Monthly Archives: July 2009

The Abortion

I have just finished reading The Abortion: An Historical Romance 1966 by Richard Brautigan. It struck me throughout the story of how lovely (and yes the word lovely was floating through my head like a grandmother’s approval) it would be if more people read it, or saw this as a major motion picture.  I am compelled to write a little on it and the problem of this kind of moral message in mainstream America.

Brautigan is the author best known as the last of the Beats, an unofficial title stemming  from his works in the 60’s and 70’s, most notably Revenge of the Lawn and Trout Fishing in America. These works are bizarre and funny stories taken out of seemingly daily ritual and mundane life to reveal the deeper pains and joys of the human experience in modern time.

The Abortion (published in 1971) is a relatively simple narrative about extraordinary events being tasked in routine and measured ways.  The main character is a librarian and caretaker in a unique library in San Francisco. This library accepts all books by their authors, though none of the books have ever been published. And they’re never borrowed out. Our narrator attends to this depository 24 hours a day, accepting works throughout the night and recording the entries with a love and dedication. His compatriot, Foster, lives in the hills of Humboldt, where books that no longer fit the small space are transferred and interred in the caves there. These two odd men are perfect foil for one another, and the narrator’s new girl, Vida.

The events of the book evolve around the new relationship and Vida’s eventual pregnancy. The couple decide, on advise from Foster, to have an abortion performed in Tijuana, Mexico. The potential for disaster and a strong anti abortion stance is available, but the story is told directly and calmly, yet with an emotional undertone (just not a hysterical one). At no point is there a terrible tragedy or misfortune. The Mexican doctor is a gentle and professional man, their trip to Mexico is eventful but never dangerous or scary. The procedure is completed and the couple return to San Francisco, albeit at the sacrifice of the librarian postion our narrator held. (Read it.)

All through the book, I wanted to see this related as a film. I think the anti abortion comedies and the pregnant while coming of age movies had their chance, why not the pro choice films? I am trying to think of a film that tells the story of a woman thoughtfully going through with a procedure, all the while dealing with the consequences to her own life and her future in an adult manner. Films like Juno, Knocked Up, even the general pro lifeness of Away We Go all take the idea of having children as a mystery we all want to solve and experience, a task that will only benefit the family and the world.

Juno walks into a terribly outdated and offensive representation of a clinic, complete with a teenage receptionist? What? And one protestro, who is the only minortiy in the film and a weirdo to boot. She takes exactly 45 seconds to decide she’d rather have this baby then fill out those damned forms already!

Away We Go has a couple confirming that they’re fuck ups upfront and then traveling cross country (who’s paying for those flights?) to find the right home for their baby. I don’t think the idea of abortion ever crosses their mind. Though the idea of them fucking up everything else in the life is acknowledged. Hmmm. And even Sarah Palin admitted she considered abortion, if only for a fleeting moment.

Knocked Up has a professional and intelligent(?) woman foregoing her new lifelong dream career and assured personal happiness to go through with a pregnancy that erupted from a night of irresponsibility with a stranger who happened to be Seth Rogen.  What a family line to get involved with. His dad looks like Egon,  and he looks like, well, like Seth Rogen. What chance does that kid have?

All I’m saying is that Hollywood has no problem telling us a teenager can cope with high school, personal life and a child with wit and charm, not to mention a never ending line of family and friends to support her. Why not do the same with the other side of the coin?

Oh, yeah. They probably don’t want to get shot.

Just sayin’

-Charlie

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A word on Previews at home

So I just bought a copy of Howl’s Moving Castle. I love this movie. In fact, I’m one of those guys (i.e. nerds) who loves all of Hayao Miyazaki’s films. They’re just so imaginative and filled with amazing animation and compelling stories. I love the airships, the magic, the whole spirit of it. So what’s the problem?

Well, I’ve got no beef with Miyazaki or the film. Both are top notch. But when I put in the DVD and press play, what do I get? A preview-For Howl’s Moving Castle! Wait. What?

But I just put Howl’s Moving Castle in, why are they showing a preview of it? Oh I see, they’re doing one of those, “From the Director of the Academy Award winning Spirited Away comes three other great films.” So we are seeing clips of Kiki”s Delivery Service and something else and this. But I bought this movie. I’m looking at it right now. Why is it one of the three movies I am previewing? I already know about it, because I’m about to fucking watch it.

