Chad Comello

books, movies, libraries, typewriters

Category: Film (page 4 of 13)

Everybody Wants Some!!

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With its likable cast, meandering dialogue, and lived-in plotless feel, Everybody Wants Some!! is more than just a “spiritual sequel” to Dazed and Confused. It’s the middle sibling between that film and Linklater’s Before series, all of which seem to take place in the same film universe where everyone’s a peripatetic philosopher and life happens in the ordinary moments between the usual milestones.

I say the cast is likable, and they are, but the kind of guys and social life depicted in the film—college baseball players in 1980s Texas—are also what I tried to avoid during my adolescence. I played in team sports (mostly soccer) up through high school, and enjoyed the camaraderie and the opportunity to play in a team setting. But the macho posturing, sexual banter, and competitive saber-rattling common in that milieu made me uncomfortable and kept me from bonding with most of my teammates.

Those same things are prominent in Everybody Wants Some!!, but with the barriers of time, maturity, and the fourth wall I felt a strange affection for these guys that I didn’t feel for their real-life counterparts. Maybe because Linklater cranks the Bro-ishness right up to the limits of its charm, mercifully saving it from spilling over into being unpleasant. Or maybe it’s due to the lack of malice in their pranks, taunts, and hazing rituals. This isn’t a team of O’Bannons, the paddle-wielding sadist from Dazed and Confused. They clearly enjoy being around each other and find value in their shared experience on campus and on the baseball field.

Despite sharing the laid-back, chatty vibe of Dazed, a significant difference between the two films is the gender balance, or lack thereof. In Dazed the girls were weaved well into the film’s panoramic story. Every Everybody female, however, save Beverly, is either a potential sex partner or barely regarded at all. Perhaps that’s at it should be in this case, given how sex-obsessed these guys are. Like the one dude who gives lip service to the Equal Rights Amendment while trying to pick up a girl, it would be inauthentic to make these guys more politically enlightened than they really would have been.

Authenticity being a key virtue of Linklater films, it’s why, despite the quibbles, I loved hanging out in this world. I suspect repeated viewings will confirm this, as is true with most Linklater films.

Who Tells This Story

I remember reading the Hamilton-Burr chapter of Founding Brothers by Joseph Ellis at least ten years ago and thinking, How is this not a movie yet? The inherent drama of the story, a true one at that, begs for one. I didn’t expect at the time that story would find its (gargantuan) acclaim ten years later as a musical rather than a film. Assuming the Hamilton musical is being developed for the screen, I would still like to see a non-musical film dedicated to the duel specifically. The version in my head would be directed by David Fincher, and star Michael Fassbender as Hamilton and Paul Bettany or Rufus Sewell as Burr. Sewell played Hamilton in the John Adams miniseries, but I think he looks more like Burr, and his role in The Man in the High Castle demonstrates his strong ability to balance humanity and nefariousness.

Get on it, Hollywood.

Each’s Owned

Pictured is the haul ($8 total) from a recent afternoon browsing used bookstores, which I do once in a while, when my time is open and therefore my self-discipline is weak. But I didn’t feel bad about getting more Stuff this time, because I’m coming to something approaching terms with it.

I love books, movies, and music, but developing an extensive catalog has never been a priority. Working at a library is a factor. With easy, daily access to a plethora of titles, expanding our humble collection of books, DVDs, vinyls, and CDs seems unnecessary. Since I tend not to reread books, amassing more out of fun or bibliophilia isn’t an issue; only the most meaningful or heirloom-worthy books have secured space on our limited shelves. Ditto our LPs and CDs, which are now mostly survivors from several moves and curatorial weedings. For me, less stuff has been better. My friend jokes about being able to move me and all my stuff from college to grad school in one trip in his Geo Prizm.

That’s changed recently. I’ve rediscovered the desire to own analog media, if only as a supplemental collection to my mostly-digitized life. Also: for their tangible or aesthetic appeal, to preserve tangibility, to not be constantly tracked and advertised to, to escape the mercurial whims of licensing and arcane digital services, or to have something to do when the internet goes down.

In a way I haven’t even needed to rediscover it: the majority of my movie watching has always come from DVDs or the theater, and I’ll always prefer print over ebooks. We still have Amazon Prime for movies and Google Play for music, and they are often handy. But I need to remind myself once in a while that newer/easier/faster doesn’t always equal better.

