much to do with his mediocre acting abilities. Arnold was a team player who realized movies were much bigger and more important than the stars slapped across the movie posted. Take this interview with Paul Verhoeven, director of Total Recall:
"Arnold has no ego. You can say anything to him. In fact, during his first day on the set [of Total Recall] he sat me down and told me, 'I won't be offended if you talk to me in a direct manner. Say what you feel'. That made it easy, because I wouldn't have to be diplomatic and say, 'Arnold, could you perhaps move over here and give me a different angle?' I could just go, 'Arnold, this is bad. You look stupid!'"
Knowing Arnold's flexability made Commando that much better. You can appreciate Commando for just being goofy, cheesy 80s fun. You can laugh at the over-abundance of macho-ness. You can throw your arms up in the air and say "what the fuck" when Arnold tosses about twenty security guards off his body.
But (and I think I'm old enough to say this now): they just don't make action movies like this anymore. They do not. Period. How many action movies are this self-aware (constant close-ups of Arnold's bulging muscles), this willing to have fun, and this intimate? Intimacy, in fact, is the biggest rarity these days. Action movies have to be spectacles with machine guns and robots. They have to be epic and cover social ground. And once in a blue moon you'll a Raid: Redemption--but even that movie is plagued by boring and forced drama, which is unfortunate because most of the characters are hollow.
No, with Commando we truly have a film we may never see replicated. Studios won't pay for a movie like this. And that's too bad. I honestly feel like I spent an evening with Arnold, and, well, that just makes me smile.
I love Luis Buñuel. LOVE him. I think The Exterminating Angel is truly one of a kind. The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie is one of the best (and one of the funniest) movies of the 1970s.
But, I've gotta say, his snarky "fuck you" attitude is tough to deal with sometimes. Maybe it depends on my mood. And he's not even directly attacking the audience most of the time, like Michael Haneke or Jean Luc-Godard. But Viridiana really rubbed me the wrong way.
Don't get me wrong--it's great. Wonderful. Beautiful. Has one of the greatest shots/scenes in the history of cinema (see photo above). I'm all about giving the finger to the elite, the politicians, and--in Viridiana's case--the Catholic Church. And if there is one, I'll give Buñuel a high-five in heaven (or maybe hell, after this movie).
Viridiana was made after the Spanish dictator Francisco Franco invited the formerly exiled Buñuel back into his home country. Unsurprisingly, Buñuel didn't cater to the man who believed he was doing a good deed, but instead created a film of oppression and alarming honesty about the Catholic. As Ed Gonzalez of Slant Magazine writes of Viridiana (our main character):
"An outraged Buñuel doesn't so much attack a saint's good intentions as much as her naivete and unwillingness to realize that the world is incapable of appreciating them."
And I get it. I don't think Buñuel's intentions are hard to grasp. But what makes him so great, of course, is the world he builds around those societal attacks. In this case, Viridiana is a tiny bit of a letdown for me. Instead of building Viridiana as a human being, she seems more of a tragic vessel to hold Buñuel's feelings. I like Discreet Charm and Exterminating Angel so much because of the world built within. The people interact, gain personality, and it all lends towards the elitism that Buñuel despises.
In Viridiana, many of the moments that are meant to parallel Viridiana's suppressed lifestyle exist on their own plane. There's a gorgeous scene where Jorge releases a dog from its painstaking life attached to a carriage, only for another dog in the same predicament to pass by. The cycle of life is inevitable in this case--the Church will continue to entrance new members and employ them as mindless slaves.
There's also a bit of hypocrisy in this moment for Jorge, as he tells Viridiana, "You can't save everyone." A personification of the Church's grasp, he himself craves such a power, but not for the poor, rowdy folks Viridiana blindly loves and attempts to shelter. This rambunctious group produces the photo above, resembling The Last Supper (I'm sure you can draw the religious connections at this point, even if you haven't seen the film, right?). Their place in this moment is no coincidence, as Gonzalez once again points out:
"It doesn't attack Christianity as an institution but its failure to truly and imaginatively connect with the people it seeks to help."
Perhaps the intentions are just too broad for my taste. I completely understand Buñuel (and most definitely agree with him) in this case, but I prefer him to be a bit more contained. After all, The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie could take place entirely in a single dream for all I know. I've come to accept Buñuel is much smarter than me--I just wish he didn't have to resort to tricks to prove it.
Devi (The Goddess):
This is actually my first Satyajit Ray film. Not even sure I've seen Indian film that wasn't made in the last ten years (Slumdog Millionaire doesn't count, you fuckers). If you haven't seen a Ray film yourself, this honestly seems like an awesome place to start (or at least something from this bulk of his career).
The film is about a woman named Dayamoyee, who's role as a mother and a caregiver is suddenly upended when her father-in-law has a dream that "reveals" Dayamoyee to be an avatar of a goddess. Soon people are worshiping Dayamoyee and, before long, she begins to believe it herself.
I watched this on YouTube (which I'm honestly not a fan of doing, but I make exceptions when I have no other options), and something strange happened...possibly the first time I've ever experienced it: I read an intelligent YouTube comment.
I know, right? Anyway, here it is:
"The gods are personifications of subtle energies which exist in us all. Worshiping these deities is worshiping the very essence of the self. These subtle essences may become embodied in an individual when the Kleshas have ceased and the mind has been stilled."
And although I do find this statement to be very acute, I think it may also be missing the point. I don't see Dayamoyee's acceptance of her endowment to be "finding herself". I don't think this comment implies that Dayamoyee did indeed have powers, but it also seems to be attaching optimism to the idea that Dayamoyee can still her mind and discover "the very essence of the self."
Perhaps the idea expressed by the commenter is a mindset sought after in the Hindu society (forgive my ignorance), and I can get on board with that. But knowing the very little I know about Satyajit Ray, I think Dayamoyee's predicament is much more complex (and much more tragic) than that. While I believe The Goddess is an attack on silly superstitions within the Hindu society, I also think there's a dangerous mix of religion and gender politics at play. Dayamoyee is under-appreciated as a wife and as a mother, and she only gains importance once she's granted "powers". By lending Dayamoyee more freedom and worship, she's actually imprisoned in her role, thus the scene where she and Umaprasad are unable to flee from home. She herself begins to wonder if she has power, reflecting the restricting power religion can hold over one individual. Even when people believe they understand Dayamoyee as a person, they're really only seeing her as a Goddess. In a sense, she's been objectified. She's nothing more than a vessel for they're wants and needs--pretty much (as a woman) what she was in the first place.
Weekly Movie Diary: 3: Gertrud, Louie (1x11, 1x13), Commando, The Voice (4x9, 4x10) , Rurouni Kenshin (live action), Viridiana, Devi (The Goddess), Dragon Ball Z Kai (episodes 80-98)