I hate previews before DVDs or VHS or any of that shit. It’s the worst. One of my favorite parts of watching a movie at home is skipping the previews for movies that have usually been out for a year or ten. So why are you showing me clips from the movie I am trying to watch tonight? It kinda ruins it I think. What if I had Netflixed this movie and had NOT seen it? Then I might watch the previews in whole and know half of the film before I actually watch it!

This isn’t an isolated incident. After watching Howl’s Moving Castle (you should see it if you haven’t) I Netflixed Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind. Another classic Miyazaki. I only saw it once and was dying for a second viewing. So I put in the DVD and guess what comes on first? A preview for Nausicaä! ARRGGHH!

I can’t stress enough how I hate this. Why couldn’t the marketing geniuses behind these DVD releases (these are American releases-I’m not blaming Studio Ghibli for this at all) figure it out? Put the Howl’s Moving Castle preview before Nausicca and Nausicca before Howl. That way I can watch my movie without first seeing all the best parts.

It’s like those extended menu selection screens before DVDs. Who thought, “People are going to want to watch a scrolling preview of Lord of the Rings on the their menu before they press play?” It’s absurd. I never would want to sit down, get my shit together for watching something, and meanwhile have a continual montage of the movie I’m about to watch running over and over again. It goes on infinitely, and then if you don’t press play, some of them start playing anyways. What the Fuck?!?! I didn’t tell you to play you little piece of shit.When I want you to play I will goddamn let you know you son of a –

(Calm down Charlie, it’s just modern technology, it doesn’t know any better.)

It’s like, do you remember the VHS tapes of the X-Files? They would put two episodes on a tape and each tape also had a special interview with the creator Chris Carter? Well, for five full minutes they play Chris Carter yammering on and on about absolutely nothing, while they played clips from the very two episodes you were about to watch. Why?

They’d even play the scariest, most intense parts of the episodes. Like in Little Green Men. They play the scene where the alien is standing in the doorway. YOU’RE RUINING THIS FOR US.

It’s just common courtesy. I don’t sit in a dark theater telling the audience the best parts of the film we’re about to see. Only a complete jack ass would do that. Well, video companies, you are complete fucking jack asses.

They would do this before a lot of shows actually, and movies. I can remember special interviews with George Lucas before a VHS edition of Star Wars, complete with the best shit, like Han getting frozen in Carbonite or Luke screaming “That’s impossible.” If I only had five minutes but still wanted to get the whole Empire Strikes Back experience, I’d watch these, but I don’t. I put the tape in to watch the movie, not clips and then the fucking thing. Makes me sick.

They did this with X Men the Animated Series, they did this with Ren and Stimpy. I have old, really old cartoons of Superman and Batman from the 60’s or 70’s and they’re doing it there too. And even if you’re pressing the fast forward button, you can still see it. It’s going by fast, but it’s still there. I can’t ignore it. I have to look away just so the upcoming viewing experienced isn’t sullied by these abominable previews. But if I look away, I won’t know when to stop fast forwarding!  It’s like a circle of Hell. I’m in Dante’s seventh level, constantly having to dodge quick glances in vain hopes of actually starting the film or TV program when it should be started.

You know what format doesn’t have previews? What format doesn’t bother with overly long menu screens and stupid “interviews?” Laserdisc mother fuckers. That’s why it’s the only obsolete viewing format worth having. Go Laserdiscs Go!! I love ya!

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I Couldn’t Have Said It Better Myself

You know what job I want? The guy who writes the movie synopsis on the back of the box. My favorite part of renting movies or buying old tapes at flea markets is reading those whacked out plot summaries and the explosive adjectives that accompany them. And I’m not talking about those little pussy whipped Netflix paragraphs either. “So and so was nominated for an Oscar… beloved classic. ” Blah!! Give me puns, give me over the top excitement. I want this movie summary to kick my ass and rock my world.

Now, for those who know me, you know I am currently obsessed with Laserdiscs. Yes, that’s right. The now obsolete but oh so awesome discs that look like CDs, are as big as LPs, and require flipping the disc halfway through. Why these didn’t live on is a mystery, but safe to say, it’s been my pleasure seeking out these forgotten relics of the 80’s and 90’s. But the best part might just be the movie descriptions on back, Hell, on front of the cover. So I give you the best movie summaries in my Laserdisc collection.

This week it’s Steven Seagal classics. I just about completed my Seagal collection this week, so let’s not waste anymore time. These descriptions will be verbatim. I couldn’t make these up.

Steven Seagal is …  Above The Law

Chicago cop Nico Toscani is on to something big. Too big. Suspects collared in a recent drug raid are allowed to walk. And Nico himself is asked to turn in his badge.

