On VOD, Reviewed: Three Films (2015Nov05)


Tuesday, November 03, 2015                                           12:40 PM

Pre-Reviews   (2015Nov03)

Okay, I’m an old fuddy-duddy—I added these movies to my “Cart” from the “Just In” menu of my Cable VOD listings: “Best Of Enemies”, a documentary about the 1968 debates between William F. Buckley Jr. and Gore Vidal, the then-champion intellectuals of America’s political right- and left-wings, respectively; “The End Of The Tour”, a re-enactment of Rolling Stone reporter David Lipsky’s road-trip/interview with the late novelist David Foster Wallace during his 1996 book tour promoting his masterpiece, “Infinite Jest”; and “Inside Out”, the animated Disney feature about the inside of a young lady’s head, populated by characters that represent emotions—Joy, Anger, Fear, etc.—as she experiences the trials of childhood.

As a twelve–year-old, I remember finding the Buckley/Vidal debates excruciatingly boring—they talked of issues I knew nothing about, using words I couldn’t understand—I hope, forty-seven years later, I can understand them a bit better. I’m actually looking forward to watching “Best Of Enemies”—even though my memories of those talks are vague, I still miss their obvious insistence on clarity and correctness—something so absent from the politics of our new millennium. Ironically, it was most likely the entertainment value of their last exchanges, which devolved into anger and name-calling, which brought forth the kind of nonsense we see in modern debates.

I’m not sure whether I’ll enjoy watching “The End of The Tour”. David Foster Wallace’s writing is a beautiful stream-of-consciousness cornucopia of vocabulary and images unmatched by other living writers—but his subject matter was unfailingly dark, disgusting, and full of despair. Add to that the unpleasant highlights of his blurb-biography—and the fact that he committed suicide in 2008—and I’m left with the suspicion that I won’t have much fun watching the film, no matter how well-made. Having plowed through “The Broom Of The System” and “Infinite Jest”, and having read the first few stories of “Oblivion: Stories”, I’m afraid to read any more of his stuff, especially now that he’s killed himself—I have my own struggles with depression and I don’t need my leisure pursuits to reinforce my worst impulses. I think I want to watch the movie just to get close to his beautiful mind again, without having to actually join him there by reading his works.

“Inside Out” should be fun for me—as a kid, I used to run cross-country—and I’d pretend my body was a mechanism, and I was a controller sitting inside my brain, behind my eyes, ‘flying’ myself around the track, or through the paths in the woods behind our school. Besides, I don’t think I’ll ever outgrow Disney animated films—they’re the best—and if the reviews and box-office are anything to go by, this is one of their better efforts.

20151105XD-BestOfEnemies_Movie

Wednesday, November 04, 2015                                              9:51 AM

Post Review   (2015Nov04)

“Best Of Enemies”  is an enjoyable documentary and I found it especially so because it gives impressions of the two-party mind-set just as that paradigm was coming to the surface. Prior to World War II, social friction was between Rich and Poor—easy-peasy, simple as that. During that War, America put on its best overalls and pretended we were ‘all in this together’. Immediately post-war we busied ourselves fighting against ‘Red propaganda’, touting liberty, democracy, freedom of speech, and freedom of religion. Having gone from competing armies to competing ideologies, America’s entitled found themselves in a quandary—many of the free world’s ‘good features’ were populist and inclusive. Unions were acceptable, racial integration had begun in the military, and women were fresh from the workforce—pushed out by returning servicemen and the closing of war factories, but still cognizant of what they had achieved during those years spent in so-called ‘men’s jobs’.

To me, religion is the most elusive aspect of those times—we were claiming that religious freedom was a touchstone of modern civilization, but there were many Americans who assumed that Protestant Christianity was the default American faith. This allowed the establishment (an old term for the rich and powerful) to take exception to some freedoms as ‘sinful’—particularly when talking about women’s roles and rights. As we had seen during the war, women were legally accepted as equal—able to work in factories, offices—even serve in the military as ‘support’—but the Bible gave chauvinists the ammunition to reverse that acceptance. The invention of the Pill brought birth control into the equation—and we were off to the races. Women’s equality saw such a backlash that it would be the 1970s before any pushback from women was heard. Still, theocratic mores had permanently embedded themselves into the toolkit of the rich and powerful.

Law and order was another meme adopted by the establishment—but it was used as code for white supremacy. Any public outcry or demonstration in favor of racial justice was characterized as lawlessness—urban rioting was blamed on the rioters, not on the issues that got them rioting. This double-talk would appear legitimate until the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act were adopted—afterward it became increasingly difficult to characterize social progress as ‘troublemaking’. And to this day, police brutality is rationalized by the rich and powerful as ‘maintaining the peace’.

Our half-century of ‘war on drugs’ was also a thinly-veiled attempt to persecute African-Americans. The criminalization of marijuana as a Schedule I drug, the CIA’s involvement in flooding American cities with crack cocaine, our present-day swollen prison population—mostly non-violent drug offenders—are all examples of how drugs (which are a legal, billion-dollar industry) are still being used to persecute minorities. The establishment remains rabidly anti-drug, in spite of evidence that the War on Drugs created an underworld market—a subculture that makes it easier for their own children to get ensnared by addictive drugs than if they were legally sold over the counter, like cigarettes or booze.

