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Monkey Business

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The video essayist nerdwriter has a video essay about Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice that caught fire and makes a lot of sense about why it’s such a mess of a film (albeit a mess I honestly love). In a nutshell, Zack Snyder and the other primary authors of the film are not very much interested in providing a solid narrative as much as they are instead interested in providing “MOMENTS”. Those big notable images that catch the eye whose main purpose is to make any given audience member who can just come in interested in spectacle over storytelling (or say more into storytelling of big moments rather than the patient type that builds up to those big moments) to go “that’s so fucking cool”. I’m not normally in alignment with nerdwriter (I’m certainly not aligned with his somewhat negative reception to Dawn of Justice, though I think it has hella problems) but I think he has a point about that MOMENTS argument. I find it, as consequence, of little surprise that Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice and Kong: Skull Island are both shot by the same talented cinematographer, Larry Fong, because almost 30 minutes into Kong: Skull Island, I got the vibe it was going to be one of those MOMENTS type of movies and sure, enough it turns out to be exactly that, more interested in looking cool and evoking awesomeness rather than actually turning into a really compelling narrative beyond a group of people are stuck on an island that’s trying to eat them all. Which is a simple enough narrative for a King Kong picture to satisfy me if Kong: Skull Island didn’t try to complicate it so much.

Yes, Kong: Skull Island wants to consider itself more than just a great big monster picture by invoking the Vietnam war, making it the most out of place commentary on a historical event in a popcorn tentpole since Star Trek Into Darkness tackled 9/11 and the War on Terror. Both of those are well-meaning but fatal mistakes to Kong: Skull Island, the latter because I’m not quite sure director Jordan Vogt-Roberts knows much about Vietnam except that it’s in the movie Apocalypse Now so if they call back Apocalypse Now, they obviously will call back Vietnam somehow and they’re not wrong kind of, but the movie is so content to let its Apocalypse Now references speak for the ‘Nam element that I don’t think Vogt-Roberts realizes how often the movie picks it up and drops it ad nauseum.

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And then there’s its characters that try to give the semblance that the plot is more than just “soldiers on Skull Island getting picked off by monsters” and Kong: Skull Island has two roadblocks to that: one is that so many are faceless cannon fodder entities that the actual named characters just blob into them when they’re quickly picked off violently* and the second being that the actors… I dunno, they mostly feel lazy. Like not into the film at all. At least, they definitely give off a fatigue by the second-half of Kong: Skull Island that makes me realize I don’t care very much about who lives or who dies, save for John C. Reilly’s crazed WWII castaway. Samuel L. Jackson is on angry man autopilot and John Goodman feels utterly asleep, and I don’t think there’s a bigger sign of the laziness of the revolving door of writers (almost certainly with constant studio interference) that there’s no less than two central authority characters that have “revenge” as their motivation. Tom Hiddleston’s attempt at grimness doesn’t prove to be a worthy anchor for our sympathies and Brie Larson is on autopilot for the first time in her great career. Anybody whose problems with Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla** were with its human characters should have a much harsher time with this movie’s faceless and personality-dry soldiers (I hope it’s only the people surrounding me that seem to convince themselves this movie is better than Godzilla and not the popular consensus).

Especially since we spend more time with those human characters than the true star of the film – King motherfucking Kong himself. Still when he’s on-screen in those very MOMENTS I opened talking about, Terry Notary’s motion capture and Toby Kebbell’s facials are enough to give him a beastly, weighty character alongside the designs of every other wonderful bit of fauna – usually large versions of our own world’s beast – and flora, provided by the lush landscape of Hawaii and Australia. They’re not Andy Serkis, but it is some new more volatile and angry version of Kong that throws down (including the movie’s first and best setpiece with him swatting down helicopters in menace). In Kong’s conspicuous absence for much of the film, we get to spend time exploring Skull Island itself and it does have a personality enough as an exotic location with myth attached to it that it is understandable how viewers were able to walk away satisfied in popcorn style. But when I come for Kong, I do come for Kong and when the other things they try to fill that emptiness with – the characters and the Nam stuff – feel like they only widen the void rather than fill it, I can’t pretend this is a satisfying return of a character I love and want to see more of. I’d rather they get it right first before he comes about to face Godzilla, because in this state, he won’t last two rounds.

