Saturday, April 11, 2009

Art Criticism, Life, Criticism

I was just watching Synecdoche and I'm feeling inspired. My man Phillip Seymour Hoffman put together the grandest play in human history. He did something brave and daring. And I want to join the party. To create something true. On my blog. Sigh. I know. But what can I do? I don't have another outlet. At least not until I sell my script.

It's called Motel For Dogs. It's about a dog couple who take up residence in a cheap motel after falling on hard times. But since no one is biting on the script, dog or otherwise, I can only assume that the movies people want to see are those that offer an escape from our current economic problems. And this movie does just the opposite, by looking unflinchingly at the depravity and crushing despair a down-on-their-luck dog might sink to. The couple first turns to drugs for comfort but then their habits eventually come to consume them. The climatic scene is when Freckles' (female lead) litter of crack puppies are forced to watch their mother satisfy a corrupt police dog to pay off another of Rusty's (male lead) gambling debts. I'm holding out hope that a courageous studio exec will see this as a modern day Lady and the Tramp. Fingers crossed everyone. These student loans aren't going to pay off themselves.

As you can tell I'm writing this post at 4 in the morning on a Saturday. I should be asleep but I turned down offers to go to drink, laugh and let the cares of the world disappear. Instead I wrote more of the novel I'm never going to finish and watched Synecdoche. And my God what a movie. Charlie Kaufman is a genius. It was better than an orgasm with a woman you love while eating ice cream and watching Synecdoche.

But while I was marveling at how brilliant this confusing movie was, it got me thinking about a spirited and drunken debate me and my buddies got into after we saw No Country For Old Men. One buddy, Zack, said it was the greatest movie yada yada. My other buddy, Mark, believed otherwise and said something like, “Yea? And how about the end? It’s like from Arrested Development when Maeby says 'Just stick on something nonsensical and since no one wants to look stupid people will say it’s brilliant.’”

And Mark kind of had a point then and maybe he's got a point about Synecdoche. Especially in the jumping between characters and time and Jesus I still can't process the different layers of what is real and what is the play parroting reality. Nonetheless. This movie is so good. Maybe it’s just because I see myself as a man obsessed with his own death who is incapable of ever finishing his opus or having a successful relationship with a female. Especially since, like Seymour Hoffman, these women care more about the salad they ordered than the words coming out of my mouth even while I’m saying all these things I think are brilliant. And while I'm yapping they’re wondering how they’re going to get out of this awkward food eating experience and never see me again because, let’s face it, prior experience tells them I'm also fairly disappointing in the sack. Jesus H. Absolutely brilliant. Anyways, if there’s one movie you should have seen last year then it’s this one.

Point number 2. The Office sucks now. There’s no ifs ands or buts about it. I date the show's decline to the middle of the 3rd season. Right after the merger stuff was finished, since that's when the American writers could no longer steal the story lines from Ricky Gervais' tightly wound and perfectly executed 14 episode series. So once the American Office became rudderless the writers started throwing out cheap gags that wouldn't have hooked us on the show if that's how it had started. I mean, the pull of the show was always the awkward-attention-seeking-unloved boss and the tension between a well-matched couple who because of fear didn't express their affection for each other. Those story lines were touching, and they allowed for an unforced comedy, but once the over-the-top absurdity became the central focus, well then the show became average at best. (Really, Dwight burns his feet on hot coals to get a promotion or Michael drives his car into a lake to prove a point?) In other words, I feel like The Office and I got off to a great start but now it's clear that this isn't going anywhere. And I want out. But it's so hard to get out, you know? Those times were great. Some of the best times of my life. So for now I'm still watching but I'm thinking of other TV shows I could be watching instead.

Point number 3. What Happens in Vegas was better than I thought it would be. Now I know that’s going to open me up to some criticism so let me be clear, we’re talking about baselines. I thought it was going to be absolute shiite and it was just plain terrible. But I’m only talking about that movie because of the development of Cameron Diaz’s character who (I would say spoiler alert but I'm pretty sure that anyone who would be upset that the plot to What Happens in Vegas is ruined for them has already been murdered (justly so) by their parents or significant others.) quits her demanding job because it's not making her happy. Is there any more hackneyed device these days? I mean, maybe this criticism is unnecessary since the Depression 2.0 will change my generation's mentality towards work and we won't have to deal with the overuse of this device anymore. But in case that doesn't happen I want to emphasize how common this tired story line has become by listing movies that use it:

Waitress, Waiting, Valkeryie, Dark Knight – ok so I'm having trouble proving my point here. Those first two movies definitely do it. I guess it’s too late for me to think straight but it’s true. Once you start looking for the unhappy protagonist who quits his/her job and this is portrayed as heroic and not short-sighted or childish then you’ll see it all over the place. Maybe I’ll write a comment that proves this point later but for now take my word for it.

Point number 4. So I didn’t read many reviews of Watchmen but what I did read rated the movie negatively. And that I can't tolerate! I mean, I don't know why I went for the exclamation point but it felt more appropriate than a period. Maybe it's because I didn’t read the graphic novels or anything so I came in with zero expectations. Watching the movie was my first exposure to the story line and holy Mother of God. What a story. I mean, it turns an escapist formula like comic books on its head. Moral ambiguities are generally not explored so you'd think you're going to experience the clear demarcation of good and evil with that reliable catharsis of good heroically triumphing. But then that clarity is cleverly muddled and by the end you're no longer sure who your God is. "You want to sit in a theater and forget your troubles? Fuck you. Think of the shitte you'd do if you had unchecked power. Evil lives within us all. Deal with it fatso." God it's so good.

Watching this movie also made it clear why Heroes Season 1 was so good, since it stole the good stuff from the the tightly wound and perfectly executed graphic novel series that I assume Watchmen must have been. I mean, the whole moral ambiguity of superheroes and the Armageddon as a false cleansing of evil, Heroes obviously just ripped those ideas straight off. (I assume. Until I see something that predates Watchmen that Watchmen obviously ripped off.) And once Heroes couldn’t steal any more ideas the show became rudderless and the writers started grasping at straws with lame devices and ratings fell, etc.

I guess the point of this is well done to those of you who steal others great ideas and then get really rich from them. I can't wait to see the pirated version of Synecdoche on television in 20 years. I just hope that Charlie Kaufman gets the same executive producer credit and bundles of dough that Ricky Gervais did, otherwise I'm going to be pretty livid. So in conclusion, I'm reserving judgment on whether our society is headed into moral decay where good artistic ideas are perverted by profit driven men who think only of the material goods and shapely women their thievery will secure. U.S.A.? U.S.A.? U.S.A.?

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