Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter First Response

Tonight I saw the excellent new movie Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter.  It is going to be a little while before I can write a review, as the movie defies easy description and categorization.  I was pleasantly surprised that the creators of the movies, the Zellner brothers, were at the screening and did a Q & A after.  I had no idea that they were from Austin or that they would be there.  I think anyone that enjoys seeing something unique and dreamlike at the movie theater would like this film.  Although one could draw comparisons to other directors and films that came before it, it was its own thing.  It was an art-house film, but one that had a story captivating enough that I think even a certain percentage of people that aren’t interested in those kind of films could be swept up in.  However, it was interpretive and requires the viewer to think, unlike a great deal of mass entertainment. Anyway, I will write more at some point.  I really liked the film and wanted to get something up about it.  I didn’t want my silence, since I posted I was going to see it, to be taken as dislike.

Give Us Three Minutes and We’ll Give You the World

The original version of Robocop hilariously satirizes TV news and television commercials.  Sure, a movie made in the 80’s is bound to get a couple things wrong, but overall it captures the shallowness of modern culture excellently.  Years on our culture still too often feels like an 80’s action movie.

One of the general plot points in the science fiction movie Robocop is that a military industrial corporation is trying to take over the police force of Detroit.  Knowing now how are police have often been militarized, thanks in part to the military industrial complex, a good deal of this movie is still more relevant than one would hope it would be.  

W., House of Cards, Deadwood, and Reflections On the Illusions of Power


The other night I watched Oliver Stone’s W. for the first time since it was in theaters, his film about George W. Bush.  There is that old saying that comedy is tragedy plus time.  The farther we drift from those years the more they seem like some kind of strange absurd comedy.  (And yes I am fully aware of the real tragedies that were part of those times.)  Like when you study the horrors of medieval times they almost appear like a Monty Python comedy.  I think people will look back on that point in our history with disbelief.  How did we knowingly choose to put a man like that in charge for two terms?  Why did we invade a country that posed no threat to us?  It was baffling then to many and even more so now.

If you lived through those years the movie might seem too light for what actually went on.  However, if you view it in a detached way, as someone looking back who didn’t live through them would, I think it emotionally reflects how those times will be viewed.

I’ve also, as stated, been watching House of Cards lately.  Given some of the problems with the third season, I still think it possesses interesting ideas.  Combined with watching W. is the idea that our leaders our just people, no different from us.  They may have better luck, family ties, or ambition, but at the end of the day they are humans.  It is only ritual and stage craft that gives them their power.  We are all part of a play.  The power they possess is only in direct accordance with how much power we believe that they have.  In the show Deadwood there is the idea that history is, “a lie agreed upon.”  There are rules and traditions that create the perception of order and therefore create order itself.  It is the belief in these fictitious sets of principles that holds it all together.

To close, I quote Twin Peaks:  “We live inside a dream.”

Blonde On Blonde and the Elusive Nature of Art

Different Versions of Blonde On Blonde

Today I was listening to the mono version of Dylan’s Blonde On Blonde.  I then stumbled on the above article, which tries to document the different versions of that album and there reasons for being.  Even if you are not an audiophile, with truth be told, even though I love records, I am not, there are reasons why this should interest you.  Often we think of a piece of art as having a definitive version.  However with albums, there are slightly different versions in different countries.  Even in the same country, especially in the 60’s when it was common to have stereo and mono versions of the same record, there are different mixes, track listings, cover photos, etc.

Music isn’t the only art-form where there can be many different versions.  Many times painters or other kinds of visual artists will make more than one of a piece.  Japanese woodblock prints are a kind of art-form that were meant to have multiple versions.  The movie Alexander, by Oliver Stone, one of my favorite films, has the theatrical cut, the directors cut, and a sprawling two disc The Final Cut.

There is arguably a best version of a particular piece of art.  There may be an intended version of something.  However, there often isn’t a “definitive” version of something.  The movie Blade Runner is an interesting study.  There is the original theatrical cut and there is also a director’s cut, among other versions.  The director’s cut is obviously the intended version by the person that had the biggest hand in creating it.  However, I know many people that are passionate about this movie, that prefer the theatrical cut.  Which version would you deem “definitive”?

Art, like the human experience in general, can be hard to pin down.

The Marx Brothers in Texas


Last night in Nacogdoches, Kevin Russell told me the story of how the Marx Brothers got their comedic start here.  I had no idea their story involved Texas at all.  From Wikipedia:

One evening in 1912, a performance at the Opera House in Nacogdoches, Texas, was interrupted by shouts from outside about a runaway mule. The audience hurried out to see what was happening. When the audience returned, Groucho, angered by the interruption, made snide comments about its members, including “Nacogdoches is full of roaches” and “The jackass is the flower of Tex-ass”. Instead of becoming angry, the audience laughed. The family then realized it had potential as a comic troupe.