I’m not concerned I’ll suddenly become a hoarder. In fact I’m starting to become concerned we’re not keeping enough things around we’ll regret not having later on, either as historical curios or as cultural artifacts that boomerang from modish to obsolete and back. I can’t tell you how many times, when I bring up my interest in typewriters, I’ve heard something like, Oh yeah, I had one from college, but… or My parents had one but didn’t use it anymore, so… It makes me cringe to ponder the fate of those machines. Whether it’s vinyls, typewriters, love letters, Polaroids, or anything else that doesn’t live in an app or social network, the things we think no longer matter in our lives might in time prove us wrong. And what with the internet ushering in a new Dark Ages, methinks we all should get a little more discerning on what we keep, what we don’t, and why.

But hey, to each’s own.

Captain America: Civil War

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Spoilers, natch.

Finally, a Spider-Man who actually looks like he’s in high school! That, along with ever more compelling character studies of Steve Rogers and Tony Stark, made this latest episode of The Marvel Cinematic Universe Show worth watching.

Captain America and Iron Man are by far my favorite Marvel characters thus far, and the Avengers I find most interesting. That they find themselves on opposite sides here is made all the more interesting when you realize how both have essentially flip-flopped. Stark, the recalcitrant “genius billionaire playboy philanthropist” playing by his own rules but tormented by guilt, now wants controls on their heretofore unchecked power. Rogers, the patriotic soldier desperate to fight for good, now is disillusioned by authoritarian overreach and wary of a corruptible bureaucracy. Neither of them are wrong. The other superheroes who align with or against them have their own reasons for doing so, but fundamentally Civil War concerns itself with this core conflict.

I suppose this puts me on the #TeamIronMan side of things, but I think there absolutely should be some oversight of the burgeoning cadre of “enhanced” persons formerly under the purview of SHIELD. Even after gnashing their teeth about the devastation of Sokovia, it takes like two seconds before this motley crew of all-powerful superheroes with fragile egos and hair-trigger tempers are obliterating an airport or whatever building they happen to be in during their latest squabble. It’s like they’re all early-stage Spider-Man, wracked with teenage insecurity, lacking self-discipline, flailing around while trying to discover and control the extent of their powers. Setting aside the ethical debate over the Sokovian Accords, the cost of their property damage alone warrants reparation and regulation.

As for the film itself, the directors Anthony and Joe Russo mentioned in an interview that they tried not to follow the typical three-act superhero movie structure, which is something I noticed while watching. The film doesn’t resolve where we’re conditioned to expect it; it could have ended at several points but didn’t. Perhaps that’s a product of the ongoing (infinite?) nature of the MCU, wherein each movie doesn’t begin and end in its own self-contained universe like normal movies and needs to set up the next installments. (Which currently include not only the two Avengers: Infinity War films, but offshoot franchises for Black Panther, Spider-Man [again again], Doctor Strange, and a bajillion other products characters.)

However, for the first time in eight years’ worth of movies within Phase 1 and 2 of the MCU, I’m OK with that. I’m OK with, or at least resigned to, winding through the spider’s web of stories with cautious optimism, knowing not every installment will achieve the same balance of thoughtfulness, wit, and dazzling spectacle the best of the MCU display.

As much as it’s true that superhero films are eating Hollywood; as much as it’s true that a fraction of the billions being spent on these franchises could and should be allocated to the smaller, non-serialized films that end up on Oscar ballots and Top 10 lists far more often than the latest comic-book fare… I enjoyed watching superheroes fighting each other. It was fun (if sometimes confusing to determine who was on which side and why), and made the case for being seen on the big screen. For another entrant into an already abundant genre, that’s good enough for me.

BTTF 4 is here!

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Anyone pining for a Back to the Future IV ought to just read IDW’s ongoing series of “Untold Tales and Alternate Timelines” comics. Co-written by Bob Gale, they weave in and out of the trilogy and its characters with new backstory (my favorite so far being Clara’s story in #5) and “extended universe” stories.

I don’t think I’ve ever read comics before, at least nothing outside of the Christian subculture I grew up in. Not sure how these compare to the best of them in style and substance, but as a BTTF nerd I find them delightful, and a much better alternative to an actual Part IV.

