Movie of the Week: Fish Tank

Fish Tank documents a few weeks in the life of a rebellious, combative teenager named Mia. She lives in working-class East London with her troubled family: a single mother who acts like a teenager herself and a younger sister who is only slightly less combative than the other two. Mia has a few adventures early on, but the film really picks up steam (in more ways than one) when Mia’s mother gets a new boyfriend: Michael Fassbender. He’s an enigmatic character and Mia struggles to adapt to his presence. From there on the situation spirals out of control, as we’ll see when we watch this gritty film for our weekly (duh) Movie of the Week!

P.S. I’m not going to add the trailer here because, to be honest, I probably wouldn’t have watched the film (much less voted it Movie of the Week) if I had seen the trailer first.

Correspondence: On Urban Cycling and Psychopaths

Dear friends,

I have a new hobby.

You see, I fixed up my bicycle over the weekend and have been taking it on voyages around the neighborhood. It was in a sad condition last year when I discovered it in storage — though by ‘in storage’ I really mean ‘outside, mostly unprotected from the elements’ — where it had been for around 3 years. I found it at the perfect time, though, as I have recently become determined to do more, you know? And bicycling definitely involves a lot of doing.

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Pointless Slaughter and Mayhem in God Bless America

God Bless America PosterFrank is a sad, sad sack. His constant monologues against the rude, vulgar and narcissistic nature of modern popular culture has detached him from his community, coworkers, spouse and child. His insomnia and migraines are making him literally psychotic. Then he discovers he has brain cancer and, on the same day, is fired from his job as an insurance salesman.

He prepares to end it all, but at the last minute he has a wake-up call and decides to combat the rudeness in the world around him by killing the spoiled 16-year-old reality star on his TV. You read that correctly: the movies, television and news around him have become too “cruel and vicious” and only reward the “meanest and the loudest,” so he’s going to go out and kill strangers. Appropriate solution, dude.

Meanwhile, Roxy is a foul-mouthed teenager who feels alienated from the world around her. She’s different, you know? She has strong opinions on high-fives and Diablo Cody (negative) and France and Alice Cooper (positive). Also, don’t fucking call her Juno. On top of that she’s rather morbid, so when Frank pops into the neighborhood and murders Chloe the reality TV star she gets all chipper and excited and convinces Frank to continue righting the world, one bullet at a time.

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You’re a Bad Man, Charlie Bartlett

“I’m screwed up,” you say. “I have to take care of all the adults in my life,” you whine. “My daddy left us,” you moan. Whatever, Charlie Bartlett, your excuses ain’t gonna count for nothin’ in the big house.

Yeah, that’s right, you’re going to jail Charlie Bartlett. You think you could sell a full pharmacy-equivalent of illegally obtained prescription medication to minors and have a happy ending? No chance! Perhaps you’ve heard of this little thing called the War on Drugs? Yeah, well, you’re just a statistic now.

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“You Just Perfectly Described How I Feel Sometimes” — A Few Words About Seeing the Mountain Goats Live

The Mountain Goats live in concert There is one thing you’ll definitely notice when you see The Mountain Goats live in concert.

No, it’s not the quality of the musicianship or the way the band takes on many different forms throughout the night, changing size and composition and moving to John Darnielle solo and back again. That is certainly something to notice, but it’s not what I’m talking about.

It’s not the intense fans, either (the quote in the title above was actually shouted at the band by a fan in the audience on Tuesday). Many bands have a deeply interested core fan base, though other band’s fans are not shouting along to lines such as “Hail Satan” or “I hope we both die!”

It’s also not the wonderfully expressive lyrics — alternatively poetic and forceful — or the devious way in which the dark tales about people facing raw, difficult situations and emotions are commonly paired with upbeat, buoyant rhythms. These are other things that are very important and unique, but they’re not the ultimate takeaway.

The detail I now present as key is that the band is positively giddy while performing on stage every single night. I’ve seen them several times and it’s unvarying. John Darnielle’s enthusiasm while delivering his musical narratives (and associated hilarious witticisms in-between) is wonderfully invigorating. Whether he’s playing a half-empty concert hall or a packed festival main stage, his passion for performing and the force of his personality is contagious.

And that, friends, is the one thing I’m sure you’ll notice when you see the Mountain Goats live. Check them out when you get the chance — you won’t regret it.

