—there are pretty girls to talk to, movies of my own to produce (details forthcoming), theater to see. With all this (and I'm not complaining, except about the fantasy baseball) I've been falling a bit behind on those little red envelopes. These things happen, since even at the best of times the shit on my queue tends to be the kind of thing I've been “meaning to see.” Things I really want to see I see. There isn't all this fucking hesitation that crops up when I'm watching an Oscar also-ran, or something I saw when I was high years and years ago, or some overtly “experimental” picture by a talented yet mercurial and aloof auteur.
But there comes a time when even the most neurotic among us have to man up and deal with our eclectic taste in cinema and get those fuckin' Netflix sent back. Because erudite, profane crankiness loves company, I share the experience with you:
Dark Star (1974) dir. John Carpenter
I saw this years and years ago and remembered it as being goofy and fun. Upon rewatching, it was goofy and confusing. While there are some priceless bits—the 2001-satirizing existentialist conversations trying to convince the cheerful bomb not to blow up, the beach ball alien, having the crew of the spaceship being a bunch of devil-may-care bearded longhairs—trying to listen to the poorly-recorded sound to follow what was going on gave me a headache, so I ended up self-medicating and getting nicely buzzed (strictly legal!) for about the second half of the movie, improving the experience greatly.
This leads to a very important point, that I would like to make as a Movies By Bowes ™ public service announcement: only watch Dark Star if you're high. It thus joins the following restricted list (as in, blaze first at all costs):
Roland Emmerich's entire career (Expert Level)
An Education (2009) dir. Lone Scherfig
Watching this basically on a double feature with Dark Star was an interesting experience, and probably made me like this a whole lot more in a weird way. An Education tells the story of Jenny Millar (Carey Mulligan) a smart, intellectually and culturally ambitious 16 year old in early 60s England who's being pressured by her dad (Alfred Molina) to ascetically pursue her studies so as to get into Oxford.
Jenny meets an extremely charming older man (Peter Sarsgaard, not only rockin a top-notch Brit accent but appearing heterosexual, impressively) who soon sweeps her off her feet and introduces her to a world of parties, and concerts, and cocktails, weekend trips to Oxford and Paris . . . and no small amount of shadiness and criminality. Peter Sarsgaard and Dominic Cooper are sort of like the Kray twins as co-written by Scott Fitzgerald and Christopher Isherwood, so they're not dangerous or anything, but Jenny still doesn't entirely approve.
Impressively (and kind of implausibly), Peter Sarsgaard also seduces Jenny's parents (not in the biblical sense, but in a “wow, our daughter's older boyfriend is awesome!” kind of way), to the point where when Jenny finds out Peter Sarsgaard is married, Alfred Molina is just as brokenhearted as she is.
Over the course of Jenny's seduction, she's drifted from her academic ambitions, growing to see devoted, severe teacher Olivia Williams (whose character I want to drink tea and hold hands with) as dead inside and headmistress Emma Thompson (who is fucking hilarious in this) as a fascistic twat. But, after she splits with Peter Sarsgaard—having dropped out of school before taking her A-levels—Jenny tries to get back on the plan, only to have Emma Thompson tell her no, and it takes Olivia Williams getting excited in an extremely British way (oh, Olivia Williams, I want to quote Coleridge to you . . . ) about getting Jenny back on the path to see that Jenny gets the titular schooling, on the literal level.
But, “an education” works on a secondary level too, to wit the kind of knowledge and life's wisdom one can't glean from books. Losing your virginity in an anticlimactic way. Learning that glamorous people are often shallow. Learning that many art collectors are in it for art's value as a commodity rather than the love. Learning that when you're a kid you should be a kid (and, in Jenny's case, appreciate the awkward boy who worships her more) rather than aspiring to be an adult (and have Rosamund Pike get excited on your behalf that you don't have to read books anymore now that you've dropped out of school).
An Education is an example of the kind of movie that's completely insufferable when Americans try it but for some reason the Brits hit all the notes just right, and although it's totally formulaic it still manages to involve the audience emotionally. Part of that, in this movie's case, is that Carey Mulligan is so unbelievably good as Jenny. Apparently she never acted before, which is astounding, and makes An Education a companion piece to Billy Elliott, which although a much better movie, also starred a novice in the lead, and is also one of those paint-by-numbers Rembrandts the Brits crank out once or twice a year.
Hopefully, Oliver Stone doesn't torpedo Carey Mulligan's career with Wall Street 2: Are You Fucking Kidding Me, because wow.
Oh, and on a random note, fuck Nick Hornby. YOU KNOW WHY, NICK.
The Informant! (2009) dir. Steven Soderbergh
“Four guys in suits meeting in the middle of the day? That's not a business meeting, it's a crime scene!”
—Tony “Buster Bluth” Hale
And, rounding out our trilogy of the long unwatched, we have evil white guys in suits! Hell yeah. Directed by Steven Soderbergh in full-on ironic detachment mode! Ah, shit, Steve, do you have to . . .?
Ol' Steve's a tough nut to crack. After he dropped the one-two blockbuster combo of Erin Brockovich and Traffic, he's spent the last decade alternating between Ocean's movies and seemingly deliberately off-putting experimental pictures. Some of them, like Bubble, work (because, amateur cast aside, Steve kept it simple and told a fucking story). Some of them, like The Good German, are hideous. Others, like The Girlfriend Experience, are total head-scratchers (making a movie starring Sasha Grey without any sex in it is kind of like putting Arnold in a Woody Allen movie).
The Informant! actually didn't need a ton of help from Soderbergh to be weird. The guy Matt Damon plays in it, Mark Whitacre, is fucking crazy. He spent years lying to the FBI, taping people, trying to hide his own embezzlement by ratting out his bosses, watching Tom Cruise movies, hiring and firing lawyers, and ending up getting tossed in jail for three times as long as his evil white guy bosses.
Matty Dames lets it fly as Whitacre. His narration goes way past “unreliable narrator” into a whole new category; Matty spends the whole fucking picture yammering at us about Japanese perverts, The Firm, and fictional-sounding exploits while driving the FBI's blood pressure into the 200/160 range and amusing the living shit out of his bosses.
It's a fairly interesting story, but does kind of drag a bit. The whole “corporate shenanigans as comedy” schtick was done a lot better in Barbarians at the Gate, because Steve kind of overdoes it with the jokey-jokes (just about everybody in the supporting cast is a stand-up comedian) and the Marvin Hamlisch music and the 70s-textured images—even though the movie took place in the 90s—and all.
One stroke of absolute genius, though, was casting Clancy Brown as Matty's evil white guy boss' lawyer. Clancy Brown walks into boardroom. Commands respect. Tells you what the fuck is up. Leaves. Possibility for resistance: nil. It's Clancy Brown. Now that he has white hair, he can be the lawyer, where when he was younger he was the guy with the gun, but it's good to see that badass is a growth industry.
Scott Bakula and Joel McHale are both really good as the Feds Matty Dames drives nuts, even if they don't get much to do other than reaction shots like “is this motherfucker serious?” about the increasingly bizarre shit Matty pulls on them. And the woman who played Clooney's sister in Up in the Air is really good as Matty's wife.
You know, as insignificant a thing as it actually is, there really is a sense of accomplishment about finally getting through those damn Netflix that have been sitting around since May. It'd be so much easier to sit around watching movies by myself if I didn't lead such an interesting life . . . grumble grumble . . .