Midnight Special

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It’s really a shame Jeff Nichols got bounced in the second round of the Filmspotting Madness directors bracket. Unlike the NCAA tournament, where success is tangible and stats-driven, there is no one way to account for which director is better than the other. Everyone voter is left to his or her own interpretation and taste. The one I’ve used is based on what the Filmspotting guys have put forth: you’re standing in a theater lobby and two films are showing, one from each director. You choose one and the other director’s disappears, his future career extinguished.

Mad love to Scorsese, who gave us Raging Bull and Taxi Driver among other greats, but I’m going with Jeff Nichols. If a sadistic, crisis-inducing challenge like Filmspotting Madness is about the present and future of a director’s work—and to me it is—then I believe myself compelled to choose Nichols, whose small but undeniably strong oeuvre gives me great hope for his future over Scorsese’s, whose will be a lot shorter and less reliably compelling.

So it seems fitting I had the choice this weekend of seeing either Everybody Wants Some!!, the latest from Richard Linklater (another Filmspotting Madness erstwhile contender) and Midnight Special, the latest from Jeff Nichols. A huge fan of Linklater, I knew I’d see Everybody eventually, but I knew I had to see Midnight Special, simply because of Nichols’ name and the little I knew about the film. That’s as good a test as any.

As is often the case Matt Zoller Seitz was spot-on about Midnight Special. He expresses a sort of baffled delight that a movie like this could exist amidst so many other deafening superhero smash fests. Its “marvelous energy” propels its quickly sketched but deeply felt characters through a story that’s as lovingly familiar as it is unique. A boy with otherworldly powers, his loyal father (Michael Shannon) who supposedly kidnapped him from his former apocalyptic cult, and the government agents trying to find him all are in pursuit toward a mysterious yet significant destination.

The first act is something else. Tense, bold, determined. We’re dropped in media res and trusted to keep up. Kudos to Nichols for this choice in structure, but also (I’m assuming) for fighting studio execs to have to preserve it against some origin story filler. The power is in the mystery, in the putting together of the pieces as they’re given.

The film slackens as it goes, however, especially in the scenes that take us away from the boy and his escorts, who have a kind of enraptured determination you could imagine the apostle Paul feeling after seeing the light on the road to Damascus. Nichols seems very aware of that story, given the righteousness he’s imbued in these characters and the mission they’re on. I stayed with the movie throughout, though, because how could I not? From idea to execution, Midnight Special is inspired in every sense: as homage to Spielbergian themes of family and destiny, as a sci-fi fable with the courage of restraint, and as an auteurist vision that doesn’t always shine scene to scene but adds up to something effulgent when it matters.

Nichols couldn’t have found a better muse/avatar than Michael Shannon, whose quiet, self-assured, and focused presence has for me become inseparable from the Nichols films he’s been in, which is all of them. (Shotgun Stories remains his best—find it if you can.) And he’ll be in Loving, Nichols’ next film, coming out this November. Not sure if I’ll have to pick between two great directors again to see it, but he’s got good odds if I do.

Wendell Berry: Coming Soon to a Screen

Hat-tip to Rod Dreher for spotlighting The Seer, an upcoming documentary on Wendell Berry that counts Nick Offerman, Terrence Malick, and Robert Redford as backers. The filmmaker Laura Dunn has worked for years to bring the film to life, and now has a Kickstarter campaign to fund the remaining post-production costs. It’s due to premiere at SXSW, suddenly making me wish I could be there.

Filmed in and around Henry County, Kentucky, the documentary features original audio interviews with Wendell and on-camera interviews with members of his family and community:

When we first began corresponding about the possibility of a documentary, Wendell made clear that he does not regard screens of any kind and that he has declined to participate in films for decades.

This might have been the end of the matter, but for our team, it prompted reflection. Rather than make a “front lit” portrait of the man, could we use the film medium to subvert biopic conventions and instead immerse you in the world of Wendell Berry? Could we draw a portrait of a man in a way that understands the individual as simply a function of his place and the people around him? Rather than lens the way the world sees Wendell Berry, let us imagine the way Wendell Berry sees the world.

Cannot wait to see this, and to contribute to the Kickstarter. Berry’s “A Homecoming” was read at our wedding, and Hannah Coulter and Life Is A Miracle are in my upper echelon of all-time books. I hope this film gets into theaters, DVD, or VOD as soon as possible.

