The Big Short, book and film

My mother hates this movie so much. We watched it for the first time a year ago, and she decided to give up and go to bed half way through. A friend of her’s had a movie night recently, and this was the feature presentation, and god, she was not excited. How much she hates this movie is honestly hilarious, my mild mannered mother gathering up so much disgust for a film.

I love it. I think it’s brilliant. I tried to write about it right after we watched it, but didn’t know what to say. It’s taken some time and rematching to puzzle things out.

It does so many cool weird filmmaking. The way it plays around with music video style is so much fun. Lots of fast cuts, montages, what is basically a rap video thrown in, a couple of characters singing a Nirvana tune out of the blue. It’s brilliant, and I love it. The little asides where Margot Robbie and Anthony Bourdain explain boring bank things is a great choice to get in necessary information without being dull. It’s a really smart movie that assumes its audience is really smart.

There’s a lot of really good performances. Everyone is great. Everything is great.

I read the book right after watching the movie, and I liked it too. It was informative and well written. It didn’t have the same spark and pizzaz as the movie, limited by being a book, but it was still excellent. The housing crisis is important shit that we should know about. It’s awesome that it’s being presented in an accessible book and incredible movie. I love it.

The Taliban Shuffle, book by Kim Barker, and Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, movie staring Tina Fey

So, I read this book sometime last year, and decided not to post anything until I also saw the movie. Here is what I wrote about the book just after finishing it:

This is a memoir by a journalist who became a foreign correspondent after 9/11, and her adventures in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Barker is a clear writer, and good at presenting the tangled political situation that I think I understood. I learned a lot about the region, and what America was doing there, but what sets this book apart is the personal stories. Barker is covering this hugely important moments, but she’s also a woman with a life, trying to balance career and romance and family. My favorite thing is that she admits she didn’t know what she was walking into, that no one did. It’s obvious that there’s a massive lack of understanding on all levels. The government, the military, the news, all of these different organizations, are all stumbling around, trying to do something huge, but mostly failing.

Basically, it is an alright book, but not great. Having now seen the movie, I can say, it is an alright movie, but not great. The surprising thing is that book and movie had fairly different flaws. Normally weaknesses are consistent through adaptation, but here, not so much.

The weakness of the movie is that it’s sort of clueless, and tries but fails to do a love story. The weakness of the book is mostly that it isn’t very shiny. The movie is possibly too shiny? It is not specific enough. It doesn’t slow down to explain boring but important history or politics. But it also doesn’t go the other way into a more exaggerated world. It’s grounded in a very shallow reality, and that’s a shame. I can imagine a better movie. The book had the makings of a better movie, and the idea of adapting that book to star Tina Fey seemed like a good idea. But then it’s just this. Which is almost boring. Maybe it wouldn’t be if I didn’t know the plot, but I don’t think that’s the problem. I think it’s just sort of dull. Pleasant, but dull.

If you’re only going to do one, I’d pick up the book, but honestly, they’re both skippable unless something about the summary really stands out to you.

The End of the Tour

On some level I’m over white men talking about literature, or movies about white men talking about literature, but in reality, I really like David Foster Wallace, and enjoyed this movie a lot. It’s about his Midwestern book tour promoting Infinite Jest, where he’s joined on the road by a reporter.

Do you think Jesse Eisenberg ever gets tired of playing assholes? He plays the journalist here, and he’s good, but he’s definitely playing to type. Jason Segel as Wallace is really good, I didn’t realize he was this good. I hope it doesn’t make him into a serious/boring actor though — he can be more interesting than that. I know Mamie Gummer is acting royalty, but she looks so perfectly midwestern. Of course she’s the City Pages book editor. It’s perfect.

The parts that take place in the Twin Cities kind of weird me out, but in a good way. This is a very good fake of a past version of my hometown. I didn’t really live through these years, not that I was aware of, but there are parts that are still recognizable — the Mary Tyler Moore statue, the nice lady who offers to show them the Mary Tyler Moore statue, a certain breed of Midwestern literary hipsters. There’s a part where they go to the Mall of America, and eat in the food court there. If you look past them the amusement part is clearly Nickelodeon World, not Camp Snoopy, and the anachronism kind of pisses me off. Like, I know it’s really nothing, and they’re not going to use special effects to fix it, but it’s still wrong. This is rooted in a deeper philosophical truth about how Camp Snoopy was awesome, while Nickelodeon World is kind of terrible, but this isn’t the space to really make that argument.

It’s a good movie. It’s very talky. It’s based of a book that’s based of tapes of conversation, it’s all about talking about writing. It’s sort of funny to watch them talk about the dangers of television as a brain suck while watching it streaming. Nothing in the movie really made me want to go read the book it’s based on. I feel like I’ve gotten enough of it from the film, I don’t need to see any of the words on the page. This was satisfactory.