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*And I mean violently… the amount of dismemberment and blood is pushing this PG-13. I swear one of the deaths was an homage to Cannibal Holocaust. CANNIBAL FUCKING HOLOCAUST!

**and may I note how absolutely refreshing, in a film industry where movie universes mean movies are glorified trailers, that neither Godzilla or Kong: Skull Island shoo-in reference to each other in the actual meat of its plot, Skull Island opting simply for a post-credits sequences to set MonsterVerse up.

In Which I Push Myself to Acknowledge Inspiration

Haven’t posted in almost a month. Spent most of that month meaning to after I completed my commitment to In the Heights, but numerous happenings knocked me into a different gear and once I had time to write… I couldn’t find myself with the energy to write. I’d find myself just doing something else.

No motivation. Losing a car and rushing into work does that to you (though the latter inspired a hopefully soon post).

So I recalled a post from a facebook group I’m in from late March that went along the lines like this:

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What are my “holy freaking cow, I can do anything, I can be whatever I want to be” artists? I mean, I have a lot of “holy fudging heck how does anyone do that” artists (I don’t want to say it’s not hard to impress me, but usually if you take the time to make art, I bow to you).

Well, I did have an answer to that question on that post back then, but a few weeks later after being somewhat immovable on my passions, I figured it would be worthwhile if I just

So I saw it fit to simply name three inspirations (and a brief honorable mention) in three fields I happen to dabble in both professionally and in a hobby fashion:

MUSIC

Behold, the hobby! (though I used to make money in college from session musician gigs as a drummer). I diddle and fiddle and record either covers or slight sketches of concepts, but I’ve never gone full-throttle on music despite being interested and practicing it since middle school. Nevertheless, my stake in it is deep enough to have some very distinct influences. My selection is not so much an influence as they are just an inspiritation based on the niche of their concept and the degree of their success.

The Protomen

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Who are the Protomen? I’ll gladly let you know: a bunch of kids from Tennessee decided they wanted to rock some classic rock n’ roll about the story of Mega Man, heightening it into a multiple act concept album saga of Ayn Rand and tired futurism tropes. Yeah, weird, right? Well, they’re relatively fucking hot right now in the indie and video game music scene, so they did something right. In addition to simply being able to make such a weird idea grow into a formidable music project that may not be innovative and largely has a lot of its work done for it, they’ve been belting out hardworking shows and tours full of energy that rivals Andrew WK or old-school punk rock, performers that shake their audience into joining into the chorus crafting this little video game into a stalwart epic. And this is coming from someone who attended one of those shows. It’s easy to see why a cult would latch on to this work happily and tenuously.

It’s like a left band gang from the backgrounds of Miami Connection.

Honorable Mention: Mike Patton

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I like doing everything. I like being a jack of all trades in anything I’m interested. And no artist has ever seemed to emulate that ambition in range and versatility to me as Mike Patton and his thousands upon thousands of projects from Mr. Bungle to Fantomas to Lovage and the list goes on, especially in his fearlessness to experiment into outsider and avant-garde areas and really try to push his voice and compositions into dark and heavy tones and high and screeching shockwaves. The amount of focus he seems to imbue into his work, even when he appears to simply be having fun and riffing is what places him as opposed to the likewise fluid but somewhat frivolous work of Buckethead.

He’s also my kind of puerile.

FILM

I mean, duh, that’s why I do what I do. Been interested in film and video for a while, I don’t think I need to explain that interest anywhere around here. I may not have directed or written anything in a while (been opting instead for crew work right now), but here goes pushing myself. I mean hell, if my choice can keep it up, what’s my excuse.