Better Living Through Criticism

better-livingI’ve been a fan of A.O. Scott since his too-short time co-hosting At the Movies with Michael Phillips, which was my favorite post-Ebert iteration of the show. Their tenure was a salve after the brief and forgettable stint of Ben Lyons and Ben Mankiewicz. Phillips and Scott brought a benevolent wonkiness to the show I greatly enjoyed and mourned when it was axed.

So I was quite pleased to read A.O. Scott’s new book Better Living Through Criticism: How to Think about Art, Pleasure, Beauty, and Truth, which is not as self-helpy as it sounds, mercifully. In fact, it’s nearly the opposite of self-help, a genre hell-bent on offering surefire prescriptions for every psychological impediment blocking our true greatness within. Scott is far less strident. He avoids making grand declarations about The Purpose of Criticism, much to the chagrin of grand declarers. All the better. To me, criticism is not about conquering artistic foes or achieving certainty, but about making sense of what goes on inside our heads and hearts when we encounter something beautiful, pleasurable, or truthful — or all (or none) of the above.

The book ambles towards answers to the pointed questions I’m sure Scott receives often: What are critics for? Are critics relevant anymore? One purpose for critics he lands on is to be people “whose interest can help to activate the interest of others.” This is absolutely true, as is its inverse of steering others away. Many movies that I expected to be worthwhile ended up being duds, and the critical consensus that bubbled up before their opening weekends helped convince me to wait for the Redbox or to avoid them altogether.

Conversely, without Bilge Ebiri’s incessant cheerleading for The Lego Movie before it came out in early 2014, I would have assumed it was another cheap kids movie and not a hilarious and surprisingly profound meditation on creativity and identity. Ditto Brooklyn, which I expected to be another overwrought, Oscar-baity period drama but in fact nearly brought this non-crier-at-movies to tearsCritics matter, even when I disagree with them (cough Carol cough).

Scott also feels duty-bound as a critic “to redirect enthusiasm, to call attention to what might otherwise be ignored or undervalued. In either instance, though, whether we’re cheerleading or calling bullshit, our assessment has to proceed from a sincere and serious commitment.” The calling attention to is big: a recent example is last year’s Tangerine, a tiny indie I wouldn’t have given a chance without wide and persistent acclaim from the bevy of critics I admire and follow just so I can get scoops like that.

“Redirecting enthusiasm” might also be considered a challenge to “swim upstream”: to seek out the earlier, influential works that laid the groundwork for whatever we’re watching, listening to, reading now. American culture’s on-demand, presentist bias deprives us of decades of good art, whose only crime is not being made right this live-tweetable second. The critic who compares a new film to an older one, favorably or otherwise, provides context for readers but also a tacit clue that checking out that older film might be worthwhile. The upside of our appified age is that finding those forgotten gems has never been easier: getting upstream is as easy as visiting your local library, Amazon, or streaming service.

But what I consider the most compelling reason for the critic’s job might be their most self-interested one. Scott quotes the ever-quotable critic H.L. Mencken, who wrote the motive of the critic who is really worth reading is “no more and no less than the simple desire to function freely and beautifully, to give outward and objective form to ideas that bubble inwardly and have a fascinating lure in them, to get rid of them dramatically and make an articulate noise in the world.”

The process of making an articulate noise about something is the point, I think. It’s where a writer lives most of the time, engaging in a back-and-forth with the work and with himself until he lands on something approximating the truth of his experience. To that end, Scott writes, the history of criticism is the history of struggle. This book embodies that struggle literally: Scott engages in four interstitial dialogues, wherein he banters with an unnamed interlocutor (or inner critic?) who could also stand in as the aggrieved audience, demanding that Scott justify his existence.

I know this combat comes with the job, but the hostility critics in general receive baffles me. There’s way too much out there to see, read, and hear for one person to sort through. “This state of wondering paralysis cries out for criticism,” he writes, “which promises to sort through the glut, to assist in the formation of choices, to act as gatekeeper to our beiseged sensoria.” Having professional curators with unique, informed, and enthusiastic taste is a good thing, not something to scoff at or claim is irrelevant in the age of Rotten Tomatoes.

But if you think a critic is wrong and want to tell him why, congratulations! You’re now a critic and are obligated to say more.

