Monthly archives of “April 2008

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The King of Comedy, Martin Scorsese (1982)

A drastically underrated Scorsese which should really be shown as an appetizer before every screening of Taxi Driver. Rupert Pupkin is every bit as pathetic/psychotic as Mr. Bickle, but a little less . . . I guess let’s say grumpy? No, wait, I know. The King of Comedy:Los Angeles::Taxi Driver: New York. Yes, I realize that both movies are set in New York, but that’s just because Scorsese was too lazy to go to Los Angeles to make this one. Psychologically, it’s as L.A. as The Player, maybe even more so. Featuring the slowest burn of all time from Jerry Lewis, and the gemlike-flame genius of Sandra Bernhard as Rupert’s comrade in the trenches of celebrity obsession.

Here, thanks to some random web site, is the transcript of the monologue Bernhard delivers, brilliantly, in front of a gagged and duct-tape-encased Lewis. I like thinking about it as a poem.

I feel completely
impulsive tonight.
Anything could happen.
I have so much to tell you.
I don’t know
where to start.
I want to tell you
everything about myself
everything you don’t know.
Do you like these glasses?
Crystal. Beautiful.
I bought them just for you.
There’s something about them
the simplicity of them.
If you don’t like them
if there’s a doubt
in your mind
[throws wineglass over shoulder]
You know,
sometimes during the day
I’ll do the simplest things.
I’ll be taking a bath
and I say to myself
“I wonder if Jerry’s
taking a bath right now?”
And I just hope
that you’re not drowning
or something.
I get really worried about you
like something terrible
is going to happen.
I have these daydreams
like I’m with you
at the golf course
driving your cart
just driving around.
Need a putter, Jer,
you know?
Need an iron?
I don’t even know
how to play golf.
I played with my parents once
my father
but, uh, but I love you.
I never told my parents
that I love them.
They never told me
that they loved me either
which was fine with me.
But I love you.
You want some wine?
No, OK
I’m not in the mood to drink
either, though.
I’m in the mood to
be alone with you.
Why don’t we just
clear off the table?
I was thinking
why don’t we go upstairs?
But that’s so predictable.
Let’s just take
everything off the table
and do it right here.
That would blow your mind.
It would blow my mind.
I’ve never done
anything like that.
I’ve never even had anybody
over for dinner, let alone
made love on the table.
I want to do that.
I just want to dance.
I want to, like,
put on some Shirelles.
I want to be black.
Wouldn’t that be insane?
God, you know
who I wish was tonight?
I wish I was Tina Turner
just dancing through the room.

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No End In Sight, Charles Ferguson (2007)

If you’ve been paying any attention at all, you already know that there was no reasonable justification for invading Iraq in the spring of 2003, that the invasion force was large enough to topple the regime but too small to maintain a stable occupation, that there was no coherent plan for how to manage and rebuild post-invasion Iraq, and that disastrous, hubristic mistakes (de-Baathification, the disbanding of the Iraqi army, the failure to declare martial law, mass random detentions) made very early in the occupation led quickly, inevitably, and inexorably to the bottomless pit which is today’s Iraq.

This is still very much worth watching, though, because it provides a quick but comprehensive overview of the truly crucial period, from October 2002 to August 2003. The filmmakers speak to a tremendous number of people, from lowly infantry all the way up to Richard Armitage, plus journalists, Iraqi intellectuals, analysts, academics, bureaucrats, U.N. officials, military officers, and so on. (Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Bremer, Rice, Powell, and Wolfowitz — the architects of the disaster — of course refused to be interviewed.) On a few occasions, the interviewers display an unfortunate lack of objectivity — sarcastic when talking with people they don’t like; chummily with people they do. Aside from that, this is one of the finest documentaries on the war I’ve seen. Highly recommended.

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There Will Be Blood, Paul Thomas Anderson (2007)

Well, I must say, that was rather more delightfully fucked up than I’d allowed myself to hope for. In tone, theme, and visual texture, the movie feels old beyond its years, and that’s, emphatically, a Good Thing. I smell Citizen Kane, Bonnie and Clyde, Badlands, Apocalypse Now, Scarface, The Godfather, The Aviator . . . I can’t believe my own ears! I liked Boogie Nights, and kept my gorge down for Magnolia, but this is another thing altogether: A genuine 1974 Hollywood masterpiece.

But hey, I have to gripe about something(s). Two of the things that make the movie so successful are also what make it somewhat annoying. First, the sound in this flick is really obnoxious. You can always tell when things are on the brink of lapsing into psychosis, because you hear that weird Dolby effect that sounds like a zillion killer bees are eating your cerebellum. Second, let’s face it, this movie is essentially hijacked by its star, since Anderson is obviously flat-out terrified by Daniel Day Lewis, who seriously seems fully capable of murdering a gaffer and drinking his blood should the notion strike him. Anderson, understandably but not excusably, has a habit of just pointing the camera at Lewis, closing his eyes and crossing his fingers, and letting the crazy zillionaire Irish neo-Brando go off. I credit you this, Anderson: You got yer money’s worth out of yer star.

Thematically, the sweet spot I’m most tickled on is the parallel rise of the rapacious evangelist and the rapacious capitalist. It’s hard to tell who’s more ambitious or cutthroat, the oilman or the preacher, until — spoiler alert! — one of them smashes the other’s brains out. I bet you can’t guess!

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Smart People, Noam Murro (2008)

OK, seriously, what’s going on with Hollywood comedies and pregnancy? When I was a lad, a quarter-century ago, if a smart young woman in a comedy thought she might be pregnant, she didn’t get dewy-eyed, she rolled her eyes and said, “Oh God, that’s all I need.” And if she did get knocked up by some jackass, she got an abortion.

Fast forward into the so-called future, though, and suddenly you can’t swing a cat without hitting a baby-ex-machina. Baby Mama, Waitress, Knocked Up, Juno, Maybe Baby . . . I know there are others; I’m just too annoyed to look them up.

Smart People is a terrible movie which steals techniques, characters, and attitudes from far more fun work like Weeds and The Royal Tennenbaums, but not nearly enough of them to become fun itself. The characters are ham-fisted and simplistic (misanthrope parks his car across two spaces; fun uncle feeds beer to children; overachieving child studies all the time), the plot is predictable and unbelievable by turns, the dialog tries to pass as sardonic but is really just flat. But the crowning idiocy is the movie’s astonishing attempt to have us believe that Sarah Jessica Parker, as a smart, beautiful, successful, emergency room doctor, would a) allow herself to be impregnated by annoying, unshaven, whiny, pompous, failed humanities professor Dennis Quaid, and then b) have the baby, for no discernible reason other than to make the professor happy. Moral of the story: If you’re a mean middle-aged jackass professor whose life is going nowhere, get a beautiful former student to have your baby and take care of both it and you forever. This isn’t a comedy, it’s a fantasy.