Dragon Ball Z Kai:
Episodes 1-43. I've watched the entire show before. Well, until like episode 280 or something. The Buu Saga really wore me down, especially after the awesome Cell Saga. The whole Kai thing is, to me, fantastic. The show has all the filler cut from it. The pace is a little breakneck to the point of disbelief (like Dende tells Krillin they have 5 hours of flying while cross-cutting between Vegeta and Zarbon are fighting. Vegeta and Zarbon fight for a few minutes and somehow Krillin and Dende complete the five hours travel.) This pace reminds me of Gundam Wing. They'd fly from Earth to deep space in like...15 minutes. Oh well. I'm amazed by the fact Kai goes from the beginning through Cell in 98 episodes. It took regular Z 196 or 197. 43 episodes in and I'm amazed. I don't think I could go through the regular Z stuff again. I still think the powering up and leveling up is cool. With all that's coming out about the 10,000 hour rule and how the brain actually undergoes changes after every 10,000 hours spent at a task...it makes the whole Super Saiyan thing a surreal expression of something biologically legitimate. Am shocked about the treatment of Namek. These people come there and totally exploit the planet. They kill the locals. Every last one. Then they destroy the planet. Is this metaphor or commentary on power and the quest for power? Not even just power but personal growth and development? Am I reading too much into DBZ?
44-48. It's interesting to me how both fights build up to the Spirit Bomb failing. Goku tried it on Vegeta: and it sort of worked, via Krillin, via Gohan. It didn't win the day though. It took Gohan transforming to win. Here, the Spirit Bomb is larger, does more damage, but doesn't win the day either. Goku has to transform. I'm not fascinated by the idea of trying to connect the surreal elements of DBZ with biological equivalents. Can people power up? What's it say about Goku's anger fueling his transformation to Super Saiyan? And not love? But isn't love necessary? The anger wouldn't be intense enough if it wasn't the pain of losing Krillin and Piccolo. Frieza killed tons and tons of people. Goku, a pillar of decency, feels this, channels this: it fuels him. This is at odds with Vegeta, who shuts himself off, is a closed-circuit forever fueling itself. Gohan, like Goku, derives his strength from others. Which is why he's able to, eventually defeat Cell. Every time though, with every enemy, there's an ascension. Emotional pain and loss lead to physical growth, an increase in power. Though Vegeta has the intense flaw of wanting power for the sake of power, his desire carries him far. He becomes one of the strongest people in the show. But never reaches the heights of Goku. It's interesting at the end of DBZ the Spirit Bomb is what wins. But. I wonder if it's tongue-in-cheek since Buu himself is the antithesis of the show, a type of satire on the intensity of the Z-fighters and their previous enemies. At the end of everything, it's reversion that saves the day. So we see growth, growth, growth, transcendence, transcendence, change, change change...then return to roots. What's this say about the human mind?
This whole Frieza saga is way more bearable to me in the Kai-format over the regular Z-format. Really looking forward to Trunks and the Cell Saga.
49-52: End of season 2. The battle sort of lost steam to me. But I've been thinking more about this connection between DBZ and the brain. And this is what I got: the entire show embodies the way the brain learns. Put otherwise: the show is the embodiment of mastery. I'm fascinated by this idea, now. If you look at the characters on the show, you have the top-tier people: the Saiyans. Then you have the middle class: various aliens (Piccolo) and androids. Then you have the...well...leftovers: Krillin, Tien, Yamcha, etc. And then your accessory characters: Chi Chi, Bulma, Master Roshi. You could argue Saiyans are born with fighting powers that excel them above the rest, so how is it fair for the humans. I would say you're right. Unless you look at it as: Saiyans are people who are motivated to achieve. People who are the most motivated and dedicated. Is there anyone more dedicated than Goku and Vegeta? The mid-tier are people who care but don't need to be the best. The lowest tier are the hobby-ests. Then you have the spectators. What separates Vegeta and Goku? Goku cares about people and is fueled by them. He's open to people and ideas. Vegeta closes himself off--mentally hinders himself. We know true success takes teamwork and motivation. Vegeta's motivation takes him very far, but he can never beat Goku because Goku is fueled not only by his own goals but because he feels connected to and responsible to other people. Fascinating. But. If you look at the fight sequences. Every time it's the same thing: two people engage in a fight. One is winning. Then the other powers up, reveals some new trick. The one who was winning is taken by surprise. They go on the defensive. Eventually, the one who was winning and is now losing makes an adjustment and shows some trick they had been holding back, or has an emotional burst. It's just a series of one-upmanship until a winner is declared. This mimics how people learn. You observe, test, and succeed. Or you observe, test, fail, re-evaluate, test, fail, re-evaluate...so on and so forth until you either give up or win. This is how growth occurs though. And it's how any skill is learned. Someone who wants to learn an instrument starts with the basic chords. This is a battle. Once you think you've mastered learning the chords, you suddenly have to organize the chords in a structure that produces a song. This is like Cell going from Imperfect to Semi-Perfect. The enemy you could beat is now way tougher than what you thought. You go back to fighting them. Then Semi-Perfect Cell becomes Perfect Cell. etc. etc.