Anyway, good on Scott for driving this conversation, and for holding his ground against Samuel L. Jackson.

Adventures in Logbooking

Looking at my logbook, I noticed that I recently had a string of four starred books or movies in a row, the longest streak yet. (It would have been five in a row had I seen Brooklyn before Love & Mercy, which I liked a lot but not star-liked.)

749 Typewriter Revolution, The Richard Polt book 2015 2015 Dec
748 Tangerine Sean S. Baker film 2015 2015 Dec
747 Creed Ryan Coogler film 2015 2015 Dec
746 Winter: Notes from Montana Rick Bass book 1991 2015 Dec

That’s only the second time that’s happened since I started keeping track in 2010. The other was in December 2010:

208 Social Network, The David Fincher film 2010 2010 Dec
207 True Grit Joel and Ethan Coen film 2010 2010 Dec
206 Fighter, The David O. Russell film 2010 2010 Dec
205 Black Swan Darren Aronofsky film 2010 2010 Dec

All four of those films from 2010 made my best-of list that year, and yet I haven’t rewatched any of them besides The Social Network, so I couldn’t say whether they would still remain on my Best of 2010 list if I were to make a new one these five years later. Likewise, Creed and The Typewriter Revolution will make my 2015 lists (with Tangerine just missing the cut), but time will tell if they’ll stay there.

My criteria for earning a star are as diverse as the logbook itself, but my basic interpretation is whether that book or film could end up on my best-of list from whichever year it was made. So both of these streaks could be considered flukes given the inherent subjectivity of star-giving. On the other hand, that both occurred in December makes sense given the abundance of higher quality films in the thick of Oscar season.

With its mix of books and movies, old and new, the 2015 streak seems more unlikely—a conglomeration of providence and serendipity. I’m sure if I were to reread and rematch every movie and book on my list some would lose stars and some would gain them, so I won’t put too much stock in what’s essentially an anomaly. But that’s why I’m glad I started this logging practice: to document a fairly large part of my life, and to catch my first impressions and see how they fare in retrospect.

Still, I found it interesting enough to write a post about, so I have that going for me, which is nice.

Favorite Films, Books, and Albums of 2015

Resurrecting my 2013 choice to include all my best-ofs into one omnilist, here are 15 films, books, and albums I loved from 2015.

Film

1. Brooklyn
There’s a scene about five minutes into Brooklyn that setup the whole film for me. Eilis (Saoirse Ronan), soon bound for a new life in 1950s America, watches as her friend disappears into the dance crowd with a partner, leaving her alone, on the outside looking in at what will soon be her old life. The camera holds on her face, which betrays a tender bittersweetness that characterizes the whole of John Crowley’s exquisite and humane film. Even while still at home she is homesick, a struggle she will have to endure long after she sails away from Ireland and attempts to forge a new meaning of home. Saoirse Ronan carried this film, and me with it.

2. Spotlight

3. Mad Max: Fury Road (if only for this shot)

4. Creed

5. Slow West (review)

Books

1. The Hunt for Vulcan by Thomas Levenson (review)
I’m a sucker for concisely written popular histories that uncover forgotten pockets of history and render them understandable and entertaining to the general public. This book does just that. Having read Isaacson’s biography of Einstein last year I was a little better equipped than I otherwise would be when reading about Einstein’s role in this narrative, yet I found Levenson’s distillation of the theories revolving around the Vulcan episode even more accessible than others. I’ve been pimping this one at the library with hopes more people will enjoy it as much as I did.

2. Skyfaring: A Journey with a Pilot by Mark Vanhoenacker

3. H Is For Hawk by Helen Macdonald (review)

4. Step Aside, Pops by Kate Beaton (review)

5. The Typewriter Revolution by Richard Polt (review)

Albums

1. Psalms by Sandra McCracken
“All Ye Refugees” was quite timely this year, given the animus surrounding immigration. It’s heartening to remember public policy need not and should not be influenced solely by politico and demagogues. Though this album is explicitly based on the Psalms, like her previous albums The Builder and the Architect and In Feast or Fallow its blend of modern and ancient style lends it a timeless sound even the irreligious can appreciate.

2. Didn’t He Ramble by Glen Hansard

3. Carrie & Lowell by Sufjan Stevens

4. Such Jubilee by Mandolin Orange

5. Strange Trails by Lord Huron

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