Review: Scatalogical, Bizarre, Brilliant CAPONE

It took me almost 20 minutes to understand what Capone is. Tom Hardy, in thick makeup and with a thicker grunting voice (slurred by an omnipresent stogie), shuffles and wanders through this movie, occasionally staring off into the distance as if falling into a reverie. He’s playing Al Capone in the final year of his life, enfeebled physically and mentally by syphilis, and every time he does that stare into space thing your biopic trained muscles prepare for a flashback. This, you think, is where we will see Hardy as a young, powerful Capone, revealing the doddering old wreck stuff as a framing device. 

Nope. There are no significant flashbacks in Capone. There is a lengthy dream/hallucination sequence where an addled, diapered Capone wanders through scenes from his own life, but that plays more like a version of The Shining than a standard biopic. These aren’t memories, they’re ghosts, and he’s not remembering, he’s being haunted. Josh Trank’s Capone is anything but a standard biopic, and it’s a movie that is almost aggressive in its unwillingness to give you anything comforting or expected. 

Continue reading “Review: Scatalogical, Bizarre, Brilliant CAPONE”

FIRST REFORMED And The Sin Of Hopelessness

Hopelessness and despair have been constant companions for me the past few weeks. I’m having a hard time seeing a future past the immediate next few months, and sometimes I catch myself spiraling away into the urge to just give up, maybe in the most drastic way possible.

But when I get like this I think about the movie First Reformed, the Paul Schrader film starring Ethan Hawke as a priest-turned-ecoterrorist, and I remember the beautiful message of that movie – a message that I think many people don’t see. But I do. And it strengthens me. It’s a line from the film, based on the writings of Christian mystic Thomas Merton: “Despair is a form of pride.”

I wrote about this aspect of First Reformed years ago on my Patreon, and while it was a Patron exclusive back in 2018, I think in 2020 it’s okay to share it with everybody. I hope you find something useful in here, if only the urge to watch First Reformed.

Without further ado, my original piece on First Reformed and hopelessness and despair:

Continue reading “FIRST REFORMED And The Sin Of Hopelessness”

Recommendation: Teenage Lobotomy (As Covered By A Buddhist Monk)

Every week I make a recommendation to my $5 and above subscribers at Patreon. Sometimes it’s a movie, a book, a concept. I write in depth about it. This week I’m recommending a Buddhist monk who covers pop songs, and I’ve decided to share it with everybody. If you like this, please consider becoming a Patron at www.patreon.com/cinemasangha.

Continue reading “Recommendation: Teenage Lobotomy (As Covered By A Buddhist Monk)”

Finding Neverland: HOOK As Response To CLOSE ENCOUNTERS

Hook’s Peter Banning is a bad dad, but he’s got nothing on Close Encounters of the Third Kind’s Roy Neary. And while Roy starts off bad enough – ignoring his family at the dinner table, his home a disaster indicating a life out of control – by the end of the movie, as he happily steps on to the mothership, he’s become one of cinema’s ultimate deadbeat dads. His kids will likely never get a goodbye, and if he ever does return to Earth relativity tells us he’ll be the same age and his kids will be old.

And yet he’s the hero. His moment is triumphant, the apotheosis of his life. The little ETs are his new children-but-also-parents, and the movie treats his domestic life as something he must escape, a prison of Altmanesque clamor that has been holding him back from his true destiny. He is the one human CALLED to the stars, and aliens have traveled light years to make his acquaintance. His kids? Pains in the asses we last see taking off in a station wagon, headed who cares where. 

Close Encounters ends with Dad going to Neverland (scored to a non-Peter Pan Disney tune, When You Wish Upon A Star, but the song is close enough – Peter Pan doesn’t have a big, wistful dreamer number like that). But Hook is all about Dad coming back from Neverland, returning to be with his kids for the first time ever. Peter Banning rejects the wonder for the (upper class) every day, the kind of life Roy Neary turns from with gusto.

To me Hook is answering Close Encounters, and it’s part of a journey that Spielberg was on with his own father. While it’s vital to separate the art from the artist when it comes to how we watch – good works come from bad people! – getting intimate with the artist can open up new areas of analysis of the work, allowing us to see the entire filmmaker’s canon as a personal journey set against their own autobiography. 

Continue reading “Finding Neverland: HOOK As Response To CLOSE ENCOUNTERS”

The Perfect, Shattering, Bittersweet Ending Of AI: ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE

Years ago I interviewed Steven Spielberg and I told him that even well after the release of AI: Artificial Intelligence people on the message board of the site I wrote for, CHUD, were arguing about the ending. 

“Oh I know,” he told me. “I love reading all the arguments. And I love that they’re still arguing.”

Nineteen years after the release of AI it seems to me the arguments should be over but when I tweeted about watching the film this week I was immediately – within seconds! – hit with responses that said the movie should have ended with David trapped under water, spending all of eternity gazing upon the Blue Fairy. 

Continue reading “The Perfect, Shattering, Bittersweet Ending Of AI: ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE”

I Get So Fucking Angry Every Day

I don’t wake up mad. That’s something. That’s a blessing. 

But I start to get mad soon after I awake. I check the news, and I begin getting angry. It’s manageable, though. I mean, as manageable as anything is these days – my head hurts a lot and my neck has been killing me. That neck pain, that’s the thing that lets me know how mad I was the night before. 