It kind of made me want to start reading Infinite Jest, but I’m only allowed to be in the middle of one ridiculous huge book at a time, and I’m still bogged down in Dahlgren. Maybe I will just reread his tennis essays instead.

David Foster Wallace is this hugely important writer, the kind of literary figure that I think is supposed to be unapproachable and confusing? I think that’s a common impression of him, and that this movie is supposed to help you get to know him? Which it does, but I don’t get the underlying idea that he’s mysterious. I feel like he’s very present in his essays, which is part of what I appreciate about them. He won’t just write about tennis or cruise ships, it’s about him. Hearing the conversations he has in the movie just adds another layer. It makes him even more real, a guy with a messy house and some cool dogs.

The dogs in the movie are really cute. I made a note to myself about how cute the dogs are, so they must have been great. Even if David Foster Wallace isn’t your jam, maybe you’ll enjoy the cute dogs.

 

American Psycho

 

Bret Easton Ellis is one of the only authors where I’ve read every single book he’s written. Which like, I don’t know what that says about me, except maybe that I started this when I was seventeen, and that I read a lot.

American Psycho is the most impressive book I never want to read again. It is not a pleasant experience, but I’m glad I read it. The part that I remember the most, and the part I appreciated the most was how it went from this really gruesome murder part to an overly serious analysis of Hootie and the Blowfish, and then back to killing. That sort of juxtaposition is what really stuck with me.

I’ve always meant to watch the movie, it’s just taken me a while to get around to it. I’d heard that it was really well done, and not as miserable as you’d expect. It just hasn’t been an easy movie to get around to watching. You have to be in the right mood, in a very specific headspace. Last week when my folks were out of town, and my girlfriend was busy, I watched two movies that no one would agree to watch with me. One was the Backstreet Boys documentary. The other was American Psycho.

The book is really playing with the idea of an unreliable narrator. I was eighteen, and definitely wasn’t reading carefully (I was reading between and in the middle of classes — this might be a miserable book, but it’s still better than chemistry), but I really wasn’t sure what was happening. I wasn’t sure what was real or imagined. Either way, it was a lot, but that ambiguity was important. The movie loses a lot of that. Doing an unreliable narrator in a movie is really fucking hard, and this isn’t really trying. What we see is really happening, and the confusion comes from how other people are reacting to it. That’s an interesting idea, but very different than the book.

I thought it would have a hard time being true to how brutal the book is, because there are limits to the sorts of gore and sexual violence that can be on screen, but it felt fittingly disturbing. It’s really interesting that the movie was directed by a woman. A lot of feminists got very angry about the book, and while I can see why, I also think that it’s critiquing the world that makes Patrick Bateman possible, not condoning his actions, and that there are much better things to be angry about. The way not just Patrick, but basically everyone, treats women in this story is really fucked up, but it’s pretty clear that this is because society is built with really toxic ideas about women. Society in general is pretty fucked up here. It’s a critique of capitalism and consumerism.

The movie is a good companion to the book. If someone asked me if they should read the book first or see the movie I might tell them to skip the whole thing. Or like, start with Rules of Attraction and then maybe keep going. I wouldn’t actually recommend American Psycho. It’s a life choice someone has to get into on their own.

Gone Girl

What the fuck was that? Like, it’s a well made mystery, but like, seriously, what the fuck? How is this a thing? And like, a popular thing, a best selling book, an award nominated movie. It’s so?????

Is this what people care about? People are terrible. The people in this movie are terrible.

Every single person in this movie is terrible, (except for the small town detective, played by Kim Dickens, wonderful as always (and oddly unrecognizable as a brunette because I am not very sharp)). But other than her every person in the movie is the worst. It’s like a catalog of different sorts of terrible people. And like, that’s entertaining, but also, what the hell.

I don’t understand so many things about this movie. The casting decisions are just like? Affleck was good, Rosamund Pike was the right kind of perfect/alien/beautiful for Amy. But Neil Patrick Harris seemed like a strange choice? I’m not used to Tyler Perry being a real actor? Casey Wilson seemed to be from another movie? But all of these baffling decisions seem very deliberate, like Fincher is fucking with us. Which really, that’s what this movie is, on some level? The book too, the whole story, is the audience being fucked with. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but is a thing that should be acknowledged. This is manipulative storytelling.

And at the end nothing gets resolved. It’s just fucked up. This is not a reasonable story, but it’s presented in a fancy way, like Oscar bait, instead of like the absurd soap opera dramatics that are at its core. Which is a very interesting decision. It’s challenging us to take this fucked up mess seriously. Which is not actually something I’m interested in doing.

Trying to think of a point of comparison I keep on coming back to The Room, which is odd, because The Room is a filmmaking disaster, and this one is incredibly well done. But as a viewer there’s a similar dissenagagnegment, a need to take a step back, and say alright none of this makes sense, but I’m watching this anyway.