Only An Idiot Would Want to Be President

Image credit: Matt H. Wade

A run for president has all of the same problems as being a celebrity (including a lack of privacy and everybody trying to backseat-drive your life) plus a smaller paycheck, required pandering and much, much more responsibility. The vetting process for the highest office in the land should certainly be difficult, but these days anyone who plots a run for President is an idiot — and doubly so if he expects to win!

Every four years an array of driven, accomplished people (well, usually) trip over each other in their race to Iowa and New Hampshire on a quest to the White House. This always results in one winner and a dazzling amount of shameful, humiliating pandering. The candidates pander to voters in places far removed from the power centers in the major cities in peculiar ways: eating lots of corndogs, kissing many a baby, acting folksy and otherwise doing their best to stroke the egos of normally inconsequential flyover states. As a nation we’ve decided that in these ways we must knock each successful suitor down a peg or two before we give them their piece of cheese at the end of the rat maze.

At the same time us voters demand silly, scripted actions from those we might entrust with the nuclear football, the donors who power a candidate’s campaign are even worse. Having amassed enough wealth that they can literally throw millions toward a particular candidate or issue, these individuals feel even more entitled and knowledgable than the average voter. They ask silly questions and are unrelenting with their advice and scorn. If a candidate doesn’t allow these life-giving donors to backseat drive the campaign or if they sense that their contender is losing they will jump with their bags of money to another horse, figuratively speaking, leaving behind the burning wreckage of a campaign. Voters may choose the office-holder, but the elite among us appear to have veto power over a candidacy.

Meanwhile, the media also has a hunger for information and, more importantly, a narrative (they do need to fill 24-hours of coverage for Pete’s sake). This means they can quickly become fickle and edgy if deprived of action and movement in the race. They’re going to find a story one way or another — it doesn’t matter whether said story is perceived or material, partisan or objective, gossip- or policy-based. This means privacy cannot be taken for granted, a sad state of affairs for someone who is constantly forced to pander to disparate groups across the nation for both votes and money. A camera in the right place can really ruin a campaign’s vibe or even cripple an otherwise powerful candidate.

But the most important component of the pain and humiliation that is the modern campaign for the presidency is the very real possibility of winning. The winner does get his very own airplane and has a theme song played every time he enters a room, but imagine the campaign state of affairs protracted over not a few months but 4-8 years! Add in a Congress that is vying for attention and needs its massive ego rubbed in order to pass a bill, an opposition party that will say or do anything to tear down the winner, and the fact that the office of Presidency is a magnet for the violence of mentally unstable individuals and you can sense the magnitude of what a candidate is sacrificing to have all that power. Plus, we totally stopped adding faces to Mt. Rushmore decades ago.

So we may call the President the most powerful person in the free world, but I think we should perhaps be calling him the idiot-in-chief.

Dollar Movie Theater: 21 Jump Street

Dollar Movie Theater

A Jonah Hill-fronted comedy comes with a large set of expectations. There’s going to be lots of low-brow sex jokes, profanity, drug humor and self-deprecation. 21 Jump Street embodies this, but manages to build higher expectations early on with some solid pacing and unusually self-aware prodding at its roots in 80s TV (think: Hot Fuzz). These expectations, once built, are hard to live up to.

The movie focuses on Morton Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and Greg Jenko (Channing Tatum), who are both graduates of the same high school and find themselves at the same police academy after graduation. Embracing the most basic trope of a buddy-cop-comedy, these two become best pals despite — and because! — they are total opposites: Schmidt is a nerdy do-gooder while Jenko is a blockhead jock. Even working together they very quickly prove to be over their heads simply patrolling a suburban park and are reassigned to an undercover unit. As undercover cops they are sent back to high school in order to infiltrate an active drug ring. As you would expect, absurdity ensues.

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No Strings Attached Pulls My Strings

HEY YOU. Do you want to watch a movie about Ashton Kutcher and Natalie Portman doing it?! …STOP LAUGHING I AM SERIOUS. Okay, okay I get it. Okay. GONNA REVIEW IT ANYWAY.

No Strings Attached movie posterSO, Natalie Portman and Ashton Kutcher are acquaintances that keep bumping into each other all the time (It’s a modern day When Harry Met Sally!). She’s a totally legitimate doctor that lives with her fav doctor roommates, played by Mindy Kaling and Greta Gerwig (OMG GRETA GERWIG MARRY ME, PLEASE), and they are living the sweet life just hanging around and syncing their periods (Natalie Portman’s is on shuffle!), and making homemade potpourri while talking about how they never get laid. (HIGH FIVE, GIRLFRIEND!!)

