Friday, June 20, 2008

tales of unemployment...

So, obviously, the bad side of losing my job is that I don't have a job, my future is uncertain, I'm stressed out and nervous, it challenges my ideas about myself and where I should be in life at this age etc. etc. etc. The upside is that I have more time to watch movies. Which, naturally, means I've been totally squandering that time watching really bad movies. And not even necessarily negative pleasure bad movies. Like, last night, I watched "Coneheads." I didn't even really want to, I just watched it. The other night I watched "Weekend at Bernie's." I don't even know what I can say about that. There's no justification. I'm just watching this stuff. There are thousands upon thousands of films, many of them quite good and potentially somehow fulfilling, out there in the cinematic pantheon, and I'm avoiding them like the plague.

Well, that's not really true. I did watch Russell Rouse's 1966 antimasterpiece "The Oscar," which I've been aware of for years and never had an opportunity to watch until earlier this week, when Bill Maher (thanks, dude) curated a screening of it on TCM. At this point, I've seen most of the "cult" films out there. I mean, I'm not bragging, I've just been at this for a long time, watching these things, tracking them down, so the number of movies on my "list" is relatively low at this point. Anyway, "The Oscar" was one of the few I'd really been waiting for, and, man, was it worth the wait.

"The Oscar" comes from the same cultural currents as the novels of Harold Robbins (he wrote the Carpetbaggers, which was filmed by Edward Dymytrk in 1964, and also wrote "The Lonely Lady," with Pia Zadora, which has a plot very similar to "The Oscar.") or Jacqueline Susann (although "Valley of the Dolls" the film didn't come out until a year after this) in that it's a presumably meant-to-be serious, very remarkably over-the-top, hyperlurid expose of the rich and famous. In this case, it's Frankie Fane (played by Irish actor Stephen Boyd), easily one of the least likable leading characters ever to carry a movie on his back (I suspect some of the character's slimier characteristics come from co-writer Harlan Ellison, who's kind of a notorious bastard), a burlesque hustler who travels the country with his sidekick Hymie Kelly (Tony Bennett, actually kind of good in his only acting role) and girlfriend Laurel (Jill St John), a dancer.

After some setup showing how down-and-out these kids are, and how much of a self-obsessed bastard Frankie is, he gets fed up with the girl and hits the road, through a variety of circumstances and his own force of will becoming a top Hollywood actor. Along the way, Laurel dies and Frankie reunites with Hymie (and, yes, the character is meant to be half-Jewish, half-Irish), as well as hooking up with Elke Sommer and Eleanor Parker. Milton Berle becomes his agent/manager type character, and Joseph Cotton is the studio head who gives Frankie his big break even though he feels the actor is missing something...namely, humanity, which becomes apparent when his films start to flop.

Ernest Borgnine shows up as a sleazy private detective. Bob Hope, Edith Head, Hedda Hopper, Merle Oberon, Frank & Nancy Sinatra all appear as themselves. Acting as actors are Ed Begley Sr, Walter Brennan, Broderick Crawford & Peter Lawford. I think upon release this was expected to be a big hit but it totally flopped, I'm sure in large part due to the main character's lack of appeal, and in some other part I'm sure due to this whole package being kind of a ridiculous mess. But it's the kind of glorious, utterly engaging mess that they don't make it anymore.

In the vein, witness "Southland Tales," Richard Kelly's ridiculously self-important, overlong, underdeveloped follow up to the remarkably overrated "Donnie Dorko." That some critics took "Southland Tales" (all two and a half painful hours of it) seriously makes me want to look for something in this to latch onto, but whatever that thing might be, I couldn't find it. This is the kind of expansive cyberpunk stuff that's never really worked, except maybe in "Blade Runner" (which narratively was alot more intimate than this anyway) or the tv miniseries "Wild Palms," which could accomodate the length necessary to play out an epic, multi-character storyline. "Southland Tales" is more like "Strange Days"- in fact, it's ALOT like "Strange Days," crossed with the pretentious, cameo-laden faux-art-posturing of "The Fifth Element," with more than a little "Johnny Mnemonic" style stupidity thrown in.

Ostensibly, this intended to be some kind of parody, but exactly what it's meant to be parodying, I had no idea. There's no point of view, and the characterizations- exaggerated and archetypical- aren't rooted in any kind of reality, but rather are sloppily cartoonish. Hence we get a whole bunch of characters crowding up the screen, none of them really inspiring very much interest, or reflecting any kind of reality. And that there's supposed to be some kind of humor involved...parody requires perspective, I think. It requires...well, it requires a purpose, otherwise it's just the kind of broad, scattershot "Airplane" style humor that isn't really funny anymore. But "Southland Tales" doesn't even have that. It's like parody written by an alien, who has no real sense of the reality that he's parodying, or maybe just parody written by someone who isn't very funny or isn't very smart, and thinks that just mentioning conservatives and liberals in a sci-fi flick amounts to some kind of social commentary.

The sci-fi aspect of the film is equally half-baked. It seems to be the perogative of pretentious movies about "big ideas" to latch on to concepts that are vague enough to seem intelligent without really being explainable, as in "Pi" and "Donnie Dorko" itself. Here the idea has something to do with a perpetual motion machine and time travel, but who cares? These are just catchphrases signifying "ideas" and "intelligence" in order to mask the overwhelming vaccuousness and stupidity at the core of this rotten apple. For a "real" science fiction film that manages to keep its' ideas within the constraints of its' intelligence, check out the low-key, low-budget "Primer" from a few years back. It actually works, when you think about it. In the case of "Southland Tales," one gets the sense that Kelly really wanted to fuck with people's minds, but he lacked the intelligence to do that, so we all just wind up with his dick in your ear.

Also squeezing any possible bit of joy out of "Southland Tales" is its' half-baked hipness, which amounts to alot of middle-of-the-road talent, Saturday Night Live alumni, and would-be ironic cameos by the likes of Wallace Shawn and John Larroquette. Justin Timberlake, becoming pretty ubiquitous in mediocre films, even has a mediocre musical sequence scored by Mr. Mediocrity, Mr. Middle-of-the-road himself, Moby. I will admit that I did think The Rock was pretty funny in parts, which is funny because I don't tend to think of him as a good actor, where as "Tumbsucker's" Lou Taylor Pucci, who I tend to think of pretty good, is actually totally horrible as...well, who really cares? He's just another body moving up on screen, doing stupid things, saying stupid things, and generally wasting my time.

So, yeah, see "The Oscar" at all costs and avoid "Southland Tales" like the plague. Meanwhile, the New York Asian Film Festival starts this week, so I'm going to try and check out a few of the flicks on display and write about them here. And comics, more comics are on the way. And ennui, waves and waves of it, radiating through everything I think, feel and do...

Stay negative, fuckers...


Richard Jennings said...

I will avoid southland tales. I have only found good jobs on a few sites lately:

Lots of employers & recruiters are abandoning the "pay to post a job" model in favor of these free employment sites. So I dont see lots of jobs on the same sites that were popular 5 years ago.

harris smith said...

thanks, m'man!