The problem is that I’m pretty sure Flynn and Fincher are trying to get to some big truth about men and women or marriage or something, and that never comes together in a way that makes sense. It’s an interesting story, but nah. I wouldn’t go that far. The take away is that these people are terrible, I don’t feel like I’m learning anything about human nature, but I think it wants me to.

Or, maybe, I just didn’t get it. Maybe this just isn’t for me. That’s very possible.

The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick

Man, does Amazon need to get their shit under control. I was vaguely aware that this book existed, but then Amazon turned it into a show, and had a huge super gross advertising campaign through of Nazi imagery, which obviously did not go over well.

I know that a lot of old classic sci-fi is hella racist/sexist/pick your poison problematic in all the different ways it can be. But I hadn’t remembered seeing much about Dick, or this book in particular. So I was interested in seeing what the deal with it was. What about this inspired such terrible promotional choices?

My big conclusion is that Amazon is just shit. Which really, I knew that already, and I feel bad about how much money I give them (I read this through kindle unlimited). I don’t know what they did with this book to their ad campaign. Bad things.

I read the book, and thought it was interesting, but  I’m not sure if it ever really coherers. The different threads only barely come together. It works, but only just. The whole time I was waiting for some sort of payoff, some sort of action sequence that I would understand inspiring a big action tv series. It never came.

I feel like the show must completely lose the meta aspect of the novel. The title, The Man In The High Castle refers to the author of a book within the novel, The Grasshopper Lies Heavy, which is an alternate history where the Allies win World War Two.

The thing is, that in The Grasshopper Lies Heavy, the Allies win, but it’s still a dystopia. America and England wind up fighting, things don’t work out, and it’s basically World War Three. It’s a dystopian novel inside a dystopian novel, which makes us ask whether our world is a dystopia too? Like, it’s good that the Allies won the war, but what about everything that’s come since?

There’s also the question of who wrote The Grasshopper Lies Heavy, which is the driving force through one plotline. The answer might be that it was written following the directions of the i-ching, which characters frequently consult in the novel. It’s a whole thing. It’s much a 1960’s Philip K. Dick novel.

The book takes place in Japanese controlled California, and in the independent Colorado. The Nazi’s may have won, but they aren’t in charge where this story is taking place, at least not directly. So all the Nazi imagery the show packed into the promos is its own invention, extrapolating the world in a very unpleasant direction.

I honestly don’t know where this show is going. I don’t know what characters it wants to use. I don’t know what plotlines could be turned into compelling tv. The cast of the book includes a jewish man, his ex-wife, and Japanese official. I thought the characters were interesting, but never connected with them too much. They exist to be in service of the plot and the world, and aren’t so compelling on their own. One of the more interesting storylines is about making jewelry, and like, uniqueness in art. I don’t know how this would fit into a tv show?

Honestly, after reading this book I might check out the show just to see what the hell they turned into. The one review I read didn’t make it sound like my cup of tea, but maybe. Probably not though — there are like a dozen episodes, and I don’t really have the time to invest in that sort of hate watching.

My sense is to stay the hell away from the show, but the book is an interesting alternate history that asks some interesting questions and is worth picking up.

cosmopolis

What a terrible movie. I want to watch it again. The beginning was just… Like, I don’t even know how to put this into words. It was so flat, so quiet, so so very bad. Laughably bad. But then it kept going, and it got weirder. I wouldn’t say it ever got good, but more stuff happened, and it was weirdly compelling. Or well, parts of it were weirdly compelling. I watched this movie by myself in the middle of the day, and I had a hard time making myself pay attention when it was easy to fuck around with my phone. I don’t know how it would have been different in a theater — maybe I would have been bored, or maybe being forced to pay attention would have roped me in, and I would have gotten swept away.

I read the book when the movie came out, because the reviews made it sound interesting — they didn’t say it was good, they weren’t misleading, because it sure is interesting. I’ve forgotten most of the book, especially the ending, and I have to admit, that the ending of the movie didn’t really click into focus for me. But like I said, I was distracted. The general idea stuck though — a corporate tool riding around in his limo all day, traveling through the world in his white limo while stuff happens around him.

I remember thinking it was a really weird movie for Robert Pattinson to be in, because it’s a really weird movie, and he’s the Twilight vampire guy. It’s a little bit sad that’s still all he is. He was good though? I think? It’s hard to say if the acting is good or not when they’re giving lines like this. The language is all so forced, so stylized, and I liked it, but also, it’s terrible.

I need to watch it again, possibly repeatedly, and I probably have to reread the book, and write a long academic paper about what a terrible movie it is. I mean, I probably won’t do any of that, but I could. That’s the kind of movie it is — super fascinating but bad.