He’s off the force, but not out of the action. Because Nico has a message for ex-CIA operatives trafficking drugs…and plotting a political assassination. They think they’re Above the Law. But they’re not above his.

Steven Seagal makes his sensational screen debut as Nico, smashing his way into the top ranks of contemporary action heroes. The tall, magnetic Seagal draws on his own experiences as a worldwide security expert and bodyguard to heads of state to give Above the Law the gut-level wallop of today’s headlines. And he uses the whirlwind skills of his 6th degree Akido black belt mastery to deliver action that beats the daylight out of most on screen brawls.

Action speaks louder than words. But action fans know there are a few words that say plenty: Eastwood. Stallone. Schwarzenegger. Norris. And now Seagal, “a one man lethal weapon.”

Steven Seagal is … Hard to Kill

A corrupt California politician and his hit men have gunned down Mason Storm and left him for dead. But they’ll find out the hard way. Storm is Hard to Kill.

The star of the get tough action hit Above the Law is back, and he’s tougher than ever! Steven Seagal plays Los Angeles detective Mason Storm. For seven years, Storm’s been hidden away in a coma-care unit. But now he’s awake and he has one thing on his mind: Revenge.

Storm’s first battle, however, is with himself. Assisted by a devoted nurse, he prepares for the fight ahead. He fires round after round to sharpen his eye. Renews his martial arts skills in rugged training sessions. And uses Oriental healing arts to regain his strength. Then he sets out to even the score, once and for all.

Seagal also reveals another talent, combining the cutting down of bad guys with cuttingly funny one liners. With hard hitting heroics and humor, Hard to Kill is hard to beat.

His battle to save the Alaskan wilderness and protect its people, can only be won… On Deadly Ground

Forrest Taft is a guy who takes sides. Be glad he’s on yours.

The roughest of Alaska’s oil rig roughnecks, Taft specializes in fighting oil well fires. Yet he faces an even more incendiary battle when he confronts renegade Aegis oil president Michael Jennings (Michael Caine?!?!). Jennings and his cronies have put profits over environmental safety. And they’ve put Taft, a Native Alaskan activist and anyone else who opposes them on their hit list.

But Taft is back, using the martial arts, survival and explosive skill he learned as a high level CIA operative. Going one on one, or one on 20, Taft lets the Aegis bullyboys know where they stand: mess with the land he loves and they’re On Deadly Ground.

Undercover has never run so deep … Fire Down Below

Below the surface, the earth burns. You wouldn’t know it from looking at the peaceful Appalachian hill of Jackson, Kentucky. And you won’t hear about it from the locals. They’ve been bought off. Or scared into silence. Meanwhile, the toxins being dumped into the abandoned mines could turn Jackson into a wasteland if someone doesn’t stop it. Someone’s going to.

Action hero Steven Seagal headlines Fire Down Below, a thunderous eco-thriller. Seagal plays plays EPA Marshal Jack Taggert. It’s his job to ferret out who’s responsible for poisoning the land. When thugs try to take him out of action, Taggert adds another line of work to his resume. He’s in the butt-kicking business. Business is good.

Under Siege

“Die Hard on a battleship”-L.A. Times

It’s not a job. It’s an adventure! Steven Seagal comes aboard and comes on strong, combining humor and heroics in a fireball of a movie.

The excitement starts when the USS Missouri welcomes aboard the musicians and caterers set to provide entertainment during the famed battleship’s last voyage. The visitors throw a party, all right. A war party. Led by a rogue CIA operative and a turncoat officer, they’re really killer elite commandos out to hijack the ship’s nuclear arsenal. They overpower the crew. Except for one man.

“I’m just a cook,” that man says. But he’s a cook with a recipe for action. He’s ex Navy SEAL and highly decorated combat operative Casey Ryback. Relying on his slam-bang martial arts skills and equipped with enough hardware to single handedly wage World War III, Ryback turns the decks and below deck areas into guerrilla combat zones. All hands ready, action fans!

Under Siege 2: Dark Territory

“Die Hard on a train”-L.A. Times

The man who rocked the boat in Under Siege now powers ahead like a locomotive! A renegade electronics wiz and his mercenary army have commandeered the sleek Grand Continental passenger train, transforming it into a rolling command unit for an awesome weapons satellite. Their plan is ingenious, but not flawless. Because the one passenger who eludes capture is Ryback.

Suddenly the train is more than a control center. It’s a battleground. Ryback hits, runs, then reemerges in another car to fight again. All of his skills come into play. But can he work fast enough? The satellite is locked onto its target. And the Grand Continental is barreling toward and oncoming freight train hauling gasoline. All Aboard!