Another interesting thing to me is the idea of Saiyans gaining strength after bearing near death. If a fight brings you near death, chances are you probably lost that fight. Which means you failed. If you've ever listened to successful people, they often say how important failure was to their success. How their early failures taught them invaluable lessons they would have never otherwise learned. Just listen to Steve Jobs' commencement speech. Or just read this sentence: "I didn't see it then, but it turned out that getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me." Again. Saiyans are the equivalent of people who are insanely motivated. Instead of being crippled by defeat, instead of labeling yourself as a failure and giving up, the motivated are fueled by failure. Listen to Michael Jordan talk about failure.
There's a lot to learn from this show. I guess the next thing to discuss would be how emotional state fuels us. Also about what it means that Goku's Super Saiyan transformation was triggered by loss and anger rather than happiness or love. I don't have an answer for those yet.
53: deaths all around. And it's the first episode of the third season. Goku dies, Frieza dies, the elder dies. It leaves you going: wtf will happen now? By creating these voids, we're left with open ended potential.
0-25 min: the main dude reminds me so much of Raj from The Big Bang Theory. The way he speaks. His mannerisms. It's hilarious to me. The girl sort of creeps me out. I'm enjoying the stylized moments when the camera is in motion and things blur. The dude being so pathetic sort of bothers me. But the escalation of the cans of pineapple was great, very poetic too. Saying his love would expire on the same day as the cans. Then he eats all the cans. Also him being given the box of expired goods. SO GOOD. Then the homeless guy not wanting the expired can of food. That's getting into the absurd stuff that I love. Same with the woman just kidnapping that dude's daughter. I've enjoyed the movie so far. Hasn't quite hooked me yet.
Rest of the movie: I was feeling "meh" about Chungking from that 0-25 min point. Though the pineapple thing amused me. The end of the first guy's section was...nice...but the overall story experience wasn't anything special to me. Felt like some random short from Paris Je T'aime. The second portion though, with #663...whoa. I loved it. I loved the extension of the story and how it worked as a sort of...retelling, almost? It reminds me of smashup of Certified Copy and Tropical Malady. The movie made me really happy. I've watched an okay amount of Asian cinema, I've read more Asian literature, and this is the first Asian movie that feels, to me, like Asian literature. Why? The little metaphors that get extended: the expiring canned fruit, sweating to eradicate the ability to cry, 663 talking to household items, the girl cleaning 663's apartment, which we've come to see as him and thus becoming a metaphor for the way she is healing him...it's all subtle and simple and small and beautiful and literary. I love this movie.
Jurassic Park 3D:
The thing I'd like to point out here: with any 3D movie, you can tell the level of "three dimension" by taking your glasses off and seeing the amount of blur on the screen. There are some films, like Wrath of the Titans 3D, where you take your glasses off and nothing is blurred. Which means the 3D is shitty and nearly pointless. When you saw Avatar and Hugo in 3D: most of the screen was blurry, if not all. If you take your glasses off at any point during Jurassic Park 3D the entire screen is blurred. The entire screen. THE ENTIRE SCREEN. Which is why Jurassic Park 3D is the best 3D movie I have ever seen. The scene where the bloodthirsty lawyer rides up on the raft on the river, the second scene of the movie...is gorgeous. It actually looks like a...a...tunnel...I could swim along? Who would have thought Jurassic Park could get better?
2x21: The fight scene was baller. I love this show so much. They really gave the main actors some emotional moments. I liked Jeremy Sisto getting emotional. I wonder if other people thought it was a little too heavy handed? This season definitely had more of a story too it. Subplots building throughout episodes. I'm looking forward to season 3.
2x22: finale! Game changer, for sure. Which is what I like in shows. The status quo doesn't remain. The old house is gone. Couples have separated. Tessa loses her V-card. Tessa is living somewhere new. It's a pretty tragic conclusion to the season. It's a softer ending than the conclusion to season 1. Interesting that they went with "Tessa returns to her roots". It's a card that always seems to work with narratives. Character gets away from "who they are" and in a time of crisis returns to "who they were". See The Waterboy and countless other movies. Except here it leads to a fight then a total identity crisis. Tessa really isn't sure of who she is having lacked her mom's influence. Now she'll get her mom's influence. Season 3 should be interesting, indeed.