As the day goes on I find that anger laps at me like waves on a beach. Sometimes the anger will reach up, right up to my head and my face will get flush and I’ll mutter something like, “This motherfucker” or “Jesus fucking Christ.” But usually that anger breaks, again like a wave, and I’ll laugh at myself. 

Continue reading “I Get So Fucking Angry Every Day”

Faith In Quarantine

(Above: Pope Francis prays in an empty St Peter’s Square during lockdown)

The coronavirus pandemic is hitting us in the middle of one of the most important stretches of the calendar for religion. Today is Palm Sunday for Christians, coming up is Passover for Jews and then back to the Christians for Easter. Ramadan is on the horizon for Muslims (a month long observance possibly aided by life in quarantine). It is, of course, the Christians who are causing a ruckus in this country – an evangelical priest was arrested for continuing to hold megachurch services in the face of lockdown orders, Donald Trump has become fixated with getting people into church on Easter, and on Twitter I’ve seen more than one right wing extremist bemoan the fact that churches will be empty on Palm Sunday (ie one of the holidays when lax ass Christians who act holier than thou online actually make it to worship). 

There have been other stories, deeply disturbing ones, from across the globe. Russian congregants saying they cannot get sick in church. A woman interviewed saying the blood of Christ makes her immune to the virus. Video of televangelists SPITTING on the coronavirus and demanding its submission to the will of the Lord. In 14 US states religious services are exempted from lockdown restrictions. This, we are told, both by the faithful and those who mock them, is what faith looks like. But to me it looks nothing like faith. It looks like a middle finger directly aimed at God.

Continue reading “Faith In Quarantine”

We Are Not A Virus

It is a beautiful day in Los Angeles. Walking my dog this morning I was struck by the incredible clarity of the air, the deep blueness of the smogless sky, the smell of the trees and the singing of the birds. It was 9AM and there was no traffic, just the occasional jogger coming down the sidewalk, respectfully veering into the street to give me and my little buddy, Oliver Reed, the required six feet of social distancing. The mountains, so often occluded by haze, are clear in the distance, and I can see white snow dusting the peaks. 

Gone are the pollution and the rumble of cars, the airborne streams of cigarette and weed smoke, the booming sound systems passing by and giving today’s pop hits a disconcerting Doppler effect. The manic state of the world is not reflected in the streets. 

This isn’t a new observation. Almost immediately after over a billion of Earth’s inhabitants went into shelter in place mode people began noting that the air was clearing, that noise pollution was diminishing. Seismologists have noted that the background rumble of daily life picked up on their seismometers has died down, and most of what they hear is the noise of the planet itself.

With this observation has come a little meme, based on a bit from The Matrix. Agent Smith, disgusted by his time in the Matrix, has captured Morpheus and gives him a villain speech about how fundamentally worthless humanity is.

Continue reading “We Are Not A Virus”

Surrendering To Baking

I’ve been doing some baking here, in the middle of the disaster. 

The baking comes on the heels of me beginning to learn how to cook. My childhood was not a food-friendly one; my mother ate a lot of junk food (and was thin as a rail), didn’t cook very much, and what she did cook was low effort stuff. She was a single mom, so that was part of it, but I also think she wasn’t a good eater – she’d hole up in her bedroom with a two liter of Pepsi, packs of Viceroys and a bag of pretzels and that would do it for her. She probably never learned to eat properly either. 

On my Italian side there was a lot of food, all of it rich and starchy, and lots of sweets. None of it healthy, nothing green. My grandmother would make enough food to feed an army, and serve enough pastries and cookies to also give them diabetes. 

For most of my life I didn’t cook. I could boil water, and every now and again I made stabs at learning to cook, but it never stuck. Cooking is more than the act of cooking – it’s the process of buying food, having food, preparing food, cleaning up. I’m lazy, and I want it quickly. Give me delivery, or give me something I can throw in the microwave. There’s a new generation of Lean Cuisine frozen meals where you don’t even have to take the plastic wrapping off – this is the dream. Star Trek’s food replicators have always been the technology I want the most. 

Continue reading “Surrendering To Baking”

The Value of Doing Small Things

“I’m not sick,” the old woman who had waved my car down said. 

This morning I got up early to take Brittany, my girlfriend, to City of Hope National Medical Center, not because of COVID-19 but because she had a regularly scheduled doctor visit for her cancer care. The facility was a ghost town, and the day before she had gotten an email saying she couldn’t bring a visitor with her. She would need to get screened for COVID-19 symptoms and I would have to wait outside. I was a little bummed, not only because I like being there with her but because I really wanted to get one of those infrared thermometer checks I’ve seen people get in TV news footage from Asia. 

We had been isolating for the past week and a half (it’s only been a week and a half?); her treatments suppress her immune system and my day job is at a coffee shop, which brings me into contact with hundreds of people. My coffee shop serves a kind of tea that people seem to believe has medicinal properties (it doesn’t. It has a lot of sugar in a hot liquid, that’s what’s making you feel better for 20 minutes), and so we were getting a lot of unwell customers through. I walked away from my shifts because I needed to be available for Brittany and I couldn’t risk getting infected by some rando looking for a Cold Buster.

The isolation hasn’t been hard for me – I’m an indoor kid – but what has been hard has been seeing this crisis happen and feeling sidelined. I don’t know how to be of service right now; I know that staying home is being of service, that giving up paychecks to remove myself from the chain of transmission is being of service, but it doesn’t feel like really being of service. It doesn’t feel like I’m doing anything when I fuck around in my house in sweats all day. 

Continue reading “The Value of Doing Small Things”