Well, that’s about all I can handle for now. For me, I can’t wait to watch these again. I’m just so damned pumped from the synopsis. Stay tuned for more action packed, hard hitting movie summaries to come!

Update: This is the voice over equivalent.

It’s not a job – it’s an adventure!

-Charlie

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The Limits of Control

Last night I saw The Limits of Control, the latest from slow-core filmmaker Jim Jarmusch. The film follows a lone hit man as he waits to be led around Spain by various characters to his final destination, and target. The Lone Man, as he is simply known, hangs out for days at a time at coffee houses, museums and on trains, meeting these mysterious cohorts who lend him coded messages in matchboxes.

His journey begins in Madrid, where he waits in his room with a beautiful naked woman, sits at an outdoor cafe, and listens when people talk. Then he moves to another town. Sits in another room, no naked girl this time dammit, and sits at other cafes. He stares down a mysterious helicopter and eats the coded messages with his coffee. The Lone Man then travels to a remote village, sits in a room, and finally-FINALLY- goes to his target and accomplishes his mission. How does he infiltrate the heavily guarded compound to reach his target? “I used my imagination” is all the Lone Man offers.

In fact he says almost nothing throughout the film, except to order two espressos in two separate cups and to say that, no, he does not speak Spanish. As we follow the Lone Man, his associates often share with him, and us, little trinkets of philosophy and puzzling monologues on subjects relating to film, music, and peyote.

All through the film, people are discussing the nature of the universe (it has no center and no edges) the essence of life (it is a handful of dirt) and the reflections of reality that are more real themselves. We as the audience are left to to either ponder the mundane aspects of the non existent plot or simply allow for these philosophies to wash over us.

If you’ve ever seen a Jarmusch film, the pacing and lack of real content are of little surprise. Jarmusch very much prefers scenery and music over dialogue and plot. Even in the end we are left wondering who we have just followed and, more importantly, why.

What can I say about Jim Jarmusch? He’s known for his enigmatic films, filled with silences and mystery. His subjects have ranged from escaped convicts in Down By Law, to diner discussions in Coffee and Cigarettes. Watching a Jarmusch movie is an act of will. One must be in the mindset for patience and perseverance, as Jarmusch does very little to guide the viewer in his films. More likely, Jarmusch presents scenery and characters and allows the viewer to make up his own mind.

For me, and I’m simply speaking my subjective opinions now, Jarmusch is giving us a look into the reality of non-reality. I know. It’s confusing. I’m not even sure what the Hell I’m talking about. But I’ll try to explain. As we watch our Lone Man on screen, he sticks to such a strict and unwavering routine that we are unsure whether he’s actually working, as he claims to be, or simply floating by, every day a reflection of the last. He wears the same suits for days at a time, only changing when his location does. He practices Tai Chi and sips those same espressos. Only the cups and the rooms change. So the question is then; what is more real? The world around us? Or us ourselves? We see everything as only WE can see it. No one else experiences the world in quite the same way as I do, or you do, or Jarmusch does. It’s all subjective.

What I also got from it is a notion of the ritual of life that we create to accompany the Limits of Control that we have over our reality. The Lone Man is much like a pawn, moved across a board for no discernible reason. He knows that he cannot control this fate, only his own actions, his own behavior. It’s a fascinating exercise in exploration of reality and our confused relationship to it ( one character goes on about how we are all molecules spinning in ecstasy anyways, so chill out already will ya?), but at almost two hours long, it could be reined in a bit.

Based on a script of only twenty five pages, this could have easily been a remarkable short film, something closer to the half hour or forty minute mark. After a while the characters popping up often seem repetitive, and I think that’s the point, but in a film it’s not the best route to go. Film audiences need simple things like relatable characters and forward moving plots to really engage in a film. This does not have those things.

While I appreciated the messages I received from the film ,this is nowhere near my favorite Jarmusch movie. I think Down by Law, Broken Flowers, and Stranger Than Paradise do so much more with their characters and their takes on the fragile human condition. Bill Murray’s look in the final shot of Broken Flowers for me sums up all of the pain, regret and disappointment of a lifetime far better than our Lone Man staring at a covered painting.

I eagerly await the next Jarmusch project, but until then The Limits of Control will be holding, holding, holding it’s remarkable images and amazing music (done by Boris and easily the most satisfying part of the film) in my head for some time to come. It’s worth the watch, if you can stand it.

-Charlie

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