Post-war Americans retained many wartime attitudes—‘get it done, no matter what’ was a common phrase while fighting to save the world from Fascism—but after the war, we still felt that a good person would just ‘get it done’. Those who couldn’t ‘get it done’ were useless, rather than helpless—they deserved our derision, not our sympathy. The old, the sick, the poor, the unemployed—these people were useless—they didn’t deserve help—that was the establishment line. Buckley habitually described the poor as ‘lazy’—as if poverty was a choice.

So we see the kernel of modern conservatism in Buckley’s battle of wits with Gore Vidal—biblical fundamentalism, thinly-disguised racism and sexism, and blaming the victims in lieu of social support programs. Buckley’s early work in stymying social progress and maintaining white male supremacy can seem silly to us today—but his fatuous reasonings were acceptable to the staid, close-minded majority of Americans of his time. Today’s conservatism has become far more sophisticated—it has had to, since the majority of Americans today see things more from Vidal’s point of view. We are, by and large, far more open-minded and inclusive about race, sex, and sexuality—and we have documentation proving that social support programs help the whole society, not just those who need them. Yet the philosophical battle rages on—proof, to my mind, that it is what it has always been—rich versus poor, those in power versus those without a voice.

20151105XD-TheEndOfTheTour_Movie

Thursday, November 05, 2015                                         7:39 AM

Post-Review   (2015Nov05)

“The End of The Tour” is well-acted, beautifully photographed, mysterious, engrossing—a surprisingly powerful movie, given the scope of the action—and most importantly, it is not a documentary. We aren’t led through a delving into the details of David Foster Wallace’s life and work—in fact, much of the dialogue displays Wallace’s fear of being detailed and analyzed.

David Lipsky, author and journalist, had just published his own novel when Wallace’s “Infinite Jest” exploded onto the cultural scene—and we see that he is appalled by the rave reviews for Wallace, and then more appalled by reading “Infinite Jest”. I can attest to the impression made by that experience—Wallace’s writing is unbelievably good and can’t help but evince a touch of despair in anyone with pretensions of writing. Rather than being repulsed by such overbearing competition, Lipsky becomes fascinated and cajoles his Rolling Stone editor into letting him interview Wallace as he completes his book tour.

Thus begins a short road trip, an awkward bro-mance between two equally neurotic intellectuals who couldn’t be more different. Lipsky is torn between admiration and envy. Wallace is torn by his sudden celebrity, which represents a sort of pinnacle of all the failings of American culture so deftly deconstructed and demonized in his writing. Few films make such an open-and-shut case for the theory that all great art is the product of suffering—or the irony that subsequent success only adds to the suffering.

Adapted from David Lipsky’s “Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself : A Road Trip with David Foster Wallace”, a book which expands on the original magazine article, this film has a quiet beauty that belies the ugly struggle of creative expression and its practical side-effects. It has a camaraderie that belies the intense rivalry endemic to artists—and it has a peacefulness that belies the internal struggles of extreme, self-conscious intellectualism. For a film that is the opposite of an ‘action’ movie, it is a terribly exciting adventure.

20151105XD-InsideOut_Movie

Thursday, November 05, 2015                                         2:29 PM

Post-Review   (2015Nov05)

“Inside Out” is excellent family fare, as we’ve come to expect from Disney/Pixar. It is packed with humor yet isn’t a comedy—a special formula that had served Disney well for decades. Drama, with all the fear and confusion that is the subtext of childhood, is what elevates their product above the pabulum Hollywood often offers to children. I’m reminded of my own childhood reaction to Mary Poppins—which, for the 1960s, was pretty mature fare for a family film—there is no greater satisfaction for a kid than to be entertained without being condescended to.

The story has complexities that one usually associates with adult drama—there is an interior story—the characters inside the girl, Riley’s, mind—and an exterior story—Riley’s family moves to California. The interior story involves anthropomorphized emotions and other details of the mind’s inner workings that are simplified, but correct, as evidenced by the credit roll’s expression of gratitude to the Mortimer B. Zuckerman Mind Brain Behavior Institute of Columbia University. One learns through the course of the film some fascinating elements of brain function and memory.

As a story, the most telling effects are the back and forth between the inner emotions of Riley and her exterior words and actions—the two stories are not overwhelming in themselves, but the interplay of the two brings a richness to the vicarious environment. There are also hints at the same ‘committee of feelings’ inside the mind of Riley’s mother—and indeed, by the movie’s end, we get a peek inside all the characters’ minds.

As a story-telling ‘frame’ it is a rich vein of original situations that bodes well for an ongoing franchise of ‘Inside Out’ sequels. However, this first movie’s central theme—the necessity, in maturing children, for their joy to accommodate their sadness—will be hard to replace with an equally stout tent-pole in subsequent stories. Still, this cleverly wrought mechanism of interior dialogues will add spice to any tale—and I’ll probably watch as many sequels as they can produce.

If the movie has a valuable message for young viewers, I’d say it was the distinction made between disaffection, or the loss of joy—and sadness, a necessary emotion in life. One hopes that children will see this film and have a better sense of their own emotional states—and be better able to withstand the pot-holes of bad days and rough times. Let’s hope so.

Well, that’s it—three films in three days cost me $16, over and above our monthly cable fee—so don’t expect regular installments of movie reviews—I ain’t got that kinda cash. I admit, though, that if next week’s New Listings on VOD has three equally attractive titles, I’ll probably do it again—it’s not like I’m a Zen-master of self-control or anything.

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