Monthly Archive for November, 2008

I Hired a Contract Killer (1990)

Aki Kaurismäki, like all true film auteurs, creates worlds. Not in the sci-fi fantasy sense — though, I am not excluding sci-fi, merely broadening the concept — but in the subjective sense. Like Jarmusch, Fassbinder and Lynch, you get a feeling while watching a Kaurismäki movie that you are watching something highly personal. And so it goes with his odd and amusing love story, I Hired a Contract Killer, about a man who wants to kill himself but reconsiders after falling in love.

Roll your eyes and say you’ve seen that kind of movie before, but with Kaurismäki at the helm you get something genuinely touching, without forced pathos, incidental-music, or faux-inspirational endings. Starring Jean-Pierre Léaud, the French nouvelle vague star of such movies as American Night and 400 blows, IHCK moves us from Kaurismäki’s usual film location in Helsinki to London. Like the down-and-out squalor of Kaurismäki’s working class neighborhoods in Helsinki, the London depicted here isn’t the refined upper-class cosmopolis depicted in Woody Allen’s latest movies, rather it’s a drab, trash-strewn working class London full of thugs and hard-drinking wage slaves.

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Bad Sex

Extracts from some of the books shortlisted for this year’s Bad Sex award:

He’s a madman, she thought as he made love to her again. Oh my God, after twenty years of being the most rational Bolshevik woman in Moscow, this goblin has driven me crazy!

He eased out of her again, showing himself.

‘Look!’ he whispered as she did. Was this really her? There he was between her legs again, doing the most absurd, lovely things to places behind her knees, the muscle at the very top of her thighs, her ears, the middle of her back. But the kissing, just the kissing, was heavenly […] He made her forget she was a Communist.

(via metafilter)

Because I back up my sarcastic critiques with examples of what I think is good writing, I give you Riding the Super Buick, a chapter from my novel, The Bedroom Revolutionary. There is a sex scene in there somewhere, from what I remember. Enjoy.

Nietzsche and Idiocracy

Idiocracy is now

Idiocracy — about a dystopia 500 years in the future where braindead fools populate the planet and everything is run by corporations — was actually presaged by Friedrich Nietzsche in his philosophical masterpiece, Thus Spake Zarathustra. In it he heralds the dawn of a new philosophical era, the threat of nihilism, and the übermensch. The übermensch — or the man who seeks to surpass himself, to reach his potential — stands diametrically opposite to what Nietzsche calls The Last Man, who is perfectly content with stagnation, whose “herd mentality” makes him most comfortable among equally unambitious people, who is unable to criticize himself, and who therefore cannot grow.

The earth hath then become small, and on it there hoppeth the last man who maketh everything small. His species is ineradicable like that of the ground-flea; the last man liveth longest.

“We have discovered happiness”–say the last men, and blink thereby.

Thus Spake Zarathustra

Idiocracy is not a great movie, but it is a trenchant critique of our society (though about as subtle as using a sledgehammer to drive in a pin).The movie obviously is directed at the United States, where underrated director Mike Judge, creator of Beavis and Butthead and cult movie Office Space, hails from. But anyone traveling abroad, or surfing the internet, can easily surmise the same thing: that we are already living in a budding idiocracy everywhere on the planet.

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Robert Solomon on existentialism

From the movie Waking Life

I’ve read the postmodernists with some interest, even admiration. But when I read them, I always have this awful nagging feeling that something absolutely essential is getting left out. The more that you talk about a person as a social construction or as a confluence of forces or as fragmented or marginalized, what you do is you open up a whole new world of excuses. And when Sartre talks about responsibility, he’s not talking about something abstract. He’s not talking about the kind of self or soul that theologians would argue about. It’s something very concrete. It’s you and me talking. Making decisions. Doing things and taking the consequences.