Season 4 Battle Rounds: 1 and 2: The two girls from Adam's team definitely killed it. No one else has really won me over yet. Shakira is so beautiful it's insane. I don't know if I like the singers as much this season, but I'm enjoying the coaches more? And I already liked them.
Grave of the Fireflies is one of my favorite films, so I've been pretty excited about Isao Takahata's follow-up film Only Yesterday. Firefiles was basically a Ghibli take on Italian Neorealism. Only Yesterday is wildly different, much more reminiscent of Whisper of the Heart. It's much more experimental than Whisper though, mixing images from Shizuku's past and present to parallel her life as a twenty-something and a fifth-grader. It is by far the most refreshing stray from the Ghibli formula--no signs of pandering or fantastical monsters. Hayao Miyazaki has always, of course, utilized these traits for wonderful results, but Takahata is a realist, and some of the moments in Only Yesterday scream a weird mix between Vittorio De Sica and Terrence Malick. It's like reading out of somebody's diary, with beautiful images fluttering by along the way. It's also the most realistic looking Ghibli film. Takahata wanted to create incredibly realistic facial muscles and expressions, and thus recorded the dialogue before any animation was done.
Apparently this DVD is hard to find. It's the only Ghibli film that didn't receive an American release. My awesome local video store had the Japanese DVD, so I picked it up. It was listed under the title "Memories of Yesterday", so if you're looking for the DVD (it's not terribly pricey on eBay), keep that in mind.
Wings of Desire:
Mr. Modigliani and I like to play a game where we choose a movie for the other to watch (it's my favorite game outside this side of Settlers of Catan). This week, I've finally got around to his pick Wings of Desire. This is the second Wim Wenders film I've seen, and I'm glad it lived up to the hype, because, call me crazy, I'm not gaga for Paris, Texas. Don't get me wrong, it's a film I admire for myriad reasons, but where Paris broods and relishes, Wings takes off. It's just so intelligent and alive and honest, and makes Paris feel like an after-school special. Paris has a lot of heart (and one of the most breathtaking final scenes I've ever seen due to great acting), but I can only handle so many shots of empty roads representing misdirection in life. So many films have captured the idea more profoundly: My Own Private Idaho, Badlands, The Straight Story, Two-Lane Blacktop.
Wings is a beautiful film. I think the disconnect Paris searches for is much more intimate and earned in Wings, as Damiel and Cassiel form connections with people (in a black-and-white world) that they cannot interact with. Marion (the trapeze artist) represents how idyllic the angels’ lives are to spectators, yet she is confined and dependent upon her bar to remain alive. This represents the constraints of remaining invisible to the people's lives these angels wish to touch, and what ultimately drives Damiel to abandon his wings. It is through the pain we humans endure that know we are fully alive. And this is what the angels miss: to see colors, to touch, to taste, to smell, the ability to love and directly affect others’ lives.
I don't know how anybody couldn't love this movie. It's got angels, beautiful black-and-white shots, beautiful color shots (another strength of Paris), Peter Falk playing Peter Falk, and one of the coolest concert scenes of all time with Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. I want my very own Blu-ray Criterion copy. Right. Now.
I like Gummo. I like Harmony Korine. But, as far as I can tell (I like what I've seen from Julien Donkey Boy), he didn't reach his full potential as a storyteller until later in his career. From what I can gather from this (hilarious) interview with David Letterman (and, you know, everything he's ever made), Korine is not about mainstream. He hates mainstream. He loves obscure, unconventional, and ambiguity.
"I don't see film...in the same narrative as it's moved for the last 100 years."
That would mean Gummo would be entirely unique. Nothing we've ever seen before. He then says:
"I wanted to make a movie with images coming from all different directions."
Images with narration floating overhead...doesn't that sound like...Terrence Malick? Léos Carax? Rainer Werner Fassbinder? Hell, Claire Denis?
I don't have a problem with Korine having influences (or even not recognizing them), but let's not pretend that Gummo was the first of its kind. Maybe Malick never made a film so white-trashy, but he did explore the idea of allowing images and inner thoughts dictate the narrative, transitions, mood, etc. Compared with Badlands and Days of Heaven, Korine was nowhere near grasping the such a difficult way of telling stories.
What I did learn from Gummo is how talented and how much potential Korine had at such a young age. Kids (Korine's first screenplay, but he didn't direct) and Gummo both share a lot of the same storytelling problems (in that the images hold more importance by their horrific nature than building any sort of coherent attachment, aka they don't actually develop the characters but simply display them), but Korine was able to make Gummo flow and challenge in ways Kids director Larry Clark was unable to do.
This shit is insane. Absolutely zero narrative. No dialogue. No talking heads...and it's a documentary. I'd just go ahead and call it non-fiction. This is a good representation of how genres evolve, as (to my knowledge, anyway) nobody has constructed a feature-length documentary such as this.