Ashton Kutcher has an “industry” job, meaning he works as a production assistant on a TV show that is NOT High School Musical. (JK it totally is.) Kutcher has big dreams of… wanting to be a writer on High School Musical 8 (or the equivalent), but his boss is a very mean lady who says he can’t write an episode because that’s not his job, and then she disrobes and lights him on fire while dancing around his charred, screeching body. (FACTUAL.)
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Movie of the Week: They Live

They Live movie poster

Every ten to twenty years They Live‘s blunt message about the failures of self-interested capitalism becomes widely fashionable, and there’s no denying that hating on greedy executives with golden parachutes is in vogue right now. That said, imagining your terrible boss as a ghoulish alien from the planet Rand is powerfully cathartic whether during a boom or a bust, and in this regard They Live delivers. It’s a populist manifesto full of action and shootouts and light on poignant messaging. We are talking about John Carpenter, after all.

Alternating between bizarre hobo utopia and violent sci-fi dystopia, with a major filling of conspiracy theory theater as well, They Live offers up epic one-liners [spoiler] and is a fantastically absurd adventure full of half-baked characters and plot holes by the bucketful, but also wit and sass and imagination. Also, the longest and most pointless fight [spoiler] ever presented on screen — all fought over a pair of sunglasses. So, just know what you’re getting into: in the end, we’re shooting less for the list of best movies than for the list of best bad movies with this one.

Definitely watch this meme-tastic adventure — it’s even on YouTube. Just do it.

The Giving Tornado, or, Guess Who Found Twister in the One Dollar DVD Box!

Twister Movie Poster

What happens when you gather an assortment of adrenaline junkies and tired stereotypes in the middle of Oklahoma during a tornado apocalypse? Death, destruction, and science to be sure, but also a full 113 minute film about the worst carpool ever, featuring a few paper cuts and science-y bluster! You know, realism.

We open in Oklahoma, 1969, where young Jo and her unnamed parents are hiding in their storm shelter from an F5 tornado as it growls outside like some modern interpretation of the big bad wolf. Her father is sucked up into the tumultuous vortex and young Jo promises to nurture a massive death-wish until she avenges him by eliminating tornadoes — er, increasing the average warning time to, say, 20 minutes.

Note: Jo’s father is literally the only person who will die on screen this whole time, so you might as well cry now, if you’re feeling it.

Flash forward to the present (by which I mean 1996). In the middle of nowhere, a ragtag gang of wise-cracking humanitarian storm chasers (including Philip Seymour Hoffman as the cheerful pothead Dusty and Alan Ruck as the superfluous navigator) are fixing up their Doppler radars and otherwise having a grand ol’ time horsing around. Enter Bill (Bill Paxton) and his new fiancée Melissa (Jami Gertz), dropping by to ambush a grown-up Jo (Helen Hunt) with a friendly divorce paper signing.

Bill is all about business, as he has become boring and domesticated since he left the storm chasing business to become an uptight TV weatherman in the city. Jo, meanwhile, is flighty, scattered and exudes a tomboy spunk, and we can all immediately tell the second-most important thing to her after tornado chasing is hookin’ back up with Bill! Needless to say, Bill and Jo’s constant flirtation bothers fiancée Melissa, but she’s a psychiatrist and therefore a complete wimp who gives him room to grow and space to connect with his feelings.

They stick around the camp long enough to explain how they all want to improve tornado warning times using DOROTHY: a giant trashcan full of tiny and expensive sensors designed to be sucked up into then monitor a tornado. It’s Bill’s invention and a very original design for the only non-Ph.D in the gang. Soon, however, there’s a tornado warning and they all rush to a truck stop where they find Jonas (Cary Elwes), a veritable Judas of the storm chasing world who has totally sold out his values to follow the somehow numerous and lucrative meteorological corporate sponsorships. “He’s in it for the money, not the science” as Bill says. What a stooge! Oh, and he always steals Bill’s ideas as he has no talent or brains to call his own, just money for improving tornado knowledge! (His fleet of black minivans is totally ballin’, however.)

Note: It’s amazing how all of these characters are supposedly from Oklahoma, yet the only two with noticeable accents are Melissa and Jonas. Read however you’d like into this observation.

Fully back in the storm chasing game, Bill whispers to some cumulus clouds and gets actionable intelligence that a tornado is totally going down across the county. They kick off and find not one but two tornadoes and nearly die twice — in a ditch and on a bridge, respectively. Fortunately the storm god smiles down on Bill, or possibly just pities him; I can’t really tell which, because he’s both the best and the stupidest meteorologist ever.

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