Slavoj Žižek – Maybe We Just Need a Different Chicken

Loosely paraphrasing Slavoj Žižek, the brilliant and compelling Slovenian philosopher: There’s the story of a madman who is convinced that there is a chicken after him who wants to eat him. A doctor asks him why he is worried, since he’s not a piece of grain, and the madman replies, “but does the chicken know that?”

Raising questions on ideology and its omnipresence in every day life – as he points out in his penetrating observations of quotidian pop culture, from the McCain campaign’s hijacking of the “change” banner, to the Dark Knight, to Kim Jong Il, to home intrusions by Israeli soldiers, to Kung Fu Panda – he makes it clear that we will always have a chicken, it is just a matter of being sincere about it. Cynicism is not a way out of the dilemma of the chicken, according to Žižek, and I can say I totally agree with him – though I couldn’t put it quite so eloquently (or hilariously).

This was shot last September in Oregon, during his tour to promote his book, Violence. I’m reading it right now, and, as usual, it’s amazingly engaging for cultural theory. Žižek doesn’t hide behind oracular mazes of words and endless jargon like so many contemporary academic theorists. And, besides the clarity of his writing, he’s also quite hilarious. His off-the-cuff remarks in the Q&A session had me cracking up. Nothing like a little counter-intuitive thinking to start your day!

Friday Night Feature – Lopez

I’m probably setting myself up for some heavy criticism after my harsh review of the Long Good Friday, but here goes anyway.

Lopez is a short movie I made with my friend Gabriel Guzman back in 2000. At the time, I had been working as a video editor for a low-end production house in San Francisco. We mostly did corporate videos and infomercials, and somehow I ended up doing a bunch of low budget gangsta rap music videos. The cool thing about the production house was that I had the master keys to it, and I could work late into the night on whatever I wanted. Because I was leaving for Europe, I wanted to take advantage of the expensive Avid and Softimage editing suites before I left, and that’s how I came up with the idea of shooting Lopez.

I had another job besides editing, and that was valet parking. I was making a ridiculous amount of money through a parking scam I was running with my Colombian friend Gabriel, who was also a valet parker. Even though the cash was great, we were always pretty depressed about being valet parkers. Keep in mind, this was in the middle of the dot com bubble, and we were parking luxury vehicles left and right, and we valet parkers were probably one of the lowliest social castes in late-nineties San Francisco. So we made up a character to give voice to our grievances, and this was the lowly Lopez, a valet parker with delusions of grandeur.

So much for the plot — Lopez is more about atmosphere. We shot it in the Tenderloin, easily the sketchiest neighborhood of San Francisco, on a mini-DV camera which I “bought” from a department store (and returned a week after we shot the movie). Gabriel, who plays Lopez, really was drunk and high when we shot this, and his delirious speech to the masses is actually inspired by the schizos I saw everyday in the Tenderloin doing the same thing. Many of my friends made cameos, but unfortunately not all could make the final cut. After two days of shooting — and buckets of whiskey — I brought the footage back to the studio and edited it in two nights. Lopez was born.

The Long Good Friday (1979)

The Long Good Friday, considered one of the best British gangster flicks, takes the classic story of hubristic downfall and sets it in late-seventies London. Bob Hoskins plays Harold Shand, a gangland kingpin trying to “go legit” by investing in some shorefront property which will one day host the Olympics. After a trip across the Atlantic to meet with his American gangster counterparts, he brings them back to East London where he hopes to convince them to invest with him in the shorefront property.

That’s when things go wrong: his henchmen start dying and his local haunts get blown up, raising doubt in the Americans about the security of their potential investment. Harold Shand, in an interesting twist, turns from gangster to detective, and ruthlessly investigates all his known associates. Some unforgettable ultra-violence ensues, as he hangs his suspects on meat hooks, stabs his right-hand man in the throat with a broken Scotch bottle, and eventually discovers that it’s all been a misunderstanding. But it’s too late, and he’s in over his head, against the law and against none other than the IRA. Drunk on power and a thirst for revenge, Harold Shand’s arrogance finally proves to be his Achilles heel.

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