P.S. If today is anything like yesterday then posting will be slow until I get back to Austin.

Fury Review and the Mythology of War


There are some big spoilers for the movie Fury in this post.

Last night I watched the World War II movie Fury, starring Brad Pitt.  I liked it a lot, as I thought it had several things to offer.  With Band of Brothers, The Pacific, Saving Private Ryan, The Thin Red Line, and others, there has been no shortage of World War II themed entertainment in recent years.  If someone is going to tell another World War II story there has to be some reason for it to exist.  I think this movie has earned a reason to exist.  Before I start on that I should mention that I was a History Major for most of college and I even took a class on Nazi Germany.  I have read my fair share of World War II books as well.

I felt like this movie was as much about World War II movies, and war movies in general, as it was about the actual war.  First of all the first two thirds of this movie are simply great.  The final act was problematic, but even its problems might have been by design, and it is worth discussing.  The first two thirds of this movie are jet black.  This is definitely war as hell.  Most of the main characters are not even likable.  The performances, cinematography, action, and story are all perfectly orchestrated during this part of the movie.  Even though something like Saving Private Ryan presented the horrors of war, and even showed war crimes near the beginning, there was a sense of the movie paying tribute to the soldiers that fought in World War II.  The world of war in Fury is no place that any sane person would ever want to be.  There is no dignity and nobility displayed for the most part.

Even though I’ve read that the filmmakers of Fury wanted to be historically accurate, and perhaps they were, the battlefield looks like hell in some kind of Italian opera.  Many of the shots seem like different shades of black, with assorted explosions of deep red blood. However, instead of this feeling monochromatic, there is a sense of opera to it.  You don’t want to watch, but you can’t look away.

The tension is unrelenting, whether that is behind the lines or in the battlefield.  There are two scenes worth mentioning.  First there is a tank battle in the middle of the movie that is as well done as any I have ever seen.  It’s claustrophobic, intense, and well orchestrated.  You never lose the sense of what is happening and what is at state.

At the polar opposite, also towards the middle of the movie, there is a scene of character driven drama that is as intense as any battle.  It could almost be in a Kubrick movie.  The soldiers have taken a German town.  One of the main characters in the film is a young inexperienced soldier played by Logan Lerman.  This character is the audiences way into the story.  Despite 10 weeks of training, he knows nothing about what war is like when the movie starts.  Brad Pitt and the other soldiers educate this character on the horrors of war.  Well they are in possession of the German town there is an apartment with two German women, one of whom is young and innocent.  Pitt and Lerman’s character are having a meal with the German women when the rest of the tank crew come in.  Feeling that they are left out, and wanting the spoils of war, there is a psychological battle between the characters where you feel at any moment things could go horribly wrong.  These men have been dehumanized by war.  You do not like them as they behave closer to animals than men.

However, the very next part of the movie is the tank battle I described.  The battle forces these men, who only a shot time ago were at each others throats, into a kind of brotherhood of war.  You root for them when only minutes ago you despised them.  This could symbolize not only how war forms strong bonds between men, but also how as movie goers, through narrative arcs, we often root for people doing horrible things.

The end of the movie is where the tone of the movie really changes.  It is also, depending on how you view the film, where it becomes problematic.  However, I think the problems in the narrative and action are actually by design, and they add to the ideas of the film, rather than detract.  The end of the movie finds the soldiers of a single tank trying to hold a crossroads against an entire German SS Battalion.  The tank is not even fully functional at this point, having lost its mobility to a mine.  The movie almost becomes a typical action movie here, something closer to Rambo than a realistic World War II film.  I won’t spoil the final ending, but lets just say that they kill more Germans than is realistically believable.

Although one could argue that the filmmakers simply gave the movie a big action ending to satisfy filmgoers, I don’t think this is the case.  I don’t think that a movie that was so steeped in horror and believability through the first two thirds of the film, would simply throw that out the window at the end.  The characters go from being highly flawed well written characters to action heroes.  The tank battle that I described above still had a believability and realism to it that this final battle lacks.  But I think the themes of that battle are taken to their logical conclusion here.  This final battle is more symbolic than the rest of the movie.

The final battle is the lie that we have to tell ourselves to keep sending our young men and women into harms way.  It is the construct that we need to have to enjoy ourselves watching violence on screen.  It is the horror and myth of war in the same film.  These are no longer men that have been dehumanized through situations that they have been placed in by others.  These are heroes.  These are people that should be put on a pedestal because they are doing things that are above the actions of mere mortals.  We not only tell ourselves pleasant stories about heroes in real life, but as film goers we allow ourselves to indifferent to any suffering that we see on screen.

This is tough movie, for what is says about war, for what it says about us.