Leviathan is about the fishing industry...and that's about it. It's literally as "about the fishing industry" as a documentary can possibly get. It transcends how documentaries typically strive to dissect a viewpoint and simply presents a gritty, unflinching painting of an industry that receives a lot of (deserved) hate. Floor-level shots of fish being poured onto the boat; fisherman hacking up sting rays; men sitting in their cubicles, watching mindless television. Most notably, there's a shot where (I'm sort of guessing here) the camera is attached to the net...which flies out into the ocean for (as it would seem) MILES. Somehow the camera manages to soar into the air, where a bunch of seagulls have gathered because of all of the fish below. It's incredibly hard to describe.
I'll write more extensively on this later. I think what needs to be noted here is that Leviathan is an important documentary...but maybe not great. People (and by that I mean critics) are understandably blowing their collective load over this one, but for me this style still has room to grow. I think there can be a balance between something this gritty and something more informative. It's great for a lot of reasons, and it's entirely unique (a rarity these days), but I think this film can be a stepping stone towards a more realized vision from these filmmakers.
Assault on Precinct 13:
There will be spoilers, just a warning
Now this is one fuck of a movie. I love John Carpenter, and I didn't it would get any better than Halloween, but it totally does with Assault on Precinct 13. Every bit the classic I've been lead to believe it is. It apes Howard Hawks' Rio Bravo by trapping its characters in a jail as the evil rolls into town. But it's not just masculinity trapped in this time around: there are more concrete definitions of gender politics with the woman characters, there's racial politics, prisoners/law enforcement, perceptions/realizations. Trust is constantly put to the test, and it's a life-or-death matter.
I don't think I've ever seen a film build up to its shootout so well. It's incredible. The editing, the pacing, Carpenter's score--they're all working. BUT, more importantly, they all lay the foundation for the themes that will be working once inside the jail. Lawson natually distrusts law enforcement, thus taking matters into his own hands when (MAJOR SPOILERS HERE) the gang leader shoots his daughter. But he also needs the police's help, who take over for him while he remains unconscious. Ethan Bishop (oh yeah, the religious politics?) is told there are "no more heroes" in law enforcement when he expresses disappointment for being assigned to man a rundown police station for the night, but then is required to embody the John Wayne figure he adheres to.
The soon-to-be-shut-down police station even captures the nature of this film: nobody has use for these people, these politics, these issues that carry immense societal importance for the people they plague. Thus, they are forced to react. Frank Doubleday, the leader of the assault on Precinct 13 (and did incredible word in Carpenter's Escape from New York), said to Carpenter about his character: "Usually I play a man with a gun. This time I'm going to play a man who is a gun." That says about all you need to know about this film.
Louis CK's "Oh My God":
I'm a big Louis CK fan. I've gotten into Internet arguments (yeah, I do that for some God awful reason) over how CK is a prominent feminist. He's not a perfect feminist by any stretch of the imagination, but he understands more than most popular comedians (looking at you, Daniel Tosh) that women--just like any joke about anything--can't just play on age-old stereotypes and regurgitate grade-school level sentiments in goofy voices (Seth MacFarlane at the Oscars, anyone?). You can make be insulting towards women (CK insults everybody) if you're making societal and patriarchal observations that back the punches. CK's characters have personality, life--Tosh's characters are objects he displays for public consumption. They're nothing more than human punching bags. CK gets it. And it's beautiful to watch.
This isn't anywhere near his best stand-up performance, but I did notice (after two viewings) that he's easily the most prolific and diverse comedian in the spotlight right now (perhaps...ever?). CK did a roundtable discussion about comedy with Chris Rock, Ricky Gervais, and Jerry Seinfeld, and he pretty much put Seinfeld to shame (I just don't get why this guy is funny). Seinfeld thinks the shows are about him--when he gets up there, people want to hear his classic jokes. CK said he would never get up there and regurgitate his famous jokes. He thinks it should always be a new experience. CK even said that sometimes he'll start with his closing joke on a whim (typically a comedian's best joke), just so he has to build himself up. It improves performance, which should always be evolving and not remaining stagnant.
I never thought I'd praise CK for physical humor. But from flushing a dog down the toilet to putting on his socks (the hardest part of his day) to nasty, bellowing seals ("I'M A SLAAAAAAAAAVE!"), he had it rockin' from all angles. There was nothing here I'd consider a "classic" bit, though. The final act is great, as he discusses the sick thoughts we ALL know we have but bury deep and ignore, but it's nowhere near his dissection of the word "hilarious". Anyway, a small complaint. It works as a whole. His specials are wildly unfocused, but each segment is so funny that I don't really care. I'm glad I don't write about stand-up for a living, that's for damn sure.