Joker, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, ad astra... literarily.

The sound of one hand fapping


The end of 2019 brings the unique pain of witnessing crap films associated with words like 'best' or 'good' or 'inflammable'.
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Reported on 22nd of December, 2019

The end of 2019 brings the best of lists, and with it, the unique pain of witnessing films like Ad Astra or Once Upon a Time in Hollywood or Joker or The Irishman or Parasite associated with words like ‘best’ or ‘good’ or ‘inflammable’. One could say that this is just subjective, or even, in 2019, that what choice did they have, they had to pick something. But these films – even with a 2019 context – are objectively bad films, hair-in-the-gate narrative sense, ‘I lost my mark, where’s my fucking mark?’ characters, underprinted dialog and even pinned needle sound. That last one wasn’t a metaphor; there’s also basic technical incompetence at work here.

Yes, I said ‘objectively’ with the full sense that my ‘objective’ is half as subjective as yours. Thus, I’ll have to make my case for each of those films down the road. But assuming I’m right, which you’re doing by agreeing to continue (read the fine print), I’m interested in finding out why these films. This is for the sake of future generations, who will have to watch what the filmmakers make after being lauded for their worst. It feels like watching the child getting praised for smearing poop on the walls. And then, 20 minutes into Ad Astra, you start to wish you really were watching a child with its own poop.

The €10,506 cigar smoke filled screening rooms


re: Joker, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, ad astra... literarily.
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Given who’s doing the elevating, it’s hard not to be reminded of Mr. David Halpern’s 1987 survey of architecture students and non-architecture students (later replicated a few years ago. There’s a decent summary here). He found – unsurprising as you walk down the street – that as your education within architecture school progressed, the more you hated nice old stone buildings and the more you liked oblong concrete with plastic wings that got so hot they had to be torn down and replaced with something worse. For those of you who think this is an aesthetic question, that’s exactly the point – people walking by are the ones who have to live with the aesthetics. The architects spend all their time inside, saying ‘Ornament is crime’.

When it comes to stories, this divide is not unlike Sig. Franco Moretti’s observation (previously described here), that what plays in literary circles rarely survives the abattoir of history, except within those same circles. For films, I’m interested in what lasts, and have had the luck to be right about what did, and the arrogance to think it wasn’t luck.

The films of 2019 (with the exception of one) will not last.

Now I’m being mean to critics, who are people after all, people like you and me, so let’s try condescension instead. This could easily be a case of groupthink. In a world where you it’s just you and the people who make the things you have to talk about, there’s a lot to be said for the thing that caused the Vietnam war, a million dead afghanis and some films that annoy me.

This theory was inspired by a clickhole I fell witlessly down the other day, reddit → youtube → reddit search for a way to watch youtube without google tracking you (invidio.us – extremely clunky, will add minutes to your search time, won’t show you what you want, or even work. But totally worth it.) → Jimmy Kimmel → Cannes, to discover that Parasite had a 10 minute standing ovation.

It’s easy to forget how these films are seen by critics: in a particular environment. This lead, thanks to the clickhole, the discovery that the execrable The Man Who Killed Don Quixote garnered an even longer one. And standing ovations are, naturally, the perfect embodiment of getting caught up in a well-they-liked-it-so-I-probably-do moment. There’s a theory put forth by Mr. Arthur Miller that

“I guess the audience just feels that having paid $75 to sit down, it’s their time to stand up. I don’t mean to be a cynic but it probably all changed when the price went up.”

This was bolstered by famed rationalist and failed-PhD subject Mr. Jon Elster, who proposed that the relationship between cost of broadway tickets and length of standing ovations is a perfect way to demonstrate social science.

Unfortunately, Mr. Elster didn’t follow this up, and simply talks about what a good idea it would be. I never bothered to check if it was true until now, and have been quoting this as if it was. I have also learned – today – that no one can attribute that Miller quote except to Elster. So as much as I want to do what everyone fucking does: lie to make my point…

…the approbation during the screening of TMWKDQ was less about the film and more about veteran Mr. Terry Gilliam’s success at finally getting the film to the screen.

Fortunately for me and the truth, recontextualizing actually makes my point about the origin of groupthink that everyone conveniently forgets: everyone wants to be nice and not make waves. What happens in these cinemas – and I can’t afford the €10,506 to get in each year so I don’t know – is not unlike what drives the massive billionaire legislative-industrial complex: hanging out. One imagines bribes going on in cigar smoke filled rooms; but all they need is the rooms.

What I mean is: there doesn’t even have to be a straightforward this for that. If you support legislation on raising marginal tax on incomes over $2 mill, or cut the giveaways to oil companies, it’s not so much about losing kickbacks, as it is about those awkward urinal moments. Knowing that backing Dodd-Frank meant that the guy doing the Luke Skywalker right next to you couldn’t get the second home in Jackson Hole. His eighth home, but his second in Jackson Hole, and 500′ fly fishing frontage right on Flat Creek. Flowing water. That’s helping; think of flowing water.

The hanging out rule could be applied to film environs as well. According to the documentary Life Itself, one of the last real critics – Mr. Roger Ebert – made a point of avoiding, well, being friends with the filmmakers. Likewise Ms. Pauline Kael.

Not being there, I can’t know if it’s better or worse, but I know that they hang out. They hung out with Mr. Rian Johnson who made the – and this time I mean it – OBJECTIVELY abysmal Last Jedi. They get to hear why he made an uncompelling sojourn to gambling planet which leads to nothing happening, and unknown characters sacrificing themselves and known characters having powers that they didn’t, and then not using them later.

They might say to themselves: it totally makes sense now! It wasn’t up on the screen, but they might, as is the way of the brain, fill in the gaps and think it obvious. Thankfully, they’re not employed as someone who writes to people who don’t sit down with the filmmakers, people who have sit through twenty minutes of trailers, none of them in this case, for the film that they’re seeing.

As an aside: if you have any doubts as to whether 8 will be on the cutting room floor of history, check out the utterly fascinating Star Wars 9 (optimistic statement of link to follow). It agrees with my objectivity (which is something you can subjectively do) and simply acts like the events of 8 never happened. It’s genuinely odd: the first non-sequel.

That wasn’t clear before, by the way – utterly fascinating from an anthropologist’s perspective. The film itself is the scrapings of the bottom of a dumpster outside a mortuary.

You doubt me about this film, and about the others at the beginning. I’ll be able to demonstrate the same with Ad Astra, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Joker or The Irishman, as this sentence slowly fills up with active links (now serving 1 out of 4). From Parasite to Parasite. Magic. And, per this overlong and correct piece, I’m less interested in the film’s failure than it how no one can say that The Emperor Is A Hack.

Railing against critics here, desperate to be one of them, no one would call that fair. After all, three of them liked Treasure Island, and quite a few liked Frances Ferguson.. It’s imperative to remember what drives this behavior isn’t stupidity, or bad taste, or insularness. It’s being decent to one’s fellow human beings.

Knock it off.

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