Jafar Panahi’s last three movies – This Is Not a Film, Closed Curtain, and Taxi

The man is essentially imprisoned in his mind. He’s legally not allowed to make movies, due to the ruling of the Iranian govenment on him. And yet he’s still an artist, it’s not just his job, it’s who he is. He must make movies. It’s in his blood. It’s how he breathes. He’s our modern-day Mustafa. And he doesn’t care, he’s still doing it and two of his last three films are among the best works of cinema I’ve seen this decade. If he must do it remaining in his apartment, he does it. If he must shoot on an IPhone, so be it. If he must disguise his set as a cab to provide a portrait of Tehran, fine! If he must smuggle it in a cake, fuck it! Closed Curtain may be nothing to write home about but Taxi is eminently watchable and accessible to all but the most soulless people while This Is Not a Film is one of the most human and intimate portrayals of the creative process that you could provide, in so much as your honesty is being your own subject. In general, Iranian filmmakers just seem more in touch and creative to me with what the form of film and how to turn it and twist it different ways, which is why Kiarostami’s death is the one that hit me hardest from 2016 only behind Muhammad Ali. But Panahi, he works with what he must and he makes some of the most interesting filmmaking as a result of his ingenuity. And I feel like his bravery can only be rewarded rather than punished.

Honorable Mention: Mike Jittlov for The Wizard of Speed and Time

Speaking of No-Budget filmmaking, The Wizard of Speed and Time is also a fascinatingly enjoyable little gem that I only have shame in finally watching it at the age of 23 for the first time. If I had a chance to see it when I was 5 or 8, I probably would have been quicker to get out there and start making movies like Mike Jittlov does with his works. This is like a New Hollywood version A Trip to the Moon with its magic and the way it bursts off the screen (and I’d fucking kill to watch this in 35mm) do its titles’ insistence on messing with both speed and time very damn well. Watch it when you get the chance. Watch it with friends. Watch it when you’re about to watch a B-Movie. Project it on a sheet in your garage. Just… Ugh, so good and so jelly.

WRITING

Click here to read part 1, part 2, and part 3 of “This Must Be the Place”.

I mean, I figured there must be a reason why I write a lot of short stories and reviews and why I read Stephen Kings’ non-fiction works Danse Macabre and On Writing multiple times over and over. I mean, there must be a reason why I’m insistent on writing and why many of my previous jobs involved copywriting and such. I must be headed to somewhere when I dream about owning a giant writing desk and having a perfect spot for it.

Or maybe I just write to dream. Who knows?

David Wong

The man walked past me and stopped, observing the blood running down my neck.

“Your injury. Let us tend to it.” He looked out through the open doorway and silently gestured to someone out there. “Our world,” he said, “is far more advanced than yours. For reasons you’ll understand shortly.”

A thin, bony, naked woman entered the room, carrying two small, white kittens. She sat one of the fluffy cats in my lap and stuffed the other down my shirt. She turned and left.

“There,” said the large man. “The kittens will make your sad go away.”

John Dies at the End is the single least sophisticated piece of writing you’d find among my favorite books of all time and yet you’d still find it there on that list between The Sandman, the aforementioned Danse Macabre, and Les Miserables. It is exactly the type of book you’d expect from a Cracked writer, which is a backhanded statement certainly, but y’know… at least they get paid for that writing. The man is so ambitious in ideas and sloppy in prose that it makes a great mess of confusion and sounds like the sort of stumbling and mumbling my dumb ass would make in such a situation. It’s pseudo-intelligent but unassuming surprisingly rather than pretentious. It’s… a lot of fun. His books about the adventures of David Wong and John Cheese are out there, it’s psychotic, and they have enough unpredictability despite their parody of horror tropes to function in the balance between scary in a conceptual fashion and hilarious. Not bad for a book that almost feels like it was written in crayon.

Full Disclosure that I’m sure regular readers already know: one of my dream film projects is to adapt John Dies at the End and This Book Is Full of Spiders! Seriously, Dude, Don’t Touch It! into miniseries, so yeah.

Honorable mention: Terry Pratchett

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It’s vital to remember who you really are. It’s very important. It isn’t a good idea to rely on other people or things to do it for you, you see. They always get it wrong.

I mean Pterry makes me feel like I can do ANYTHING. Not just writing. In life, the man’s works keep one going and the promise of a new Discworld novel in the coming years was quite a fantastic thing to look forward to. The books were not just funny, they were astoundingly insightful and a smart comfort from the scariness of the real world without being stupidly coddling. He was a blunt intellectual that also radiated humanity. The man is missed and the shadow he left just reminds me that I’m sitting here typing in his honor rather than getting up and making something. Right on.